REVIEW: “American Gods” S03E05 – “Sister Rising”

A lot happens in this week’s episode of American Gods. So much, in fact, that it feels like the episode is comprised of two different episodes that have been forced together. The first is the conclusion to the previous episode’s Bilquis (Yetide Basaki) arc; the second is a heist-themed episode seeing Shadow (Ricky Whittle) and Cordelia (Ashley Reyes) finding dirt on Hutchinson (Sebastian Spence), Demeter’s (Blythe Danner) conservator. The combination of these two storylines creates a tonally weird experience, with the first half of the episode being emotional and philosophical and the second half being more comedic. This doesn’t result in a bad episode, though, just a somewhat uneven one. Still, there’s a lot of exciting highs to be found here. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: This review contains spoilers for episode 3×05 of American Gods. Read at your own risk.)

American Gods S03E05 – “Sister Rising”
Written by: Damian Kindler
Directed by: Nick Copus

Shadow (Ricky Whittle) explores notions of purpose, destiny and identity with a newly enlightened Bilquis (Yetide Badaki). Elsewhere, Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) struggles with an identity crisis of his own. In his efforts to free Demeter (Blythe Danner), Wednesday (Ian McShane) asks a reluctant Shadow to assist in a new con.

Bilquis Freed

We catch up with Bilquis where we left her last time. She’s having a vision where she’s discussing her past with the Orishas. Like last episode, what they tell Bilquis is still a bit vague, but they seem to be hinting that Bilquis has power that has been hidden from and it’s time for her to take control of her own story. It’s a message that’s been reverberating throughout the season and it’s one she’ll relate to Shadow a little later in the episode. Honestly, I’m a little fatigued by how vague the show still is about a lot of things. Visually, the scene between Bilquis and the Orishas—and her subsequent breakout by filling the cell with water and drowning her captors—is cool, but it’s frustrating to have the show continue to be so coy about what’s going on with her. This feels like the culmination of her journey of self-discovery, but we don’t really know what she’s discovered. New powers, I guess, but there’s also an unexplored, mysterious past. I’d have liked more answers about her past, I guess. Hopefully, we’ll get them in future episodes.

After freeing herself, Bilquis finds an awed Shadow (who’s been ditched by Technical Boy) and the two of them go on a walk and share a dinner together. I’ve always enjoyed the dynamic these two characters share, and Yetide Badaki and Ricky Whittle are a lot of fun to watch together. But much of their conversation falls back into the show’s trademark vagueness. Bilquis asks why Shadow came to rescue her and he eventually confesses his guilt for being unable to save Laura or his mother. She tells him what the Orishas told her—it’s time for him to take control of his story. I like the idea of all of these characters who have previously been defined or controlled by others taking time this season to break free and regain control of their own destinies. It gives everyone more agency and makes their stories more enjoyable to watch. I look forward to seeing where Bilquis goes from here.

The Hutchinson Heist

It turns out that the exploding biker bar incident in the previous episode was all a ruse so Wednesday could get committed to the mental institute Demeter is in. For someone insisting he just wants Demeter’s allyship and money, he sure is putting a lot of effort into trying to convince her of his sincerity. So much so that he makes her a wager: if he can last a week there, she’ll leave with him. I have no idea what their history is—outside of them having been married at one point or another—but the fact that she agrees to his wager is very interesting. It’s almost like she wants to believe him—a feeling that gets reinforced by the scene she and Wednesday share with Shadow towards the episode’s end. There is love between Wednesday and Demeter and I desperately want to know what went wrong between them.

Before Demeter can be freed, though, Wednesday needs leverage to force Hutchinson to end his conservatorship of her. In typical Wednesday fashion, he concocts a heist for Cordelia and a reluctant Shadow to execute—something called Number 37. It’s never fully explained what Number 37 is, but the subsequent heist is an absolutely delightful sequence that feels like something out of a proper heist film. Shadow and Cordelia trick Hutchinson, steal his briefcase (that contains his phone, his laptop, and many of his files), hide it in a hotel room, clone its content, and threaten to release its content if he doesn’t release Demeter. Tonally, the sequence feels like it doesn’t belong in the same episode as Bilquis’s storyline, but God, the sequence is just so much fun. Shadow and Cordelia are truly an iconic duo and I hope Ricky Whittle and Ashley Reyes get many more scenes together because this was such fun to watch. With Demeter free to go, I’m curious if Wednesday will succeed in convincing her to do so. I’m eager to see how this unfolds.

Laura and Salim

Much to Mr. Ibis (Demore Barnes) and Salim’s (Omid Abtahi) surprise, Laura (Emily Browning) arrives at Ibis’s funeral parlor, very much alive. And just in time, too, as Salim has been getting on Mr. Ibis’s nerves—overstaying his welcome and trying to hide away from the grief he feels over the Jinn’s disappearance. Laura’s reappearance offers Ibis a reprieve and Salim a new journey to focus on. Laura intends to murder Wednesday and she invites Salim to join her on her quest. It’s a perfect pairing as they both are trying to recover from lost loves. Whether Laura accepts it or not, she and Mad Sweeney shared a love for each other and that love is what’s returned her to life. Much of Laura and Salim’s scenes in this episode act as setup for their arcs for the rest of the season, but Emily Browning and Omid Abtahi play off of each other so nicely that you don’t really care. It helps that what’s being set up here is quite compelling—particularly Salim’s loss of faith. And, as the episode ends with Laura finding Shadow in Lakeside, there are many promising directions the story could go.

What’s Going On with Technical Boy?

This week’s episode begins with a lengthy cold open set during the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. A magician, Maximillian (Jeremy Crutchley), is performing a magic show at the expo but is losing spectators to the new automaton created by a man (played by Bruce Langley) who looks suspiciously like the Technical Boy. The automaton has limited functionality, though, and the spectators quickly get bored of it. Maximilian tricks the man into pretending the automaton is capable of doing more than it actually can. When the man agrees to do this, though, Maximilian exposes him as a fraud. In the present, Technical Boy disappears after he and Shadow find Bilquis. He reappears in a weird warehouse towards the end of the episode, uncontrollably glitching. He runs through the warehouse and eventually hides inside the automaton from the episode’s cold open. This raises many questions—Are Technical Boy and the Inventor the same person? Was Technical Boy human at one point? How is this connected to his glitching powers? The episode offers no answers to any of these questions, but I am so hooked on Technical Boy’s storyline.

Final Thoughts

While many of the problems I’ve had with previous episodes this season remain present here (most notably the show’s penchant for vagueness), I enjoyed this episode quite a bit. Sure, it felt like two separate episodes that got crammed together, but both of those “episodes” were great. There may have been a bit too many elements juggled throughout this episode, resulting in some semi-choppy edits, but the episode managed to build to a nice pace. And, most of all, it feels like things are actually happening—and it’s captivating. Plots that were set up in previous episodes are being concluded while new ones are being set up that build off of the previous ones. There’s a feeling of progression present in this week’s episode and it’s exciting to see. I am thoroughly hooked on all that’s going on this season. The episode gave me more of what I wanted, more of what I’m excited about, and continued pushing the story towards some kind of a conclusion. This is a roller coaster I am enjoying being on.

4 out of 5 wands.

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