Shadow Moon has been working with a mysterious con man who’s more than he seems. He might have made snow fall from the sky just by thinking about it. Now, the worst thing yet: a god who can get him arrested like it’s no big deal. American Gods is dropping that Shadow is cosmically important in some way he doesn’t understand yet.
“Lemon Scented You” starts off by going further back in the American Gods timeline than any other sequence yet. Like all the other flashbacks, the scene is narrated by Mr. Ibis, but it’s such a aesthetic break with the rest of the show that you don’t quite know what you’re looking at. It begins as a snowflake drifts across the screen and lands on the cheek of a pre-historic woman, melting and mingling with her tears.
Atsula, shaman of a nomadic tribe of people that’s journeyed across a land bridge from Siberia, cries because she is burying her dead infant daughter. The journey to a new land has been hard, and Atsula and her people have arrived to find none of the bounty they believed was there. She communes with her god, who appears as a massive buffalo, and then takes her own life as sacrifice. The native people of the land come out of hiding and make an overture of peace to the starving newcomers. The leader of Atsula’s people slaps away the meat defiantly and, with the slightest of gestures, the native elder directs a rain of spears to end his life.
The remaining migrants then get absorbed into the other group, in a beat that acts as a proto-paradigm of the American immigration dynamic running throughout this series. Ibis’ words resonate as the scene fades out: “The gods are great but people are greater. For it is in their hearts that gods are born and to their hearts that they return.” The themes are familiar by now: gods need people to give of themselves, and the acts of offering change mortal lives dramatically. As in the book, this flashback shows that this dynamic has been in places for eons, but Ibis’ words are noteworthy for how they center humans as essential. Gods are concepts that live or die off devotion, or the lack thereof.
Living and dying off devotion plays a key part in the scene that follows, which sees Shadow and not-dead-anymore wife Laura talking to each other for the first time in a long time. The looks on Ricky Whittle’s face perfectly communicate the shock, horror and conflicted joy Shadow must be feeling at this moment. He throws a pillow at her to see if she’s real. She says that she is and then pats a spot on the bed, inviting Shadow to come sit by her. Despite all the craziness in his new life, he’s still hesitant, as this is a whole new plateau of bizarre. He balks at Laura’s friendly overture by saying that “we’ve got some unresolved issues to discuss.” Shadow’s referring, of course, to the affair Laura had with his best friend Robbie while Shadow was in jail. Laura says she wasn’t lying when she said that she could wait for Shadow, details that emotional ups-and-downs that came as she tried to do that. She then talks about the events of last episode—including the ill-advised goodbye blowjob that led to her death—and assures Shadow she wasn’t going to leave him, and talks about going somewhere else after dying.
As Shadow walks to get a pack of cigarettes for Laura, two ravens sit on a perch of the giant star symbol of the Starbrite Motel. We’ve seen ravens—which are associated with Odin in Norse mythology—flying around before, right before Laura died. The birds’ eyes aren’t the only ones that might be watching Shadow; he notices a car in the motel parking lot as he goes back to the room. Once inside, he finds Laura in the bath, trying to warm herself up in case Shadow wants to touch her or kiss her. Meanwhile, one of those ravens flies over to room 24 and knocks on the door, which is answered by Mr. Wednesday. The bird starts squawking and Wednesday tells it to slow down before expressing surprise at what he’s being told.
Back in room 55, Laura’s having that bathtub smoke, which she tells Shadow is doing nothing for her because she can’t taste it. For his part, Shadow tells her that he had a vague premonition that she was going to die and that bad sensation feels like part of a coming storm that’s going to mess up America. Laura answers that “they” feel okay and gets up out of the bathtub to kiss him. The kiss is shown to spread the light and warmth from Shadow to Laura, with an x-ray effect showing her heart beating underneath her stitched-together chest. She says “I tasted that. I felt that,” adding that she briefly felt alive. When Laura asks Shadow if she feels alive, he says yes.
