Warning: SPOILERS ahead for episode three of American Gods

When Bryan Fuller and Michael Green began to adapt American Gods for the small-screen, they had a rule in place in regards to the novel’s often graphic depictions of sexuality: If there was going to be nudity, then everyone would be getting naked! Green expanded upon this rule, which Fuller jokingly referred to as “Starz loves cock”:

“Equal opportunity’ was the actual term. They knew that there was going to be sexual content in this show, we were clear that our sexual content was always going to be uncuttable in the sense that it would be related to character and story and be presented as artfully as anything else. If there is a sex scene in a show or film that if you eliminated it, someone can still appreciate the emotional journeys of the characters, then it probably wasn’t done right – or at least that’s how we went about it.”

This will be of no surprise to anyone who has been watching the show, in which Shadow (Ricky Whittle) unfortunately found the photographic evidence of his late wife’s affair with his best friend, and the audience saw a poor soul being devoured sexually by the goddess of love, Bilquis (Yetide Badaki). Even then, for viewers tuning in last night, the Jinn scene proved particularly jaw-dropping in its unexpectedly graphic depiction of a love scene between two men. It is incredibly rare to see sex scenes on TV of such explicit nature, even less so between two men of color, and Fuller and Green did not hold back in depicting one of the novel’s most beautiful and melancholic moments.

The second of this week’s episode’s “Coming to America” vignettes (the first focusing on the Egyptian god Anubis), the Jinn’s story is a faithful recreation of the novel’s scene, wherein a down on his luck salesman Salim (Omid Abtahi), newly arrived in the country, encounters a taxi driver with flaming eyes. After an unsuccessful day trying to procure a meeting to sell his stock, Salim hails a cab and has a conversation in both Arabic and English with the Jinn (Mousa Kraish). After his fiery eyes are revealed from behind his sunglasses, the Jinn talks of his state in America, where he drives a cab and is all but forgotten in New York, the last of his kind, one most people falsely believe can grant wishes. Salim talks of his grandmother, who believed she once saw an Ifrit in a sandstorm. In Islamic mythology, an Ifrit is a type of jinn born of fire and smoke, below the level of angels. They are said to live underground and frequent ruins (in this scene, the Jinn asks Salim if he knows of the City of Ubar, a mythical lost city in the sands of Oman, which the Jinn eludes to have been part of the excavation). The pair forge an instant connection, and Salim invites the Jinn to his hotel room, where they make love.

Mousa Kraish as Jinn in AMerican Gods American Gods: The Jinn Scene Explained

The sex scene itself is mostly faithful to the novel, where Salim fantasizes of “the desert on [the Jinn’s] skin”, and the scene unfolds to reveal the pair’s climax imagined as an act of worship, with the Jinn in an ebony statue-like form as the pair have sex atop the sand-dunes. While the scene is certainly more graphic than TV is used to depicting gay sex, even on cable, it’s far from pornographic. Like the now infamous Bilquis scenes, this is an act of worship, albeit one with a better ending for Salim than Bilquis’s worshippers. Before they kiss, the Jinn insists to Salim that he can’t grant wishes, to which Salim replies with, “but you do.” While the scene in the book ends after Salim gives oral sex to the Jinn, the show expands the moment to full-on sex. For Bryan Fuller, this moment was especially important, as he explained in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter:

“It was very important to us to look at Salim’s story as a gay man from the Middle East whose sexual experience was probably relegated to back alley blowjobs and didn’t have an intimate personal sexual experience. In the book, Salim blows the Jinn in the hotel, and then he’s gone. It was important for us in this depiction to have Salim drop to his knees and prepare to achieve sex the way he’d been accustomed to, and the Jinn lifts him off of his knees and kisses him and treats him much more soulfully and spiritually to change his perception of who he is and what his sexual identity has become.”

Sex positivity forms a huge backbone of the show. Even in the Bilquis scenes, pleasure is depicted with the utmost commitment, just as it is here with the Jinn scene, as both men find comfort and enjoyment in one another’s company, free from shame and scorn. In a show that has no problem reveling in the most visceral forms of violence (the same episode sees a man’s head impaled on a pole after he offers a ride to an out-of-luck leprechaun), it is refreshing to see it so fully dedicated to showing sex in equally explicit but not exploitative ways. By contrast, Fuller’s last show Hannibal, which aired on NBC, could get away with a surprising amount of gore, but couldn’t show any nudity, which often proved unintentionally comical.

559a7cb6 55b0 468d a095 b70d2d5e8a14 American Gods: The Jinn Scene Explained

Salim (Omid Abtahi) in American Gods

Eagle-eyed viewers will have spotted the Jinn in last week’s episode, where he was shown briefly meeting with Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). In that scene, he was wearing the baby-blue suit that Salim wore in this episode. After their encounter, Salim wakes up in his hotel room alone, with his own possessions gone but the Jinn’s clothes and taxi IDs in their place, offering Salim a new life. He dons the outfit and sunglasses, smiling as he begins afresh with the Jinn’s old taxi, and repeats the Jinn’s mantra in the car mirror that he doesn’t grant wishes. While this new life wasn’t a direct desire of Salim’s, the moment makes clear that the Jinn has offered him a new route in his life as an immigrant to America, one free from the constraints of his previous life.

Fuller and Green have promised that the Jinn’s role in the story will be expanded beyond that of the book, and his meeting with Mr. Wednesday suggests he’ll be part of the old gods’ battle. Salim seems to form another part of the wider story, as Omid Abtahi is listed on IMDb in multiple episodes. For now, his encounter with Salim signals another radical first for American Gods, and possibly the medium of TV itself: A scene of graphic sexuality between two Muslim men that also portrays the struggle for companionship in immigrant America. After only three episodes, the show has set the bar high for others to follow.

NEXT: AMERICAN GODS: ANANSI THE SPIDER GOD EXPLAINED

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