To begin: Yes, that just happened. Welcome to the world of American Gods' sex scenes. For those that have not read the recap of Neil Gaiman's novel, nothing can prepare viewers for the moment when the Queen of Sheba, Bilquis, swallows a man with her vagina. When she is finished, she lies back on her bed, satisfied that she has been worshipped properly.
While Bilquis, played by Yetide Badaki, is portrayed as a sex worker in the novel, her appearance in “The Bone Orchard” suggest she finds her partners through online dating. When she is first introduced, she is seated regally on a bar stool, enchanting her gentlemen. In the next scene, she is leading him toward a crimson bed with a nightstand of three red candles and goddess statues. She begins her ritual by asking the man to light the red candles before pulling him into her bed. She then asks her man, “Will you call me goddess? Will you pray to me? Will you worship me with your body?” The scene is graphically sexual with Bilquis on top and thoroughly enjoying herself. He praises Bilquis and worships her and in return, she grows in size until her partner is swallowed up by her body. It certainly makes a first impression with viewers.
As an Old God and a jinn (half-human and half-demon) Bilquis's association with sexuality and passion is similar to her Biblical seductress counterparts, the Queen of Sheba and Lilith. As the goddess of love, Bilquis' primary purpose is to enjoy her sexual conquests. To end these conquests by literally taking the men for herself portrays an interesting display of female power.
The stark contrast between Laura, a married woman waiting for her man to come home, and Bilquis, a goddess who openly seeks sexual conquest, illustrates the complications of the "Madonna vs. whore" complex. Laura dies in a car accident while performing oral sex on Shadow's best friend, Robbie. At her funeral, Robbie's wife (and Laura's best friend) shames Laura for the way she died, not so much for the affair as for the oral sex. Both women are defined by their sexual choices: one sparks fascination and the other is societally considered "inappropriate."
Bilquis's sex scene is challenging for a number of reasons. For starters, it begins similarly to most sex scenes directed by men: the woman's body is clearly on display for the viewer. However, the pleasure is redirected from the man to Bilquis where she takes charge and makes him worship her body.
It is clear that as a love goddess and an Old God, Bilquis gets her divine power through sexual gratification. For ages, the topic of female pleasure has been ignored in the real world and on television, but it has been gaining traction in recent years as women continue to stand up for their own pleasure. Despite being an Old God, Bilquis emphasizes a progressive plan to reclaim the body and pleasure for herself — though she did go about it in a rather extreme way.
With the care taken to introduce Laura and Bilquis, viewers can hope that American Gods will continue to expand upon their characters and to give them the attention they so rightly deserve.