It’s clear that Laura hopes some kind of reconciliation is in the offing. She says that she doesn’t know much more now than when she was alive but that she knows that she loves Shadow. She continues by referencing the “weird shit” that Shadow’s gotten himself mixed up in, saying that she’s watching out for him, and thanking him for the present he gave her. That present is Mad Sweeney’s coin and when Shadow says that someone’s looking for it, Laura says, playfully yet defiantly, that they can’t have it because it’s hers now. She asks Shadow if he’s still hers and he coldly growls out that he’s not. The shock hangs in the air for a couple of beats and gets undercut by an insistent rapping on Shadow’s door. We see sadness wash over Laura’s face when Shadow walks away to see who’s knocking, followed by Wednesday insisting that Shadow join him for a drink. Wednesday dangles the possibility of answers to all the questions that Shadow must have. Shadow tries to shoo Wednesday away and the old man catches a whiff of an odd smell that he describes as “cat piss and oven cleaner.” Shadow says that he needs time to wrap his head around what he’s seen, to which Wednesday replies “I see you’ve seen something.”
The conversation gets interrupted by siren blurts and flashing lights as cop cars pull up in front of the two men. While placing Shadow and Wednesday under arrest, a plainclothes officer says that, Shadow didn’t take long to get back in trouble with the law, what with only being out of jail for six days. Wednesday asks what they’re being arrested for and another cop says bank robbery, which prompts Shadow to shoot a dirty look at Wednesday. A dejected Laura has been laying at the bottom of a bathtub while this is all happening, and she watches Shadow’s light fade away into the distance with an even more forlorn look on her face.
A light show of a different sort serves at the transition to the locale, a posh nightclub festooned with lasers. Technical Boy leaves the building and walks to his limo, only to come across the predatory VR headset that clamped itself onto Shadow’s face in episode one. He curses on seeing it and, after it pounces onto his face, Technical Boy’s having a very tense meeting with Media. She’s manifested as David Bowie this time and starts in on her fellow new god about his image problem. It turns out that Shadow’s meeting with the jerk vaper was supposed to be a simple information-gathering task assigned by Mr. World. Stringing up a black man from a tree was a big fuck-up, even for somebody who, as Media says, “is not good with people.” She then says that Mr. World expects Technical Boy to apologize to Wednesday and Shadow as if he were talking to the entity-in-charge himself.
Technical Boy balks at this and Media explains that Wednesday’s power was guttering out like a dying flame, and that the young internet god’s actions poured gasoline all over that flame. Technical says the apology from him isn’t going to stop whatever Wednesday is up to and thinking otherwise is a mass delusion. Then the following exchange happens:
Media: Mass delusions are as old as I am. I was there when the Martians invaded in 1938. What a panic. Powerful panic. Now there are starmen waiting in the sky. They believed it was true and it was.
Technical Boy: Not everyone believed.
Media: Not everyone had to. Just enough. That’s all Mr. Wednesday needs. Just enough. Maybe just one.
With those last words, Media fades away to leave the meeting and a glowing hologram of the moon hovers in the air. The scene then shifts to a close-up of Shadow’s face (yeah, they ain’t being too subtle here…) in a dimly lit interrogation room of a police station. He’s being talked at by the female officer that cuffed him earlier and she reveals that Wednesday doesn’t seem to have a ID, legal name or police record. They have all that on Shadow, especially the latter. When he tries to lawyer up to no avail, Wednesday is in another interrogation running the befuddled old man shtick and spinning a tale to make it seem like Shadow kidnapped him. The female cop plays the sympathy angle with Shadow, saying she understands that how he could’ve gotten tempted to learn the con game from an experienced hustler. She tells him that Wednesday might have pissed off some very powerful people, and Shadow is going to wind up as collateral damage.
