Shadow Moon trying to figure out whether he’s just had sex or not.
Image: Starz

The high-concept arthouse aesthetic that defined American Gods’ first season was nothing short of sublime. As visually tantalizing as it was, it also played a significant role in turning mortal, everyday occurrences like sex into transcendent, spiritual spectacles befitting of the show’s cast of anthropomorphic deities. More recently, though, it’s felt like something about American Gods’ sexual sensibilities has changed.

The change feels profound, even though it hasn’t had all that much bearing on the series’ plot. It’s not that the show’s suddenly become modest—that’s far, far from the case. But in its second season, American Gods has lost some of its carnal spark—that energy that gave you the sense that there was more meaning baked into its depictions of sensuality. Despite the cast’s insistence that American Gods isn’t a “tits and dragons” show like Game of Thrones, that’s exactly what it’s become, and it’s a goddamned shame because the current TV landscape could always do with more enlightened, nuanced ideas about folks getting it on.

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Bilquis and her vaginal nebula set an impressive baseline for American Gods’ style of depicting the gods’ sensuality, because the show made a point of emphasizing that Bilquis’ encounters with her unwitting worshippers were the embodiment of what it means to have a physically, mentally, and emotionally intense sexual experience. When we first met Bilquis, she, like all of the show’s Old Gods, was forced to sustain herself on the meager scraps of belief she could come by, which were few and far between because the Queen of Sheba isn’t exactly the most revered goddess in modern times.

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At the height of her power, Bilquis threw orgiastic, animalistic parties that culminated in a group orgasm just before the goddess would consume those around her. In absence of that sort of traditional worship, Bilquis made do by feeding on newly-converted members of her unique ministry who, unbeknownst to them, all signed up to be sacrificed to her greater good the moment they locked eyes with her. In that first scene where we see Bilquis drawing a man’s entire body into hers while they’re having sex, we’re meant to understand that, in that moment, Bilquis is at one of her lowest points and living a life her former self would have found untenable. But at the same time, American Gods made a point of emphasizing the inherent divinity of a god’s sex life.

Much to the man’s initial confusion, Bilquis commands him to worship her like a goddess when they first begin having sex, and as he realizes that Bilquis is literally eating him with her vagina, it’s not that he isn’t terrified by what’s happening, but rather that his fear’s intermingling with his undeniable pleasure and heightening it. The man knows he’s going to die, and he wants to, because at that point, he isn’t just having sex with Bilquis, he’s tapping into the very essence of everything she represents. He’s being simultaneously undone and remade by Bilquis’ power and, in a trance, he verbalizes the overwhelmingness of it all:

I could keep fucking you forever. Bilquis. Beloved. I worship your breasts and your eyes and your cunt. And I worship your thighs and your eyes and your cherry-red lips. Oh, Daughter of the South. Stone queen on a throne of honey. Secret owner of all gold. I am yours, my beloved Bilquis.

Queens and concubines and maidens hide their faces in shame before you because you are the mother of all beauty. Trees bow and warriors fall—give me your blessing! I bow my head before you and worship you. I offer you everything! My money, my blood, my life! Please, I pray that you give me your gift—your one, pure gift that I might always be so so, so...give me everything...I love you.

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Bilquis having a snack.
Image: Starz

Though the elevated vore scene was technically a matter of necessity for Bilquis’ survival, American Gods makes it clear that the man’s petite mort is overlaid with significance and power for the both of them. In exchange for his life, Bilquis showed the man the true face of god and gave him the chance to become part of her inner ether—where he presumably spends the rest of his existence in perpetual orgasmic bliss until there’s nothing of him left, and the goddess has to move on to her next meal.

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Depending on what kind of roleplaying you’re into, that’s not exactly the kind of sex the vast majority of people are having on a day-to-day basis. But beneath the many layers of digital effects and heightened fantasy, there was a very human element to Bilquis’ first sex scene that spoke to the animalistic kind of passion that can arise when people bang. Everything about sex—the euphoria, the danger, the mystery of a new partner—was crystallized in that scene and transformed into something larger than life, which was an absolutely brilliant way to kick off the series (please recall that this was American Gods’ very first episode). If Bilquis’ bedside demeanor was American Gods’ take on the primal urges that can drive people damn-near to madness while they’re rolling around, the show focused on the more intimate, though nonetheless powerful, emotional side of things through Salim and the Jinn’s burgeoning romance.

While the Jinn might not have been able to grant Salim the kind of wishful freedom from his former life that the mortal man wanted, in initiating their first sexual encounter, he offered Salim something much more fascinating and complicated. Salim’s desire for the Jinn put him in a position to interrogate his queer identity and decide whether his romantic feelings for another man were powerful enough to drive him to upend his entire life and system of beliefs.

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Very little is said during the pair’s sex scene in the first season, but it speaks volumes through the way it depicts the Jinn and Salim—first in their human forms, but then as something more cosmic. The scene heavily implies that they’re having unprotected sex—not necessarily to comment on the politics of condom usage—but to illustrate that they’ve connected in a way that makes it possible for the Jinn to transfer something into Salim that’s beyond a physical bodily substance. The bond has kept the two of them close to one another as American Gods has moved into its second season, which is fine. There are plenty of other characters whose lives we haven’t explored in nearly as much detail, but what’s been really disappointing to see is how the show’s seemingly become less interested in using its sexually charged moments to illustrate larger points.

New Media grasping one of Argus’ appendages.
Image: Starz

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It’s not that American Gods has become any less fucky of a show. Quite the opposite. While being haunted by a vengeful spirit in Cairo, Illinois, Shadow has an inter-dimensional wet dream with the goddess Bast that further convinces him he truly is walking amongst gods. When he wakes up, however, Shadow’s unsure whether the dream was real or not, and American Gods leaves it at that. In her latest attempt to restore her life, Laura Moon travels to Louisiana with Mad Sweeney in hopes that a pair of Haitian death Loa can give her what she needs. They can, and of course, it involves an orgy that raises questions as to whether Laura’s got feelings for the unlucky Leprechaun and he for her. The problem is, American Gods’ sex scenes have taken on a kind of narrative hollowness because of how this season has, at times, felt simultaneously aimless and rushed.

At one point, the goddess New Media makes a power play to sidestep the Technical Boy by offering to partner with Argus, a reinvented god of the surveillance state. With Argus’ old school infrastructure and New Media’s direct access to mortals through their phones, the pair have the potential to create a supernatural panopticon the likes of which Mr. World’s never seen before, and American Gods illustrates this in a wild scene involving Argus attempting to basically jack in to one of New Media’s “ports.”

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But instead of emphasizing what the larger idea that Argus’ fiber optic tentacles sliding into New Media represents—perhaps through a more inspired visualization of some sort—American Gods phones it in. It might sound odd to hear a tentacle sex scene described as pedestrian, but watching New Media and Argus hook up is boring, frankly, because the show’s counting on the shock value of its imagery to offset the lack of real substance to the moment. In an age where most of us are familiar with Rule 34, things like this just don’t land.

When you factor in that American Gods has drifted away from depictions of queer sexuality, and this season’s sex scenes have gone to great lengths to really only gaze at women’s breasts for the most part, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the series has taken some significant steps back and that the first season’s magic is gone for good.

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