American Gods: The Gods Are Great, but Marilyn Monroe and David Bowie Are Greater

Title: “American Gods Season 1 Episode 5: Lemon Scented You 
Genre: Fantasy, Drama
Platform: TV – Starz
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Writer: David Graziano
Rating: TV-MA
Release: May 28, 2017
Cast: Ian McShane, Ricky Whittle, Emily Browning
Feature image: Source

Gods are great, but people are greater. For it is in their hearts that gods are born, and to their hearts that they return. Gods live and gods die.” Mr. Ibis  —American Gods

For this episode the Coming to America segment is animated. A tribe is crossing the land bridge from Siberia to the New World. Atsula, the priestess or shaman of her tribe prepares to bury her baby daughter. When they reach their destination, the land doesn’t have the food they hoped it would have. Atsula communes with their god, Nunnyunnini, which they brought with them in the form of a mammoth skull. Nunnyunnini loves its people, and they love Nunnyunnini. The mammoth god tells Atsula that a sacrifice will be made for her people’s survival. That sacrifice turns out to be Atsula. Her tribe meets the people who already live there. They offer her tribe food, their chief knocks the food out of the other tribe chief’s hand. He responds by having his tribe rain arrows upon the immigrant tribe. The young people who survived take the offered food and soon assimilate into that tribe. As they assimilate, they forget Nunnyunnini, and the mammoth god dies. Gods die when they are forgotten, and Nunnyunnini was sacrificed for their survival. The narrator Mr. Ibis: “Gods are great, but people are greater. For it is in their hearts that gods are born, and to their hearts that they return. Gods live and gods die.”

We return to the same scene that has ended the previous two episodes. Laura (Emily Browning) is waiting for Shadow (Ricky Whittle) in his motel room. Shadow enters and she says, “Hi puppy. He replies, “Hey… baby. The fuck you doing here?” Laura asks Shadow to sit by her like this isn’t strange. Shadow throws a pillow at her to make sure this is real. He wants to talk about her affair with Robbie; she wants to talk about the miracle that her sitting there is. Shadow won’t budge so she talks about the affair (which we saw last week and I won’t recount here). She sends her shocked and angry husband out for some cigarettes to calm her nerves, and his too. He goes outside where some ravens are watching him atop the Starbrite Motel sign. There is also a car in the parking lot, which draws Shadow’s attention. One of the ravens flies over to Mr. Wednesday’s (Ian McShane) room and taps on the door to report to him. Laura is in the tub, taking a warm bath, hoping to warm up in case Shadow wants to touch her or kiss her. She lays in the tub smoking, but she can’t taste it or anything else. They finally kiss and for a brief moment, Laura heart beats. She can taste Shadow and for that moment, she feels alive. (We see an x-ray view of her heart beating for a second.) She boldly asks Shadow if he is still her puppy, he gives her a resounding no. Someone knocks at his door, it is Wednesday, he wants to go out for a drink, or six. Shadow is trying to make sure he doesn’t come in; Wednesday says there is a smell in his room like “cat piss and oven cleaner.” Wednesday asks if he has some questions for him, because he should. Shadow agrees that he does have some questions, and would like to ask them tomorrow. Suddenly several police squad cars roll up. Both men are arrested for bank robbery. The light that Laura sees shining off Shadow slowly goes away as the police take them to the station.

“Mass delusions are as old as I am. I was there when the Martians invaded in 1938. What a panic. Powerful panic. Now there are star men waiting in the sky. They believed it was true, and it was.” Media  —American Gods

Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) stumbles out of a high tech club. He is heading towards his limo when a VR headset grabs him. He is in his limo and a figure emerges. It is Media (Gillian Anderson) dressed as David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust. She speaks to him in a British accent and uses several David Bowie lyrics. In the background is funky synths with “oohs” accompany the beat. Their superior, Mr. World (Crispin Glover) wants him to apologize to Mr. Wednesday and Shadow. Tasked with asking a few questions, you hang a black man from a tree,” she tells him. He accuses Shadow of f—ing with him. She chastises him because, “Wednesday was suffocating, the spark was smoldering. And then you came along, putting out fire with gasoline.” Technical Boy thinks it is crazy that he should apologize to Wednesday, “Wednesday’s recruiting monsters… fucking Pokémon. He’s recruiting.” Media knows and replies, “Martyrdom is a popular recruitment tool.” Technical Boy doesn’t understand why they have to appease Mr. Wednesday. Media waxes nostalgically about the radio program the War of the Worlds. “Mass delusions are as old as I am. I was there when the Martians invaded in 1938. What a panic. Powerful panic. Now there are starmen waiting in the sky. They believed it was true, and it was.” Technical Boy points out that not everyone believed. Media: “Not everyone had to. Just enough. That’s all Mr. Wednesday needs. Just enough. Maybe just one.”

