American Gods Episode 5: 'Lemon Scented You' smells like conspiracy

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May 31, 2017, 6:52 PM EDT (Updated)

WARNING: Here be spoilers for American Gods Season 1, Episode 5: "Lemon Scented You."

Liz: Night and neon. Flame and electricity. Death and digitalization. The Internet is the new house of worship. Reality and virtual reality are almost indistinguishable. Gods older than time are decaying as the glare of TV commercials blazes from a new altar.

Besides being overshadowed by a conspiracy crackling in the electrical wires of a new type of worship, this episode is steeped in powerful imagery. Unearthly light flares where there is life and extinguishes itself in the clammy cold of death. The eyesore pink of a '50s motel sign buzzes its last gasp surrounded by ancient shadows. Defying the barrier between life and afterlife is as absurdly easy as being above or below a glassy sheet of bathwater. And then there's David Bowie.

You're going to have some really trippy nightmares.

Alyse: This is a dense episode, loaded with important moments (like meeting Mr. World) and less-important moments that stuck out because they were so charming (like Wednesday's chat with a raven). In "Lemon Scented You," Shadow faces his undead, unfaithful wife; Technical Boy gets his ass handed to him from the other, less douchey new gods; and the new gods finally confront the old and offer a deal.

Liz: Frozen over in a desolate color palette of blue lips and gray faces, there is something about the opening animation that is primal and powerful even in CGI. The flight of an old god from the wasteland of Siberia to the wilds of the new world echoes the rawness of Gaiman’s voice. Eerie and almost menacing, the mammoth skull they revere as Nunyunnini seems to have a ghost-life of his own, almost speaking with his phantom jaw. He is like an artifact that fell from the strange galaxies of Jacquel's afterlife aeons and aeons ago, and Atsula is just he next in an endless line of shamans to inherit him.

What appears to be a fossil that has been silent since a lost Pleistocene sunset is the beating heart of Atsula's people. The spirit that silently guides them over the permafrost into dark and dangerous territory. Even an inanimate object can rise to power when it is worshiped as a god.

Liz: Never mind that the reanimated corpse of Laura Moon is tattooed with a permanent Y-incision and had to have one briefly disembodied arm sewn back on, or that someone who is one phase away from being ashes herself can barely taste a cigarette. There seems to be something inside her that was dead in life which is ironically alive in death. She obviously never loved Shadow when she was a living, breathing mass of protoplasm unzipping Robbie's jeans while her husband passed interminable days in prison with coin tricks. Shadow was just her "puppy" (which comes off as derogatory no matter how saccharine she tries to make it come off).

You can almost feel the shockwaves that ripple through Shadow's being when he confronts her. His wife died with her head between another man's legs. She is stitched together and pumped full of preservatives, perched at the edge of his bed in the sequined dress she probably wishes she wore at her own funeral. Now she wants to piece together the fragments of their relationship. Maybe having formaldehyde flowing through your veins instead of blood actually makes you feel regret.

Alyse: ‪‬If your deceased, adulterous spouse returned from the dead, what would your first reaction be? If you are Shadow Moon, you would only care about the adultery. Apparently Shadow has already seen enough weird shit that his wife coming back from the dead is the least disturbing part of the night. I appreciate how honest Laura is about her relationship with Robbie, but poor Shadow … it just doesn’t make things easier on him.

The idea that Laura doesn't realize what she has until it's gone is a little on-the-nose, but it is well represented. Now that Laura realizes how much she needs and wants Shadow, does her death make her more alive than ever?

Liz: You're dragging your feet around a motel parking lot, scraping the soles of your skate shoes against the asphalt, when you get assaulted by a computerized facehugger that zaps you into the backseat of a limo that may or may not be real — and across from you is David Bowie.

This techno-glam scene is in direct contrast to the ancient mammoth skull revered by a vanished people. Gillian Anderson is so stellar as Bowie that you'll swear the whole thing is a séance which brought him back in Technicolor down to the dead-on blue of her Life on Mars suit. Bonus points if you catch the song references programmed into her speech. Your mind may be officially blown by this point, but listen to what the rock star has to say. Really listen. Because it isn't Bowie, and it wasn't I Love Lucy taunting Shadow with a striptease in the department store either. This is a new god who wants to suck your soul into the wires and microchips of computers, commercials and cable TV. This is Media, and if you're Technical Boy, you're about to get rebooted.

