In our spoiler post for American Gods 1×03, we promised “Head Full of Snow” would make at least one major tv wish come true: representation. The episode is remarkable in this respect — and not just in the most obvious way. The story of Salim (Omid Abtahi) and The Jinn (Mousa Kraish) is packed with positives not often seen on the television landscape. Their journey in American Gods 1×03 outshines much else, including Shadow Moon’s continuing struggle with his new reality following his recent life-threatening game of checkers. This is a feat in and of itself, as Ricky Whittle and Ian McShane continue to play out their part of the plot to virtual perfection.
So far, American Gods is three-for-three with strong, relevant stories in its first season’s episodes. But even with all of this deeper meaning floating around, there’s still plenty of entertainment to be had. This series is nothing if not a shining example of how to have a little bit of it all — even if that’s not exactly life in America.
Representation matters. With Salim and The Jinn, American Gods 1×03 delivers many layers of it. Let’s start with the most obvious: Love is love. Believe it.
Even as television has (painfully slowly) moved toward showing relationships that are not of the so-called “traditional” male-female type, the depiction of male-male couplings has been somewhat lacking. Shameless has Gallavich (Mickey and Ian). More recently, Riverdale had the somewhat ill-fated relationship between Kevin and Joaquin.
Overall, though, it’s difficult to find many series willing to show this particular kind of pairing. Especially when it means one borne out of a seemingly chance encounter, yet loaded with so much beauty, as Salim and The Jinn’s is in American Gods 1×03. Certainly, there have been other relationships; certainly, I have no desire to discount any of them. But there’s something unique and different about the way these two men — or rather this man and this supernatural entity — come together.
Omid Abtahi’s Salim is overcome with emotion throughout the encounter, from the moment he makes that first, hesitant physical contact in the cab, right up through the very end of their time together. He is, quite simply, in awe of his partner. And Kraish’s Jinn is, despite dealing with a mere mortal, equally overcome.
The sex itself can only be described as lovemaking. It’s full of loaded looks and tender touches — something that goes far beyond just physical pleasure. (I’m not saying the scene isn’t hot. It totally is. But I’m just saying that the “hotness” isn’t the whole point, which is refreshing in its own right.)
When Salim and The Jinn make love, it’s not just so the creative team can flaunt their ability to show cock on television. It’s an actually meaningful encounter that delivers message upon message of far greater importance. American Gods 1×03 doesn’t fetishize this underrepresented type of sex, as so many lesser series might have done; it just reminds us that it exists. Love is love. It just is.
And maybe that’s what makes this sexual encounter so far removed from many others on television — homosexual or not. There’s something overpowering the erotic element; it’s simply two strangers coming together and finding a transcendent connection.
Which brings me to the next layers of American Gods 1×03’s masterful ability to represent all kinds of people: its continuation of the series’ flawless portrayal of the American immigrant experience.
By the time Salim meets The Jinn, he hasn’t been in America for very long. But he is already suffering the reality that so many immigrants face: The American dream they came to chase is a myth at best, a nightmare at worst.
I have been in America for a week and it has done nothing but eat my mind.
Salim’s in New York to sell “horrible, foolish, cheap, ugly shit.” And peddling shit isn’t exactly going well.
The Jinn’s time in America, though much longer, hasn’t been much better. He’s stuck driving a cab, having to clean literal shit off of his backseat, and working 30-hour stretches just to get by. More to the point, nobody here knows him or understands him.
They know nothing about my people here. They think all we do is grant wishes. If I could grand a wish, do you think I would be driving a cab?
So, when these two characters come together, their bond is made much, much stronger by this shared experience of American failure. There’s even the slightest hint of excitement when Salim hears The Jinn spewing Arabic curses. When both men realize they have a shared language and are able to speak freely to one another using it, even just that small common ground adds a level of something special to an already memorable relationship.
And how nice is it to hear Arabic on a television show without it being attached to something criminal?
You have an Iranian-born actor in Omid Abtahi and a Palestinian-American in Mousa Kraish. Neither man was “evil” — or even suspected of it — in American Gods 1×03. Instead, they were just two people adrift in this world, trying to get by. Two people who happened to be lucky enough to connect with one another.
The Jinn may not grant wishes, but someone at American Gods almost undoubtedly granted my personal wish not to constantly see talented actors like Abtahi and Kraish typecast as terrorists, all because of America’s mainstream hatred and fear.
And what a way to give it: through two stunningly beautiful performances in a non-traditional, yet somehow all-too-relatable, romance.
…and now back to your regularly-scheduled weekly dose of Ricky Whittle’s side-eye.
