American Gods Explores the Limits of the American Dream in Episode 3

American Gods continues its dreamy road trip with a visit to two new deities while Shadow and Mr. Wednesday get up to no good.

Ricky Whittle and Ian McShane in American Gods

The dreamy visuals and even dreamier storytelling of American Gods has been something of a double-edged sword for the first two episodes. Although the show is as sumptuous as anything Bryan Fuller and David Slade have put together previously, its pace has been awkward. That's especially true of the Czernobog storyline that was cooked up along with Mr. Wednesday and Shadow Moon's dinner at the apartment the hammer-wielding slayer of cattle shares with the Zorya sisters in Chicago. The decision to leave Shadow's fate up in the air as a weird cliffhanger eschewed the typical function of episodic storytelling – even when it comes to something that's as serialized as American Gods – as the follow-up, 'Head Full of Snow', didn't really have all that much left to say about the Slavic deity's desire to bash Shadow's head in that couldn't have been addressed in the previous episode.

Instead, the third hour plays as a weird extension of the previous week, like a game going into extra innings even though everyone already knows what the outcome is going to be. The weird time management between 'The Secret of Spoons' and 'Head Full of Snow' does have one distinct upshot, however; it introduces Zorya Poluchnaya (Erika Kaar), a star gazing goddess who plucks the moon from the heavens and bestows it upon Shadow as a good-luck charm to replace the sun he was given after his bloody run-in with Mad Sweeney. The interchange between the two is familiar in its circuitousness, lending the world of the old gods an even greater semblance of fantasy that collides with and contradicts the realities Shadow is used to dealing in.

Shadow's rooftop rendezvous with the third Zorya sister helps make the uneven transition from high-stakes checkers game to elaborate bank-robbing con a little easier by making the show's hallucinatory asides feel of a piece with what's going on in the main narrative. Shadow has begun walking in and out of planes of existence, and the transition is one he still hasn't fully grasped just yet, though he's learning. There seems to be a tacit understanding of the importance of the coin Poluchnaya gifts him, especially as it pertains to his surname and the immediacy with which he chooses to challenge Czernobog to a double-or-nothing rematch, exploiting the Achilles heel of all deities: their vanity.

The episode shifts gears from an ominous, hazy gathering in a smoke-filled apartment to a fun con in which the inimitable charm of Ian McShane once again takes center stage, first with an impromptu lunch at a Chinese restaurant (the appeal of which for Mr. Wednesday could be a metaphor for the series itself) that's followed with a clever bank robbery that involves a little subterfuge and a man-made (inasmuch as Shadow is a mere man) snowstorm. On the surface, these two elements don't have a lot to do with Mr. Wednesday tricking people into handing over their bank deposits, but later they speak to the underlying notion and importance of belief, and how easily it can be – especially to a hustler like Mr. Wednesday – to earn the confidence of strangers and to use that to his advantage.

As far as explaining how things on American Gods work, 'Head Full of Snow' makes for an interesting detour that further lays the groundwork for Mr. Wednesday's encroaching war and the currency in which these gods – both old and new – deal. That is, the importance of being remembered and believed in, a detail Wednesday reiterates time and again as payment for his demonstration of just what a high-level hustler he is and in the way he plants the idea of conjuring a snowstorm in his bodyguard's mind. It doesn't matter if Shadow actually summoned the snow or if it's another con by Wednesday. Instead, as was stated by Poluchnaya, it only matters that Shadow believe in something as he finds himself drawn deeper into the strange world to which he's been introduced.

To the show's credit or maybe its detriment, depending on how much mileage you get out of narrative digressions, Shadow's almost surreal experience lines up pretty well with the audience's. As with last week's introduction of Mr. Nancy and the nearly silent tangent focusing on Bilquis, 'Head Full of Snow' contains two seemingly unrelated tangents meant to introduce a pair of characters. The first is Anubis or Mr. Ibis (Demore Barnes), who escorts a woman to an ambiguous fate in the afterlife. It's a visually stunning sequence that perhaps is made more noteworthy by how out of place it feels. The encounter will make more sense next week, but it again speaks to the show's placement of these character asides and their interesting (for now) incongruity in terms of their immediate relation to the show's still-building narrative.

Much more in keeping with certain themes through the hour, however, is an encounter between Salim (Omid Abtahi), a young salesman, and the Jinn (Mousa Kraish), who was briefly seen last week having finished a meeting with Mr. Wednesday. While there will undoubtedly be plenty of discussion surrounding Salim and the Jinn's sexual encounter that leaves the former changed in seemingly profound ways, it's in how Slade, Fuller, and Michael Green translate Salim's experience in America that's perhaps even more interesting. There is a Coen brothers-esque quality to Salim's waiting for hours to have a business meeting with a never-seen Mr. Blanding, who is part of the PanGlobal Corporation. It smacks of The Hudsucker Proxy, the way Salim is superimposed over a giant clock ticking away the hours in rapid succession before being told by a pitiless secretary that his meeting won't occur and that he'll have to reschedule by telephone despite already being in the office.

The absurdity of Salim's circumstances is made funny thanks to just how far the obstacle that is Blandings' secretary and Salim's ambiguous business dealings with ill-defined PanGlobal Corporation venture into the extreme, but it also speaks to the most concrete theme of American Gods so far. That of the plight of working immigrants and the fallacy of the American Dream, which as presented here, feels like a particularly cruel joke played on those who were sold a bill of goods about a land of limitless opportunity only to find it play out more like a hustle or a con – which is, in its own way, an experience shared by God and mortal alike.

Ultimately, the Jinn and Salim's story threads nicely with Czernobog and the Zorya sisters, and what's been seen of Mr. Nancy so far. It creates an interesting foundation of ideas for American Gods to continue to build its narrative upon, and suggests that, after a little more world-building, a greater sense of substance will come even as the series continues to demonstrate its mastery of style.

Next: American Gods: Gillian Anderson & Peter Stormare Shine in Episode 2

American Gods continues next Sunday with 'Git Gone' @9pm on Starz.

Photos: Starz

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