American Gods season 3, episode 8, “The Rapture of the Burning,” ends a centuries-old feud and finally gives a few characters the time and space to grieve.
Expecting the unexpected should be the norm for viewers of American Gods and yet some weeks still leave you asking, “what did I just watch?” “Rapture of the Burning” features the season’s most divided storylines as Shadow witnesses a battle between two Old Gods, Tech faces down his subconscious, and Salim and Laura take in the sights and sounds of the Peacock Inn.
The story of Fenrir finally enters the American Gods lore as Tyr’s true intentions come to light when Odin arrives to fetch his son. It’s a twist on the story that veers slightly off course from the version Gaiman’s opted for in his retelling of Norse Mythology and it doesn’t sit well with our writers. The next chapter in Odin and Shadow’s story is one giant question mark as it appears the series is taking us further and further away from Lakeside.
Technical Boy, already an enigma this season, becomes a bit more complicated as a therapy session with himself (or rather Bilquis posing as a rendering of his subconscious) reveals that emotions are nothing new to the humanoid. What exactly is Tech? His origin story is due for telling and we are starting to grow more impatient each week.
Finally, lost love and found that truth is at the heart of the tale set in the fabulous Peacock Inn. Salim and Laura take an emotional journey to let go and trust that cutting the tethers to their past will lead them to better futures. Plus, we meet a leprechaun whose resume includes being a lawyer, hired hitman, failed hitman, and now a bartender.
Can we trust that we are finally getting closer to the end game that awaits us in Lakeside? Only time will tell! But first, let’s tackle what awaits us at the Wolf’s Den.
‘American Gods’ season 3, episode 8 review in conversation
Brittany: Lakeside is once again in the rearview mirror as American Gods opts to take us out on the road that heads toward the roadside attraction, the Wolf’s Den. To recap a small bit, Shadow was picked up by Tyr and the behest of his father to attend to some rather urgent business. We pick up with the duo at a gas station where Shadow calls to check in on Wednesday, via Cordelia I assume and gets nowhere.
But as he turns to leave the payphone, it rings again, and this is where I was a bit thrown — our good friend Tyr has drugged Shadow and we see him blackout on the pavement. To make matters worse, when an innocent bystander offers to help, Tyr rips his throat out.
So, my first question is, did you expect this turn from Tyr?
Natalie: In a word, no. And I am not stoked about it. I knew that Tyr was taking Shadow under false pretenses. I knew that some big confrontation was going to happen. But when Tyr killed that civilian helper, I was like, okay, this doesn’t seem right AT ALL.
Brittany: Denis O’Hare can really go from kind neighbor dentist to killer just like that. It was kind of terrifying.
Natalie: During his blackout, Shadow has a vision of the version of Odin on the astral plane we see later, but when he wakes, we learn that Tyr is the one killing Wednesday’s followers all along.
Brittany: I mean, yes, he’s a god of war, etc, etc. But still…
Natalie: The thing is, about the god of war, look, I have a weirdly moralistic issue with this. I don’t know why. It just doesn’t feel right to me that Tyr would react like this. I think I am hung up on the version of Tyr in Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. And I guess, because this is Gaiman material, I expected them to use his take (albeit from a separate book) on Tyr for whatever reason. But even as a wider view of Tyr’s role in Norse mythology in general, this all feels weirdly petty and not about justice at all.
Maybe this Tyr has been corrupted by the experiences in America, but I don’t know. It didn’t work for me. I see the thread-like Wednesday assumed it was Johan killing the followers but when he finds the body, he calls him “sweet fire bear” or whatever, still cares about him – at that moment, he must have realized it was “Tyrgatha All Along” and not Johan — rather than what I thought, which was that Tyr killed Johan in self-defense.
Brittany: I JUST got that song out of my head.
Natalie:But I just don’t like it. It’s too much trickery and underhandedness. It has no nobility in it. And I believed, for whatever outside reason, that this was a noble character.
Brittany: Yeah, I agree. I was going to say the same thing. The god of war thing was mainly in my head that, of course he could do these things, but would he? And I side with you here, I did not think he would.
