American Gods S1.05 review: "An action-packed whirlwind that puts each character to the test"

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A chilling look at the new gods, it's an action-packed whirlwind that puts each character to the test.

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Oh, Laura. Look at you. Being dead makes it hard to pull off demure, and Shadow certainly isn’t fooled anymore. I practically punched the air when he refused to be left in awe at his wife returning from the dead (he created snow with his mind the other week, so it’s probably hard to top that) and instead started to quiz her about her infidelity. Seeing Shadow shrug off the supernatural to focus on Laura’s human flaws is the best thing American Gods could be doing right now. After all, it would be easy for the series to ignore humanity to focus on the much more interesting shenanigans of the deities. Yet Lemon Scented You shows just how much you can learn about a god if you look at how they treat their worshippers...

Beginning with a fascinating Coming to America story, this time we’re told how travellers from Siberia arrived aeons ago. This time the sequence is shot entirely in CGI. With deep elf-like eyes, pointed chins, and grey skin, they don’t look particularly human. Their outlandish features remind us how old some religions are, how it’s almost inevitable that their gods get forgotten. As the mortals are so far from what we think of when we imagine humans, it’s no wonder their gods are entirely irrelevant too. Both the snow on the ground and the flame-eyed buffalo makes me think of Shadow. That buffalo was in his vision from the first episode, so if he really is a god (the snow-creating incident made me suspicious), is this where he begun? He might have been reborn in the present day for some reason or another. It just seems like too much of a coincidence that two things associated with Shadow appear in a Coming to America tale. His potential divinity is something I plan to keep both eyes on. 

Shadow is very much human at the moment, though, and he’s furious. The sound of a buzzing fly winds into the sound of a trombone, the incredibly unromantic tone emphasising Laura’s (Emily Browning) unsuccessful attempts to placate Shadow. Seeing him through her eyes with his pulsating golden aura makes me think she’s only reunited with him because she can’t physically resist him. Laura’s detached expression makes it feel like she’s lying when she says she loves him. I think she’s hungry for the mysterious power he has. Plus when she kisses Shadow her dead heart beats. What on earth is going on between them? Her inability to let Shadow go doesn’t look like it’s going to end well. We saw in the previous episode how just how powerful she is since her veins went stale, and her violent encounter with Mad Sweeney the leprechaun proves she can take on Gods. You can feel the series ramping up as more characters are meeting, creating their own alliances and feuds that are sure to have an impact on future episodes. 

Laura’s arrival coincides with a disastrous turn of events. Shadow and Mr Wednesday’s bank robbery from a couple of episodes ago didn’t go off as smoothly as planned, as a mysterious tip-off means they’ve finally been caught. Who would have thought a dreary police station would be the stage for the most exciting meeting of American Gods so far? To be blunt, the new gods are showing off. Gillian Anderson’s Media floats in as Marilyn Monroe, speaking every line with the blonde bombshell’s trademark breathlessness. We’re not seeing the real Marilyn but rather her onscreen persona, yet Media ruins her performance by nervously glancing at Mr World (Crispin Glover). Media is acting. It’d be good to see her as herself, as all this pretending means she’s the most enigmatic of the new gods. We’re getting a sense of their hierarchy too, with a Bowie’d up Media talking some sense into brattish Technical Boy. At the same time the lecture is taking place, your screen turns fuzzy as if it was a TV from the 50’s. She overpowers the scene, making you conscious yet again that you’re unintentionally worshipping her by watching American Gods, by consuming this entertainment. Fourth-wall breaking stuff should really be included more, as it’s the one way that you can fully comprehend just how powerful the new gods are.  

Oh, and they don’t want to beat the old gods into submission. For some reason they want to help them fit into the 21st Century. No tricks. Maybe they’re not as bad as Mr Wednesday claims. Mind you, I don’t know what they’re capable of, and I’m not entirely sure that Mr Wednesday should trust them. Especially since Crispin Glover’s Mr World, the leader of the new gods, trembles with each line he speaks. Glover has every tic of someone who’s on the edge: hair falling over his eyes due to his jerky head movements, plus a slight shine to his skin as if he’s perspiring with the effort of keeping his power contained. It’s ambiguous what Mr World is god of (perhaps the internet?), but seeing what this kind of intense power does to Gods hints at their otherness which the series otherwise manages to disguise. Dressing the gods in normal clothes fools us into thinking we can identify with them when really we shouldn’t even want to. 

Ending the episode with a massacre of the entire police station, the contempt the new gods have for humanity is troubling. As Wednesday puts it, “gods used to give something back”. Media, Mr World, and Technical Boy are all-powerful thanks to humans, yet they see no issue with mercilessly killing them. I hope that’ll be their downfall. But with the internet is becoming a basic necessity for so many (likewise with technology) do we have any option but to worship these new gods? If we have no choice, is it so surprising that they’re tyrants? Bursting out through the dead bodies in the police station were tree branches like the ones that gripped at Shadow in his dream vision from the first episode. I don’t associate trees with the new gods, so I’m wondering if that bloodthirsty flora is something else breaking free. Let’s hope Shadow keeps an axe handy. 

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Zoe Delahunty-Light

While here at GamesRadar, Zoe was a features writer and video presenter for us. She's since flown the coop and gone on to work at Eurogamer where she's a video producer, and also runs her own Twitch and YouTube channels. She specialises in huge open-world games, true crime, and lore deep-dives.