Frozen myth becomes flesh in American Gods: Head Full of Snow

Contributed by
May 14, 2017

Liz: Believe. The word conjures up everything from angels to Santa Claus to the Easter Bunny. It can glitter like the moon embedded in a jeweled sky or a magical coin that vanishes as suddenly as it was ever seen. It can mesmerize like fire or seduce like starlight. It can wake the subconscious mind or turn the waking world into a sort of phantasmagoria. It chants forbidden sorcery or appears with an incantation. It can be a miracle—or a mirage.

This episode of American Gods brought to life the many incarnations of belief, from a lunar magic trick (or was it?) to the last electrifying hope we have shooting across the sky as a spiderweb of lightning. Shadow is caught between dream and denial. He could be subject to sorcery or illusion if he hasn’t yet gone delusional with grief. If he is to believe what he sees, there arises the question of what he is even supposed to believe in. Conviction can lie in a vision, a word, a kiss, a melting snowflake.

Alyse: A strong episode. Last week kind of dragged a bit, with a far-too-lengthy checkers scene. I liked the bigger variety of gods we visited with this week – though I found myself missing Bilquis this week! I know we are only on our third episode, but this episode had some of the funniest lines so far. The old lady telling Death that “the black family” lives upstairs. Mr. Wednesday discussing “all the different Jesuses” in the most hilariously, benevolently racist way. I loved Mr. Wednesday’s little bank “heist,” and I loved how easily Shadow fell into the role of accomplice. He likes this kind of work, no matter what he says.

Liz: Sometimes you don’t even know you’re dead. You’re only putting away preserved lemons in your kitchen cupboard as the last rusty beams of sunlight withdraw to make way for eternal night. He comes in black and beckons you to follow. Your hands tremble and your face, which has seen the better part of seventy summers, quivers with tears that will never fall. You trail him out of your Queens apartment into a vast and alien expanse of desert where even the winds seem to whisper with the voices of your ancestors.

Gaiman envisioned the Egyptian afterlife as the mystical place that echoes from the Book of the Dead, where the sands of time swirl beneath galaxies so ancient that they were already millions of years old, light-years away from an embryonic earth. Fuller and Green captured this almost unfathomable image of eternity where dunes meet nebulae in an atmospheric spectacular that draws strength from its silence. It puts you under a spell that makes you want to believe in the black-robed figure as timeless as the universe itself. Whether he is the Reaper in the flesh or some sort of desert Charon is just something else that depends on what you believe.

Alyse: I don’t believe in an afterlife, but I think the afterlife that opened this episode was quite perfect. “Death” was so sweet, and the little old lady was funny. I hope I am like her when I die. Except for that sphinx cat. Those things are terrifying.

Liz: Mysteries only deepen even as the stars wink into wakefulness and the curtain of night falling over the rest of the city parts to reveal Zorya Polunochnaya, the Midnight Star. Delicate as a moth, a nochnaya babochka fluttering in the filmy light of dusk, the nocturnal sister of the Zorya is a refreshing departure from black coffee and cynicism of her sisters. It could be all that sleep. She still appears to be enchanted with the world, any remnants of which have long since faded from her sisters like the floral fabric of their house dresses. Space enthusiast that I am, let me take a moment to say that her steampunk rooftop observatory is nothing short of amazing.

This is one of those non-canonical embellishments I actually approve of because it’s just so magical (and in a way, also reminds me of the Floating Market in Gaiman’s Neverwhere). But what is the moon, really? Is it a silver coin you can just reach up and take if you believe you can take it? Is the magic just a sleight of hand? Is a kiss enough to shatter the sky?

Real and unreal coexist when you suddenly touch what you could have sworn was a trick of light moments ago. Whether the silver coin Shadow would have sworn really was the full moon he was gazing at until the Midnight Star plucked it from the firmament remains to be seen.

Alyse: Was Shadow’s encounter on the roof real, or a dream? On the one hand, the fire escape didn’t appear to exist in the morning; on the other, he did have the moon coin in his pocket. The beautiful makeup of the clouds and the apocalyptically gorgeous storm were too beautiful to be real.

Speaking of coins, I initially thought that the coin Sweeney lost was the one the third sister gave Shadow, some sort of magical transference. Once I realized that the show wasn’t being that esoteric, I started to wonder, “How dumb is Sweeney?” Why on earth would he play with his lucky coin? And how did it take him so long to figure it out? I guess with gods, anything is possible.

Liz: Like Bliquis before him, the Ifrit is another portal into the existence of a faded god whose raw power is only awakened by a mortal believer who sparks the ancient flare in his eyes. To see is to believe, or is that to believe is to see? That word again. Believe. Whether it is a sixth sense or just the resemblance to a long-forgotten god whispered about in childhood myths, belief is the elixir that fuels the crumbled ego of what was a once most feared and powerful deity wasting away behind the wheel of a taxi in a cloud of gas fumes and bitterness as he navigates the congestion of New York City traffic. Even in this desolate place, inject belief into the stagnant air and something is awakened.

Visuals of fire throughout American Gods have burned as metaphors for unearthly power. Remember the preternatural flames raging in the eye sockets of the buffalo-god Shadow encounters in his bone orchard dreamscape, the tongues of flame that lick at every drop of worship lavished upon Bilquis in her crimson apartment-turned-shrine, and how a force pulsating with renewed life glows primal and feral as it courses like blood through the veins of the Ifrit. He almost exists outside the plot, and yet he is an unshakeable force within it. This rise and revival of old gods restored to their former majesty is a central theme in Gaiman’s modern epic and Fuller’s adaptation.

Alyse: This was my favorite story segment this week. It is quaint that there are still door-to-door salesmen, and I liked that the salesman was a sweet, patient Middle Eastern man. It is so rare nowadays to see a Middle Eastern man not represented as a terrorist. His one night stand with the taxi driver was surprisingly tender. It was a feel-good segment.

Liz: Wednesday is a career con man. This is fact. He oozed something shady from the moment he and Shadow met on that fateful flight that would send him spiraling from a stint in prison to a strange and often unbelievable journey that may or may not be real. But does the endless con extend beyond bank heists and underhanded deals to consciousness, to messing with Shadow’s head?

The lines between tangible and intangible are blurred as Shadow is chronically haunted by the question of whether anything he sees or hears or touches is nothing more than a hallucination. When something (or someone) has been lingering in the cobwebs that gather in the back of your mind, are you really seeing what you think you’re seeing? When you will yourself to unleash power beyond human comprehension, are those first flakes of snow falling outside the window a coincidence or something more? Is Shadow Moon turning into Criss Angel? The deeper you allow yourself to be taken by American Gods, the more you will seriously question the divide between illusion and phenomenon.

Alyse: Snow. Mr. Wednesday kept urging Shadow to think about snow, to conjure it up. And he did. It worked – or Wednesday conjured up the snow and let Shadow think he did it. Either way, it felt like the first time Shadow finally opened his mind up to fantastical possibilities. Coming from someone who has never read the book, I sense it is a turning point for Shadow.



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