The Merger of the Gods (American Gods S01E05 – “Lemon Scented You” REVIEW)

lemonscent 1What do you get when you put the leaders of two warring factions of gods together in the same room? Perhaps it would be something like what happens in Lemon Scented You, the latest episode in STARZ’s hit adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods. After the backstory-heavy episode last week, Lemon Scented You kicks things up a notch when the leader of the New Gods, Mr. World (Crispin Glover), finally meets with the leader of the Old Gods, Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). Written by David Graziano (teleplay) and Bryan Fuller and Michael Green (head writers/showrunners) and directed by Vincenzo Natali, Lemon Scented You picks up from where the past two episodes have left off: Shadow (Ricky Whittle) walks into his motel room and finds his dead wife, Laura (Emily Browning), waiting for him on his bed – very much not dead. Shadow’s emotional reunion with his wife is interrupted when he and Wednesday are arrested and kidnapped by the New Gods, led by the mysterious Mr. World. (Spoilers ahead!) 

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The God Nunyunnini in this week’s Coming to America vignette.

This week’s episode featured the return of the Coming to America segments, featuring the story of the god Nunyunnini. Unlike previous segments, this one was done through animation, and it’s beautiful. It’s presented in a faux stop-motion style – it’s clearly CGI – and it really fits the story of the god well. Stylistically, it’s reminiscent of artwork from the indigenous people of America, which are the people being depicted in the short (set during an ice age, it features people crossing the land bridge into America thousands of years ago). Like the other vignettes, the story of Nunyunnini doesn’t really have any narrative or thematic relevance to the episode that follows it, but that doesn’t make it any less welcome. It’s a nice way to remind the audience what show they’re watching and get them ready to be thrown back into this world after last week’s more low-key, but still important, episode.

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Shadow and Laura share a tender moment.

The event the show’s been teasing for the past two weeks finally comes to fruition this week as Shadow and the no-longer-dead Laura meet face-to-face. Shadow, understandably, isn’t terribly happy with her. Between having already mourned her death and discovering she’s not actually dead, and the whole she-had-an-affair-with-his-best-friend thing, Laura isn’t exactly the person he wants to see at the moment. But, nonetheless, they talk. Laura explains her actions, why she did what she did, and that she still loves him, even more now than she did even when she was alive. Shadow, naturally, has trouble wrapping his head around everything as she asks him to fetch her some cigarettes. Meanwhile, one of the crows from outside knocks its beak on Wednesday’s door to alert him about a mysterious black car in the parking lot that seems to be spying on their actions. Shadow returns to his room, finding Laura in the bath – because she wants him to be able to feel warmth when he touches and kisses her. The whole scene is really tender and emotional and gives Emily Browning her biggest opportunity of playing a Laura who actually outwardly displays more feelings than apathy. I really adored Browning’s portrayal of Laura’s depression last week; it was so nice seeing such a realistic portrayal of someone with depression, and Browning played it beautifully. That being said, it was also nice seeing Browning get to play a warmer Laura. These past two episodes have given her a lot of good material to play with, and Browning has more than risen to the challenge. Ricky Whittle, too, gets to show off some chops in these scenes as he really embodies Shadow’s pain as he reckons with everything he’s witnessing and dealing with. Ricky Whittle plays heartbroken really well, and it’s nice when Shadow is allowed to express his emotions in visible and audible ways; Ricky Whittle does a good job with scenes like that. Unfortunately, Shadow and Laura’s reunion is cut short as Wednesday interrupts them, and then subsequently gets himself and Shadow arrested.

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Gillian Anderson as Media, this time in the guise of Marilyn Monroe.

Moreso than any of the previous episodes, this episode is where Shadow’s feet are really yanked out from underneath him as he’s forced to encounter his no-longer-dead wife, Laura. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s then arrested and interrogated by a cop, played by Tracie Thoms, who foreshadows the imminent arrival of Mr. World, himself. But before Mr. World can arrive on the scene, the Goddess of Media – quite literally – glides into the room, presenting herself as the image of Marilyn Monroe. As if that wasn’t enough, in walks Mr. World, with his face-morphing ability to morph into the face of anyone, telling Shadow and Wednesday that they’re respected by the New Gods. In walks Technical Boy (Bruce Langley), there at the behest of Mr. World to apologize to Shadow for the whole lynching him thing that happened in episode 1. (Mr. World really roughs Tech Boy up, which is a joy to see since Bruce Langley really plays Tech Boy in such an unlikable way). With the dirty business out of the way, it is revealed why Mr. World is there: he intends to offer Wednesday the chance to form a merger: if Wednesday stops recruiting Old Gods for a war, Mr. World will work with Mr. Wednesday to ensure he continues to be worshiped by launching a satellite named ODIN over North Korea, which would then drop thousands of missiles onto the land, utterly destroying it, and creating a new Valhalla (this is basically the show’s way of saying “If you haven’t figured out who Wednesday is yet, we’ll spell it out for you!). Along with this image, Media transforms the walls into screens which display the offer while it’s being described, completely freaking Shadow out.

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Wednesday looks at Media’s projection of Mr. World’s offer.

