This is an early review of the first two episodes of Starz’s American Gods. There will be spoilers for the first season of American Gods featured here. We will run a full season review once the finale has aired.
It’s been quite some time since we last entered the world of American Gods and a whole lot has changed. Not so much with the characters, but with the actual show itself. It’s been a bumpy two years for what was once one of my most anticipated television shows, but the constant setbacks have taken a toll on my optimism. First it was the loss of Season One showrunner Bryan Fuller leaving due to creative differences, then Jesse Alexander was brought on as the new showrunner, only to be fired but not fired late last year, and rumors that even at NYCC of last year, the cast had yet to film the finale of the season due to an inordinate amount of rewrites. Frankly, it’s a miracle that I’m seeing a completed Season Two of American Gods at all.
Which is a relief, because I actually enjoyed the first season quite a bit. I will be the first to admit that it’s an incredibly flawed show that moves at a snail’s pace, but I was always interested in the world and its eclectic cast of characters. It’s not every day you see a show about the modern interpretation of classic deities waging wars against the new Gods of America. That or see a leprechaun stalk a zombie that stole his luck. It’s a fun premise that lends itself to some creative interpretations.
After seeing the first two episodes of the second season, “House on the Rock” and “Beguiling Man”, I’m optimistic that the main plot is finally going to get rolling and we’re going to see just how fun this premise can get… if the show can remember to not fall into the same pitfalls Season One did.
American Gods (Season 2)
Showrunners: Jesse Alexander, Neil Gaiman
Premiere Date: March 10, 2019
Where we last left off in the world of American Gods, Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) revealed himself to be Odin and launched an attack on the New Gods, consisting of Mr. World (Crispin Glover), Media (Gillian Anderson), and the Technical Boy (Bruce Langley), effectively declaring open season on the New Gods. With Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) still along for the ride, he follows Mr. Wednesday on his plan to convince the remaining Old Gods to fight against the New Gods for supremacy. Joining him is his still dead wide Laura (Emily Browning), and a whole cavalcade of other deities as the battle finally begins to take shape.
If Season One was dedicated to setting the stakes and establishing the players in this war, the first episode, “House on the Rock,” slowly begins to pull everything together from the first season. You can accuse the first season for being disjointed, with every other episode dedicated to fleshing out one of the main characters in heavy detail. Because of this, the plot always took a backseat to delve into the minds of these characters. What exactly is it like to be a God who has fallen from relevancy in the world? In most cases, we saw how some Gods were able to adapt to America, while others struggled to survive.
I will give “House on the Rock” credit for tying all of the various plot threads together into a neat premiere. It feels like we’re actually moving forward on the overall story and things are legitimately happening. Characters who never interacted before are finally meeting and the results are gold. The clear stand out comes from Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones), who is just a delight whenever he appears. Mr. Nancy always has something funny or poignant to say with just the right level of sass and attitude. He delivered a fantastic monologue in the first season, so I’m looking forward to seeing him interact with the main cast a little more frequently and most likely being the high point of the entire season.
Unfortunately, while it is great spending time with Mr. Nancy, I feel like we need to address the elephant in the room. Due to Fuller’s departure from the show, Gillian Anderson also left with him, resulting in a new actress needing to be hired for the role of Media. While recasting issues happen, the show opts to play out Media’s disappearance as some important plot point in an attempt to cover up Anderson’s departure, which only brings more attention to the production woes of the second season. Both “House on the Rock” and the second episode, “Beguiling Man,” try to mask this problem, but it doesn’t do so well, making those sequences particularly weak.
Of the two episodes, “House on the Rock” is easily the superior episode and plays more like a season finale than a premiere. There are memorable sequences aplenty with the culmination setting a new status quo for our large cast. Something that I only just realized while watching “House on the Rock” was how every main and supporting character mistrusts one another. There is no unity within both the Old Gods and the New Gods. Everyone is at each other’s throats or are quick to dismiss one another, which is a dynamic you don’t see all that often. It makes the emotional connections that we do get in the show seem more genuine and compelling while simultaneously making the climactic moments in “House on the Rock” more unpredictable, thereby more engaging to watch.
But while “House on the Rock” was a strong start to the season, “Beguiling Man” had the show returning to some of its old bad habits. Say goodbye to the Gods interacting in one large group and hello to multiple pairs of Gods/mortals heading off on various adventures to, once again, prepare for war. After spending all of Season One preparing for war, why are they still preparing for it? The war has begun, so why is the show regressed to spinning its wheels yet again?
What makes this even more frustrating is that the show still insists on fleshing out its large cast of characters after they’ve already been fleshed out to death in Season One. We don’t need more background information, we need more plot! Give me more time with Mr. Nancy and Laura, not shoveling more unnecessary background information to pad out an episode. But that’s exactly what “Beguiling Man” has us do for a third of its runtime, making me disengage from the show once more.
I want to like American Gods’ second season, I really do. “House on the Rock” was a strong start that was filled with everything I loved about the show. I thought that it would set the new standard for the second season, but “Beguiling Man” quickly beat those lofty expectations into the ground. As of this writing, I have not seen any other new episodes, so it’s still too soon to tell the overall quality of this season, but if the show expects me to tag along for the rest of this road trip, it better remember to pick up the pace and not stall on me like it’s starting to do again.