American Gods, season 2, is one day old, and I am already compelled to make and break a promise within the span of, let’s say, one paragraph. And that, perhaps, generously, I am itching against it already, my promise to not make sweeping generalizations about a season that has exactly one episode so far, because dear friends, we are under new management, and how that impacts the experience of watching the show is going to depend a lot on the proclivities of individual viewers. But before we get into the true weeds of the thing, let’s talk briefly about just what the hell happened, both in terms of the show and in terms of the episode.
We may as well get this out of the way quickly and with little to no fanfare; Bryan Fuller is not the showrunner any longer. Long time people who are my mom know that I am a dyed in the wool Fuller fanatic, and a large part of the reason I was willing to take a chance on a television adaptation of one of my favorite books of all time was that a real weirdo had taken the reins. The exact details of his departure seem sketchy as hell; not so much voluntary, and with the promise of a return to the plot and structure of the book.
So we pick up about where we left off; Wednesday, Shadow, Laura and Mad Sweeney driving across this swell land. At the conceptual stage of this review, I thought I would not do the same service as STARZ in providing a “previously on American Gods” but to be entirely honest, much of the episode functions in that capacity. Which is not intended as a knock. When there are such massive gaps between seasons, it’s pretty wise to do a refresher. Laura is still dead. Shadow is still pretty confused by everything. Wednesday is still the goddamn best because he’s still Ian fucking McShane. They are headed to a summit of the old gods at the House on the Rock, which is in fact a real place.
We are reunited with our old friends Bilquis, Mr. Nancy, Czernobog and the Djinn. Salim, we learn, has finally tracked down the Djinn, and although he is warned that it is dangerous, he refuses to leave the love he’s been chasing. He remains an unspeakably pure cinnamon roll.
There is a great deal of speechifying – the gods and Shadow ride a carousel that reveals their true godly aspects, and Shadow battles again with the notion of his reality. It’s all fine. Basically a refresher – the old gods, brought over by immigrants, are dying out and being replaced by the new gods of technology and progress. Wednesday wants a war to establish who gets deity dominance. There is a moment that comes very close to being poignant, where Bilquis, in the body of a beautiful, young black woman tells Wednesday, a tired, old white man stuck in the old ways, that they must evolve or perish. There is power in this; at a time when we are starting to see, as a country – as a world – that deferring to the impulses of old, white men is neither wise nor sustainable, seeing a powerful, young black woman stand up to that old regime could be significant. Were it not immediately undercut by Shadow making a “come to Jesus” speech, rallying the old gods to support Wednesday. I’m not going to suggest that American Gods needs to be making a statement. It’s just that it feels like the show thinks it is. And I’m left wondering what exactly the statement might be.
Anyway, the places are set. We are at the threshold of war; Laura and Shadow are tentatively circling each other, but it’s hard to get too invested in the emotion of that relationship when they just don’t have much chemistry, especially versus the weird, smoldering between Mad Sweeney and Laura.
So what is American Gods, season 2, and Kelly, are you remembering that promise about sweeping generalizations? You’ll be glad to know that I am remembering it. And just as clearly, I am remembering that I ALSO almost guaranteed that I would break it, so sorry, guys, but that one’s on you. Season 2, episode 1, feels a lot more like a show that knows it is a prestige drama and is comfortable within those confines. Season 1 was bonkers. It was bananas. It sprawled and morphed and told stories in strange, stuttering sentences. It was beautiful chaos, burning brightly. Season 2 looks pretty. It has a traditional narrative structure. For some, this will undeniably be preferable – it’s direct, where season 1 was obscure and abstract. And while I readily admit that that shifting, ungraspable lunacy was a lot of what I loved about Season 1, sweet baby Jesus, this cast.
Crispin Glover was born to spit strange, stilted purple prose in that soft alien voice of his – it sounds far more organic than “get your damn hands off her, Biff” ever managed to. Ian McShane. I mean, c’mon. You already know. Orlando Jones continues to be an effete, delightful blast as Mr. Nancy, and Pablo Schreiber is just wild, caustic energy as Mad Sweeney. Even without the swirling madness of narrative tar pits, just watching these actors have a campy good time, is worth the hour and the STARZ subscription. Let’s see where it goes, guys. Like Shadow Moon, I’m going to keep an open mind.