I think when Tyr and Wednesday do confront each other and Wednesday is quick to take the blame on his latest offense – in this case Demeter – it just speaks to how long and how narcissistic Wednesday is. This wasn’t because you took the girl he liked to the prom and then destroyed her life, it’s another instance in a long line of wrongdoings.
This is a pained god, who probably hasn’t exactly had the best time in America even if he did make a nice living for himself. But now to have this war campaign on his doorstep again — it’s just enough. Makes me think a bit differently about their first meeting where he was happy to cut a check and swear allegiance with a smile.
Natalie: Do you think he was lying when he told Demeter they both love him and can’t help be drawn to him? Like he mentions giving Wednesday money then…
Brittany: I don’t think he was lying, but I think he has an obsessive love. This need to be better than him, to always be the better person, the one who sees both sides and acts. And maybe he is just tired of it all now.
Natalie: One thing that stuck out was his obsession with the rules of justice or whatever, like because Shadow intervened he HAS to kill him. Maybe he has lost the plot a bit. Stopping Wednesday, he calls it raining Divine Intervention down on your father. He thinks Wednesday’s war is stupid and selfish and he feels it’s his job to stop it all. I think what is clear is that he’s MEANT to be this very noble, honorable god — given some of what is said — and he has gone a bit insane in terms of acting out that honor.
Brittany: Just like he did with Fenrir. Tyr says as much when explains that Wednesday took up the challenge against the wolf to prove his might and escape, but refused to pay the insurance of placing his hand in Fenrir’s mouth. And so Tyr did because he thought it was the only way to stop its reign. Now he is almost all but forgotten and he blames Wednesday. Wednesday calls him a victim, and he is doing a bang-up job of painting himself in this sacrificial role claiming to feel like he is constantly backed into a corner.
He wants Wednesday to submit to him or he’ll kill Shadow, which is just so extreme, but he really sees it as the only way. And to your point with the battle, it was so jarring that he would turn his back on Wednesday because of a technicality. And I am 100% sure that ax throw could have hit the exact target it needed to and not land between Wednesday’s legs like he was waiting for a closer kill shot.
Natalie: Again, in every version of the Fenrir story, it is an incredibly noble act of Tyr, whether for the greater good of the world or as justice to Fenrir himself — Tyr being opposed to the trickery played on the wolf. This American Gods version a nasty twist on the story I have read a number of times, and again, Gaiman’s version is entirely sympathetic and paints Tyr as the only decent person among the Norse Gods. I clearly have a bit of a bias but I just wasn’t expecting this twist and this tone. But the show continues to paint Wednesday as kind of the hero, or at least, the boss.
I assume here we are meant to have some sympathy for Wednesday and want him to win, which I guess I do, but it didn’t feel right to me for this particular challenger for whatever reason. I didn’t like Tyr’s attitude or this version of the wolf story, I wanted Tyr to be incorruptible. That’s on me I guess. I’m just not sure what we are trying to prove here like is this meant to prove that Wednesday is a good guy? I found that exchange about Tyr’s honesty being the greatest strength/weakness kind of interesting. Like basically the narrative tells us that trading in honesty and justice gets you nowhere and eventually will corrupt your sense of nobility into what we see… but for Shadow, witnessing, he just sees a dentist attacking his dad. And Wednesday making an effort to save Shadow and get him out of there.
Brittany: This was a guy who kindly picked him up to keep him safe and take him to his father, then drugged him, then told the story you just alluded, dropping the rage to quietly asking Shadow, “Do you floss every day? I always wonder why people do or they don’t?” before going full on Norse God in a battle for his life. It’s whiplash, but it does paint this picture of being exhausted by trying to do good and be good when there is always somewhere right there with you who can do worse and be worse under the guise of “good” and actually be loved for it.
I don’t think we were supposed to feel sympathy for Wednesday at all in this episode. If we were, it was lost on me. I was disappointed in the shift in Tyr, but it made me feel worse about Wednesday. Sure he is going to save his son, but as Tyr says in the Fenrir story — always the con man. He had to know Shadow would defend him — had to! And he also knew Tyr would read into it and turn his back. At least that’s how I read it. I felt feelings for Wednesday once this season, I think I hit my quota! How did you feel about Wednesday after the battle though?
