In the gospel of Tom Waits there is a proverb: “Don’t you know there ain’t no devil, there’s just God when he’s drunk.” American Gods season 3 episode 2 bears the David Bowie-referencing title ‘Serious Moonlight’ and brings us not just one but a whole roomful of hammered deities. The sad occasion for this almighty piss-up is a memorial in Chicago for Mr Wednesday’s (Ian McShane) beloved Zorya Vechernyaya (the much-missed Cloris Leachman), who you’ll remember was brutally murdered in a Motel America diner back in season two, shot through the chest with bullets engraved ‘Deus Mortuorum’ (‘God is dead’ in Latin). Complicating matters at her wake is that mean old Czernobog (Peter Stormare) hasn’t even invited Wednesday. There’ll be hell to pay!
Luckily for Wednesday he gets the tip off from his old mate Tyr (Denis O’Hare), the terrifying Norse God of War who has segued neatly into an equally terrifying life as children’s dentist Dr Tyrell. Not only does Wednesday learn about Zorya Vechernyaya’s memorial from his tooth-kissing pal, he also lifts a postcard from Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, giving himself another stop to add to his perpetual American road trip.
By contrast, Wednesday’s wayward son Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) has managed to wangle himself an invite to the funeral of the season. It gives him an excuse to spend a night outside of Lakeside, Wisconsin, his seemingly quaint new smalltown home which is rapidly turning out to be just as mysterious and compelling as any of the ostensibly stranger locales this show has visited. Chief among the mysteries is exactly what the deal is with Ann-Marie Hinzelmann (Julia Sweeney), who seems far too involved in everyone’s life to merely be a cheerful busybody. She turns up to rescue Shadow just as he’s about to freeze to death (again) then immediately starts telling him all about the local tradition of dragging an old car out on to the frozen lake and then taking bets on what date and time it will break through, which is certainly one way to break the ice. This is a real-life tradition in many American smalltowns – often called something cute like ‘Dunk The Clunk’. Later, while shopping for a climate-appropriate coat, Shadow makes his own guess and what seems to be a touch of his demigod magic guides him toward: “March 23rd between 7pm and 8pm.” I mean, you wouldn’t bet against the son of Odin on matters of the weather, would you?
Helping Shadow find a coat (and a reindeer sweater) is Alison McGovern, one of the awkward young girls who flirted with him when he first arrived in Lakeside. By the time Shadow is back from paying his respects to Zorya Vechernyaya in Chicago, Alison is missing and Shadow is suspect number one. Friendly cop Chad Mulligan wastes no time clearing his (fake) name, but even so an icy chill is certainly blowing through Lakeside’s winter wonderland.
Elsewhere this week, Salim (Omid Abtahi) is hunting for the Djinn that broke his heart – or “pumped and dumped” him as Wednesday ungallantly puts it. Plus Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) is attempting to solve her tech problems with billionaire IT guy Bill (Gil Bellows) but winds up sucking him up into her vagina nebula. Immediately afterwards she throws up. Uh oh – didn’t she get Bill tested?
Hits and myths
- It had to happen eventually. 18 episodes in, American Gods finally makes a Lovejoy joke. Shadow, trying to placate the nosy Chad, tells him he works for his uncle’s import-export business. What kind? “Antiques, mostly.” Sure, the gag works in context as a reference to Wednesday’s various sacred objects but it’s also a lovely nod to Ian McShane’s early days as the roguish East Anglian antiques dealer.
- Shadow is still going by ‘Mike Ainsel’, which is a very Neil Gaiman-y reference. ‘My Ainsel’ means ‘My Own Self’ in Old English, and is the title of a Northumbrian fairy tale about a fairy who gets a naughty kid in trouble. (Who made that mess? It was My Own Self!)
- Why does Dr Tyrell have a prosthetic arm? Thanks to a classic tale from Norse mythology. Tyr’s arm was bitten off by the wolf Fenrir, who was angered by the fact the Gods had tricked him into being bound by dwarf-made ties that even the mighty Fen couldn’t break.
- Most McShane moment of the week: Ripped-to-the-tits drunk having a dancefloor slap-off with Peter Stormare. Glorious.
- The devil has the best music: We saw Laura Moon turn to dust in this season’s opening episode, but this week we close with a song that brings her back to mind. It’s Rhiannon Giddens’ staggering version of ‘Little Margaret’, a ballad that can be traced back to 14th century England. It’s a ghost story about a dead girl who comes back to pay one last visit to the man she loves.
American Gods season 3 episode 2 is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video