Surprised American Gods has been renewed for a second series? No us neither. With its first episode garnering over 5 million viewers for STARZ and Amazon Prime, it could well run and run. Good job too because if it stopped at the end this first series of 8 episodes we’d only be a third of the way through the book and no one likes to be left high and dry, Tripods-style. Unless you didn’t like The Tripods of course. What this relatively languid pacing affords American Gods becomes crystal clear in episode 3, which is founded on a few beautifully constructed character scenes driven by superb performances and the best dialogue you’ll hear anywhere on TV right now.
The story stays close to Shadow and Mr. Wednesday who continue to evolve as a unique double-act. This is a great episode for Wednesday who gets to demonstrate some more of his old-god powers, specifically his ability to manipulate the weather and charm the pants off old ladies. But mostly it’s about Ian McShane owning the role he’s clearly been destined to play. The major new character we meet this week is Salim (Omid Abtahi), a gay Muslim salesman who finds himself suddenly stepping into a new and surprising job after a night of passion with a flame-eyed Ifrit (an Arabian Jinn). It’s an intriguing set-up, beautifully played, that leaves us wondering exactly how Salim’s story will dovetail with that of the major players.
The coming to America tale at the start introduces us to Mr. Jacquel who is in fact Anubis, the Ancient Egyptian god of mummification and afterlife. He’s played with chilling malevolence by Chris Obi, soon to be seen Klingoning about in Star Trek: Discovery, although when we say ‘soon’ and ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ we’re obviously speaking figuratively. When a Muslim woman preparing a meal for her ungrateful grandchildren meets an unfortunate end in her kitchen, Jacquel comes a-knocking and rather charmingly explains the situation before removing her to the heavenly plateau to try her luck with his sandy scales of destiny. It’s a mesmerising sequence with a strange little twist in the tale, made all the more effective by Brian Reitzell’s haunted musical score which channels the ancient the sirens of the gods. The key word here is subtlety; shame the BBC can’t wake up to how stale Murray Gold’s chintzy emotions-by-numbers muzak for Doctor Who sounds in 2017 and hire Reitzell instead.
Jacquel’s scales could be a metaphor for this episode which plays with the concept of balance; in the way it tilts back from Czernobog (Peter Stormare) to Shadow when they play a second game of chequers, in the way Wednesday summons the snow against Shadow’s punch-drunk conviction of what constitutes the ‘norm’ and in the poetic handover that takes place between Salim and his one night stand. Chief toe-rag this week is Mad Sweeney, left dozing in Jack’s Crocodile Bar gents loo after his brawl with Shadow in episode 1. Now he wants his lucky coin back but you’ll recall that Shadow tossed it into his dead wife’s grave. Oh, yes, the dead wife. Things are about to get even more interesting…
And can we just take a moment here to admire the title sequence to this series? On-demand US series have been trying to out-ponsify each other with arty titles since Six Feet Under, but American Gods’ opening psychedelic blitzkrieg of iconography really is something to behold and sets the mood as only a great title sequence can.
Three out of three then.
AMERICAN GODS EPISODE 3: “HEAD FULL OF SNOW” / DIRECTOR: DAVID SLADE / WRITERS: BRYAN FULLER, MICHAEL GREEN / STARRING: RICKY WHITTLE, OMID ABTAHI, EMILY BROWNING, IAN MCSHANE, PETER STORMARE, CHRIS OBI / AIR DATE: MAY 14TH (USA ON STARZ); MAY 15TH (UK ON AMAZON PRIME)