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Review: American Gods Season 2 is Uneven But At Least It Has Confidence

American Gods Season 2
Photo Credit: Sarz

The first thing noticed and last remembered about American Gods is its mesmerizingly ultra-focused and beautifully stylized cinematography. The series does not simply attempt to convey the events of the life of Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) and the old gods he has been pulled into the orbit of, it uses its high-definition extreme close ups and visual artists to make it a fully immersive experience. Its more mystical sequences are breathtaking, but its less colorful everyday moments are similarly stunning.

We can feel the heat emanating off the fire in a brazier of Valaskjalf, experience the sweat running down Shadow’s face and be fully conscious of every hour lazing past as we follow Shadow, Laura (Emily Browning) and Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) to the destination that we hope will eventually bring the series to the high gear it seems to promise. It is intended to be not just a story to watch, but one to fully experience in near sensory-overload, either to deepen its contents or distract from its emptiness.

I would binge this season all at once if I could, and maybe its biggest problem is that I can’t. The instant gratification of being able to find the gold at the end of its very long rainbow when I choose rather than wait for it a week at a time would make the show’s pace a much easier pill to swallow. But spaced out the way that it is and with no payoff in sight, it is hard to imagine anyone not previously invested in the original Neil Gaiman book continuing to care for these characters, assuming they ever did.

American Gods had a lot of ground to make up in the tumultuous two years since its first season, and to its credit it made up a lot. The first two episodes of season two are able to maintain the style and tone carried over from its Bryan Fuller days despite losing three different show runners in the time since. We have yet to feel Fuller or Michael Green’s absence and if we are lucky the teleplays will faze them out without a hitch.

But where the show can be applauded for successfully hiding the man behind the curtain only makes it more apparent where it fails. Most notably, the season one finale was centered around Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) recruiting the goddess Easter (Kristen Chenoweth) to his upcoming meeting at The House on the Rock, only for the new season to awkwardly pick up telling us that Easter is no longer coming for an utterly contrived reason. The show also lost Gillian Anderson, whose chameleon-esque costumes as the new god Media were one of season one’s biggest highlights, although her absence at least a bit more organic.


Now that we have finally made it to The House on the Rock, a major turning point of the novel, Wednesday’s plan and thus the purpose of the entire story is allowed to come clearer into view: war. Old gods taking the fight to the new gods who are on the path to wiping them out completely, led by the terrifying Mr. World (Crispin Glover). The carousel scene is spectacular and does its part to pay off at least some of what the show always seemed to build up to. Ian McShane takes the Odin persona in stride, and Yetide Badaki as Bilquis, Sakina Jaffrey as Mama-ji (aka Kali) and especially Orlando Jones as Mr. Nancy (Anansi) round out the makeshift army of old gods and light up the screen with their various and electric personalities.

But despite its terrific cast American Gods cannot make the hefty majority of its characters work as engines of a narrative. There is an aloof distance to its aesthetic and character writing that blocks any sort of access into its mostly immortal ensemble. Even Shadow lacks any agency or motivation and often gives the impression that he would fight just as strongly for the new gods if they got to him first, and never even argues that he wouldn’t. Perhaps the inhumanity and lack of understanding to the gods is a specific choice, but following Mr. Wednesday only to see what he does next in the plan that only makes sense to him can only work for so long.

The bulk of the series’ heart belongs to Laura and Mad Sweeney. Again, maybe their status as mortals (Laura being a resurrected human, Sweeney a leprechaun) and their range of emotions always in flux is what makes them so accessible, but their love/hate dynamic has become one of the show’s biggest sticking points as they are truly fun to watch together. Emily Browning gives far and away the best performance on the show and it’s a shame she does not get more recognition for it. What happens next with the unlikely pair is a mystery, as their perspective and partnership was never part of the book.

But where Laura and Mad Sweeney at least have good reason to be on for Wednesday’s ride, it is unclear if the series has any plan set out for Salim (Omid Abtahi). Not even the Jinn he followed (after making love to him in New York) can figure out why he is here and thus far has yet to do anything to justify his presence. Salim’s story in the novel ended after the Jinn disappeared, so we can only hope he has a full character arc in front of him and a reason to be written in more of the series. It is here that the changing hands from Fuller and Green to its turbulent series of show runners may experience its biggest change, as we can only hope Salim’s purpose in the story did not leave with them.

If nothing else, American Gods’ second season can at least be called confident. It underwent an absolute gauntlet of production woes after its successful first season but carries on as if nothing had changed. It feels markedly less certain where it is going and how it will arrive there, but at least for now manages to maintain the sense that this was always the plan. Its cutaways and flashbacks and the stories therein underline the idea that the show is an examining of both America and gods outside of our central ensemble. A long-form streaming format may have been more favorable to the adaptation for its devoted fans, but we will have to see by the end of the season if American Gods can continue to sustain itself. And if not, at least I have Good Omens to look forward to.

Overall rating: 6/10

American Gods Season 2 premieres on Sunday night on STARZ.



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