Shadow Moon has seen a lot of very strange stuff since Mr. Wednesday came into his life, so the sight of his dead wife smiling coquettishly up from the bed isn’t quite the earth-shaker it might otherwise have been. Not that he’s worked out who Mr. Wednesday is yet, or has taken the trouble to ask – such is the relatively languid pacing of this series relative to the book. But by the end of this episode, Shadow’s induction into the hidden society of gods in America has taken a giant leap forward.
“Lemon Scented You” is another extended character-reveal. The first act delivers the strange reunion of Mr. and Mrs. Moon at the Starbrite Hotel. It’s darkly comic fun, the kind of subversive soap opera scene the Dark Shadows movie could have pulled off if it had grown a pair of balls, but still feels like it should have been the denouement to last week’s Moon-centric episode. Luckily, just when it’s looking like we’re in for another Moon two-hander, the main plot wakes up. Shadow and Wednesday are picked up by the local fuzz on the back of a mysterious tip-off. This allows things to diverge rather nicely; back at the hotel Laura (Emily Browning) gets to show Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) the added extra ability his magic coin has gifted her since it revived her from the grave. This scene begs the question: is Laura now a god-like being herself or just a zom-babe who packs a mighty punch? Sweeney might be a half-crazed leprechaun but his ‘plan B’ seems sane enough: “You’re gonna find yourself on a hot humid day in all that moist heat and you’re gonna fall right off the bone!” the fiend sneers lasciviously. Good point.
Meanwhile, incarcerated at the police station, Shadow and Wednesday receive a delegation from the New Gods in the form of Media, Technical Boy and, in his debut, Mr Word. And what a clutch of shysters they are, despite best efforts to appear otherwise. Media (Gillian Anderson, almost unrecognisable but loving it) manages two personas this week – Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie and Marilyn Monroe. Mr. Word is a diplomat of sorts who wants Technical Boy (Bruce Langley, channelling 1980s Thomas Dolby) to apologise for setting his droogs on Shadow in episode one. He can also do stop-motion things with his head that make Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer video look like Trumpton. Played with characteristic otherness by Crispin Glover, Word may be the conscience of the new gods incarnate. Indeed, it turns out they have good reason to fear Wednesday’s crusade.
It’s a scene that gives both Shadow and any viewers who haven’t quite got their heads around the concept of American Gods a very handy résumé. The only problem is that, with dialogue lifted from corporate America’s manual of clichés, the new gods here come across as a completely shallow bunch of image-obsessed twerps. Yes, that’s sort of the point but on this showing we wouldn’t put money on them winning the big throw down. It’s not a complete fall from the high-concept tightrope the series has rigged for itself, but feels like a dramatic slip.
Still, it’s good to see the scales finally fall away from Shadow’s eyes. And we’ve saved the best until last: American Gods’ prologue sequences are always great but this episode’s beautifully animated parable of how gods are born and die on the power of faith and faith alone is simply a stunning piece of television.
AMERICAN GODS EPISODE 5: "LEMON SCENTED YOU" / DIRECTOR: VINCENZO NATALI / WRITERS: BRYAN FULLER, MICHAEL GREEN, MARIA MELNIK / STARRING: RICKY WHITTLE, IAN MCSHANE, GILLIAN ANDERSON, EMILY BROWNING, PABLO SCHREIBER, CRISPIN GLOVER / AIR DATE: MAY 28TH (USA ON STARZ); MAY 29TH (UK ON AMAZON PRIME)