More than half way through the first season of American Gods, things are becoming a little less abstract, a little more understandable – both for Shadow and for us.
“Lemon Scented You” opens on a gorgeous animated “Coming to America” segment focusing on a tribe of ancient people crossing the land bridge from Siberia into the Americas. The story focuses on Atsuya, a descendant of many lines of women who communed with their mammoth headed god, Nunyunnini. Upon reaching their destination, however, they find a barren land with no food or shelter. Atsula communes with Nunyunnini, and learns that she must sacrifice herself to the god of the new land so that her people may survive. Once she does this, the natives of the land seem to accept the new travelers, but when their offering is refused, the adults are killed off, leaving only the children behind. The children then accept the food from the native people and leave their old god behind as they move on. Eventually Nunyunnini is completely forgotten. While watching this scene, I could only think about how beautiful the complete CGI vignette looked, and applauded the show’s willingness to do new things – use new mediums to tell it’s story but I began to truly appreciate it’s message after watching the episode in it’s entirety.
But we’ll explore that soon enough.
After the vignette, the episode picks up exactly where the last two left off – with Shadow coming face to face with his dearly departed Laura. He is shocked, of course, but then again, when isn’t he these days – and he demands an explanation of her actions before her death. Laura goes on to, very matter of factly, tell Shadow about how she and Robbie began their affair and how those actions led to the car accident. As she talks, she sees that Shadow still seems a little rattled, and asks him to buy a pack of cigarettes to “calm her nerves”. He does so, and when he comes back, Laura is in the tub warming her cold body up, just in case Shadow wants to touch her. Ugh!
I just have to say, it’s so refreshing seeing how characters like Shadow and Audrey react to seeing Laura back from the dead. She is so blase about the whole thing, but both of their reactions to her felt real and hilarious. This scene just cemented for me, my preference for this version of the Shadow and Laura characters. The way Shadow says “hey baby” when he sees her is said in such a way that cannot be captured by simply reading it. Shadows apprehension to approach her is palpable as she leaves the tub, trying to convince Shadow that everything between them can work itself out and kisses him. When she does, her chest glows and we can see through her enough to witness her heart beat – just once. This action shocks and excites Laura, but Shadow still seems apprehensive. Laura then thanks him for giving her the coin and promises to always have his back.
But their reunion is short lived. A little birdie (or raven, really) warns Wednesday about upcoming trouble. He knocks on Shadow’s door and tries to get him out of there to “get a drink – or five or six” (he also notes that there’s a bad smell coming from the room, like cat piss and oven cleaner, which elicited a hard chuckle from yours truly) but before they can get too far, they are blocked in by several police cars and arrested for robbery. Laura, back in the tub, can only watch as the light that Shadow emanates, slowly fades away. Though I did feel a little bad for her – I’m not sure how much she knows about what’s going on; whether she knows that he’s in trouble or just assuming he walked out on her, but the my feelings of empathy for Laura kept getting cut whenever I saw her in the bath. My mind kept screaming “YOU’RE DEAD! STOP SOAKING IN HOT WATER, YOU IDIOT!”
But I digress, it is at this point that we get to a very interesting scene where the Technical Boy emerges from a rave, and walks back to his limo, only to be summoned using his own device. The VR face device latches on to his head and he is transported to his own virtual limo where he comes face to face with Media, this time dressed as David Bowie’s character, Ziggy Stardust. This is an interesting interaction for a few reasons.
1. This is the first time in the series that the audience gets to watch two New Gods interact with each other exclusively or otherwise. Their conversation denotes a level of contention that does not seem to exist between the Old Gods as we have seen them thus far. There is a bit of a power struggle in place, and these New Gods are inextricably bound together. This leads to reason number 2.
It flips the script on Technical Boy from his actions in the pilot episode. When he is summoned, he appears on the opposite end of the limo, right where he had Shadow and is being brought to task because of his actions. Media berates the Technical Boy for essentially lynching a black man when all he was meant to do was deliver a message. She tells him that he has to think about their brand and that his actions did more harm than anything. Technical Boy remains true to his character by being a pretentious little sh!t, of course, but he is on the defensive. It is a completely different play than when last we saw him.
3. The audience hears the name Mr. World for the first time and we can tell from the way both these powerful New Gods refer to him, that this is a person of importance. This is someone that they are afraid of, and that Shadow and Wednesday should be afraid of as well. Media relays Mr. World’s message that Technical Boy must apologize to Wednesday and Shadow and that it should sound sincere, as though Technical Boy were apologizing to him. Technical Boy tries to justify his actions first, but when that doesn’t work he argues that an apology isn’t going to change anything. “Wednesday is collecting monsters. Fucking Pokemon!” he argues. To think anything would come from him apologizing is a delusion. But Media remains absolute.
Delusion can be a powerful thing. Not everyone has to believe in it, just enough. Again, this is what the world of American Gods runs on. Belief. It’s what gives the gods, both old and new their power. This harkons back to the “Coming to America” vignette at the beginning, when the narrator says “Gods are great, but people are greater.”
