One critic called it “the single hottest and most pornographic gay sex scene ever put on mainstream television.” Another tweeted how it made his “palms sweat.” Actor Mousa Kraish described it as “supernaturally hot,” while many viewers of a different mindset will no doubt come up with a whole heap of words to express their rage.
Whatever you call it, the third episode of American Gods, “Head Full of Snow,” was a milestone for television.
Weeks before it aired, reviewers were already buzzing about a moment directly lifted from the book: Salim, a young Muslim man selling commercialized “shit” in New York City, has an erotic encounter with his taxi driver, whom he recognizes as a Jinn, a fiery spirit from ancient Arabic folklore.
Much like Bilquis’ introduction, there was that lingering question as to whether the show’s creative minds would remain faithful to the source material. The moment where the goddess of sex swallows a lover inside of her vagina made it to the final cut, but when it comes to LGBTQ content, the stories are typically diluted for mainstream audiences — especially in America. That was not the case here.
More explicit than any “exclusively gay moment” on HBO, Salim takes the Jinn (whom you’ll recognize from his brief appearance in Episode 2) back to his hotel room for a godly, pornographic experience with a variety of coital shots before a fiery (*clears throat*) finish. Calling this the most explicit gay sex scene to ever be aired for a mainstream television audience may seem like a stretch, but I can’t think of anything that comes close. Even with the Americanized Queer as Folk, which couldn’t go an episode without a sexual scenario of some kind, had plenty of rear-end shots but mostly shied away from full-frontal nudity. Without going as far as to place the camera between their legs, Salim and the Jinn left very little to the imagination.
Perhaps it’s due to Neil Gaiman’s involvement in the show or showrunner Bryan Fuller, who is himself openly gay, but it’s meant to be provocative — even more so for those cringing and decrying the scene. It’s fantasy. It is, as Fuller explained, meant to capture a religious experience and the feeling of taking a god inside of you. But it’s also romantic.
Salim is a salesman, who forces a fake smile for a customer showing him nothing but disrespect, and another who doesn’t show him anything at all, as a matter of fact, because he won’t even show up to their meeting. Salim’s brother-in-law hates him, but he’s doing his best to stay afloat. When he gets into the Jinn’s car, he meets a kindred spirit, someone who also came from a Muslim-led culture to America, where he’s now a taxi driver. “They think all we do is grant wishes,” the Jinn says of the stereotype his own people, who’ve forgotten the old ways, believe in now.
But he does grant Salim’s wish to find acceptance. Both men are gay and hail from a region where homosexuals are in danger of being executed by extremists. This moment is the Jinn telling Salim it’s okay and offering him a new life. By showing the scene on screen, Fuller and his co-creator Michael Green are also informing the audience that this is okay. LGBTQ viewers have had to sit through God knows how many Skinemax-bordering sex scenes on television, so these folks are throwing us a bone (rather literally)
From Shadow’s lynching by Technical Boy’s minions to Bilquis’ love suite to now Salim and the Jinn, American Gods continues to push the boundaries of what is acceptable to show on television, but it’s always with a larger purpose. Racism, persecution, and homophobia are all elements of this larger story about politics in America, about the old ways fighting to remain relative in a world that’s moved on to the next thing.
Elsewhere, while reminiscing about her younger and friskier self with Mr. Wednesday, Zorya Vechernyaya recalls her glory days as a goddess opening the heavenly gates for her father and closing them upon his return. Now she’s just a fortune teller and the world has forgotten about her. For most of the Old Gods, it’s not that they can’t adapt, it’s that they won’t. Learning, as Vechernyaya mentioned in the previous episode, is beneath her, and the same is true of Czernobog. Shadow is able to win their second round of checkers because the Slavic god keeps playing the game in the same way instead of adapting to Shadow’s tactics.
Then there are those like Easter and Vulcan, who we’ll meet later on and have done quite well for themselves because they have progressed with the times. But for Salim and the Jinn, it’s often not a matter of choice. Given the hatred towards Muslims felt across America, they are disenfranchised members of a disenfranchised community. The odds are not in their favor.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
- Laura’s back from the dead! But how? Why? Mad Sweeney’s lucky coin has something to do with it after Shadow left the trinket on her grave. Having already seen next week’s episode, I can say many of your questions, including one from the premiere, will be answered.
- We meet the third Zorya sister: Zorya Polunochnaya, who keeps watch over the constellations in the event that the beasts chained among the stars are released to devour the earth. She plucks the moon from the night sky and gives it to Shadow, another token with mystical properties. As she said, he already had the sun (presumably Sweeney’s coin), so she gave him the moon. I wonder what this one will be able to do. Hmm…
- Another character coming into play is Anubis. In this new world, he runs a funeral parlor with Mr. Abis (a.k.a the Egyptian god Thoth), but he did this Muslim woman a courtesy by ferrying her to the afterlife for keeping his stories alive as a girl. Her cat, thought to be a guardian of the underworld in Egyptian mythology, is another symbol of a once proud, glorified being scarred by time and stripped of title, rank, and purpose.
- Media’s watchful eye is ever present. As Shadow and Wednesday are walking out of the bank, the camera shifts to the perspective of the security camera, which blacks out after a wink to the lashes of the television goddess.
- Wednesday told Shadow while arguing over how he made it snow, “Oh, so that’s how the world works — it’s either real or it’s fantasy … says the man who hasn’t seen it.” And isn’t that the rub? People believe in Jesus, but as Wednesday pointed out, there are many Jesuses. The more we experience, the more people we meet, the more things we see, the more we know. Everything else is still fantasy. The god continues to unpack this concept of the power of belief, which can mean both good and bad things. Polunochnaya told Shadow he believes in nothing so he has nothing, but Wednesday reminded him that his belief in love changed the way he saw the world for the better. So now he’s left with two options: prefer to die than believe bears live in the sky, or accept how he was able to make it snow through belief.
- Lastly, if you managed to keep away from spoilers and are still trying to piece together who Wednesday is, the wolf, a creature to which he flashes a fond smile, may be another clue. We already know Wednesday is his day, he has one eye, ravens were seen flapping in the background of shots, and now a wolf crosses his path.