American Gods: The Rapture of Burning

"Thank you, hot bellhop."

American Gods gives me exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. Thank you, hot bellhop, indeed.



This one's for the lonely,
the ones that seek and find
only to be let down
time after time.

This one's for the torn down,
the experts at the fall.
Come on friends, get up now.

You're not alone at all.



This one hit me where I live.

Let me apologize in advance. This review is going to come from a very personal perspective. I know that that isn't always terribly useful for anyone else reading it. After all, when you watch this episode of American Gods it isn't going to be through my eyes, and it certainly won't be filtered by my experiences. All I can say is that it simply isn't possible for me to talk about this one without starting from where I am at the moment and why that made what they were saying important. I beg your indulgence this once.

It may not have escaped your notice, gentle reader, that this review has been some time coming - this is another thing I would generally avoid mentioning in the review proper, since anyone reading this five years from now won't have noticed or cared. It's relevant this once, I promise.

For quite some while now, I have not been ok. This episode put me back on the path to being ok. That's what I want to talk about.

So, for the sake of not being vague about it and on the off chance anyone is wondering, I'll bring you up to speed. A few weeks ago I left a very comfortable job that paid reasonably well and that I'd been doing for about 15 years. I did this because my work environment had become increasingly toxic over time and was now at the point of actively hurting me. At the exact same time my partner of 21+ years went away to inpatient treatment for his chronic alcoholism. For those who haven't lived through that one, the last couple of months before they're able to accept that they need to leave society and go somewhere to get help because things are just that bad are... difficult.

So, suddenly cut off from essentially every marker that we as human beings use to define who we are as people, I spent a few weeks completely shut down. And then I watched 'The Rapture of Burning', and would you believe it, that's exactly the point of the story.

There's a lot going on in this one, but the heart of the matter is absolutely Salim and Laura and what happens to them at the Grand Peacock Inn, so let's just spend a quick moment dealing with the unrelated matters so we can get them out of the way:

-- Shadow has been kidnapped by Tyr, as part of his (Tyr's) plan for revenge against Wednesday. They meet in the God-realm, have an epic battle, Shadow essentially commits his support to Wednesday by helping in the fight, and Tyr is defeated. This is all... fine. Denis O'Hare effortlessly has the charisma of three men, and Tyr is undeniably sympathetic and watchable. The makeup effect for his sharpened arm bones (the Radius and Ulna, if you're interested) is very cool and not something I've ever seen before. The little side discussion about flossing while Tyr is killing time is funnier than we deserve in that moment.

And none of that matters.

-- Technical Boy trying to 'fix' himself with the face hugger machine is fairly perfunctory stuff, even though Yetide Badaki's performance as Technical Boy's subconscious as filtered through his perception of Bilquis is kind of a masterpiece, and really shows exactly how good her performance as Bilquis is by showing us what else she can do in contrast. She's kind of a halfway point between Steve Urkel and Uzo Aduba's performance as Suzanne/Crazy Eyes on Orange is the New Black. It's amazing, probably unrepeatable, and in any other circumstance would be the showpiece of the episode.

And none of that matters.

Because all that matters is Laura and Salim. Ostensibly they're on a side quest to recover Odin's spear so that Laura can use it to kill Wednesday, but the episode barely bothers to pretend that that's what matters right now. What matters is that Laura has a box of ashes. And Salim has a sweater. And both of them have an idea of who they thought they were going to be that's lost forever, and yet they can't let go of.

Yeah. That resonated a little.

Laura and Salim find themselves at the Grand Peacock Inn on the eve of what the posters advertise as: 'The Seelie court of America – Annual Jamboree – all kindred spirits welcome.' A 'Seelie' is amusingly defined in Wikipedia as 'Non-malicious faeries,' which just could not be more charming.

To take a step back, we see in the prologue that back in the 50s the proprietor of the Grand Peacock Inn - a woman named Toni - gave shelter to a Chinese man being chased by the police for being gay. Her act of kindness is rewarded when he's revealed to be Tu Er Shen aka The Rabbit God aka a Chinese God of homosexual love who forever blesses her hotel as a temple of safety, sanctuary, and love for what we now think of as the LGBTQ+ community. Toni, herself a transgender woman, is granted long life to reign over this temple, which is why she's still there just as young and just as fabulous some 70 years later when Salim and Laura stop in looking for a leprechaun that can help break into Sweeney's vault where the spear currently is stashed.

There's obviously a lot to unpack here, beginning with 'Jesus Christ, why isn't this hotel a real place that I can head out to immediately and never leave again.' But beyond that it really brought home how fundamentally 'trans' the whole show has become at this point. I love that. Maybe that's why they gender-flipped Hinzelmann, just to underscore the point.

In any case, the point of the story is that Laura is still carrying Sweeney's ashes and Salim is still wearing the Jinn's sweater, and neither of them are able to let go of this last tie to the one they loved. Interestingly and amusingly, they are both capable of calling the other one out on the issue while not being able to deny that they're in the exact same position. Which felt very real and very touching. Salim gets gifted with a rainbow wrist band for the event which is billed as 'the passport to wherever you want to go', and let's just take a moment with the overtness of that metaphor. Accepting yourself for who you are will allow you to go wherever you want to be. That's so thin it barely counts as subtext. That's very nearly just text.