Natalie: I do not know. He seemed genuinely concerned about Shadow. But I felt the level of frustration Shadow felt when Wednesday vanished — when Wednesday freed him from the contract (I guess for saving his life?) and Shadow is like, ‘oh fuck you you don’t get to do that.’ Because I felt Shadow is now like… Oh dammit I CAN’T JUST WALK AWAY when he was contracted that was one thing, but now it’s like fuck you, you saved me, you’re my father, I care. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, you don’t get to vanish I still wanna be involved. Wednesday has manipulated him into caring by choice. That’s how it made me feel anyway.
Brittany: I agree with all of that. It’s the manipulation bit that sticks me the most in that, I still don’t 100% buy it from Wednesday’s side. I always feel it’s not true. Maybe I’m too much like Tyr, just waiting for him to pull one over on me.
It’s going to be interesting to see what he does from here to completely sway me to believe his intentions are based on a place other than self-preservation for him and him alone, not one that comes with a life of people who stick around. Like I’m interested in how he will handle both Cordelia and Shadow choosing him beyond having a contractual obligation.
Natalie: It’s an interesting and confusing twist. But the choice to follow is definitely a more powerful thing… Shadow feels at the very least, too curious to walk away. But instead of heading home to Lakeside, he is drawn by an idea to go to Florida and — I assume — try and find Margie’s kid with his powers. When he sees the poster move, do you think that is literal? Like it genuinely moves (for him) as a sign from the universe to follow? Because, well, as far as I know, Sandy Olsen is not actually in Florida.
Brittany: I do think so, again — I feel like I harp on this — the Klunker board magic sign makes me think he is seeing some sort of signal from the universe. Perhaps illustrated for us to see it more visually as an audience, but I could see it as actually happening for Shadow as well. This is a weird side trip because I thought the same thing — Sandy is definitely not there. But maybe something else is? I just have no clue what!
Natalie: Well, a bus to Florida from wherever Tyr took him sounds super punishing, but I have no idea what he might find there.
Brittany: So while Shadow goes off to Jacksonville and contemplates all the life decisions that got him to this moment on his likely 24-48 hour bus ride, Tech takes a journey into his subconscious where he meets a familiar face who helps him unpack what’s actually going on. However, it was just not one I was anticipating and it was a sheer delight to witness.
But first, since Danny Trejo World is out of the picture this week, were you surprised with the decision to basically lock Tech in his own head instead of dealing with whatever is going on with him. I really thought they might help him, but as Dominique Jackson appeared, I knew the business was back to normal.
Natalie: I don’t really think World has any compassion for Tech — I was just emotionally confused by Trejo — and so it seems like they really just want him out of the way. They’re ignoring his request to find Bilquis and have her undo what she did, and instead set one of the mask traps on him. They try to claim it’s been rejigged to assess the errors but come on. He’s basically straight-jacketed in a void mentally, while squirming on a table physically. I think World just wanted him to shut up.
Brittany: Definitely. I too was very thrown by the Trejo of it all. But alas they get what they want and Tech goes quiet, at least externally. Internally his head is screaming as he argues with himself about himself and we get just a bit more insight into these emotional ticks, but honestly not that much. Bilquis appears with the Tech outfit that I’ve missed as a manifestation of his subconscious, which makes sense since she occupies such a large amount of space in his head at the moment.
Besides watching Yetide Badaki as Tech, the most interesting thing that is said, to me anyway, was something along the lines of — fix yourself, you always could when you felt emotions. Basically, if he represses them he snaps, if he lets them happen and moves on then he can get back to the task at hand — finding Artifact 1.
This made me SO much more curious for more Tech backstory. We’ve seen bits of this in a few flashes, when Bilquis unlocks his memories the first time, then in the flashback intro, but man, I want to see more.
Natalie: I think it’s interesting in retrospect that World probably vibes on this, because he used emotional comfort to calm Tech down in the prior scenes with Trejo. While Tech refused to acknowledge emotions, manipulating him with emotional comfort worked. But yes, Tech’s job now is to become a real boy and let emotions exist within him. Yet as you say, no more answers about who he was, what he saw in that first military flashback, who the boy at the trade fair was. Yetide as Tech’s subconscious was probably the best thing in the episode though. She was really incredible.
