I Do Not Grant Wishes
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
There is a questioning gaze, one that is seamlessly integrated with a worldview that is a blend of brown or black. If one’s insularity is strong enough, then perhaps the brown and black seamlessly mix. That is a paradigm of otherness that seems alien, unknowing, and or perhaps even inferior to those who lie outside it. They are often be those who claim to not see color at all. If it is inexplicable and alien, it must not exist. They are often those who recoil in an unknowingness, as if the world only exists for the survey of one type of eyes. If it is not like me, then what is it? They are often those who find the color they see to be inferior, a darker, muddier, blacker shade. The darker the shade, the more terrifying that paradigm of otherness seems to be. Isn’t everyone afraid of darkness most of all? After all, who is fairest of them all? The paradigm of otherness is one that people of color know all too well, the questioning gaze and all of its associative, underlying presumptions becoming instantly knowable. We have to learn them and therein lies a significant difference. In the paradigm of otherness, there is that noted erasure, which is arguably more painful than the recoiling and the outward hatred. The recoiling is painful, as if they are looking upon you as a diseased specimen wandering about with the intention to infect. The outward hatred is painful because you are simply there. After all, how does one understand being despised for simply existing? The erasure is painful, but its sting is particular. It feels as if they are looking right at you but their gaze is glazed with a fatalistic, willful ignorance. It feels as if their desire to hold onto that blissful state of ignorance is so critical to their sense of self that they would rather let you drown in the cerulean waters before them than to acknowledge that those particular differences even exist. It is perhaps an easier option than to perform that acknowledgement, for that in and of itself would shed light upon culpability and responsibility. It is much simpler to pretend that all brown and black people respectively look the same, for it is that simplicity that allows for the experiences of people of color to be merged into a singular whole and be summarily ignored and forgotten.
In Islamic tradition, God created three sapient beings. One was the human race. The second were the divine angels. The third were jinns. In the Quran, jinns were born from a scorching fire that emitted no smoke but they were not ephemeral, shape-shifting beings that lacked a corporeal form. Jinns were in many ways as human as humans themselves. If one touched them, they did not burn from the fire that was imbued within them. Jinns have free will, they are not bound to a specific pathway, cause, or divine entity of any sort. They were just as capable of good and evil as humans. As the Jinn (a fantastic Mousa Kraish, Feed the Beast) notes dryly with layers of unhidden irritation, jinns were not all the same. He himself is an Ifrit, the most dangerous of jinns. Yet as far as he is concerned, in this strange country that he now calls his home, he is merely a part of a paradigm of erasure in which his individual being is secondary to what people perceive to be a brown swarm of beings that are all the same. In America, Jinn is a genie and as Americans know, all genies are purple cloud-ish beings that wistfully waft out of a golden lamp if you rub it in the right spot. In that underlying irritation, there are hints of wistfulness and sadness in the Jinn’s voice that are far too relatable. Then one evening he is driving a taxi cab, something he bitingly notes he would not be doing if he could indeed grant wishes, and a young Omani immigrant named Salim (a terrific Omid Abtahi, Homeland) sits in the back, rueing a particularly horrible day that had befallen him. The following morning the Jinn would leave not a wish behind in a traditional sense, but something else that may be the exact wish Salim needed: a new identity. A spring in his step (why the spring is explained below), Salim then steps into what is now his taxi cab, driving away with a new identity and path awaiting him. The kicker, however, is that his new identity doesn’t match his face. Well, the series seems to be saying with a wink, does it matter if we all look the same?
Homosexuality is a part of the human experience that is biological and as normal as heterosexuality, yet societal constructs around the former are not just constrained, but fatal. Fatal heteronormativity is a global epidemic that creates, sustains, and deepens oppression. It is not, as folks often believe, a purely Eastern epidemic as Western constructs of fatal heteronormativity are frighteningly real in today’s America. That is not to say that Salim’s individual experience in both Oman and in New York City is the same as that would be dismissive of the differences he has suffered through. But it is nevertheless critical to understand that his sexual encounter with the Jinn is still rebellious, especially in the political climate of today’s America. Salim spends a frustrating day as a salesman, his shoulders weighed down by whatever ideals of the American dream people expected out of him. If the day was a display of alarmingly infinite patience, the cab ride and experience after was anything but trying. Salim realizes that his cab driver has glowing, fiery eyes. He does not necessarily believe in wishes, but there is a desire in him to try, to give this being whose shoulder he had felt with such a tender touch a key to unlocking a wish of his own. It is romantic in the purest sense, the forming of a simple human connection between two individuals that leaves a meaningful moment behind. The sex scene that follows is a landmark sequence in displaying sexuality on American television and not just because it is a gay sex scene between two men that has an active understanding of how gay sex between two men can actually be experienced, which in and of itself is revolutionary. It’s a sex scene between two Middle Eastern men, a romance that humanizes one of the most demonized demographics in today’s day and age. It is a scene that was written for individuals like Salim, who had to experience sex in clandestine moments where the need for a mutual, romantic intimacy was rarely, if ever met. Salim goes down on his knees to give the Jinn a blowjob because that’s the sexual experience he was ever able to garner, that’s the only experience he had ever had some form of permission for. As the Jinn picks him up instead, there is a look of genuine surprise, gratitude, and vulnerability on Salim’s visage. The intercourse itself, reshot after showrunner Bryan Fuller’s extensive notes on gay sex, is intimate and explicit but it critically affords Salim and Jinn a respect, understanding, and care that same-sex couples almost never receive.