The back-and-forth continues in both rooms, with Wednesday giving a “god’s honest” answer to what he was doing in Chicago: “I was recruiting a tired but still vital god of death into a war against the new gods, who very rightly fear him as much as they should fear me but don’t... yet.” Cop #1 is still trying to get Shadow to tell her something, anything, because the weirdness of this case leads her to believe something abnormally fishy is afoot. She goes on to say that the cops got an anonymous tip via fax, specifically a facsimile automated xerox machine that hasn’t been powered up for ages. From GPS co-ordinates to vehicle ID number, the fax tip gave the fuzz every single possible kind of detail they’d need to round up Shadow and Wednesday. So, she tells Shadow, if he helps her figure out this gift-wrapped weirdness, then she could help him not wind up back in jail. Likely prompted by his own need for clarity on weirdness, Shadow stops saying lawyer and says she has his attention. In the other interrogation room, Wednesday’s full account of his doings is going strong, detailing the dispositions of the other gods, and calling Mad Sweeney “a fucking idiot.”
Cop #1’s arbitrage with Shadow hints at terrifying resources—“the same company whose tech found Osama”—being arrayed at Shadow and Wednesday. If Shadow gives her something she can work with, maybe the death of Laura Moon can be used to convince the district attorney to be lenient. At that, the scene transitions back to Laura, still moping in tepid bathwater. Just as she’s getting dressed, Mad Sweeney kicks in the door to room 55. The angry leprechaun says “gimme my fucking coin, dead wife”, rushing up and grabbing her by the throat.
A soft yellow glow comes out Laura’s mouth and the camera swoops down her alimentary canal, stopping a short distance to show Sweeney’s incandescent gold piece. An unamused look on her face, Laura coolly flicks a finger at Sweeney’s clavicle, sending him flying across the room. Sweeney talks some more about how the coin is his and tries to paw at Laura again but she smacks his hand away with a sound effect meant to invoke bone breakage. She also calls him “ginger minge,” a rhyming insult I’d never want levied at me. Hurt but still angry, Sweeney keeps ranting and explains that the lucky coin is one you’d give to the king of America himself. Because he’s an idiot, like Wednesday said, he gets all demanding again, pointing his finger at Laura and going as far as to hurl misogynist insults at her. That finger gets broken—because who wouldn’t, after that—and Sweeney screams loud enough to wake up people in other motel rooms. Laura then starts asking Sweeney pointed questions, immobilizing him with a tiny foot on his hand. His incentive to tell the truth is the following testimonial:
If I don’t feel like you’re being honest, I’m gonna kick you in the nuts. I want you to know that the last time I kicked a guy in the nuts, my foot didn’t stop until it reached his throat.
Properly incentivized, Sweeney tells Laura that Wednesday told him to pick a fight with Shadow so that the old hustler could see what the ex-con was made of. Wednesday is a god, he continues, a fact that Laura takes in stride. Sweeney also says that Shadow trusts Wednesday but shouldn’t. He makes a last play to get the lucky coin back with a showy golden shower of coins into his cap, saying they’re just as good as the one Laura has in body. She doesn’t take the bait and rubs Sweeney’s nose in the fact that she knows that he can’t forcibly take the coin back. If she doesn’t offer it freely, he’s shit out of luck (and out of glowing coin to boot). When Laura gloats that he’s never, ever getting the coin back, Sweeney retorts with details of how baths, heat and a general lack of actual bodily functions will lead to her body’s eventual decomposition. The drunk deity rushes Laura yet again, wrapping his hands around her throat and shoving her back into the tub—only for him to be interrupted by cops, who swarm into the room and pull Sweeney off Laura. He assures them she’s not dead but Laura’s still, silent body stays submerged in the water. As the cops drag him away, he yells in rage at her, but Laura? She’s smirking at the bottom of the tub.