Brittany: What a gift. So glad she’s getting so much mileage this season. A joy to watch. Tech is able to take some semblance of control after his heart to heart with…. well, I guess himself, and unlocks the mask. So more on that… soon?
Natalie: Again, this is one of the stories they are just telling super slowly, more questions without answers — I guess a few answers! But it is not feeding me the food I am hungry for, which is the backstory. I guess Artifact 1 is the thing that can restore that back-up to him?
Brittany: Something along those lines, maybe get him back to prime Tech — the son World made. Is it something he is spawned from or that grinds down all the humanity that made up the body he once had? I’m not quite sure.
Natalie: If World made him at all. The New Gods may have made themselves through human focus, and World simply banded them together. We have no idea. It looks like the structure is that World made them, but I think the human focus has to make them. Either way, I assume there will be answers with the artifact.
Brittany: We do get some god background this episode though — this time it’s Tianbo, who we first meet in 1951 at the Peacock Inn as he is on the run from sodomy charges after a sting operation by the local law enforcement. Toni, who runs the inn, manages to hide Tianbo, or Tu’er Shen, from the cops and back one of the officers, the good Irish Catholic Jimmy O’Rourke into enough of a corner to get them to leave.
This was a very open and shut setting, I got strong bottle-episode vibes from this storyline. What did you think about not only how we meet Toni and Tu’er Shen, but also how Toni takes on the mantle of keeping this temple of queer worship thriving?
Natalie: Once again we get an opening where I had absolutely no clue what I was looking at or why it would become relevant, but at this point you just have to go with it. Especially, I think, because I wasn’t expecting the man Toni hides to have been a god. Because why would a god need that? But I guess 1951 America doesn’t provide too much worship for a Chinese god of homosexuality. He was probably near-powerless. Fun fact, there was a temple founded for this god in Taiwan in 2006, and it remains the only religious shrine for homosexuals in the world. So hopefully he is doing a little better these days.
But obviously, I enjoyed the story and Toni giving old Jimmy the hard stare and getting him to back off. When Tu’er Shen blessed the Peacock Inn with a new neon sign and the hope of future prosperity as a place of gathering, I didn’t expect Toni to gain immortality out of the deal. I wonder how often this happens — random humans gaining a blessing that then turns them themselves into something not quite human. That’s a very Sandman-ny plot, like Hob Gadling. Have we met anyone like Toni in American Gods before? A blessed person who gets to retain her youth and health for an unnatural amount of time?
Brittany: I don’t believe so? Unless you count Laura for those few months, but she was less blessed and more… accidental. More on that in a moment. But I don’t recall anyone being like Toni.
Natalie: Side note, fuck Jimmy O’Rourke, police honey trapping gay men was a real thing that disturbs me greatly. And we can ascertain that Jimmy isn’t faking homosexuality either if that flashback is meant to be him and Toni making out at school before Toni transitioned. It was just quite an interesting side story to build up, merely to showcase the setting of Laura and Salim’s next step in the plan. And it speaks to, I guess, the idea that they wanted to develop Salim’s journey as a gay man enough to literally build him this temple of self-discovery to wander into.
Brittany: I quite enjoyed how it provided the platform for everyone to perform and advance. The room is brimming with love notes and hearts and intimacy where both Laura and Salim have to navigate their lost loves in different ways. Salim has a much more meaningful journey tied directly to what the location provides, but the prop work, the lighting, everything in this place was just so well done (and fun!) for a change.
Natalie: This is also the location of Laura’s new leprechaun — but fate would have it that the Peacock Inn provides an emotional turning point for both of the friends. The bedroom was… quite intense, to say the least. And they happen to show up on the busiest weekend of the year — the hosting of a gay fantasy kink convention or something or other. Everyone is having a very nice time but Salim does not know how to chill with other gays, even with his clothes on in a social manner.
Brittany: It’s a jubilee! Also, RIP, lesbian Harry Potter Sweater.
