On ‘American Gods’ And Violence And Exploding A Villain With A Groin Kick

Are you watching American Gods? I really must recommend it. It’s crazy. Based on the book of the same title by Neil Gaiman, the series follows a recently released convict named Shadow Moon as he travels the country interacting with mystical and magical new gods, including one played by Ian McShane, who hires Shadow as his bodyguard and is everything you could hope for when you hear “a modern-day god played by Ian McShane.” If you’re looking for an explanation beyond that, please search elsewhere, because I only know three more things about this show:

  • It’s beautiful to look at, with stunning visuals stacked on top of each other in a way that feels almost revolutionary
  • I have no idea what is going on
  • I kind of love it anyway

That’s not entirely true. I have a little bit of an idea about what’s going on. I think. But it’s the first thing on that list that makes this show so much fun. It’s colorful and trippy and very sexual and very violent. Man oh man, is it ever those things. The series opened with Vikings getting slaughtered in a gory beachfront massacre. A female god had sex with Joel Murray and by the end she had sucked his entire body inside her. There was a sex scene between two men that was nothing short of groundbreaking, both for its content and its artistry. American Gods goes to the max, all the time, forever and ever, Amen.

(This is true beyond the visuals. Even some of the dialogue is rich and colorful and graphic. Ian McShane is getting such pleasure from his monologues as the silver-tongued Mr. Wednesday that they’re basically verbal pornography.)

Which brings us to this week’s episode, the season’s fourth. The whole thing is an hour-long dive into the backstory of Shadow’s dead/undead wife, Laura, which includes everything from casino heists to affairs with Dane Cook to a blood-soaked mission to save Shadow. And during that mission, after a nameless henchman chops off her arm, this happens, and we really should stop to talk about it:

That is, to be very clear, a woman kicking a man in the groin so hard that his spine and skull burst out from his skin, vertically. Also, his entire body explodes in a manner that seems to imply it was a balloon filled with bones and fruit punch Kool-Aid. I had to stop and rewind it a few times to be sure this is what was happening. Let me assure you, it is. She kicked him in the jimmies with such force that his skull erupted out of his head. That’s really something!

(This “people dying and exploding like balloons filled with Kool-Aid” thing is not a new development on the show. Remember the Viking massacre I mentioned earlier? Yup. Blood splashing about everywhere. This is something of a theme.)

I’ve watched a lot of television and movies in my life and I can honestly say that this was the first time I’ve seen this. I’ve seen henchman get killed a million ways: neck snapped by a hero, shredded by machine gun, blown up by grenade. In Die Hard 2 John McClane killed a bad guy by shoving an icicle through his eye. But this was the first time I’ve ever seen a nameless bad guy get exploded via groin kick. I’m sure of it. I feel like I would’ve remembered that.

My favorite part about it all is all the things that had to take place for it to exist. Someone, presumably a writer, had to pitch it. (“What if she kicks a guy in the junk with such force that his bones fly out of his skin?”) The showrunner, Bryan Fuller, had to okay it. (“I love it.”) The director had to see it in the script and create a whole vision for it, shoot it, and then make that vision happen by working with the CGI and editing teams. (“Right, so I want it to look like the spine is popping out of a Jack-in-the-Box.”) And then everyone involved — including the Starz brass — had to see the finished version and sign off on it. (“It’s perfect.”) Hollywood magic at work.

Now, to clarify, this is not just a “You guys, she kicked his wiener so hard his body blew up” fit of excitement on my part. It is a little bit that, sure, but not just that. It is also an attempt to praise the show for the fun it’s clearly having. You can’t even really call the action gratuitous. Gratuitous is Game of Thrones staging an important conversation in a brothel with two prostitutes making love in the background, or a dragon burning two dozen people to death in graphic, screaming fashion. This is more than that. This is a show taking things so far over the top that they actually almost circle back around to the bottom, using cartoon-ish violence and stylized graphic sex to ground the show. Not in reality, as we know it, but in its own reality. It’s world-building through titillation. In a good way.

I mean, I think. Again, I have no idea what’s happening most of the time. I assume I will eventually. But until I do, at least we all have this. Hmm. I guess maybe that is what this post is about, after all.

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