I am a fool. American Gods gives me the slightest glimmer of hope, and I grip it with greedy hands, things’ll be different this time, I’m sorry, baby, I never meant to hurt you, I swear. But it is half way through season two, and it’s time to accept; this show has some beautiful, inspired touches, and no idea what story it’s telling.
The general shape of this episode is: Shadow has some frisky sex with Bast, Ibis’s sister who is usually a cat, but can take on a woman’s form when inspired enough by a good looking drifter. He and Wednesday take off for St. Louis to curry favor with Money, Wednesday’s declared most powerful god. After some negotiations with militant Girl Scouts, Wednesday and Shadow have a “come to Jesus” talk – joke very much intended, allow me this, I have to take my pleasure where I can with this show – where Shadow asks Wednesday why he chose him as his Guy Friday, and Wednesday tells Shadow it’s because he has no connections or value. Shadow counters that after much consideration, he is confident he does have value, to Wednesday specifically. He doesn’t understand why (we do; we know that Shadow is Wednesday’s son, and that obviously this is going to be important and relevant later), but he is aware now that he is, in some way, valuable.
Elsewhere, Technical Boy, continuing to be possibly the most punchable face on TV, has a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, when he discovers that in many ways, New Media has made him obsolete and he is emphatically on Mr. World’s shit list. Mr. World continues to be the cheap trick this show pulls on me; every time I think I might be out, they hit me with Crispin Hellion Glover, just being cool as hell. World “retires” Technical Boy, and then goes for a confrontation with Wednesday, vexed, let’s say, that Wednesday orchestrated the death of Argus. The two give their elevator pitches to Money who is not interested in their goofy, god nonsense.
Meanwhile, Nancy shows up at Ibis’s funeral parlor, to further woo Ibis and Bilquis, who is also there for reasons I will generously call “nebulous”. He gives a very accurate and well enough written speech about institutional racism in America, and as you might reasonably expect, Orlando Jones delivers it with beautiful, fiery righteousness. It’s a lovely piece of oration that does not feel like it fits particularly in the episode. It feels like an attempt to re-create the magic of the “angry gets shit done” speech from season one, but there was context there. There was purpose and reason. This feels like the writers room synthesized a really strong monologue and didn’t want to scrap it, so they stuck it in a scene where it wasn’t actively out of place.
And see, here’s the thing. Here’s the problem. That’s it. That’s what happened. If you are tracking the forward momentum of the show and the season, you’ll undoubtedly realize that we have gotten virtually nowhere, a point that the show mimics by having Mama-Ji work at every diner that Wednesday and Shadow stop in. It is intended to show the omnipresence of both her hustle and her entrepreneurial spirit, but it ends up sort of neutering even the road trip aspect of the show; there’s no joy in feeling like you’re seeing America. It feels like the same place, ad nauseam.
The most peculiar aspect of all of this is that the show has yet to mine ample parts of narrative that are present in the book. There’s a lot of plot there, and most of it hasn’t been touched yet, because the show can’t seem to stop spinning its wheels by just throwing different partnerings of characters into scenes and letting them bounce off of each other, making grand declarations about war and doing very little. I can appreciate art that is character driven instead of action based, but we are at a point where things need to happen. This isn’t Friends; it’s not a hang-out comedy. The sophomore season is a tricky endeavor for a lot of shows, but at this point, it’s really difficult for me to see how a third season is justified. Which is a shame, because again, the actors are very good, they are well cast, and they are, I’m inclined to think, the one thing keeping this ship at all afloat.