[This story contains spoilers from the series premiere of Starz's American Gods.]
When it comes to American Gods, sex is a religious experience. Just ask the man who was literally swallowed alive while making love to a god in the series premiere of the Starz drama.
The series, from showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, is based on the beloved novel by Neil Gaiman (Sandman). It revolves around a mortal man (Ricky Whittle) trapped in a war between ancient and infant deities.
Here's how Sunday's crazy and, we'd imagine, groundbreaking (you Google that!) scene went: Joel Murray (Mad Men) meets a woman from a dating site and the two wind up in bed. Ultimately, his entire body is enveloped inside of a human vagina. Well, technically, a god's vagina, as the enveloper is none other than Bilquis, the famed character from Gaiman's novel and an ancient goddess of love and worship who is played by Yetide Badaki.
"She's finding it a little hard to survive in the present day," Badaki tells The Hollywood Reporter about her character. "She's just going through the daily struggle. When we meet her, she's lost that former glory and is in search of it again."
Indeed, she's found that former glory, if only momentarily, in the form of consuming the erstwhile Freddy Rumsen (or George Brevity, if you're a fan of The Leftovers) during the act of sex. It's a scene that's ripped straight out of Gaiman's novel, on which American Gods is based, occurring at the very end of the first chapter - and as iconic as the moment is, it's a perfect example of why American Gods readers have wondered whether the show could capture the novel's most bizarre details.
Consider that question answered. As with much of the show, the adaptation takes its source material quite seriously with Bilquis' introductory scene, as things play out almost note for note as they do in the book.
"That's the genius of Bryan and Michael," Badaki says about showrunners Fuller and Green, who were both fans of the novel before they began developing the series. "Everyone was coming at this scene and going, 'Yeah…so, how do we do this?' And the answer kept being, 'Well, we do it!' "
Watch the scene again in the video below.
For his part, when asked about the Bilquis scene, Fuller points to it as an example of the way this story will explore the nature of sexuality through heightened representation of the human sexual experience.
"When we're talking about the sexual content of American Gods, we're talking about exploring in a sex-positive way the human relationship to our own sexuality," he says. "When you look at the Bilquis scene, there's a woman in control of her own sexuality that's very empowering and enlightening, and we can treat sex not just as a means to a cumshot, but as a means to explore what it is to bond and join and physically become one with another human being, and leave our individual sense of self behind and become something greater than what we were before we were penetrating or being penetrated or entwined in whatever respect we were going to be entwined with another."
"At the core of it, there's this very basic need for human connection - to see and really be seen," says Badaki, adding her view of what the sequence represents. "Bilquis and all of these old gods have fears. Fears of no longer being relevant. Fears of being forgotten. It's very relatable, those ideas. There's this attempt to survive. You see them as extraordinary beings, but they're in ordinary circumstances in their day to day. How do you make a living now? They find themselves in dark places. Sometimes it's worse that they used to know so much beauty and glory, only to find themselves in this situation."
American Gods tells the story of Shadow Moon (Whittle), a convict who is released from prison early after his wife (Emily Browning) dies in a car crash. From there, Shadow meets the mischievous Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) and embarks on a road trip through America, with the destination being a confrontation between ancient gods of old worship and new gods created through the digital age.
For those who have not read the American Gods novel, here's the vividly detailed passage from Gaiman's book that chronicles the final moments of the Bilquis scene, once the man starts to realize what's happening. Warning: not for the faint of heart.
He is inside her to the chest, and as he stares at this in disbelief and wonder she rests both hands upon his shoulders and puts gentle pressure on his body.
He slipsides further inside her.
"How are you doing this to me?" he asks, or thinks he asks, but perhaps it is only in his head.
"You're doing it, honey," she whispers. He feels the lips of her vulva tight around his upper chest and back, constricting and eveloping him. He wonders what this would look like to somebody watching them. He wonders why he is not scared. And then he knows.
"I worship you with my body," he whispers, as she pushes him insider her. Her labia pull slickly across his face, and his eyes slip into darkness.
She stretches on the bed, like a huge cat, and then she yawns. "Yes," she says. "You do."
What did you think of the Bilquis scene, and what's your take on American Gods so far? Sound off in the comments below, and keep checking in for more news and interviews.