Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Salim owns the best episode so far of American Gods season three

Omid Abtahi in American Gods
Omid Abtahi in American Gods
Photo: Starz
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“I guess you’d call it a pansexual adventure love-in where you can get your kinky boots on.”

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American Gods has wandered away somewhat from the “Coming To America” stories since the first season, but this week, the series returns to the concept, though not entirely from the usual angle. This week’s god, Tu’er Shen (Daniel Jun), known as the rabbit god and the deity of same-sex love in China, has already been in America for 100 years when we meet him in 1951. He’s on the run and given shelter at the Grand Peacock Inn by its transgender proprietor, Toni (Dana Aliya Levinson), who recognizes one of the cops chasing him as a closet case from her past life. As a thank you, Tu’er Shen blesses the inn as his new temple, declaring it will run for decades to come. And lo, it still stands today, as Laura and Salim pull up in their hearse.

Season one started with Salim and the Djinn as a central couple, but Fuller’s departure and the show’s subsequent disarray led to putting queer stories on the back burner. A correction has been long overdue, but this week the series finally gives Salim something to do other than pine by introducing a new love interest, Kai (Noah J. Ricketts).

This week’s other stories move plot points along, and in Laura’s case, introduces a delightful new leprechaun, Liam Doyle, played by the to-die-for Iwan Rheon (Game Of Thrones). But the heart of this week’s episode lies with Salim. It takes half the episode and some curling up in his Djinn sweater before he takes Kai up on his offer and heads to the jamboree downstairs. But once he does, and after some minor hesitation, asks Toni for the honor of escorting her inside, this episode comes alive in a way American Gods has been struggling to achieve since season two.

Orgy scenes are hard to pull off. Punning aside, it’s a real issue when catering to the straight, white cis gaze to dramatize this aspect of queer culture and why it is essential. It’s rare for any media to appropriately capture how the experience shocks a person out of their assumptions of sexuality and morality, and why something that goes against everything about heterosexual society can feel like discovering themselves for the first time. I’m not saying American Gods manages it fully. Nor do I feel like everyone who watches this scene will experience it as the show means it to go over. But for the first time in quite a while, it does feel like the series is reaching for something more, something beyond the norm, a promise of beauty and truth that mainstream TV rarely achieves.

Emily Browning and Iwan Rheon in American Gods
Emily Browning and Iwan Rheon in American Gods
Photo: Starz
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But if Salim’s re-awakening is this installment’s joyful heart, it’s Laura’s letting go of Sweeney that echoes the current trend in stories of grief in these pandemic times. Doyle, Laura learns, isn’t just her ticket to Odin’s spear, currently residing in Sweeney’s hoard. He was the original assassin Odin tried to hire to kill Shadow’s inconvenient wife. The experience was a shock to Doyle, who was working as a leprechaun lawyer at the time, and unaware of just how low he’d sunk that someone like Odin would see him as willing to do such a thing. Odin responded by destroying his lucky coin, causing his fortunes to fall.

It takes a lot of work on Laura’s part to bring Doyle around. She claims Sweeney gave her the lucky coin out of guilt; before Odin killed him, the plan was to provide her with the spear as protection. But after all this careful lying, when she realizes she must give away Sweeney’s coin, she balks. After all, it’s all Laura has left of him. For all she makes fun of Salim and his constant wearing of the Djinn’s sweater, she can no less let go of Sweeney than Salim has of the Djinn.

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But Laura’s distrust in Doyle turns out to be misplaced. Despite her certainty that he’s taken the coin and disappeared, leaving her with nothing but a box of dust, he’s just super struggling because Sweeney hoards everything. But the misunderstanding leads to the necessary acceptance that the lucky coin and Sweeney are gone. Before Laura heads out, she says goodbye to Sweeney’s ashes, letting them float away. Unlike her, there will be no return for him. At least she has a new leprechaun friend with which to spar. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a zing of chemistry between them that will make this a couple worth watching.

Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle in American Gods
Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle in American Gods
Photo: Starz
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Meanwhile, Shadow Moon kidnapping is going according to plan, as the poor dude doesn’t realize until it’s too late and Tyr has drugged his coffee. But he catches on real quick, especially once an EMT trainee comes up trying to help him, and Tyr murders the man by slaughtering him via the throat. As Shadow falls in and out of snowblind dreams of ghosts, Tyr takes him to the Wolf’s Den, where he’s got an old-school display to place Shadow’s body on once he’s dead. This season’s arc might cause one to assume this is revenge for Demeter’s exiting the world. But Tyr claims this is revenge for one of the oldest Norse myths in existence, the story of Fenrir, and Tyr’s sacrifice of his hand in the Binding Of Fenrir myth.

Odin doesn’t take long to track the two down. Upon realizing this has nothing to do with Demeter and not a situation he can scam his way out of, he announces the only way to settle this is “the old way.” Suddenly, we’re back on the beachhead from the American Gods series premiere, where the Vikings first landed. Odin and Tyr are decked out in their original battle armor, fighting it out to the death like the mythological gods they are. But perhaps, like other characters who think “trial by combat” is the right answer, Odin discovers this is not his arena. He’s losing until Shadow Moon steps up and throws Tyr across the sands. Like any reasonable soul who wants to play by the rules, Tyr demands retribution for this interference with Shadow’s life. But, well, anyone who’s watched a WWE match knows what happens when a ringside distraction causes one of the fighters to turn their back on their opponent. This tombstone piledriver means Tyr will rest in peace.

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Odin burns Tyr’s body old-school style, surrounded by runes under a full moon. But Shadow has also earned something he never knew was possible — freedom. Odin declares Shadow’s debt is paid, and his son can now return to a normal life. But just as Shadow gets what he wants, he suddenly decides not to return to Lakeside. Remembering Sam’s story of Marguerite’s heartbreak over her son, who went to Florida and never returned, he decides instead to head to Jacksonville.


Stray Observations

  • Ms. World is back today, and her dress is fierce.
  • I missed the computerized face-hugger. Good to see it reappear.
  • Yetide Badaki as ModernTech Bilquis in TechBoy’s subconscious is seriously some great stuff. I am here for all versions of Bilquis.
  • I hope Laura and Salim’s parting of ways does not mean a lengthy absence for the latter. I love that Emily Browning keeps trading out scene partners, but Omid Abtahi is too good to lose.
  • Leprechauns: Hoarders feels like a spinoff series I can get behind, with or without random battles with the occasional 12ft púca.
  • This is another in a series of occasional reminders Iwan Rheon is a folk singer, and you should check out his stuff here.
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