American Gods – Episode 5: Lemon Scented You – Reviewed

"It's the freakiest show..."
Over the last month American Gods has slowly unfolded a mysterious and shadowy (no pun intended) web of deliberately incomplete mythology; world-building with key elements of that world kept in the dark, both from us and from our protagonist. Showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green have done a brilliant job of letting us get to know (or think we know) an ensemble of fascinating characters while withholding key details about them, and they have built up the skeleton of a plot all the while hiding from us what that plot really is. We have been allowed to know exactly as much as our bewildered protagonist Shadow Moon knows – which is to say, as little as possible, but enough to know that this is a journey we have to be on. This is the episode where that all changes. In a series of swift, intense sequences, the world starts to come out of the dark, and the plot comes into focus while raising both the urgency and the stakes. In short, this is a turning-point moment for the series.

As Shadow and Laura try to figure out where they stand – both in terms of their relationship and in terms of the natural order of life and death – the mysterious forces who have been pursuing Shadow and Wednesday come together to make plans. As those forces close in around them, Shadow is increasingly faced with the mythical reality of the world he has been pulled into, and the danger that lurks there. The conversations and confrontations that carry these secrets fill in quite a few of the important blanks that have been left in the show's lore, and for the first time they really reveal the hitherto-mysterious narrative of the series. If you're a viewer of the series who hasn't read the book, and who has spent the last month hooked to the show but also wondering just what is going on, this is one of the moments you've been waiting for. The slow build-up of the mythology over the first half of the season makes this episode's reveals even stronger and more well-earned, as the knowledge feels like something that we (and Shadow) truly have earned by facing the mysteries of Mr. Wednesday's world and taking them in stride. For those who have read the book, the scope of Wednesday's quest, and that of his opposition, are realized brilliantly – and with a couple key differences that pack a welcome punch even to those already familiar with the material.

"We're clearly in an alternate nightmare reality where Biff is president...
where's my son when we need him?"

The show's mysterious antagonists take center stage here, giving excellent performances that not only flesh out their characters beyond the glimpses we've seen so far, but significantly differentiate themselves from their literary counterparts. Gillian Anderson's Media really shines in this episode, taking on some more personas drawn from pop-culture, and using those borrowed personalities to deliver some wonderfully devious monologues. Bruce Langley's bratty, vape-loving Technical Boy proves once again to be a spot-on 2017 update of the character, for the age of Martin Shkreli and Jesse Eisenberg's retooled Lex Luthor. These two updated characters even provide reason for the show to address how the sixteen years since the book's publication have made its themes of race and racism in America more depressingly relevant than ever. But possibly the best moments come from an actor whose name has been featured in the opening credits of every episode so far, but who has been conspicuously absent prior to this fashionably-late entrance: crazy-guy extraordinaire Crispin Glover. I shall say nothing about who he is or what purpose he serves in the episode, as he provides some surprises for both those who have read the book and those who have not, which must remain unspoiled. But I can say that he delivers an excellent performance that is just as wonderfully unhinged as we have come to expect from this strangest of actors. He even manages to upstage Anderson, and given her appearance shown above, that's really saying something.

"Did you get these scars in the Sunday
ratings battle against Twin Peaks?"
This first season of American Gods has built up in an absolutely brilliant way, gradually expanding its universe and mythology while teasing the mystery and central plot rather than revealing it. It has been an exercise in the slow ratcheting up of suspense and the gradual laying-out of clues, taking a storytelling approach more similar to that of a novel than a typical TV show. That approach makes this sudden snapping into focus of several key aspects of the plot all the more satisfying, and makes the already high speed of this episode's key moments feel even more intense. The series just hit the accelerator, and it is fantastic.


- Christopher S. Jordan

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