Back at the police station, Shadow and Wednesday get reunited in a bigger room. Cop #1 tells Wednesday that Shadow is loyal and the two men should figure out what they’re going to tell her. Wednesday balks at that, leading the cop to flip through the photographic evidence to convince him otherwise. The overhead lights flicker mysteriously as she pages through the folder, before leaving the young bodyguard and old grifter alone with each other. Wednesday leans in close to the table they’re chained to, so as to better see the cuffs keeping them captive. Shadow incredulously asks Wednesday what the hell he’s doing and Wednesday says that they need to get free before they get dead. The elder gent adds that the photos in the evidence folder were taken from a god’s-eye-view of the world. As they talk, Wednesday’s cuffs pop open and a tiny spider jumps out of the keyhole. Shadow gets even more flabbergasted and Wednesday explains that the spider is a friend of his. Fed up and swayed by Cop #1’s whisperings, Shadow angrily grabs hold of Wednesday’s wrists. He braces Wednesday with the assertion that he is indeed the target of a fearsome power and mocks him by saying that the not-afraid-of-anything old man is running scared. Shadow straight-up asks Wednesday, “who are you?” and “who’s after you?” Screams are coming from elsewhere in the cop shop and Wednesday mutters that the person hunting him is someone it’s best to hide your face from until you want to be seen.
The door to their room flings open and a silhouette of one of the most famous images from American cinema comes floating at the two men. It’s Marilyn Monroe trying to keep her dress from flying up; this Marilyn Monroe is Gillian Anderson as Media, smiling rapturously. Despite the difference in avatar, Shadow recognizes her. “I Love Lucy? How the fuck are you floating?!” Media whispers “Happy birthday, Mr. President” at Wednesday and he responds by saying that they have no business with her. Media says “we” want to change that and Shadow’s freakout churns harder as the hovering dead Hollywood icon moves about the room. The already-thick tension gets heightened as steps echo through the dark hallway, each footfall lighting up a square of floor tile.
A man in a fedora, black suit and light grey overcoat comes through the doorframe and starts talking about Wednesday in hushed, stilted tones of apology and awe. He apologizes for not turning his attention towards Wednesday before but admits he couldn’t do that because he couldn’t see the old man clearly. Coat-and-Hat Man squints at Shadow and asks if they’ve met; Wednesday warns Shadow not to say anything.
Mystery Dandy says that Shadow doesn’t need to say a word and waves a hand over Shadow’s cuffs, which makes them snap open. See, Creepy Power Broker claims he already knows Shadow, which the ex-con disputes, and goes on to talk about he know people, everything about all of them. He then rattles off all manner of detail about Shadow, morphs his face to show Shadow what he looks like when he masturbates, and divulges that Shadow’s mother had 86 sexual partners throughout her life. Wednesday looks askance at Shadow and Disturbing Facts Man drones on, talking about how everything that happens is recorded. It’s recorded and stored in the book of life, Mr. World (his real name, I promise) intones. Bragging about his purview explodes Mr. World’s face into voxels of godflesh and Media has to clear her throat to snap him back to human semblance. Once he’s gathered, World whistles a cue for someone. No one appears and he asks Media if “he’s still sulking”. She shrugs and another whistle leaves World’s lips, answered this time by a shot of Technical Boy’s high-top sneakers coming down the hall.
Technical Boy proffers the apology alluded to earlier in the episode, saying “I’m sorry for lynching you,” to Shadow. He goes on to say, essentially, that hanging up a dark-skinned man was inflammatory and in poor taste given the tense racial climate of present-day America. World walks over to Technical Boy, grabs the scruff of his sweater, and bangs his head against the table. He asks Shadow if he wants to hit the smarmy brat but Shadow demurs. World declares the air clear and Technical pulls up a chair to make an overture of partnership and evolution towards Wednesday. Times and technology are changing, he states, and Media picks up the thread by saying they want to help Wednesday find his audience. “We’re not here to fight,” Mr. World says breathily, and Wednesday asks if he’s offering a truce. World replies by saying they’ve never been at war with Wednesday, though Wednesday might’ve believed himself to have been at war with them.