They take different paths, but both of them are led to a place where they can let go of that last reminder of who they used to be and move forward to find who they're going to be in the future. Laura, thinking that she's failed in her task and that Salim and Shadow will die as a result is forced to confront the fact that she does care about people. Which allows her to accept that she loved Sweeney. Which allows her to dump his ashes in the river (not legal, btw) and let him go. At which point she's metaphorically rewarded by the unexpected success of her mission when her new leprechaun friend, Liam Doyle, suddenly returns later than expected with the spear.

Salim, meanwhile, finds the courage to go to the Seelie ball, where we're shown an amazing vista of things without a hint of kink-shaming, and without a whisper of voyeurism. All of these people are simply allowed to be who they are on screen without the expected overtone of 'look at these freaks!' that so often accompanies the subject matter. And then the scene climaxes (!) with what might be the bravest thing I've ever seen on screen. Toni, fully naked from the front, on a swing of laurels directly lifted from the Tarot card 'The World,' unashamedly displaying her non-surgically gender confirmed self, fully and completely. Honestly, I was moved to tears every single time I watched it, in the joy of that moment. The World, for those unfamiliar, symbolizes completeness. Being a whole thing within one's self. That 'you' are enough. You are whole. You are healed. You are going to be ok.

Yeah. I cried every time.

This episode made me ok again. In some sense, it saved me.


Quotes:

Toni: "When I was born, everyone said I was a boy. And guess what. They were wrong."

Laura: "You were a Leprechaun lawyer?"
Liam: "Long story."

Kai: "That’s your look. That’s a tough one. Homeless Jackson Pollack? No, I got it. Lesbian Harry Potter."

Laura: "Yeah, if you’re some fucking rube that just fell off the turnip truck."
Salim: "I have no idea what that means."

Salim: "My J’inn. Your Sweeney. They’re not coming back. But we can’t let go."

Salim: "Everybody says that this is a safe place, but I don’t feel very safe right now."
Toni: "Feel free to tell me to mind my own business, but is it possible you feel ashamed?"
Salim: "Shame?"
Toni: "Because sometimes unsafe and ashamed can feel similar, but shame is a whole lot of made up bullshit."

Salim: "Why do you care?"
Laura: "Because I fucking care about you Salim, Jesus Christ! Just leave it at that."
Salim: "I love you too, Laura Moon."

Laura: "I guess that’s what I liked about you. Everything was always your fault too. Just a couple of assholes. Okay. Uh.. Um. Fuck you. Goodbye."



Bits and Pieces:

-- The new leprechaun's name is 'Liam Doyle'. Somebody was a fan of Angel, I see. I bet his middle name is 'Lorne.'

-- Liam Doyle is now traveling with Laura, and was played by Iwon Rheon, who I understand most people know from Game of Thrones, but to me he'll always be Ashe, the adorable upstairs neighbor on Vicious. If you haven't seen Vicious, go watch it.

-- The effect of the butterflies gilding the hotel sign in the beginning was as gorgeous as it was not subtle.

-- Oh my God, they included a consideration of consent! I never thought I'd see the day TV bothered to address that.

-- It was a clever choice to name her 'Toni.' That sounds nicely gender neutral, so when she talked to the cop about her past with his son it wasn't obvious to the cop what was going on. I suspect if it had been things would have gone down quite differently.

-- Tu Er Chen is indeed a real Chinese God, and his story is pretty much exactly as told here. Minus the part about blessing midwestern hotels of course.

-- Lots of interesting leprechaun lore here. Apparently they each have their own lucky coin, which is like a passkey to their own hoards. The luck inherent in the coin is transferable, as is the hoard access. And they need lawyers, for some reason.

-- Tyr's the one who's been killing off Wednesday's followers. The whole thing with Johann was a misdirect. OK, that makes sense.

-- I just re-listened to Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology on Audible. It helped a lot with tracking this stuff.

-- I get what they were going for, but using the visual metaphor for Salim becoming empowered in his own life as him going from being a bottom to being a top is... problematic.

-- Kai was naked when he got out of bed. I appreciated that. Not for the reasons you're thinking. I really hate the convention of people apparently finishing having sex, getting fully dressed, then getting back in bed and falling asleep that TV always tries to convince us is believable.



This was good. And meant a lot to me. And I can't even properly score it because it's just too big.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. If you'd like to see his raw notes for this and other reviews, you can find them at What Was Mikey Thinking.

6 comments:

Billie Doux said...

It's funny (interesting, not funny ha-ha) how sometimes an episode of something or a book or movie can come along at just the right time. Or wrong time. I remember being completely hit over the head by the Buffy episode "The Body."

I hope things are going better for you now, Mikey. Hang in there.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Things are getting better. I'm finding my feet at the new job, and the best part about it is that there's zero expectation that I'll bring work home with me either literally or mentally. My work/life balance is so much better.

It is odd how that happens. random coincidence, or proof of Powers That Be?

milostanfield said...

What a wonderful piece of writing. Thank you. I read Gaiman's "American Gods" every January. It's my winter book.

Best wishes for your partner's return.

My only regret is that after enriching Salim's character from an afterthought to one as complex as a true lead, he will be parked for the rest of the show, though his journey is complete. But if they don't bring him back at least he ended up at a really nice hotel.

Mikey Heinrich said...

LOL! How funny, I thought that exact same thing!

Unknown said...

For me the butterflies called to mind the girl with butterflies coming out of her mouth who leads the people of her village across the Arabian Sea in The Satanic Verses.

Mikey Heinrich said...

I've always meant to get around to reading that, but never have so far.

Maybe this is my prompt to get around to it.