Season 1, Episode 3: “Head Full of Snow”
Starring: Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane, Emily Browning, Cloris Leachman, Peter Stormare, Mousa Kraish, Pablo Schreiber, Chris Obi, Omid Abtahi, Erika Kaar
Our lovable pair continue on their journey by attempting to rob a bank by a method worthy of its own forensics documentary. Shadow sees even more outlandish things, which comes to a head at the end with the reappearance of someone that definitely shouldn’t appear outside dreams.
‘You’d rather die than live in a world with bears in the sky.’ – Zorya Polunochnaya
“Somewhere in America” presents us with much more recognisable settings than those of past weeks. An older woman, gossiping about her grandchildren with her cat is visited by Anubis, the Egyptian god of death. Bummer. Imagine an eternity of knowing you left kitchen appliances on. Well, Anubis has became a part of this woman’s beliefs and escorts the dead to the afterlife. Chris Obi fills out a bass-toned, statuesque Anubis/Mr Jacquel (his human moniker). He conveys seriousness and control, appropriate for the procedural and ritualistic Anubis.
The second “Somewhere in America” is also from the modern-day. A young man goes to an appointment that doesn’t happen, so he catches a taxi home. This taxi ride proves to be more intriguing than just the usual chitchat. The young man finds out he’s being driven by an ifrit, (a type of Jinn from Middle Eastern literature). This tale is book-ended by a very graphic gay sex scene, full-frontal-male nudity and all. Pretty refreshing, so special props to Omid Abtahi (Salim, the young man) and Mousa Kraish (the Jinn). Like Bilquis previously, we are shown how some of the gods use sex as a medium to accomplish certain things. Times never change.
Back in Chicago, Shadow is on the most Russian-looking sofa ever, bar having an actual Russian flag painted on it, in a spare room. Before too long, he is on the roof and meets Zorya Polunochnaya, who tells him of an ominous prophecy about the Great Bear in the stars and how each sister has their time, together keeping 24-hour surveillance of the sky and said Great Bear. Zorya performs an impossible coin trick that provides Shadow with a very special coin, like Mad Sweeny earlier.
As Shadow requests another game of checkers (because it went really well the first time), and, despite initial protests, Czernobog relents. Shadow wins the second game of checkers, mostly because Czernobog is old and apparently only knows one strategy. Typical. He is now due to join Wednesday’s cause and Shadow gets to postpone their previous arrangement (phew!). The next morning, Wednesday casually informs Shadow that they’re robbing a bank. Part of Wednesday’s plan is to literally make it snow, because of course it is. Where is Wednesday when you need him for a day off school?
The Zorya sisters and Czernobog are fascinatingly enjoyable. They are all different; feminine and powerful in their own unique way and yet unmistakably Slavic. Their poverty is an expression of both how many people in Slavic countries live and waning belief in their lore. The mirroring scenes of the young Shadow and Zorya Polunochnaya, and then the older Wednesday and Zorya Vechernyaya, intricately frame and foreshadow Wednesday’s intentions – war and havoc. However, it’s Pablo Schreiber’s Mad Sweeny who makes a welcome appearance, full of crudely honest humour in some of the most stressful life situations. Probably much to the chagrin of Shadow, as he may be the only person Shadow can’t deal with, and not because of the magic, but because he’s just an awesome a**hole.
Ian McShane really deserves his own weekly paragraph at this point as he seamlessly plays funny, menacing, wise, confused, amused, bemused, c-mused… whatever Wednesday needs to be in that moment. There is not one situation he can’t control. For now.
Getting treated to this much character development and depth and exploration is a thing of beauty for television these days. The distinctive inner landscape and their version of the external world shows how these figures are human creatures of habit and godly creatures of power, focusing on the minute detail and complexities of things, and making for great world-building.