No, this isn’t a truce, World opines. It’s a merger, Media chimes in, an upgrade that could result in a “lemon-scented you.” Wednesday says he just gets better every year and World excitedly says that phenomenon deserves to be seen. “Everyone in the world gets their place,” he titters. Wednesday casts aspersions at this notion of globalist ordering and World sadly explains that rugged individualism doesn’t work in a world where everything is all systems. At World’s behest, Media clicks her magic old-school remote to usher in the showstopper moment of the new gods’ pitch meeting. Images appear on the walls of the room and Media gets all old-school TV floor wax commercial when describing what’s on offer.
A cartoon logo of Odin is shown on the side of a guidance satellite rocket and the new gods describe a scenario where that Odin satellite would aim cruise missiles at North Korea in a rainbow unicorn conflagration that would wipe out millions. The name Odin would be on the lips of even more people, and isn’t that what Wednesday wants? A life where he doesn’t have to grift on society’s fringes?
Wednesday ain’t having any of this sweet talk. Merger means exile to him, and Media says that it’s not the new gods’ fault that humans found other ways to occupy their time. Wednesday retorts by saying he and his crew didn’t just occupy time. They gave back. They gave meaning, Wednesday says. World breathes that that could happen again and moves to end this encounter.
Technical Boy expresses frustration at the fact that World is just walking away when the new gods have Wednesday where they want him. World tells the snotty deity that Wednesday deserves opportunity to consider, a gesture of respect to a man who’s lived long and amassed much wisdom. In true internet fashion, Technical Boy blurts out “Fuck respect!” and Media blows a kiss at him... one that travels across the room, and knocks out two of Technical’s teeth. The punishment of one of their own is a gift, World says. Media tells Shadow that he can relay the story of what’s happened however he likes or doesn’t like. World’s final utterance as he leaves the room is that he’s not their enemy, to which Shadow throws out another “Is this real?”, which is becoming his signature line. Following up by asking if that all really happened, Wednesday responds by saying “it’s still happening.”
Wednesday and Shadow exit the room and cautiously move through the hallways of the police station. They come upon the mangled bodies of the officers who worked there and Shadow wonders what story they’ll tell about this carnage. Wednesday says they’ll tell any story they want. The two men scramble away from the scene and an eye pops out of a knot on a wooden chair to watch them leave. As they near the front of the station, a police cruiser approaches with Mad Sweeney in the backseat. The scene had back inside, where Shadow is fighting off an fast-growing branch trying to impale him. A shot done in silhouette shows more gnarled branches sprouting through a dead body and the grotesque rapid growth through a door into the hallway. Shadow and Wednesday head out another exit as the cops who were shuttling Sweeney to lock-up enter the station. Sweeney watches as gunshots echo from the building and kicks out a window to escape from the car.
The last scene in “Lemon Scented You” comes into focus with two naked dead bodies on tables in a coroner’s office. A scrubs-wearing dude on duty hears the noise of rending metal down the hall and goes to investigate. Finding nothing out of sorts, he turns to leave but glances at one more cold storage drawer. The door on drawer #5 bends outward and flies off the hinges with lethal force, killing him. Laura Moon sits up and walks around the room, touching the cold dead fingers of the female cadaver. Clothes out of an evidence bag and back on her body, she walks into the night.
This episode peels back some layers of mystery as to why certain things are happening but there’s still a lot of answers waiting to be had. It’s still an open question as to what he knows or will admit to knowing about Shadow’s life, especially since Sweeney says Wednesday wanted to test Shadow’s mettle. We never found out what the raven told Wednesday, whether he knows that Laura is alive and if he’s responsible for that development.