While Salim and The Jinn are bringing a touch of magic to New York, Shadow Moon is still in Chicago with Mr. Wednesday, struggling to come to terms with the seeming fantasy around him. After a dream — or was it real? — meeting with Zorya Polunochnaya, he has a coin to replace the one he threw away at Laura’s grave. And he’s also armed with more knowledge of what’s going on around him, if only he’ll accept it.
You believe in nothing, so you have nothing. You are on a path from nothing to everything.
More importantly, he’s able to goad Czernobog into a checkers rematch. Unlike last time, Shadow wins. So, Czernobog still gets to kill him — but only after he helps Mr. Wednesday out with his war.
And then Mr. Wednesday asks Shadow to help him rob a bank. Because that’s exactly what all guys who have only been out of prison for a few days want to do if they have no desire to return. Enter more of Whittle’s expertly played frustration, annoyance, and general sense of “wtf is my life.” Complimenting that, as always, is Ian McShane’s hilariously flippant Mr. Wednesday. As Shadow is busy, throwing his stubborn tantrum about the bank robbery, Wednesday’s all about getting some hot cocoa — just like you would to appease a child.
Why are you talking to me about marshmallows? Like I’m worried about marshmallows…Yeah, I like marshmallows.
Same, Shadow. Same. Get you those marshmallows. They might be all that makes sense for the next…well, ever.
It’s all fun and games as usual, in fact, until Shadow wonders out loud whether he actually made snow. And if he did, what does that mean?
Wednesday wants Shadow to believe in impossible things, but Shadow’s still holding out. Or, at least he’s pretending to. He’s already come a long way, proving himself to be far more open than he was in American Gods‘ first episode. But he’s still not quite where he needs to be…yet. It’s a long road trip across America, after all.
So you didn’t believe, and then you did. So, the world changed because you believed.
It’s possible that Wednesday finally gets through to Shadow by bringing up love. Shadow at admits that, yes, he believes in love — but he didn’t before Laura. As in, love was once an impossibility; but it’s not now.
Why, then, is Shadow unable to believe the new world that he is seeing unfold before his own eyes?
More thoughts on American Gods 1×03:
- Even Mrs. Fadil, whose death and welcoming to the afterlife by the Egyptian god Anubis opened the episode, was a Muslim woman. She, too, was just another American trying to do her best and be there for her family. As in, she wasn’t evil for being a part of a Muslim household. She was just another human, like all of us. Funny that.
- I have never been more moved by shots of hands. I’m not even kidding. That touch on the shoulder, followed by The Jinn covering Salim’s hand…and then the slow coming together in the elevator. It’s everything. All of it.
- “Asshole is what I feel like.” “Well, nice to meet you, Asshole. I’m James O. Gorman.” I’m telling you: I’d really watch an entire buddy comedy of Whittle and McShane throwing lines like this back and forth.
- “If, at the end of this night, you do not end up in jail, will you believe in me?” Wednesday may pretend that it’s all fun and games, but he’s really trying his hardest to prove to Shadow that he’s legit. And he’s desperate for his new employee — or anyone, really — to believe in him. More to the point, he needs to be remembered. He even says so himself: “The only thing that scares me is being forgotten. I can survive most things but not that.”
- Wednesday and Zorya Verchernyaya: I might have to ship it. “You no like it. You sleep on floor. Is good enough for me.” The savagery is beautiful.
- Shadow’s botched “Polunochnaya.” Same, man. I did so much stumbling over the Zorya sisters’ names when I read Gaiman’s book. Props to Mr. Whittle for getting my complete confusion across — and then some.
- The Jesus exchange. Methinks Wednesday is jealous of White Jesus. Also, I can’t wait for some conservatrolls to clutch their pearls over all of it.
- I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel like Shadow Moon worships at the altar of Media after all. Last week, I was convinced he didn’t — I mean, he called Lucy Ricardo “I Love Lucy,” after all — but now? Hm. He’s pretty good at channeling Dana Scully/Temperance Brennan/take-your-pick-of-skeptic. Must’ve picked it up somewhere.
- Mad Sweeney with terrible luck. Loved it. Love that guy. Lots of love, everywhere. More Pablo Schreiber, please.
…and in the end.
Just as Mad Sweeney discovered his lucky coin wasn’t where Shadow said he’d left it, Shadow opened his motel room to find Laura waiting for him. His dead wife, much like Mad Sweeney’s coin, was most definitely not where she was supposed to be. Make sure to check out the next all-new episode of American Gods on Starz to learn the story behind that. (Spoiler alert: It’s very good.)1 of 1