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American Gods: “Head Full of Snow”

“Even the smart ones [people] have some kind of delusion they believe in, whether it’s gods or ghosts,” Shadow tells Wednesday. Since Shadow hasn’t decided on a god to believe in, that leaves ghosts and, sure enough, in the final scene of the episode, Shadow runs into his dead wife, Laura.

Is Laura dead? That’s yet to be confirmed, but when Mad Sweeny digs up her coffin (he’s looking for his lucky coin) there’s no body inside. A lot of deaths are up for question in “Head Full of Snow.” Salim (Omid Abtahi) may or may not be an ifrit (he wears the clothes the ifrit (Mousa Kraish) left behind, and drives his taxi, but doesn’t reveal burning red eyes).

Mrs. Fadil (Jacqueline Antaramian) climbs a stool in the opening scene. From the camera’s focus on her wobbly support, there’s no way she doesn’t fall, but then she’s standing on solid ground, and the crisis is averted. Except Mrs. Fadil did fall off the stool, and when she goes to answer a knock at the door it’s Anubis (Chris Obi), Egyptian god of death, who’s come to take her to the Scales.

American Gods didn’t invent bookend scenes but “Head Full of Snow” is another episode where the first and last scene pack the biggest wallop. In both you have a female who’s dead (Mrs. Fadil and Laura) and a man with a connection to dogs. Shadow’s nickname is Puppy and Anubis often gets represented as a jackal. Death doesn’t come with visual markers. There’s no floating or see-through skin. Mrs. Fadil and Laura look the same as when they were alive, making it easier to believe they might not be dead.

When Mrs. Fadil hesitates to choose a door that will take her to the Duat, or Underworld, a Sphynx cat pushes her through the door. Egypt holds cats in high regard but, besides preferring the heat, and sharing the Great Sphynx’s name, Sphynxes aren’t a species native to the country. Mrs. Fadil’s getting pushed is more applicable in what it means for Laura. Will Shadow be in a position where he has to prompt her to move on, and does he have the will to be convincing? Mrs. Fadil’s last words are, “Follow the wrong god, I do not see my Tita again.” Dying for her means they could be reunited. Laura dying means Shadow and Laura are separated.

Plus, Shadow’s not following a god. Wednesday hasn’t been in a rush to secure Shadow’s allegiance, but when Zorya Utrennyaya gives him a bad fortune, it’s his turn to try recruiting. On the fire escape, with Shadow, Zorya Polunochnaya talks about people having their time and Wednesday’s is closing in. “They will kill you this time,” Zorya Utrennyaya tells him, and, as far as reading his fortune, she’s telling the truth. A wolf appears in the middle of the road and a kinder heart would say it’s a reference to Anubis (Hance). The tone makes it likely a reference to Fenrir, Loki’s son, the wolf who kills Odin (McCoy).

Wednesday’s doomed and Mrs. Fadil’s climbing a fire escape to die, but Shadow’s climbing a fire escape to live. It’s his head, not his wife, that Zorya Polunochnaya confronts him for losing and after their rooftop conversation he seems to have a new lease on life. He challenges Czernobog to a checkers rematch, he stalls his execution, and he might be getting the hang of making snow. And maybe what’s in store for Wednesday doesn’t have to be terrible. Joseph Campbell’s monomyth leaves two stages for Atonement of the Father and Apostasis (“Science Fiction”). Death in this world doesn’t have to be permanent.

Works cited:

Fawcett, Kristin. “11 Not-So-Fluffy Facts about Sphynx Cats.” Mental Floss, 15 Oct. 2015, mentalfloss.com/article/69740/11-not-so-fluffy-facts-about-sphynx-cats. Accessed 13 May 2017.

Hance, Jeremy. “Egyptian Jackal Is Actually Ancient Wolf.” Mongabay, 26 Jan. 2011, news.mongabay.com/2011/01/egyptian-jackal-is-actually-ancient-wolf/. Accessed 13 May 2017.

Hill, Jenny. “Cats in Ancient Egypt.” Ancient Egypt Online, 2010, www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/cat.html. Accessed 13 May 2017.

McCoy, Daniel. “Fenrir.” Norse Mythology for Smart People, norse-mythology.org/gods-and-creatures/giants/fenrir/.

“Science Fiction Writers Workshop: Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.” Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction – The University of Kansas, Chris McKitterick, www.sfcenter.ku.edu/Workshop-stuff/Joseph-Campbell-Hero-Journey.htm.

About Rachel Bellwoar

Rachel Bellwoar is the Comics Editor at That's Not Current and a contributing writer for Flickering Myth. Her first Alfred Hitchcock movie was Rear Window and she questions the value of the binge model for watching television — much better to avoid endings. Having found out who killed Laura Palmer, she compensates by watching as many David Lynch films as possible.

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