From here, the episode goes back to Shadow and Wednesday, now in police custody. Wednesday is putting on his “fragile old man” act in one interrogation room, while Shadow practices his right to remain silent in the other. We learn from the detective that they found Shadow and Wednesday due to an anonymous tip left via fax machine, with pictures and GPS coordinates of their exact location. But despite this, the detective assures Shadow that she is far more concerned with whoever sent the fax than their little robbery scam and can likely cut a deal with Shadow if he gives them information on who Wednesday’s enemy is. Faced with a glimmer of hope, it seems Shadow is starting to bend. They bring Shadow in to the room with Wednesday, who is continuing with his crazy old man defense by telling the detectives the complete truth of what he’s been doing – recruiting Old Gods in a war against the New Gods.
But before all that, we take an interesting little detour back to Shadow’s motel, where Laura is still waiting. After getting out of the tub and getting dressed, a familiar face bursts through the door. Mad Sweeney is back, and he wants his lucky coin back. But Laura isn’t having it. When negotiations fail, Mad Sweeney looses his tempter and tries to man handle her, but Laura literally flicks him on the forehead and sends him flying across the room. I guess he didn’t know she had that kind of power, huh? With the tides turned, Laura pumps Sweeney for her own answers, namely, how did he get involved with Shadow. This leads to the reveal that Sweeney was hired by Wednesday to pick a fight with Shadow, as a kind of test. He tells Laura that she shouldn’t trust Wednesday, an neither should Shadow. He asks for the coin back again, and we also learn that Sweeney cannot take it back himself; it must be given to him willingly. Laura taunts him, saying he’s never, ever getting it back, but Sweeney points out something I have been thinking from the beginning of the damn episode. She’s rotting. Like, Death Becomes Her style. No amount of glue or pins will stop her decomposition. Especially if she keeps taking these long hot baths! THANK YOU SWEENEY!
Sensing her hesitation, Sweeney attacks her, grabbing her by the throat and pushing her in to the tub. I don’t know what he was planning on doing. Kill her? She’s already dead. It’s not like she can drown. Anyway, the ever vigilant cops storm in to the room and apprehend him. Laura “plays dead” in the tub, and a pissed off Sweeney says one of my favorite lines of the night. “You’re an asshole, dead wife!” Yeah, keep on digging that grave, deeper and deeper.
So back at the police station, as Wednesday escapes his cuffs (with the assistance of their friendly neighborhood spider god) and Shadow attempts to get answers, when gunshots ring out. Shadow demands to know who Wednesday really is and who is after him when the door pops open and in floats Media, now donning the costume of Marilyn Monroe ala The Seven Year Itch. Her presence there freaks Shadow out but it’s nothing for what happens next. Media introduces Mr. World, who is charming, soft spoken, and insanely creepy. Mr. World, upon seeing Shadow, seemed to suddenly know everything about him, from his blood type, to his “O face”, to how many sexual partners his mother had (which is soooooooo messed up btw. I don’t think he needed to be told he has the same “O face” his mother had, that’s just wrong!)
Mr. World is hard to describe. He seems like an all knowing businessman. The manifestation of globalization, in it’s desire to connect all things universally. Yet, despite his apparent ties to the New Gods, he has a profound deference for Wednesday, as seen when Technical Boy comes in and reluctantly apologizes for lynching Shadow. Mr. World demands respect from Technical Boy, stating that Wednesday is older than he [Technical Boy] will ever be. But this meeting is not simply about apologies, it’s about mending fences. As though on cue, Technical Boy half heartedly offers to help Wednesday using his power over technology. Mr World and Media present a vision of a potential partnership – a merger so to speak. He can grow stronger by evolving with them in the form of “The Odin Satellite”, a missile armed satellite to be launched over North Korea. I like how the look on Wednesday’s face is wide as he watches the presentation. You can see that there may be a part of him that would want this to happen. But in the end, Wednesday is resolute. This isn’t a merger, it’s a takeover. The offer is proof that what he’s doing is making them nervous.
This leads to a great back and forth between Wednesday and Mr. World, each one making some pretty solid arguments. I loved Mr. World’s comparison to worship being like how people have the freedom to choose their flavor of salsa. You can have chunky, medium, spicy, whatever, but at the end of the day they’re still eating salsa and the one who can give them many choices to choose from, wins. Wednesday counter argues that the New Gods don’t give people anything. They just consume their time. Of course Technical Boy has something start to say and Media blows him a kiss knocking his teeth out. Oh so satisfying. With that, the New Gods take their leave.
Wednesday and Shadow then make their escape, only to find that everyone in the station is dead and, in a creepy twist, a living tree seems to be sprouting, destroying everything and chasing down Shadow. I’m not sure if this is meant to be the tree from the Bone Orchard in Shadow’s dreams or what, but’s its creepy as hell and nearly kills them. When a police car shows up with Mad Sweeney handcuffed in the back, Shadow and Wednesday are able to make their escape out the back while Sweeney uses the commotion to escape his situation as well. As the episode ends, Laura busts out of the morgue, ready to find her light once again.
I really liked episode 4, but this episode was a true return to form. “Lemon Scented You” introduces a number of major plot lines, is visually stunning, a little confusing, but full of humor and suspense. It may be my favorite episode thus far.
This show never leaves me bored. It’s always finding new, out there, ways to tell it’s story. The completely CGI “Coming to America” story of Atsula and Nunyunnini and their sacrifice in order to keep their people alive almost serves as a counter balance to Wednesday and what he is unwilling to do, give way to the New God of this land.
I do hope that American Gods continues on this path and finishes strong. It seems like it is on course to do just that.
I can’t wait.