Natalie: I feel sure that he’s never experienced a vibrating bed before either, unlike my best friend and motel connoisseur Dean Winchester. But the bellhop is very cute. Leave the Sweater Alone. Now that Salim has lost it, can I please have it? It is not ugly! But anyway, sweater aside…
Brittany: Yes, Salim is having a very difficult time navigating through this oddly limiting yet liberating space. He’s in a very weird spot when he hits the road with Laura — he’s questioning his faith, he’s questioning the existence of gods outside of his faith, and he is constantly questioning his identity not even outward-facing identity, but inward, the man he sees in the mirror is not familiar.
It’s a very tough time for him, but I am glad that this place allowed him to push everything aside and feel joy and happiness and freedom and feel a lot more than that with Kai.
Natalie: Shifting to Laura for one moment, I just want to point out something confusing. Laura sees a billboard at the motel mentioning her name and finding Liam, but Liam is not expecting her. Explain? Maybe that was a New Gods message?
Brittany: I took that as World confirming she was in the right spot.
Natalie: Yeah, that makes sense, it just threw me that Liam — the bartender — wasn’t expecting her after the sign.
Brittany: I’m glad he isn’t working for them though, that was a nice relief.
Natalie: He is SO NICE, which was SO CONFUSING for me.
Brittany: It was not at all confusing for me, the last person on Earth to have not seen the dragon show. I quite enjoyed his nice face and life struggles as a lawyer turned hitman turned bartender.
Natalie: It isn’t just the dragon show, okay? This is Iwan Rheon, and yes, on the dragon show he played one of the top three most vile and horrifying villains. But before that I’ve seen him in quite a few British productions and shows like Misfits and he isn’t always evil, but he is always miserable and sulky. Seeing this guy basically being kind, pleasant, and not looking sickly, broke my brain.
But the point is IF he is telling the truth: this is a very nice leprechaun who refused the same contract Sweeney accepted. He doesn’t like violence or any of that. As you say he was once a lawyer, but even being considered to be corrupted enough to kill a girl like Laura was a wake-up call for him so he quit being a lawyer. He is now a bartender in the Inn, may or may not be gay if this is where he ended up, but he is also basically powerless because Wednesday destroyed his coin when he refused the contract. This is just not how I was expecting any of this to go.
Brittany: It might be the only place that lets him make those crazy green drinks.
Natalie: And then Laura lies excessively straight to his face about the situation. Or at least bends the truth within an inch of its life.
Brittany: I don’t think she was prepared to have to do this much work. Perhaps she thought that she was showing up to some goon who would help her out, not an innocent who is not under the thumb of the gods and actually has an issue with the same person she is trying to kill. I loved the connection that he was the hired man for the job first and didn’t want to do it and now Laura is looking at another person whose life was ruined by Wednesday using her. It’s all so twisted and sad.
One thing I also really liked was Laura retreating to regroup with Salim before making decisions.
Natalie: I felt a little sad about Laura saying things like “That’s how much he cared” (about no leprechaun would give up a lucky coin) and, “I think Sweeney would want you to help me.” It felt like she was telling emotional truths or things she wanted to be true. Because she didn’t mention that the coin is what reanimated her, or that you know, she and Sweeney hung out at first because he needed to be near the coin.
She made it all sound based on friendship and love — which it became — but I was almost like, “Is this the version she wishes was true?” She can tell Liam is a soft touch so gives him the nicest version, but… “He hated himself so much for murdering me, so he gave me the coin to say how sorry he was.” Oh Laura, not quite, but it may as well be true.
Brittany: It definitely became true, he let her hold it longer than he probably needed to.
Natalie: Yeah — it’s like, replace “gave me the coin” with “let me keep the coin.” And then Laura goes straight in for the hug–hoard-ride (and is rebuffed) and meanwhile, Salim is getting invited to an orgy. But the Laura/Salim regroup is quite important indeed. Sorry Kai, maybe later.
Brittany: After Kai fixes the bed (sorry to Dean Winchester watching this wherever he is) Laura comes back before she decides to give the coin over to Liam and Salim hits the nail on the head. Sure losing the coin also gives up access to the hoard to someone she doesn’t quite trust yet, but it is also letting go of a part of Sweeney she isn’t ready to say goodbye to yet.
Same thing with my new favorite top-billed actor, Cardboard Box. He’s played the role well, but Laura needs to grieve this loss even if she doesn’t want to admit that it is a loss at all.