It’s this scene, and the setup and fallout from it, that form the majority of the episode. If last week’s episode was designed to set up the emotional arc for the rest of the season, then this week’s episode was designed to set up the narrative arc. Finally, the battle between the Old and New Gods is, at least somewhat, explained and laid out for the audience. The New Gods have been able to occupy the vast majority of Americans’ attentions, leaving little to nothing left for the Old Gods to be worshiped with. The Old Gods, led by a scared of extinction Mr. Wednesday, intend to go to war with the New Gods in order to salvage the attention of Americans and retain enough worship to continue living. While Mr. World respects the Old Gods, their knowledge, and their desire to stay relevant, he nevertheless intends to ensure that progress continues to happen and humanity continues to move forward and evolve its beliefs. He knows the danger that Mr. Wednesday poses, and is willing to make a deal with him in order to prevent war. But deep down, Mr. World knows that Wednesday won’t agree to the deal. It feels like Mr. World has an alternate plan up his sleeve. Ultimately, Mr. World, Media, and Technical Boy leave Shadow and Mr. Wednesday behind so they can contemplate accepting the deal. Wednesday has no intention of accepting and escapes the building with Shadow.

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Laura refuses to give Mad Sweeney his coin back.

While all that is going on, Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) finds Laura in Shadow’s motel room and demands from her the return of his lucky coin – which, unfortunately for him, is the very thing keeping Laura alive. There’s once catch, though: Laura has to relinquish ownership of the coin willingly, something she has no intention of doing. Sweeney attempts every feasible way to get Laura to give him back his coin, but she refuses every attempt and continually beats the living shit out of him. This circle of Sweeney attempting to get the coin and Laura kicking his ass goes on for some time until Sweeney tries to drown Laura in the tub and gets arrested by a policeman who’s kicked in the door after all the noise. Laura pretends to be dead again, sealing Sweeney’s fate. By the end of the episode, Sweeney has escaped from custody and Laura has escaped from the morgue where she’s been held again (as the cop thought she was dead). It’s a fun scene that seems to set up the B-plot of the rest of the season as one where Mad Sweeney and Laura continue to fight over the ownership of the coin while the A-plot of the imminent war between the gods looms over the horizon.

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While many questions have been answered, new ones have arisen. Like what is this moving tree-like thing? Is this Mr. Wood (one of the spooks in the novel working for Mr. World)?

In general, this episode exists to set up the final three episodes of the season. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. So much has happened already this season, it only makes sense to somewhat recap it all and lay out the groundwork for the rest of the show going forward. The episode does this in an engaging way that doesn’t end up feeling like the setup for subsequent episodes. It actually feels like clarification of things that have already happened. It’s made clearer who Wednesday and the Old Gods are, what they want, and why they want it, and it’s also made much clearer who the New Gods are and what they’re up to. It’s a smart way of revealing enough to keep the story going while not laying all your cards on the table. They’re still enough confusion and uncertainty to propel the audience through the remainder of the season, but Fuller and Green played it smart by offering the audience just enough answers to keep them from being utterly frustrated with the confusing nature of the show.

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Gillian Anderson as Media, this time in the guise of David Bowie.

What really shines this episode is the acting. The direction by Vincenzo Natali and the writing by Fuller, Green, and David Graziano are good as always, and Brian Reitzell’s music continues to be excellent, but the acting is really the shining light of the episode. As previously mentioned, both Ricky Whittle and Emily Browning are given varied material to play with, being able to imbue their characters with more emotion and urgency than we’ve previously seen from either of them. Both of them do a remarkable job with the new material and continue to show why they were the best choices to portray their respective characters. Crispin Glover makes for a mysterious, offputting, and menacing foe as Mr. World. He’s so ambiguous that you can’t really tell if anything he says is genuine or not, and it’s incredibly uncomfortable – something which Glover plays well. He seems to be having the time of his life as Mr. World. At times, his performance could be considered campy, but it never really feels over the top. He manages to make the more outlandish aspects of Mr. World’s personality feel real and earned. Bruce Langley continues to be irritating in that way where you hate him but you love him – you love to hate him. He was a smart choice to play Tech Boy. Gillian Anderson shines even brighter this episode as Media than she did in her last appearance in The Secret of Spoons. Her Marilyn Monroe is fun and campy and just right, but her David Bowie is a work of art in its own right. She nails his mannerisms in both his body movement and his vocal inflections. Dressed as Ziggy Stardust, it’s so much fun watching her bring to life the late, great Bowie while intimidating the hell out of Langley’s Technical Boy. Gillian Anderson is just an utter delight to watch in this series.

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Crispin Glover as Mr. World.

After last week’s more emotional and introspective episode, Lemon Scented You returns the focus to American Gods‘ ongoing story arc of the war between the Old and New Gods. Acting as the framework for the rest of the season, the episode smartly lays the seeds for the plotlines going forward. Featuring beautiful direction, engaging and funny and emotional writing, and brilliant acting from its stars, Lemon Scented You is American Gods at its best. Its reflective of the world around it, relishing in its own mythology and weirdness, and utterly entertaining as hell to watch. It’s sort of the turning point of the season where the audience and Shadow finally have an inkling of what’s going on and what the stakes are. From here on out, it’s full speed ahead. Destination: war. I give Lemon Scented You five out of five wands. I can’t wait for next week’s episode as we finally get to meet Vulcan! It sucks that there are only three episodes left for this season, but God, do I love this show.

American Gods airs Sundays at 9 pm on STARZ and can be watched anytime on STARZ.com, the STARZ app, or Amazon (with a STARZ subscription).

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