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American Gods S02 Ep08 Deep Breakdown: Moon Shadow

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Before we get too deep, and I quite possibly reprise the refrain that has tripped so readily from my typing fingers, let us spare a few words of praise for what is undoubtedly and without hesitation, one of the most playful, batty, innovative opening sequences in American Gods – not just season 2, but series long.  Mr. World speaks to us.  No other god is present, no other actor hears Crispin Glover waxing purple prose, just him, gazing with those beautiful, lunatic eyes directly into our souls, and speaking about the power of our fears, filtered into media.  That they perhaps hammer the message past the point of home, all the way into the basement and back again, doesn’t even matter.  Glover was designed for this.  He plays Rod Serling for us, moving through movie sets, sitting in directors’ chairs, showing up as a scarecrow, never breaking eye contact.   This sequence serves precious little purpose; it posits what most of the thesis statement of the show has been from word go – what you believe is real because you believe it.  And I don’t care.  It’s fucking great.  It genuinely almost doesn’t matter where it goes from here; my good will is secured.  Almost.

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Well, well… I’m back friends, 40 to a little-bit-more minutes later (I drink a million gallons of water, bathroom breaks are frequent and compulsory) and I’m happy to report that that was a hell of a near hour of television. It wasn’t perfect, and we’ll talk (not at length; let us aim to be concise, we are not negative!) about the shortcomings of the episode, but aside from Wednesday’s mostly solo little jaunt a couple of weeks ago, this was the best episode of the season, and an extremely unearned but highly satisfying season finale.  It also provides a compelling roadmap for how the show should attempt to move forward into a third season.  Let’s get into it.

I will tell you the general plot of the episode, before I dive into the little touches that make it work so effectively.  Basically, Technical Boy, reborn and frankly a little hot since he got rid of the myriad terrible haircuts he had leading up to this point, masterminds in conjunction with New Media, a data dump that causes people to panic.  They also release footage of Shadow and Wednesday in conjunction with the train massacre several weeks past (casual viewers would be forgiven for having forgotten that particular plot point, abandoned as it seemed to have been).  Salim, always our conscience, is concerned, but believes Shadow when he says that it is misinformation and remains with the Djinn, as FBI agents surround the house in Cairo where Shadow, Salim, the Djinn, Ibis, Nancy and Bilquis are all shored up. Shadow finally decides to make good his escape from all of these phenomenal weirdos, but before he can, Wednesday’s tree seems to… eat(?) him, and the next thing we are aware of, Shadow is on a bus and news reports are saying that suspects evaded capture.  Ibis says something cheeky to the Djinn, about to leave with Salim, and the Djinn calls him a smart ass even in death. Which obviously raises some questions.

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Meanwhile, Laura Moon, finally showing some spark of what made her compelling in the first season, warns Shadow that she intends to kill Wednesday and steals Mad Sweeney’s body.  The episode maintains Laura as something of a stoic, but manages, without openly saying it, to express that there was emotion and feeling between her and everyone’s favorite leprechaun.  Look.  I know it would rob Sweeney’s death of its emotional impact, but Pablo Schreiber’s schedule willing, I would be happy to see him come back.  He and Laura had genuine chemistry, and their arc does not feel fulfilled.

I’ve given you the nutshell version of events, because this episode more than this season at large seemed to realize the magic’s in the details.  And one of those details is that finally, FINALLY, the show realized it is no longer the beautiful, diseased brain child of my beloved Bryan Fuller. We can spend the rest of this digital life mourning for the show he would have given us – and I will, have no doubt about that – but without him and his steady hand to guide it, the moments where it feels like they’re aping his style feel overwrought and obvious.  Bilquis needlessly holding an apple as she talks to Laura?  We get it, temptation, sin, Eve.  It’s lazy symbolism, and Bryan would never. Attempts to follow his cadence of speech feels hollow.  Additionally, there is a moment of extremely unnecessary nudity, where Bilquis is naked for no reason with Shadow.  It’s clearly intentional and also feels really exploitative.  The actress who plays Bilquis is stunningly beautiful and wonderfully talented, and it feels like a really cheap bit of titillation to have her exposed that way.

But I’m going to be honest with you, none of that was enough to make me feel like this episode was anything other than a success.  As much as I love Bryan Fuller, I would much rather the show learn a new way to move forward and tell its story than continue to try and fail at imitating his style.  This episode was well paced; stuff actually happened!  It was funny.  It used its characters (except Bilquis.  Give her better material) well and in doing so, managed to actually return a bit to the feel of the show we knew.  There is a lovely, quick moment in the beginning of the episode that shows Laura and Shadow, in their shared life before Wednesday entered their world, talking about her desire for a puppy.  It’s a sweet, lovely, loving scene, that reminds us that these people were in love.  They were happy together.  And that sense has been largely absent from this season.  Why is Laura following Shadow around, killing in his name, fighting to keep him safe?  A less than one minute scene of them on a park bench together, laughing and being joyful, goes further towards explaining that than the entire season has.

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Even scenes with no immediate narrative importance feel more of this world; Ibis and Nancy cracking wise at each other while they play chess… it doesn’t move the story forward but it’s fun. It’s a fun way to see these characters interact with each other and feels far more organic than the vast quantity of speechifying they’ve been doing in each others’ presence throughout.  Also, the show squeezed in a sweet, romantic little moment for Salim and the Djinn – which should have come 100 percent sooner in the season, as we are to believe that Salim cared so deeply for the Djinn that he gave up his entire life to be with him.  It took 30 seconds, writers room.  30 seconds to remind us that these two characters – portrayed by violently talented actors, with beautiful chemistry – have a spark between them, and that that connection matters.

Shit, guys.  I don’t know where this show is going.  I don’t know if this episode was a fluke.  And I will attest until my throat is raw (or until he gets more screen time, whichever comes first) that Demore Barnes is an untapped resource and Ibis deserves more material, and that Bilquis deserves better material.  But for the first time this season, I saw why this show could warrant a season 3.  See you on the other side. 

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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.