Do not adjust your television sets - that is Gillian Anderson pulling off a faux Ziggy Stardust in the back of a limo and that is a murder-shaped sculpture of horror in a police precinct. American Gods is, thankfully, back to its usual tricks.
While only the harshest critics could describe last episode's examination of Laura as a "misstep", it certainly didn't bewitch in the way previous episodes had. So, it's perversely comforting that the first 15 minutes is so playfully off-kilter - even though the majority is the couples exchange. As if pulling us back into the celestial mechanics of the world, there's a delightful juxtaposition of a real conversation between a couple examining the wounds of infidelity and the garish fact that she's a zombie revived by a leprechaun's magic coin. It's something that only American Gods can pull off with its captivating curse.
McShane's Mr Wednesday is still the sly scene-stealer. When questioned by an investigator, he slides from the doddery geriatric to silver tongued snake with little effort. Even more amusing is his ability to make even the "god's-honest-truth" seem concocted. Yet it's Gillian Anderson's schizophrenic portrayal of Media that steals the show. Having played a jaunty rendition of I Love Lucy previously, here she confidently portrays icons, David Bowie and Marilyn Monroe. Cleverly, the impressions are more facsimiles; highlights of actual personalities that pop culture has chewed up and spat out. It's equally playful and biting, but most of all exactly the amount of truth the media would represent.
As if all that weren't enough, we also get a our first introduction to Mr World. If the anxiety he causes the ever cool Mr Wednesday weren't enough, his unclear motives and the omnipotent abilities alluded to are enough to ensure he's a convincing big bad. Joined by the insolent Technical Boy, Mr World and Media put on the best PowerPoint ever seen in a bid to buy Mr Wednesday's allegiance. If you're still uncertain of Mr Wednesday's alter-ego after the presentation you may remain clueless, but more interesting still is the offering from Wednesday that the new gods merely occupy time while the gods of yore gave back, gave meaning. Even if this isn't a commentary on a society that seems content staring into the glare of smart phones, it does give Mr World the opportunity to hint toward what he has planned.
Now halfway through its first season, American Gods still allows its narrative road map to unfold at its own pace. Even with the first third taken up with Laura and Shadow, not only does it never feel like it's stalling, there's still plenty to punctuate the commentary. There's a truly beautiful animated opening to the episode that plays like haunting stop-motion and reinforces the greatest fear of Mr Wednesday. In deliberate contradiction, halfway through, there's a wonderful moment with Mad Sweeney getting into an unexpected tussle with Laura that results in his arrest. Few shows, if any, have contained such contrary ideas, moments and methods, but so spellbinding has the show become it's oddities are easily accepted, if not welcomed.
"Is this real? Did that just happen?" Shadow exclaims in the final moments of American Gods' fifth instalment.
"It's still happening," replies Ian McShane's Mr Wednesday and glad we all were of that.
5* - Big Wednesday
Other Episodes in American Gods - Season 1: