Hail Wednesday, full of grace, if the most recent episode of American Gods isn’t an all time great, at least it’s fucking fun, a claim I haven’t been able to make in quite some time. I am full of genuine, absolute glee to write about this one; I’m not going to argue that the show has course corrected completely. There is still a slight sense that the writers have run out of story and are spinning their wheels a bit, creating side adventures and filler until the finale, but when it is as ecstatically fun to watch as this week’s episode, who could possibly care? Not I, friends. Certainly not I.
This chapter benefits greatly from streamlining its characters and stories. There are, fundamentally, only two main stories this week, and both of them function as spotlight tales for Wednesday – a potent argument in favor of just winding up Ian McShane and letting him cut loose, because he is absolutely fucking majestic. Let’s go chronologically, shall we?
In the past, slightly pre-dating War War II, Wednesday moonlights as a cabaret emcee named Al (in what I have to assume is a wink and a nod to those of us who miss and adore Deadwood). His headlining act is a strong man named Donar, who we learn is also his son. A fledgling Technical Boy is present at the club on the same night that a representative of the American Nazi Party approaches Wednesday about sponsoring Donar – they’ll put money and might behind him, as he makes his way through strongman competitions. Wednesday assures Donar that this is a good path to worship, and though his lady love, a goddess named Columbia, has real reservations about him sidling up with Nazis (smart girl), Donar ultimately accepts. He does a lot of winning, until the Nazis ask him to throw a competition with a German rival. Mr. Nancy, who is managing a goddess who dances burlesque at Wednesday’s establishment, cautions him against winning the competition; he suggests that being manipulated by men in either direction will have deleterious effects for Donar. Donar takes heed and asks Columbia to run away with him that night to California. She accepts, but one of Wednesday’s crow-spies (thought we’d seen the last of them? I’m happy to report we have not!) overhears, and Wednesday goes into high gear. He brings Technical Boy back to Columbia’s dressing room with him, where they make her on offer; become the face of the American War effort in the impending conflict, and receive all the worship. Because Wednesday is a consummate con man, he also assures her that Donar has already left with the Germans, and he, instead goes to meet Donar outside the theater, telling him that Columbia is not going with him. Donar chooses to walk away regardless, and in a brief spar between father and son, Donar uses his hammer to break Wednesday’s spear, which quelle surprise, actually manages to tie the two plots of this week together pretty neatly (more on that in another paragraph, see you soon). Several years later, Donar commits suicide in Philadelphia.
Ok, so now onto the present tense. To get the grumpy dwarves to engrave his spear, Wednesday has to get Lou Reed’s jacket for the main etcher. Yes, this does continue the almost video game formula of “get this to trade for this to trade for this” that the show has been cultivating this season – remember, I said it wasn’t absolute course correction – and it feels like moving to the next level of a video game and getting a new task. But again, this time it was fun, executed as it was by Shadow and Wednesday pulling an old con, where Wednesday disguises himself as a Bishop who wants to buy the jacket, tries it on as the clerk counts the money, till Shadow comes in, presenting himself as an FBI agent pursuing Wednesday for counterfeit bills, claims the jacket as evidence and takes the money back. American Gods has been pretty oppressively dour this season, and it’s a delight to watch Ricky Whittle and Ian McShane burn the whole damn thing down and seem like they’re having a fucking blast doing it. And that’s pretty much it – they get the jacket, give it to the dwarf, and he etches the spear – which we now understand the need for repair of – with fresh runes.
Yes, there is a very slight plot – not even a full plot, honestly, it’s just Crispin Glover saying cryptic nonsense to New Media – about the new gods, but honestly, it feels irrelevant and unnecessary in such an otherwise well designed episode. Yes, Cripsin Glover does strange and fun things to my ovaries, and yes, I like hearing him say needlessly purple prose. But I’ll be damned if I saw much purpose to him this episode.
To continue to lavish praise, while there is praise to lavish, it would be remiss not to mention again that quality of acting on display. Orlando Jones is truly great as Nancy, and he does this wonderful thing, where when he is being more intense and more serious, his voice lowers, and he drops the arch southern affectation to adopt the accent of Nancy’s homeland. It’s subtle but affecting. I’ve come around on New Media, mostly because (no tea, no shade intended towards the actress, this is a comment on the writing/direction) she has a slightness that reflects well the shallow quality the new, young gods had in the book. Gillian Anderson is amazing, we all know that, we all agree. But she was also regal, stony, intense. She was an old god. And finally. This was McShane’s episode, top to bottom, and he is a marvel. He was born for the cabaret life. Though we never get to hear him be quite as colorful as Al Swearengen back in the Gem, it’s great to see him back in the role of a smooth talking, charm slinging snake proprietor. He is the actual best, and if the rest of the show was just him and Ricky Whittle running scams, I’d be here for it.
Alright guys, my hope is cautiously restored. If they can match this episode… there may be redemption for American Gods yet. I don’t have faith, but I am open.