The episode opens with a woman named Mrs. Fadil (Jacqueline Antaramian, Homeland), who is cooking a meal for her visiting family. The audience is tricked for a moment in believing that she did not fall from the teetering stool on her way to pick up pickles but then she opens the door and finds herself face-to-face with none other than Mr. Jacquel, a.k.a. Anubis (Chris Obi, Star Trek: Discovery). He gravely, quietly explains to her that she did indeed fall off the stool and had died. Mrs. Fadil quietly looks upon her dead body, morose that her children would find her in such a state and that they would never taste the food she had made. At sixty-eight years old, she did not live as long as she thought people in America did, but she had lived a life and that was all that her own mother could have asked for. With great care and gentleness, Anubis leads her out of her apartment and towards the top of a skyscraper in New York. As the camera glides upwards towards a dizzying zenith, a desert landscape comes to the forefront. Anubis kindly lends a hand as shining stars and lights light up the sand around them. Before Mrs. Fadil can reach the door that opens up the next phase of her journey, however, her soul must be weighed against the weight of a feather. Anubis sharply pulls out Mrs. Fadil’s beating heart, laying it upon the scale as she recalls the sins and mistakes she had made over the years. She waits anxiously before Anubis smiles and lets her know that her best was indeed good enough. Him and his sphinx cat lead her towards a series of five doors and the one she requests is the door through which she could never have to see her father again. Before she can travel through the right door, however, she has a question. She is terrified that as a Muslim woman, she was being carried into the afterlife by Anubis. What if she had picked the wrong god? What if her soul would suffer further because she was not following the Muslim rite of the afterlife she had been raised with? Anubis smiles in that calming way only Anubis could and he assures her that her belief in the stories she had been raised with as a young Egyptian girl was strong and powerful enough to carry her through to the afterlife she deserved. It was her belief that mattered, in what god or religion her belief lay within is ultimately irrelevant. Before she could say more, Anubis’s cat shuts the door and the next stage of Mrs. Fadil’s existence begins. The god and his cat turn around to walk quietly through the desert, having carried forth yet another soul through death, which is after all just another journey and perhaps nothing more.
+This is, just three episodes in, one of the most gorgeous television series ever created. With Game of Thrones out of Emmys contention this year, Starz should be pushing American Gods heavily in at least all of the technical categories. This episode is also a strong contender for Best Writing – Drama and Best Direction – Drama.
+Salim and the Jinn are “the love story” of American Gods according to Fuller, in what is definitely one of the best changes from Gaiman’s text so far.
+I love how death was depicted in the opening. The calmness and maturity is unparalleled
+Shadow reluctantly admitting he enjoys marshmallows is downright hilarious
+Wednesday gives Shadow a directive to believe in snow as they pull off their bank heist and snow does indeed begin to fall. Shadow is perplexed by this strange note of power and belief, but he can’t help but enjoy himself a little bit as Wednesday cons people out of money outside of a bank. The simplicity of the scheme adds a nice layer of dark comedy to the affair.
+Cloris Leachman and Ian McShane flirting is never, ever played for laughs and their kiss is electric and meaningful.
+Wednesday and Mad Sweeney’s racism vacillating between “benign” ignorance and aggressive racism is critical because far too often, white people think racism needs to aggressively be in one’s face to make an impact.
+Erika Kaar (Shivaay) killed it as Zorya Polunochnaya. Her delivery of this paraphrased line was gold: “Kissing is disgusting, but good, like blue cheese or brandy.”
+What does the moon coin do? Stay tuned.
+“I can taste you in rain.”
+“We’re going to rob a bank. Do you want some coffee?”
+“I do not grant wishes.”
+Brian Reitzell’s score is terrific
+“There’s a lot of Jesus.”
+“I believe the shit out of love.”
+Mad Sweeney digging into Laura’s grave only to find that the coin and Laura are both gone
+“Hi, puppy.” Well, there’s an ending for you.
+I just wanted to add another note of how meaningful it was to see Muslim stories depicted with such care and respect on an American television series.
Episode Title: Head Full Of Snow
Teleplay by: Bryan Fuller & Michael Green
Directed by: David Slade
Image Courtesy: EW
Source: Encyclopedia Britannica, Quran, Medieval Islamic Civilization – An Encyclopedia
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