One of the problems with season two of American Gods becomes incredibly resonant in the third episode. This is a book and show about a journey more than a destination. Think of the number of scenes set in moving cars speeding through the heart of America. When a drama is more about what takes place between plot points than the actual plot points themselves, it requires a stylish, nuanced hand to make that work. And that’s what’s missing from season two. Again, we have characters in cars talking about deep things on the way from Point A to Point B, but the more conventional approach visually and in terms of dialogue doesn’t work for a narrative that simply needs to be unconventionally told.
So, three episodes into season two, we have a classical “divide the characters” episode — one that separates its cast, even though we know they’ll all be reunited before long. Anansi has straight up disappeared, but Mr. Wednesday collects the parts of Laura Moon’s body after the train crash that ended last week’s chapter. With Mads’s help, they head off to Ibis, who rambles a bit about death and the fact that Laura is quite literally rotting away. She needs a jumpstart, and Wednesday knows a way to accomplish that while also knocking something off his own to-do list in the upcoming battle of the New Gods vs. The Old Gods.
There’s one God who has kind of flip-flopped in this two-party system, Argus Panopties. The God of Surveillance has been around for centuries and has been envisioned and worshipped as an all-seeing force long before the word Surveillance was tied to CCTV and the NSA. Living a miserable existence of futility, totally blind and only really able to live in his memories, Argus could become a useful tool for the New Gods. And so he must be sacrificed, and Wednesday knows that a sacrifice could give Laura’s heart the jumpstart in needs to stave off the maggots. Mads ain’t interested and so heads off in his own to get to New Orleans, stumbling into a series of bad luck events like a stolen car with a dog in the backseat, a boat that he lights on fire, and a tour bus full of religious rockers. Discuss amongst yourselves which fate is the worst.
Meanwhile, Shadow Moon is left to fend for himself after the train crash, stumbling to safety, trying to get to a place called Cairo, Illinois. Wednesday and Laura could have just taken him, but Shadow needed another test. He finds his way to a gas station and tries to pull a classic 10/20 grift — charm the clerk in such a way that she doesn’t realize you gave her a $10 when you ask for change for your $20 — but someone else notices his scam and one-ups the trick. Shadow ends up hitching a ride with the woman who blew up his grift, a woman named Sam Blackcrow. She takes his Polaroid, calls him on his shit, and doesn’t seem to have Godlike powers. One wishes the writing were better, but it is nice to see Whittle open up a bit as an actor in these scenes, and he pairs well with Devery Jacobs. At least they have a different energy than the rest of the season to date — more playful, natural, and relaxed.
That’s three arcs, but “Muninn” has two more subplots with which to play. First, Salim and Jinn end up at a strip club called the Corn Palace, seeking Odin’s spear Gungnir, and, second, the “villains” of the season get a key player in the return of Media. Played unforgettably by Gillian Anderson in the first season — taking on iconic roles like Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball — the Goddess of Media has been reimagined as Goddess NEW Media, who seems to have sprung fully formed from Instagram and is now played by Kahyun Kim. Any comparison to what Anderson did in season one is a bit unfair, but New Media’s debut is still a bit lackluster. New Media was a powerful force in season one, arguably even more so than Mr. World, whereas the vision of her in this episode is more in line with Technical Boy. In fact, he’s challenged by her very existence as he seems to think he serves the same purpose, and the writers have yet to really convince us he’s not wrong.
The arc with the New Gods and that of Wednesday/Laura intersects with the physical form of Argus, who now looks vaguely like a character that should have been played by Pruitt Taylor Vince hooked up to the Matrix. He’s bald, seems kind of sticky, and has eyes popping up all over his body. And he’s hooked up to a massive series of wires, being used and abused by the New Gods. Not for long. After a series of interludes in which Wednesday and Laura travel through Argus’ memories (sorta, not really, it’s a poorly done way to get in some history about the library of Alexandria), they end up in the same room as the Technical Boy and New Media. While New Media is trying to jack into the visions of Argus and create some sort of two-way street of inter-power — she speaks of being able to see all the users who love her on social media, which sounds terrifying — Laura stabs Argus in the neck, killing him and kickstarting her heart.
Finally, our main characters of Shadow Moon and Mr. Wednesday are reunited in Cairo. Odin tells his man that he can leave in the morning if he wants. But something is going to happen tonight. Hopefully, it’s something interesting.
• One of the reasons it’s so hard to let American Gods go is not only the quality of the first season and the source material, but the fact that this ensemble can sometimes break through the mediocre writing. Despite the horror stories of cast annoyance at the direction of this season, it’s not something you can see on the screen. One would never say Ian McShane or Emily Browning are phoning this in. They’re just not being given the same quality of material to work with. When you can see on McShane’s face that even he has given up, that may be the time to jump ship and delete this from the Series Manager. But as long as a show has an ensemble this capable of delivering the goods, it’s easier to hold onto hope.
• Speaking of ensembles, where’s Bilquis? She was one of the most fascinating characters in season one, and then wasted as a plot device in the opening of this one. Hopefully, she returns — in season one form — soon.
• Last note on acting: Devery Jacobs makes a solid verbal sparring partner for Ricky Whittle. It’s interesting that the episode in which we meet the replacement for Gillian Anderson is stolen by a different supporting actress.
• How are fans holding up? Are you committed enough to make it through the season? Thinking of bailing? Hopeful or cynical? Let us know in the comments.