Alyse: I didn't think it was possible to love Gillian Anderson any more than I already do ... then she dresses as a spot-on David Bowie, and I'm in love all over again. I can't help but wonder if, at some point, the producers will have Media dressed to represent Agent Scully. It would be the visual representation of a 'dad joke.' I love dad jokes.

It was nice seeing Technical Boy get chastised like a child. He basically is a child, not just in comparison to the other gods, but in the way he acts. It is obnoxious and very unbecoming for a celestial being.

Liz: Mad Sweeney may not be the raving lunatic his name suggests, but he does have the worst luck in the universe. No matter how drunk you are, you don't just let an immensely powerful object slip through your greasy fingers. You also don't keep calling the woman whose house you just broke into "Dead Wife" after the cops raid the place and see her corpse submerged in the bathtub (even though she is a corpse that walks and talks and smokes cigarettes because of some bizarre magic). There is no detective who would possibly believe you in the interrogation room.

That gold, pulsating life force that lights up Laura's ribcage like a firefly is something Sweeney should have thought of as he downed his umpteenth pint at Jack's Crocodile Bar. The flashes of gold you might have almost believed you never saw are suddenly almost tangible. What the leprechaun lost is both is more than just gold -- it's an ancient throbbing life force that blazes in his eyes from the depths of Laura's body cavity, blazes with the remorse of ever allowing it to fall from Shadow's hands into the freshly upturned earth of his wife's grave. She even gives him a trial before he's ever in handcuffs. You know you've hit rock bottom when you're being questioned by a corpse who gets a confession out of you by pushing her heel against your throat.

Alyse: ‪‬Ahhhh this was such a great scene. I had no idea the undead could be so strong; Laura destroyed Mad Sweeney with little more than the flick of her wrist. I still don't understand how Sweeney could lose a coin so important to him. This episode confirms what I supposed last week (and what everyone who has read the book knows), that it was the coin that brought Laura back to life. Unsurprisingly, she is not going to let go of that coin without a fight. Respect to Laura for playing dead when Mad Sweeney tried to drown her because then he gets arrested for 'killing' her. It doesn’t help his case that he calls her "Dead Wife."

Liz: The candy-coated conspiracy between the new gods will plug you in to an acid dream of symbolism, from Media sickeningly oohing and aahing as Marilyn Monroe to a pseudo-FBI projecting hallucinogenic images of rockets shooting through rainbows that explode into stars. Merging tech and tradition into "a brand-new, lemon-scented you" is what they so tantalizingly advertise. Somehow I have a feeling Wednesday would never want to smell like anything else but leather and cognac.

What this virtual kaleidoscope masks is technological rot. These new gods are not gods in the sense of a painted Osiris or a marble Apollo or the crumbling skull that is Nunyunnini speaking through the millennia. These are digital fragments and concepts personified by the brainwashed into their own glowing idols, except the glow comes from a battery or an electrical outlet. Marilyn is just another virtual skin that peels away to reveal the mesmerism of mainstream media. Technical Boy is just a video game character with the diabolical Mr. World at the controls. His smile alone is just the opening act of a force that can hypnotize you like a used car salesman, jolt you with fear like a legit government agent or smash its face into a million pixels to mock the ecstatic throes of a mortal. You can't bring yourself to change the channel when these neo-ghouls are rewriting your program into their artificial sphere.

Alyse: Old gods (Wednesday and Anansi in bug form) finally come face-to-face with the new gods: Media, Techno Boy and Mr. World. The new gods want to initiate a "merger" with the old gods. New gods see it as evolution; old gods see it as exile. I can't help but wonder if Wednesday isn't being a bit obstinate. He is from a time when humanity and theism were brand new concepts. Humanity has moved past fire and the wheel. He needs to either adapt, or die. As someone who hasn't read the books, I still don't know the full story behind Wednesday, nor his full power, so maybe there is a reason he is fighting so hard against evolving.