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American Gods S02 Ep02 Deep Breakdown: The Beguiling Man

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Hello again, new Gods;  would that you were even half so interesting as the old.  I think I know it now, what this show is, what it’s going to be.  What I cannot tell is what it would be, were it not for the omnipresent ghost of season one, haunting the edges, hanging hazy and transparent over the show we are left with.  How would it fare, if I hadn’t seen the strange, beautiful beast it once was?  This is a perfectly fine show.  It has plenty to commend it.  But it’s an imposter; more a reboot than a season two.

So what’s happening.  Well, part of it is that this season seems more invested in trying to include storylines for all of the characters in every episode.  Last season would have given an entire episode over simply to the (let’s conservatively call it “D”) storyline of Tech Boy searching for Media and not getting punched in the face a bunch of times (the way he should be).  I assume Media’s retreat into the ether is a way to recreate her in Gillian Anderson’s absence.  Right now it feels a little like a time filler.

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Wednesday and Nancy are in the car again, driving somewhere.  While this particular avenue (yes, yes, pun intended, roast me, pluck me, stuff me with mashed potatoes, I don’t care, I’m not sorry) feels like it serves VERY little narrative purpose, it does at least provide two of the most charismatic cast members to bounce off of each other and drop some amusing bon mots here and there.  I suppose the greatest thrust of plot in this episode is giving Shadow a traumatic back story.  Well, another one, that is.  Shadow was already damaged badly; he’d spent years of his life in prison and was released early because his wife was killed while giving his best friend a blowjob.  His life’s already been pretty fucking shitty.  And there is room for and value in telling of the experience of young black men in America.  This I believe vehemently.  I will not be contesting that in any way, or arguing against the substance of the storyline – I have no authority to.  What I can speak to is the language of the narrative.  Not the actual, spoken words, but the visual cues and the color of it.

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Shadow and his mother come to America from France, and young Shadow has trouble finding a place in his new country.  He is shunned by the inner city boys for being mixed race; he gets in fights, even as his saintly mother grows ill and tries to raise her beloved son to be the best person he can be.  It is touching and beautifully acted, if veering a little close to misery porn.  It is also a dose of realism that feels entirely separate from the show where a spider god, god of war, and a goddess of love get on a carousel with their hired muscle, while his dead wife watches with a caustic, 6 foot 5 leprechaun and it’s NOT the opening gambit of a waiting punchline.  And maybe that’s intentional.  Maybe it’s intended as a way to keep Shadow apart from the divinity and madness around him.  It could be, I suppose.  But it’s difficult for me right now to understand the narrative purpose of it, told as it were, as a result of Mr. Town – a lackey of Mr. World – torturing Shadow.  I would be absolutely comfortable and fine with Shadow being given an expository episode (again, season 1 would have handily, and with a bullet, dedicated an entire episode to this.  Laura was given an entire back story episode of her own, as was Essie MacGowan / Tregowan, a one off character who still had a season best episode).  But it felt strange to dedicate simply one storyline of many in the episode to it.

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On the positive side, we do get to see Laura go sickhouse on a bunch of Mr. World’s lackeys – which was a favorite part of the novel for me.  She gets real murder, and it’s satisfying as hell.  It would be impossible for me to deny at this point that the most enjoyable aspect of the show has become watching Mad Sweeney and Laura sniping sexily at each other.  I am not yet prepared to fully cave to the parlance of the kids and say that “I ship it”, but I’m damn close.  They have chemistry coming out their noses, and are easily the partnership that still pays the greatest dividends.

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I won’t deny that structurally, Bryan Fuller’s absence is felt greatly; though as I discussed with my brother last night, the new format will create a new audience.  It is more accessible, in a lot of ways, less dreamy and intangible.  But where I truly missed the Fuller touch in this newest episode was in the dialogue.  Because for all the world, it felt like the writers were trying to ape his strange and impossible cadence and give the characters florid, purple prose to chew on.  The impact was the same as trying to trace an extremely elaborate drawing through a piece of nearly opaque paper; you get the shape of the thing and some of the details right, but you can feel that it’s off.  When you watch a Bryan Fuller show, you are never actively thinking about the fact that no one talks like that in reality, because it fits so well with the nature of the world he’s created.  There were a number of times in this episode of American Gods where I actively thought, “No one talks like that”.  While I partially respect the attempt to maintain something of Fuller’s original vision, it seems that the better choice at this moment is to completely commit to the revamp and abandon those bizarre elaborations that contribute to the surreal feeling of Bryan’s show.  Because this isn’t Bryan’s show anymore.

Alright, we’ve made it through 2 episodes, guys, and I think 3 is the point at which I’ll stop thinking about the season 2 that could have been.  So stick with me, and we’ll meet back here next week, same bat time, same bat place!

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Kelly Mintzer hates dolls but loves movies about evil ventriloquist dummies. She is working her way through the “Sandman” series slowly but surely, and has been compared more than once to that iteration of Death. Holding down South Philly with a creative writing degree and the full series of “Hannibal”, she hasn’t seen her natural hair color in years.