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American Gods S01 Ep05 Deep Breakdown: Lemon Scented You

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I wish I could tell you with any degree of honesty or accuracy, that a day late, I am bursting into this review with a concise and clear plot synopsis and insight that goes all the way up. But we have cultivated an honesty, you and I, and I choose to hope, a little trust.  “Lemon Scented You” reminded me a bit of the American Gods version of “Digestivo” in Hannibal – it is top to bottom bonkers, practically the maximum amount of insane shit you could possibly manage to fit into an hour of television.  It is wildly, abundantly entertaining, and the time flies past.  Hannibal eked out an advantage, though, by being of a more contained and smaller scope.  This episode of American Gods is a grand, unruly, undulating beast – it’s glorious, but the emotional impact ends up a bit muted.  But more on that later.

In the broadest of strokes, here’s what happens: Shadow has a heart to heart with Laura that would qualify as surprisingly pragmatic, were it not for the week he’s been having.  Wednesday confers with his raven (and careful viewers will continue to grow their lists of reasons Wednesday probably isn’t very trustworthy), and he and Shadow are arrested for their ATM grift in “Headful of Snow.”  Interrogated separately, Shadow and Wednesday respond by not responding at all and absolute truth, respectively.  The absolute truth, however, is so absurd as to be unbelievable.  An old god, recruiting some friends to help combat the old gods, while a down on his luck leprechaun tails the dead wife of said old god’s Man Friday?  The fact that every part of that sentence is accurate distills what’s so completely great about American Gods.  Anyway!  Eventually Wednesday and Shadow are confronted by Media – now in the guise of Marilyn Monroe – and Mr. World (Crispin Glover…who I have SO much to say about), dragging along a particularly petulant Technical Boy.  Mr. World explains that he wants to work with Wednesday, and suggests a merger of interests, all while casually dropping Wednesday’s true identity into the mix.  Wednesday or Odin, pick your poison because it’s all cyanide in the end, is unimpressed, and he and Shadow make a quick escape.  Parallel to this, Mad Sweeney is trying to reclaim his coin from a very practical and mildly blasé Laura Moon – who is smart enough to understand that none of the other coins Sweeney is offering her will serve the same function as the one he wants back so badly.

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Ok, so.  That is the raven’s eye view of the story, let’s get into the nitty gritty of the varying degrees of efficacy on display.  Because everything works; it’s just a question of how it works, and what function it ultimately serves.  Visually, the show is stunning, in every possible way.  The episode opens with a beautiful, animated “Coming to America” sequence, the cinematography continues to be top notch, but the most interesting visual flourishes are the pop cultural touchstones on display, starting with Gillian Anderson’s Media.  In this episode, she appears as both David Bowie and Marilyn Monroe.  It is, perhaps, a point too obvious, but I would be remiss for not stating it; we are at a point where we must assume nothing is incidental. We must always be asking “why”.  So why Bowie?  Why Marilyn?  Gillian Anderson as Media appears as the icons, not as they were themselves, but in the guises of characters they portrayed – Bowie as Ziggy Stardust and Marilyn as whatever the hell her character in The Seven Year Itch was named.  We are dealing with layers upon layers of subterfuge.  The immediate and obvious reason is simply that these personas make the characters recognizable – particularly for Bowie, the transformation requires a visual touchstone people will know, beyond a remarkably handsome and well-preserved Englishman.  But then we must ask, why is it important that we, the audience, recognize that Media is Bowie (and not Aladdin Sane or Thin White Duke Bowie…)?  Why is that the guise that she chooses to reveal herself to Technical Boy through?  I will not offer any answers to these questions; they are open to interpretation, and though I have a great deal of thoughts, they are my own and not inherently right.  The most important question about Media isn’t actually why she chooses who she chooses – it’s that she chooses at all.  Consider what she is representative of, and then question what it means that we never see Media’s true face, only the disguises she selects.  Media is an ever shifting lie.

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And then there’s Mr. World.  Be still my heart.  He walks in like Michael Jackson in the “Billie Jean” video – the King of Pop Culture versus the ancient god of war.  And oh yeah, no big deal, he’s just Crispin Glover.  Spoiler alert, I’m lying, it’s a huge deal.  Like most girls, I dedicated the summer of my 16th year to hunting up and watching every Crispin Glover movie, from the weird to the very weird.  That old spark fanned back into an inferno faster than you could say “gee, this room is full of pure oxygen” when he walked onto the American Gods screen, all strange, other-worldly energy.  I have often praised the show for its casting, and the shared moments between the wry boredom of Ian McShane, the alien energy (and I do mean alien in the outer space sense.  I am not fully convinced Crispin Glover is of this world) of Mr. World, and the “what have I gotten myself into” resolve of Ricky Whittles are absolute gifts.

Speaking of Ian McShane and Ricky Whittles….if there is one detriment to the extremely bananas and kinetic moving parts this week, it is that we do not get to see nearly enough of Wednesday and Shadow interacting.  With all due respect to Laura and Shadow and the ‘shippers (more on that in a moment), the most riveting relationship on the show is between Wednesday and Shadow.  Whittles and McShane have an absurdly good chemistry and it is a joy watching them bounce off of each other.  This is a show with a lot of characters, but I would hate to see it lose focus on that pivotal relationship.

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I promised a word on ‘shippers, and because I am a Kelly of my word, here it is:  I’m not sure how I feel about Laura and Shadow.  I’d like to ship them (I am assuming a base level of fandom vocabulary here, but should this phrase prove foreign to you, it basically just means adoration for a couple you want to see together within pop culture), but it feels disingenuous to what we know about both characters at this point.  Shadow couldn’t save Laura from herself when she was living; why would he be able to now?  The most pivotal change to occur to their relationship, posthumously, is Shadow finally facing Laura as flawed.  In life, he had her on a pedestal and was determined to rescue her, even when she didn’t want to be rescued.  In expanding Laura’s role from the novel (a development I am thrilled about), the question of what Laura means to Shadow and vice versa becomes more finely tuned and more essential.  And though Emily Browning and Ricky Whittles certainly do have a kind of chemistry together, I found the interactions between Sweeney and Laura to crackle more; not necessarily romantically (though a sexual energy definitely existed), but just watching two difficult, coarse assholes create friction for each other was magnetic.

I could write about this show for days, but all good things must come to an end.  We still have Easter to meet before the end of the season – who are you looking forward to coming back?  Are you more Jacquel or Ibis? Are you as hopeful as I am that we’ll see Jonathan Tucker’s Low-Key Lyesmith before the end of season 1?  Sound off in the comments!

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Kelly Mintzer hates dolls but loves movies about evil ventriloquist dummies. She is working her way through the “Sandman” series slowly but surely, and has been compared more than once to that iteration of Death. Holding down South Philly with a creative writing degree and the full series of “Hannibal”, she hasn’t seen her natural hair color in years.

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