American Gods – Episode 3: Head Full of Snow – Reviewed

"I'm the moon - the main moon!"
As the layers of American Gods continue to unfold and reveal themselves, the Gaiman/Fuller/Green series gives us its most thematically-dense episode yet with Head Full of Snow. In a somewhat unexpected choice for a show that is still so close to its beginning, the episode presents us with a narratively-loose collage of moments which cuts back and forth between the main story of Shadow and Wednesday and several other vignettes about the interactions between humans and supernatural beings. These various threads add up to a portrait of the nature of belief, and how it intersects with human experiences of sex, death, and cultural identity. The series is still being pretty coy and secretive about what it is actually about in the narrative sense, but these themes are a large part of what it is really about at a deeper level.

With its several loose plot threads – two of which are totally disconnected from Shadow’s main arc – this episode provides a perhaps unexpectedly faithful adaptation of the book (while commonplace for a novel, it is much more unusual for TV shows to temporarily abandon its main characters to explore other parts of the world), and also expands upon the novel. Using the long-form storytelling mode provided by TV, it adds even more character development and thematic depth to Gaiman’s already beautifully fleshed-out work, giving fans of the book new surprises while also allowing it to stand on its own as a large-scale drama. It does all come full-circle in the sense that the side-stories mirror Shadow’s journey, and the tests of belief, philosophy, and conviction that the cunning and mysterious Wednesday is putting him through, but it does so in a way that is highly unusual for TV. The episodes of American Gods are purely serialized, and don’t seem to have any desire to stand on their own or have self-contained arcs. In that regard it is very much structured like a novel, which you have to read/watch from beginning to end. This makes it an extremely satisfying and deep show, but also one that requires commitment from the viewer; you can’t be a casual American Gods fan. I mean that completely as a strength: this joins the ranks of great modern television shows that feel more like gigantic single works of cinema than a collection of episodes.

"Welcome to the other side of the Stargate. Kurt Russell will be with you shortly."

From a philosophical standpoint, this episode is fascinating in how it deals with the complexity of belief in its many facets. It doesn’t look at belief in terms of religion, per se, but in a broader, deeply personal sense of how one’s philosophy, world-view, and heritage shape the way they interact with the world around them, and with their own intimate experiences. One vignette looks at the way a woman’s current religion and much older fascination with mythology both influence her views on death; another looks at intimacy and the knowledge and realization of one’s sexual identity as a holy experience of the most personal kind. And Shadow and Wednesday’s conversations look at the tension between abstract belief and concrete psychology, and the bizarre existential crisis inherent to the particularly-American longing for a sense of cultural identity in an increasingly displaced and alienated landscape. This is a show that is ripe for analysis by philosophy and anthropology scholars, and one that I am sure will inspire a good deal of papers by both students and academics.

"My seasonal allergies are really
awful this year..."
Since the last episode aired it was announced that American Gods has been renewed for a second season, and this is a very good thing indeed. For starters, the show clearly will not get through the entire book in just one season; with how thoroughly it is exploring the facets of Gaiman’s world, I’m not even sure it is paced in a way that will get through the book in two seasons. But more to the point, these episodes are showing such thematic depth, and yet just scratching the surface of the ideas being introduced, that even separated from the novel it clearly has a lot more to say than its current batch of eight episodes will allow. America is certainly in the midst of a pretty heavy existential crisis right now: more than ever, we are asking ourselves (with more than a bit of trepidation) the question that Wednesday presents… “what is America, really?” This is definitely a show that we need right now.


- Christopher S. Jordan

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