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The scene dissolves out and Shadow appears in the police station. Detective Buffer (Tracie Thoms) interrogates Shadow; initially his response to all her questions is “Lawyer.” Detective Cambro (Ron Lea) interrogates Mr. Wednesday. Wednesday uses his senile old man persona to obfuscate his answers. Detective Buffer asks Shadow how could two backwoods cops catch two small timers like him and Wednesday so quickly. They received a fax on a fax machine that is no longer in use. It gave them detailed information on the two; the type of information intelligence agencies collect.  Wednesday obviously has a big-time enemy after him. She wants to know what is going on. Shadow smiles and tells her she doesn’t want to know. In the other interrogation room, Wednesday drops the senile old man routine and tells Cambro the complete truth about what he was doing in Chicago. Mr. Wednesday: “I was recruiting a tired but still vital god of death into a war against the New Gods, who very rightly fear him as much as they should fear me, but don’t… yet.” “Now, the leprechaun, he’s been against all of this from the get-go,” Wednesday tells Cambro, “but he’s at a disadvantage being as he is a fucking idiot.”  Detective Cambro doesn’t believe a word he says. Detective Buffer knows that Shadow’s wife has recently died, if he cooperates, the DA will take his wife’s death in account and show him leniency. Shadow considers the offer.

 “I want you to know that the last time I kicked a guy in the nuts, my foot didn’t stop until it reached his throat.” Laura Moon  —American Gods

Back at the Starbrite Motel, Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) burst through the door and grabs Laura. Mad: “You’re the wife. You’re the dead wife. Give me my fucking coin, dead wife.” He looks down her throat and he can see his coin lodged in her body. Laura is stronger than he is and easily flicks him across the room. He keeps calling her names and she keeps inflicting pain on him. Laura wants some answers and warns him what will happen if he doesn’t comply. Laura:  “I want you to know that the last time I kicked a guy in the nuts, my foot didn’t stop until it reached his throat.”  Mad takes her serious and answers her questions about some of the strange things going on around Shadow. Mr. Wednesday had Mad pick a fight with Shadow to find out what Shadow was made of. He informs her that Wednesday is a god named Grimnir, and that Shadow can’t trust him. For a woman who didn’t believe in anything before she died, she takes this news without question. Mad does his coin trick of pulling coins from the air and tells her he’ll give her a coin to replace the one she has if she gives it to him. She promises Mad she will never give him the coin and he’ll never get it. He promises her when she decomposes (and taking warm baths will help speed it up), when her meat falls off her bone, he will pluck the coin out of her. He jumps her and holds her under the water in the tub. Two uniformed police officers burst in the room and grab him. He assures them that Laura is alive, but the dead woman plays ‘dead’ and lets them haul him away. Laura lays at the bottom of the tub with a smirk on her face.

Full-color pinup to film legend to murdered. Oh, don’t believe what they say about an accidental overdose. Last thing I saw from the floor of my Brentwood bungalow was a CIA spook jabbing a needle into my eyeball, lest I tell Kennedy tales unwanted.” Media            —American Gods

Back at the police station, Detective Buffer puts Shadow and Wednesday together. She drops some photos on the table for Wednesday to see. She leaves so they can talk. Wednesday looks at the photos and tells Shadow they have to get out of there, and do it now. A spider (Anansi) picks Wednesday’s handcuffs. Shadow grabs his hands and asks him what is going on. Why is he so scared? The photos have a god’s eye view of them. Wednesday tells Shadow you don’t want to meet who is behind the photos until you’re ready to meet them. They hear gunshots in the squad room, and then silence. The interrogation room door unlocks and Media dressed as Marilyn Monroe floats in. Shadow:  “I Love Lucy? How the fuck are you floating?!” Media is wearing the iconic dress Marilyn wore in the Seven Year Itch. She is speaking in the breathy tone Marilyn used.  As Marilyn, she tells the captives, “Full-color pinup to film legend to murdered. Oh, don’t believe what they say about an accidental overdose. Last thing I saw from the floor of my Brentwood bungalow was a CIA spook jabbing a needle into my eyeball, lest I tell Kennedy tales unwanted.” Wednesday tells her they don’t want have a conflict with her. She isn’t there to talk to them alone. They hear footsteps coming down the hallway, each step Mr. World takes lights up the tile just like Michael Jackson did in the Billie Jean video. When he walks in, he is respectful to Wednesday and speaks to Shadow. Wednesday tells Shadow he doesn’t have to talk to him. Mr. World tells Shadow he knows him, “You’re a person. I know people. Everything about all of them. You have a name. Shadow Moon. You have a blood type and a recurring nightmare. B-positive and an orchard of bones. You prefer Swiss to cheddar and can’t abide the tines of two forks touching.” He also includes uncomfortable facts such as the face Shadow makes when he masturbates, and how many sexual partners his dead mother had, 86. Mr. World tries to come off as friendly, but comes across as menacing.

