Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"Head Full Of Snow" Advances American Gods In A Delightfully Surreal Direction!

The Good: Good acting, Decent character moments, Good direction/special effects
The Bad: Light on plot development, Characters only advance incrementally
The Basics: "Head Full Of Snow" introduces more divine entities into American Gods, before Shadow Moon and Wednesday rob a bank.

As American Gods progressed, the show started to find a good balance between telling self-contained stories and building a truly serialized narrative. One of the ways that the show's writers accomplished this was by having episodes where a common theme unites the disparate events of the episode, across all of the characters - both familiar and new. The third episode of American Gods is united by death.

The death theme of "Head Full Of Snow" makes a lot of sense coming off of "The Secret Of Spoons" (reviewed here!) given that the show's most consistent protagonist, Shadow Moon, was given a death sentence at the climax of the episode. "Head Full Of Snow" opens with a lot of potential. American Gods was a new show still with "Head Full Of Snow" and the potential of the show is that it will actually kill off its main character, so the idea that Shadow Moon is sleeping his last night as the episode begins feels very real, especially after a vignette opening that features a death.

In Queens, Mrs. Fadil is preparing a meal for her children when there is a knock on the door. She recognizes the visitor as Anubis, from her childhood, as opposed to any of the figures from her Muslim faith that she converted to later in life. She follows Anubis to a surreal desert where she is judged and allowed to move onto death. In Chicago, Shadow Moon is awoken from his sleep and he climbs to the roof where he meets Zorya Polunochnaya. She looks into Shadow Moon's fortune, then gives him the moon (which takes the form of a coin). Shadow approaches Czernobog and he bargains for a second game of checkers. When Shadow manages to win against Czernobog, the Russian agrees to travel to Wisconsin to participate in Mr. Wednesday's meeting.

In Indiana, Mad Sweeney awakens to a shotgun in his face and when he wanders away from the bar and the driver who picks him up dies in a horrible accident, he realizes that he has lost his lucky gold coin. Elsewhere, in New York City, Salim waits a day for a meeting for which his appointment never shows up. After that, Salim encounters a Jinn who is a cab driver and the two make love, with the Jinn takes Salim's form. In Chicago, Wednesday scouts a bank to rob and he tells Shadow Moon to envision show. Shadow is shocked when, while Wednesday is printing the materials he needs to accomplish his scam, he envisions snow and wakes up to an uncommon snow storm.

"Head Full Of Snow" is a slow build of an episode for its first half and a very basic scam plot for the second half. Wednesday has a scam to rob a bank by posing as a night deposit guard and he relies upon Shadow Moon to cover for him when the police check out his alibi. Ian McShane carries the second half of the episode by presenting Wednesday as an open-minded trickster. Wednesday is slowly opening Shadow up to the possibility that the world is much bigger and more complicated than Shadow has previously believed. Many of McShane's scenes are subtle exposition and philosophy - leading Shadow Moon and coerce the protagonist while asking for his belief - but McShane makes them not only watchable, but engaging. Ian McShane has raw charisma that few actors possess and long before the end of "Head Full Of Snow," it is obvious that Wednesday is a being with exceptional abilities and a strange dependence.

Pablo Schreiber steals his scenes in "Head Full Of Snow" and the confidence with which Omid Abtahi and Mousa Kraish approach their sex scene is a testament to their acting abilities. But in an episode with continued subtle performances from Cloris Leachman, Chris Obi, and Peter Stormare, Ricky Whittle finally breaks out. After all that Whittle's character, Shadow Moon, has been through, "Head Full Of Snow" finally gives him a bit to play that allows him to show some range. Shadow gets exhausted, which makes sense if he gets very little sleep after his death sentence begins and Whittle plays that with an impressive level of control over his body language. Whittle is able to emote well Shadow attempting to focus, but falling prey to Wednesday's voice and the suggestion that he needs to focus.

"Head Full Of Snow" balances the performances with decent special effects. The episode opens delightfully surreal as Anubis leads Mrs. Fadil away and the effects continue with the flawless execution of the Jinn's flaming eyes. Director David Slade does an excellent job of augmenting Whittle's performance with effects-driven sequences of water freezing into ice and the snow crystallizing.

Despite the performances and as few moments of character, "Head Full Of Snow" is an episode where the protagonist does not advance or develop in a truly impressive or significant way. The result is an interesting and easy-to-watch episode that is not overly impressive or concrete on the narrative front outside the context of the larger serialized storyline of the first season of American Gods.

For other works with Peter Stormare, please check out my reviews of:
22 Jump Street
The Zero Theorem
Pain & Gain
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
Prison Break - Season 1
The Brothers Grimm
Minority Report
The Big Lebowski

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into American Gods - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of the surreal series here!


For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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