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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

American Gods finally frees Bilquis in “Sister Rising”

Yetide Badaki as Bilquis and Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon in American Gods Season 3
Yetide Badaki as Bilquis and Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon in American Gods Season 3
Photo: Starz
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“The journey to spiritual awakening is better with french fries.”

After one week off and one actor fired, American Gods is back with The World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago of 1893. This opening marks a rare moment for the series; for once, the historical flashback focuses on creating a New God, Technology Boy, rather than the immigration of an old one. Notably, the last time the show did a “New God” opening, it was technology-focused as well. But in that case (“The Greatest Story Ever Told), it was the beauty of someone worshiping the possibilities of what technology brings. Here, it’s a far less positive experience, as our proto-Technology Boy is defeated by the old ways in the form of Maximilian the Magician (Jeremy Crutchley) and the art of the con.

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A glimpse of what’s to come? Perhaps. But it is the beginning of a story that will help, well, humanize, for lack of a better term, one of the show’s New Gods. Bruce Langley plays Technology Boy with an asinine grace, but it hasn’t made the character terribly sympathetic up until now. It certainly seems like our young digitized figure requires some sympathy. But it’s not Odin that is conning him. (At least, not yet, give it time.) Instead, faced with Bilquis, who has scrambled his circuits, he runs home to the place where it all started, curled up under his very first robot.

After two and a half seasons, I cannot overstate the beauty of the show’s pivot with Bilquis. As much as the first season was praised, Bryan Fuller’s choices with Bilquis, making her a female sexual horror figure, were problematic, especially when one considers how Black women are overly sexualized from a young age in our culture. Season three bringing it back with her devouring of Sanders felt like a misstep. However, it seems there was a reason for it, to create a turning point where Bilquis discovers this idolizing her as a sexual goddess and nothing else has been a trap she accidentally fell into; the boiled frog syndrome for Old Gods, as it were.

Seeing Bilquis freed by her Old God sisters and doing it for herself was a great moment, mostly since it saved Shadow Moon from, you know, actually having to rescue her. (Self-rescuing goddesses are quite convenient.) It seems any hope the New Gods had of making her join them is over now. One can only hope her example moves Shadow to break out of his own trap.

Unfortunately, it won’t be this week. Odin’s “breakdown” was, as one might have guessed, yet another con. (You would think by now we’d stop falling for them.) Shadow at least sees through his old man, but when confronted with trying to say no at pulling a “Number 37,” Odin’s eyes suddenly shift, and Shadow is on the case. It isn’t the first time viewers have seen Odin pull his son into his orbit unwillingly. But it is the first time we’ve seen it happen with another god: Demeter.

Season three has started to shine after last season’s inability to figure out what to do with Odin and leaning too hard on Laura and Sweeney for momentum. The “Number 37" is a hilarious sequence, perhaps the most delightful the show has done since Laura went to Purgatory. The low-stakes nature of it and how easily Cordelia and Shadow pull the scam off allows audiences to enjoy the visual references while not being too concerned about the outcome. Not that there aren’t concerning elements here—Shadow’s genuine enjoyment of the deception, that he agreed to do it in the first place—all of these are deeply disappointing, especially in the face of him having just seen Bilquis’ freedom. But that will have to wait for now.

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Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday, Blythe Danner as Demeter, and Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon
Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday, Blythe Danner as Demeter, and Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon
Photo: Starz

Shadow’s got bigger problems: His late wife. Laura is alive and well and trying to ignore that she’s mourning Sweeney. It drives her smack into Ibis and Salim, who are still hanging out together after their minor appearance a few episodes back. Both are shocked to see her and willing to settle on an explanation of why and how she returned: Sweeney’s blood was the “blood of true love” Baron Samedi’s potion was missing the whole time. It’s romantic, but also a bummer, since Sweeney is not much more than ashes and a gold coin in a box now.

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But Laura also learned a few things in two seasons; namely, death sucked. Like, it really sucked. Refusing to live while you’re alive is also a terrible idea, because death? It sucks. It’s what Ibis has been trying to tell Salim as he mopes around after his dear Jinn, but it takes Laura to kick his butt into gear. Salim needs to start living. And that’s going to start with coming along for the ride to murder Mr. Wednesday.

Of course, to find Wednesday requires Shadow Moon, whose return to Lakeside won’t be the peaceful return to break-in central he thought it would.

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Stray observations

  • Look, isn’t this the point where you make some mysterious prediction about my destiny? Man, don’t treat Bilquis like some passing plot point!
  • I wasn’t going to ship Shadow and Marguerite, but now that Laura’s here, it could be fun.
  • A start-up and not an electric car in sight? Please.
  • Holy Ocean’s 37! Cordelia does a great Anne Hathaway.
  • Most viewers probably forget Ricky Whittle is British, raised in Northern Ireland, and a Royal air force brat to boot, so he’s got an arsenal of accents in his repertoire. That Aussie one was a delight.
  • Every scene Blythe Danner is in is fantastic, but seeing her with Whittle this week was super-fun. She elevates the whole series. I have no idea how the show gets to keep her, but make it happen.
  • “Even once you’ve been dead for 100 million years, you still haven’t even begun to be dead.” Purgatory did a number on Laura, and she wasn’t even there more than two episodes.
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