In John Huston’s 1951 adventure classic The African Queen, Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn are thrown together by circumstance and unhappily bicker their way through the jungle before (spoiler alert) falling head-over-heels for each other, getting hitched and blowing up the bad guys. I’m reminded of them whenever I come across an example that proves one of the immutable rules of film and television: squabbling odd couples are invariably on the road to love.
For the first two seasons of American Gods, the Leprechaun Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) was the Bogart to Laura Moon’s Hepburn (Emily Browning). Originally forced to stick together just because his lucky coin happened to be buried in her gut, a few sarcastic jokes and punches to the head later and somehow dirty glances became lingering looks. Laura is looking for him in Purgatory when all this hits her, midway through this episode, via a tearjerking montage of her departed beloved doing what he did best: staring moodily into the middle distance and smoking a fag.
Laura doesn’t know it yet, but it’s Sweeney’s love that’s going to yank her out of the great beyond and send her ricocheting back to not-so-great Earth. Cast your mind back to the fifth episode of last season, The Ways of the Dead, in which Sweeney took Laura to meet his old mate Baron Samedi (Mustafa Shakir). There in New Orleans, Samedi gave Laura a vial of gris gris with the instruction that it would bring her back to life if combined with: “Blood, infused with love… two drops.” Sure enough, when the vial breaks and the gris gris mixes with Laura’s dusty remains, all it takes is a couple of drops of Sweeney’s blood and – hey presto – Laura’s a real girl again. He really did love her – cute! However, as Laura soon learns, he’s also really dead. Where does that leave the reigning two-time queen of resurrection? Off to “see a man about a song,” she says. Her earworm is the classical tune that’s been haunting her memories. The AV Guy in Purgatory told her it was Schweiger’s ‘Requiem of Baldr’. Fans of Norse mythology will know that Baldr is not, as the name suggests, a dating app for hairless men but in fact one of the mighty sons of Odin. Hey, isn’t Laura married to a guy like that?
Speaking of Shadow (Ricky Whittle), this week he’s learning that adversity makes for strange bedfellows. Back in the show’s very first episode he was ambushed and lynched by Technical Boy (Bruce Langley), so he’s naturally not best pleased when he finds himself having to team up with the malfunctioning new God to track down Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), who has been kidnapped by private security goons working for billionaire tech guy Bill (Gil Bellows). They’re upset because Bill has been a missing person ever since Bilquis popped him up into her vagina nebula. The aforementioned goons torture Bilquis, which raises the question: who can the Gods turn to at times like that? In Bilquis’ case it’s Oshun (Herizen Guardiola) who answers her prayers. She’s one of the Orishas, the ancient African gods who have also been calling out to Shadow in what feels like the plot line which will end up revealing the most about our hero’s true destiny.
Wednesday (Ian McShane), meanwhile, is spending his time at a viking metal bar called Valhalla, consoling his mate Johan Wengren (Marilyn Manson) about his dead bandmates. Later that night the bar explodes and Wednesday strips his clothes off and cavorts babbling down the street. A sudden bout of insanity, or could this all just be a cunning wheeze to get himself sent to the same corrupt mental institution that’s home to his beloved Demeter (Blythe Danner)? You can say one thing for sure, Wednesday’s certainly committed.
Hits and myths
- Valhalla, the viking metal bar Wednesday and Johan get plastered and stabby in, made me really nostalgic for viking metal bars. I was sad they blew it up, but the neon sign outside did say ‘Valhalla East’ which raises the tantalising prospect that there may be a ‘Valhalla West’ still to be visited.
- “Mmm, tasting. What a concept!”
- Most McShane moment of the week: Laid out on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance, his eyes wild with confusion, Wednesday summons the strength to whisper: “A monkey shat in my pants.”
- The devil has the best music: The history of the song ‘Feelin’ Good’ is fascinating: It was written by the English composers Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for their musical The Roar of the Greasepaint in 1964, but it’s been a jazz standard ever since Nina Simone recorded it definitively the following year. Muse had a hit with it in 2001, a version which in 2010 was voted by NME readers the greatest cover song of all time. 2010 was a crazy time. All of that is preamble to saying that it takes something very special to make a new version stand out, but the great singer-songwriter Willow Robinson’s cover that plays over the closing credits made every hair on the back of neck stand up.