american gods

American Gods’ Long, Strange Trip to Season Two

Photo: Jasper Savage/Starz

It’s been almost two years since Starz aired an episode of American Gods, a complex, fascinating vision of the world that features gods New and Old battling for supremacy of the human race. A lot has happened while we’ve been away from the story of Shadow Moon and Mr. Wednesday, including the departure of the main creative voices behind the first eight episodes and a reportedly troubled production that left season two over budget and behind schedule.

The introduction of a new showrunner and behind-the-scenes stories of angry cast members, rewritten scripts, and improvised dialogue have given the impression that American Gods season two may bear little resemblance to season one when the show does return this Sunday, March 10. If you’re in need of a refresher as to where we left these characters, as well as some sort of road map as to how the off-camera journey might have impacted them, we’re here to help.

A Storm is Coming

First, a quick recap of season one: Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is caught trying to rob a casino and goes to jail, leaving his wife, Laura (Emily Browning) behind. Just as he’s released from jail, Laura dies in a car accident, leaving Shadow lost and confused. On his journey home to bury his wife, he meets a man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane), and basically agrees to become Wednesday’s right-hand man. It turns out that Wednesday is an “Old God,” and he’s preparing for a war against the “New Gods” of technology. He and Wednesday travel the country trying to recruit other Old Gods to their cause, including a hammer-wielding one named Czernobog (Peter Stormare) and Anansi himself (Orlando Jones).

Meanwhile, Laura Moon comes back to life (which you need to see to understand), and travels the country with a leprechaun named Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), trying to return to Shadow and Wednesday. All of this culminates in a showdown at the home of Easter (Kristin Chenoweth), where the New Gods, led by Mr. World (Crispin Glover) and New Goddess Media (Gillian Anderson), confront Wednesday, who reveals that he is one of the oldest and most powerful Gods in history: Odin. The season ended with Easter and Odin basically sucking the life from the world and destroying the New Gods. The world will have its spring when it treats its Old Gods with respect again.

It’s important to note that this structure also allowed for numerous asides, which were very much in keeping with the style of season one co-showrunner Bryan Fuller (Hannibal). Each episode opened with a parable, usually a story of Old Gods. For example, the premiere started with Vikings who blinded themselves and went to war just to get the attention of someone up above. The second started with an unforgettable story of Anansi encouraging a slave ship of people to revolt and burn their transport down. A later episode saw border-patrolling killers literally shoot Jesus. And season one often allowed for mid-episode tangents as well, adding to the sense that these were all deeply symbolic, old-fashioned stories of Gods and Men — the central one of Shadow and Wednesday being merely the most recent.

Where Do We Go From Here?

American Gods author Neil Gaiman and Fuller have said in interviews that the first season would cover only about a third of Gaiman’s book, and so it seemed clear that they were ready to work together on future seasons. The show was renewed in May of 2017, just before the third episode aired, so it seemed like everyone was happy.

That impression changed drastically in November of 2017 when Fuller and co-showrunner Michael Green left the show after having written half the scripts for season two. It wasn’t clear why, but it was pretty obvious that the first season cost quite a bit of money, so Deadline’s reporting that the split was due to arguments over budget seemed believable. Whatever the reason, American Gods had only half its scripts and no one steering the ship.

The story got weirder a few months later when it was revealed at the Television Critics Association press tour that Gillian Anderson would not be returning, and it looked like Kristin Chenoweth might be MIA as well. Starz said it was due to scheduling conflicts; however, fans wondered if it might have to do with the actors’ allegiance to Fuller, given how much they had worked with him in the past (Anderson on Hannibal, Chenoweth on Pushing Daisies). The weirdest part was that Starz CEO and president Chris Albrecht said that they were still trying to get Fuller and Green to work on the show, and that they had no new showrunner yet. He reaffirmed commitment, but it was unclear to what exactly.

Photo: Starz

A New God Arrives

In February of last year, season two of American Gods finally got a new leader, and the relatively promising news was that it was one of Fuller’s regular collaborators, Jesse Alexander, a writer for both Hannibal and Star Trek: Discovery. And Neil Gaiman would continue to guide the show, while also working on Amazon’s Good Omens adaptation. Production began in April and everything looked like it could be close to getting back on track. It wasn’t Fuller, and Anderson and Chenoweth would be missed, but shows have survived worse.

And then it derailed again. In September, Alexander was “removed” by Starz. It was also revealed that the show was six weeks behind schedule and had no script for the season finale after several versions by Alexander had been rejected. Then it got crazier. Remember how Fuller and Green wrote a bunch of season two? Those scripts will never see the light of day, as they were thrown out and rewritten by Alexander.

Believe it or not, it gets worse. The report was that the season was $30 million over budget and the cast was pissed. Ian McShane didn’t like the new scripts and was improvising a lot of his material, Orlando Jones was rewriting scripts, and Starz was dissatisfied with the tone and direction of the season. The story went that they had hired Alexander because they thought they’d have more control over him than they did over Fuller and Green. Have you heard the old joke about how to make God laugh? Producing director Chris Byrne and line producer Lisa Kussner finished the season.

Let’s Do It All Again

With all of this drama, one might presume that Starz is going to push American Gods over the finish line to air and then wash its hands of what has become something of a nightmare. But perhaps the most interesting development recently is the buzz that it’s ready for round three. A source told Deadline last week, “We didn’t make Season 2 of American Gods not to make a Season 3.” And there’s certainly enough of the story left to be told, as season two reportedly doesn’t even get to the “Lakeside” portion of the novel. Who would run that show, how it would be different from season two, and even if the cast wants to return remain unclear, but American Gods has already proved that it’s pretty hard to kill.

American Gods’ Long, Strange Trip to Season Two