Shadow and Laura’s kiss raises the question of what’s happening to the ex-con. Is he a god or becoming one? It’s an intriguing query, moreso if one keeps in mind that the series has already diverged from what Neil Gaiman wrote 16 years ago. Nevertheless, this episode shows that Shadow’s on the path to becoming something different to what he already was. If you’ve read Neil Gaiman’s stories about Shadow, then you’ll have a pretty good idea where this might be going. If last episode’s re-jiggering of the Laura Moon character was an exit ramp off the path shown in the 2001 novel, then this episode represents a totally different highway. “Lemon Scented You” demonstrates that the show will likely get to the same place—although maybe not—in mechanically different ways with its own twists on previously published plotlines. The changes in the first meeting between Shadow and Mr. World ramps up the drama for the series more quickly, as opposed to the slower build in the book. That anticipation of where the divergences might happen—seen in this episode and the show’s version of Laura Moon—is part of why watching the series is so fun if you’ve already read American Gods and other Shadow Moon stories.
The antagonism between Laura and Sweeney, another big change from the book, is delicious to behold. Having them snipe and and point out each other’s weaknesses makes for a fun subplot, especially since they’re both flawed and mostly unlikeable characters who’ve been dismissive towards Shadow until they need something from him.
I was glad to see this episode acknowledge Shadow’s lynching from “The Bone Orchard”. Media tells Technical Boy that his overreaction was the wrong way to go about meeting their goals, an exchange that can be read as a reaction to black people dying at the hands of police who are supposed to protect citizens. Wednesday mentions the lynching, too, and connects it to Mr. Nancy’s blistering speech from the beginning of episode two. Speaking to Cop #2 about the old gods’ collective struggle to survive, he says:
“Now, Nancy, he comes at all of this from a specific vantage of the bitterly dispossessed, which normally I would take with a grain. But, I have to admit, having seen the rope burns around my friend’s neck…”
Wednesday speaks from a place of white privilege in that quote. He’s saying he enjoyed a sociocultural cushion that let him keep anger like Nancy’s at a distance but that all changed when he saw the scars on Shadow’s neck. Thematically, those sentences reflect on the history of institutionalized racial violence in the United States. His words represent the shift from thinking “this doesn’t affect me” to thinking “this affects all of us.”
Turning to the god responsible for Shadow’s lynching, let me say that I hate Technical Boy. I’m supposed to hate Technical Boy. The strength and familiarity of that antipathy is a testament to the bang-up Bruce Langley does as the god of the internet. He’s sneering and whiny in the mode of all too many online trolls, and combines that with an outsize sense of his own potency. I would say that it’s a coincidence that he chafes at getting a telling-to from a female god but nothing on this show is a coincidence. In its own loopy head-trip way, American Gods is trying to reflect the fracture lines running through this country, showing that they go deeper and farther back than we might be aware of.
- The CGI of the opening sequence makes it look simultaneously primordial and naive, somewhere between a high-school shoebox diorama and a museum display of prehistoric life. It also broadens American Gods’ aesthetic tool box, and deftly lets the creators dodge any issues about how to cast people who are supposed to look like they came to the American continent from Eurasia thousands of years ago.
- This too-real exchange was one of my favorites from this episode:
Technical Boy: Wednesday’s recruiting monsters… fucking Pokemon. He’s recruiting.
Media: Martyrdom is a popular recruitment tool.
- When Wednesday tries running his old-man con on Cop #2, he says “I live on the beach, always have.” It’s a sly reference to the Vikings in episode one.
- The handcuffs were an important storytelling prop in “Lemon Scented You”. When Wednesday had to open his, he relied on Mr. Nancy working the mechanism from the inside. Shadow’s cuffs pop open more easily, with just a wave of Mr. World’s hands. Both methods use magic but Wednesday’s means required more effort and were more old-fashioned. The difference in cuff-opening serves as a neat little visual signifier as the difference in power between Wednesday and World.
- Sweeney calls Wednesday “Grimnir” when telling Laura how he met Shadow. Like the “Wotan” Czernobog dropped a few episodes back, it’s another name for Norse god-king Odin. That, along with the satellite guidance system pitch meeting, serves a big neon clue; the writers aren’t being as coy as to who Wednesday is.