“Wouldn’t you like an upgrade? A brand new, lemon-scented you?” Media  —American Gods

Mr. World isn’t there to fight with Wednesday, even though that is what Wednesday wants. Wednesday asks if he is there to offer a truce. He isn’t since there wasn’t a war to begin with. What he proposes is a merger. He and Media begin their sales pitch. They can rebrand him. Media: “Wouldn’t you like an upgrade? A brand new, lemon-scented you?” They bring in a reluctant Technical Boy to issue an apology. He offers this ‘sincere’ apology, “I’m sorry. For lynching you. Hanged a dark-skinned man — it was in very poor taste. We’re in a weird, tense place, racially, in America. I don’t want to add to that climate of hatred.” They propose to Mr. Wednesday an Odin missile guiding satellite that will send missiles to blow up North Korea and kill over 24 million North Koreans. That will ensure that his name will never be forgotten. Media turns the room into a screen and we see unicorns and teddy bears. Technical Boy can’t understand why they are bothering to do this; they already have him. Mr. World tells him to show Mr. Wednesday his respect. He is older than them, and he his wise and has knowledge. Technical Boy says to Mr. World, “Fuck respect!” Media blows him a kiss that knocks out his front teeth. The new gods are ready to leave. In her regular voice, Media tells Shadow, “When telling this story, Shadow, tell it however you like. Or don’t like.” She walks out instead of floating.

Shadow and Wednesday walk into the squad room; it is a massacre. A tree tries to stab Shadow but he gets away. “Is this real? Did that just happen?” Shadow asks. “It’s still happening,” Wednesday replies. They are able to get out of the building. The cops who picked up Mad from the motel pull up and enter the station. The leave Mad in the squad car and enter with their guns drawn. He hears gunshots and then silence. Mad breaks out the squad car window and escapes. In the morgue, an attendant hears a noise. He goes to investigate. A drawer door flies off its hinges and strikes and kills him. That was courtesy of Laura. She gets some clothes from one of the deceased and leaves.


­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­For the first three episodes of American Gods, Laura was a mystery, a loving wife who betrayed her husband with his best friend. In episode four, we got her backstory, and what was revealed was a complicated woman who her husband really didn’t know.  In this episode, Shadow finally got to meet the wife he had only a week earlier idealized. Laura had always been able to control Shadow, she had the greatest advantage one can have in a relationship. He loved her more than she loved him. He needed her, while at best she wanted him, but she didn’t need him. She approached Shadow this way at the motel. Accept something has changed since her death, she needs Shadow, probably more than any living person has needed another person. He is the light of her life, the only one that can make her feel alive. (Literally!) So, the power has shifted to him and she didn’t realize it until she asked him if he was her puppy and he said no. It was fun watching her try to manipulate their meeting and her realizing that it is a new ballgame.

The comedic high point of the episode was Laura and Mad Sweeney. Watching these two battle each other for the coin in Laura was hilarious.  Mad is the type of guy who you want to punch, and Laura made sure to do it regularly. His insults didn’t faze her a bit. She gave as good as she got. The smirk she had on her face as the police hauled him out was extremely satisfying to watch.

Media as Ziggy Stardust, talking to Technical Boy was fun. Gillian Anderson had her David Bowie down cold, and her verbal smack down on this troll was great. Media and technology go hand in hand, so Media and Technical Boy probably have a close relationship, but she doesn’t mind smacking him around as she did as Marilyn Monroe with a blown kiss. Media appears friendly, but underneath the silly personas she takes on, she is probably as menacing as Mr. World.

The scene in the police station between the new gods and Wednesday and Shadow was funny, thrilling, and strange as hell. With Marilyn Monroe floating in and Shadow wondering why “I Love Lucy” was floating, until she blew a kiss to Technical Boy, the scene mixed the three elements together perfectly. While they were talking about killing 24 million people, you had rainbows, unicorns, and teddy bears on the screen. The big takeaway from their sales pitch was Mr. Wednesday would not be forgotten. To be forgotten is to face the fate of Nunnyunnini. That is what these gods fear, to be forgotten and die. After the new gods left, Shadow and Wednesday went into the squad room, where the new gods had massacred the police. These new gods may seem trippy and surreal, but they are as dangerous as the old gods.

It was a fun episode. Many of the threads of the first four episodes feel like they are coming together. Having the new gods make a strong presence in this episode has given the series a boost of forward momentum. The acting across the board was great. The animation for the Coming to America section was creative and starkly beautiful.

Grade: A









Anthony (Kbear!) Nichols | Editor-in-Chief
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