Salim needs to do the same. So he said goodbye to the sweater, she said goodbye to the coin and then after Salim’s night out and Laura’s bender at the bar, they regroup again. Salim found a way forward to loving himself and reconnecting with something he lost, while Laura seems to spin out a bit when Liam is a no-show.
Natalie: Indeed. Salim points out that he does not see the issue with the deal in any sort of practical way, that it’s only an emotional clinging that Laura is doing with this souvenir. Salim is aware they’re both stuck in the same boat. And Laura acts like she doesn’t trust Liam going off alone — thinks she will be betrayed and won’t hold up his end. Of course, that’s a real fear but it is also an excuse. We have the crucial statement, you won’t trust the guy who refused to kill you but you fell in love with the guy that did?
Two questions: 1) When Liam didn’t show up instantly, did you suspect he had bounced? And 2) At this point, would you have wanted to see Laura admit in full that she was in love, and break down and cry, or any of that? Right now, right to the end, with her goodbyes, you know, a pedant only going off literal words could make the case that she did not love Sweeney like he loved her. She tells Salim she didn’t. (No further updates on her admitting he loved her, hence blood potion working.)
Obviously, we know how to interpret the intended subtext, but did you want her to say it? I think I’m scarred from other shows or fandoms where viewers will murder each other over whether the literal words someone says are the real meaning.
Brittany: To me she did say it, “fuck you, goodbye.” It’s right there, in the script!
Natalie: Nothing could be clearer!
Brittany: No montage video needed!
Natalie: I mean it’s all classic Laura. She’s not in a place where she could actually speak openly. She claimed to love Shadow when she probably never did. Actually truthfully saying her feelings is a step too far for her. Her face after she gives Liam the coin when meeting him in the bar a second time was full of trauma. She’s scared of grieving and admitting how big her feelings are, as Salim says.
Brittany: And like she says on the bridge there was this bond between them — that while everything was her fault, it was also his fault, too. Going back to your point Salim makes, that she trusts the guy who killed her but not the one who chose not to, it’s a weird mix of feelings and neither of them quite sorted it out in time. They shared that as well.
To answer your first question though, I really didn’t think Liam bounced. I was kind of shocked the show went there, but I’m glad it did because it was the push that Laura needed to let go. Plus, his explanation for being late was so great. Truly frazzled by the state of the hoard. I bet he goes back and tidies it up just out of some compulsive need to.
She does get her happy ending though, spear in hand! A smile!
Natalie: I quite like him. And the terrified way he dodged the spear when she was swinging it around. Nevertheless, her and Salim had to go through a goodbye and what happens in the interim, because they believed that without the spear the New Gods would be coming to kill them. Once Laura gets the spear, I assume she still lets Salim continue his journey alone anyway. He has come to his own freedom, whether he stays at the hotel a while (no reason not to!) or carries on. I feel like for Salim to move on after the Djinn, public sex in an orgy maybe was not how I would have imagined his rebound, but maybe he needed to dive in deeper than he thought possible. Even if his sofa romance was by far the tamest thing there.
But it’s the conversation with Toni before the party that signals his fear of growth I think. He says he felt proud, happy, trusted in God that “love is never wrong” and now he no longer feels that surety without a love to direct that at. And she says “try being your true self in your own right.”
Whatever it is that he needed to process about Salim the individual, he ends the episode by praying once again, reconciling his identity. Maybe Aalim thought he had done the work about his identity before but it was really just being focused on the Djinn. Not on him, his actual self.
Brittany: Yeah, he tied so much of his growth in feeling that love and connection with another human that he didn’t think it was possible to get it back to a place without the djinn. What meaning was left in that old life? But here in the middle of nowhere America, he found something!
Good for him.
Natalie: It was kind of an uplifting ending wasn’t it? Even the song.
Brittany: Very odd note to end on for sure. At least for American Gods.
Natalie: Sweeney’s hoard containing a 12 foot live púca, “full Harvey.” Sweeney had a pet! Laura should go get him and play Donnie Darko.
Brittany: He hasn’t been fed in ages! Very angry. But also seems fitting.
American Gods season 3 airs Sundays at 8:00 p.m. ET on Starz.