Bryan Fuller's new Starz series continues its pattern of highly stylized eroticism in the May 14 episode, featuring an intimate encounter between an ancient god and a mortal man in New York City. The Ifrit sex scene on American Gods is one of the most stunning sequences of the series yet — not just for its full frontal male nudity, but for its frank exploration of both sexuality and immigration through a tale of two beings who have never felt at home in the United States of America.
The scene plays out much like it does in Neil Gaiman's novel, with Salim (a down-on-his-luck trinket salesman from Oman) meeting a cab driver, a fellow countryman… who, of course, turns out to be an Ifrit. They proceed to make love in a hotel room, but when Salim wakes up in the morning, he finds the ifrit has taken all his belongings, leaving him only the Ifrit's clothes and the taxi cab. Salim happily adopts this new life as a cab driver, leaving behind his thankless job of selling baubles for his ungrateful brother-in-law.
But what exactly is an Ifrit? According to Islamic mythology, an Ifrit is the most powerful variety of jinn, or fire spirit — a being that exists just below the level of angel or demon and is often depicted as a winged created made out of smoke. (You may remember that an Ifrit was previously featured in a particularly ill-advised subplot in Season 5 of True Blood.)
These days, jinn are commonly reduced to our Westernized concept of the wish-granting genie. But, "I do not grant wishes," the cab driver tells Salim. The scene is already refreshing simply for its tender portrayal of demographics underrepresented on television; but in this way, it also takes on a deeper meaning. The sequence becomes a portrait of two immigrants who have found themselves stranded in a hostile land where their customs are either misunderstood or appropriated beyond recognition (or both), finding solace and new purpose in their passionate connection.
This sensitive examination of what it's like to be a minority in America shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has read Neil Gaiman's novel on which the show is based. As Ricky Whittle (who plays Shadow Moon) says in a promo for American Gods, "This show is telling the story of immigration. It's about settlers coming from all over the world, bringing their different cultures to this melting pot that is America."
"On of the things that was incredibly important to me was that the diversity onscreen match the diversity of the book," Gaiman himself says in the promo. So far, between the sequences centering on the Ifrit, Anansi, and Bilquis, American Gods seems to be committing admirably to that task.