Does American Gods Season 2 Live Up to Expectations?

After two complicated years of firings, quittings, delays, and rewrites, American Gods is back. Odin is gathering the weaker gods at the House on the Rock to convince them to join his side in a war against the New Gods—easier said than done, especially as Shadow keeps getting caught in the crossfire. I’ve now seen the first three episodes of Season 2 and while I hate to be the bearer of bad news, this early stretch of American Gods is a dull affair. This season seems to be an exercise in watching a bunch of excellent actors dealing with mediocre scripts, cheap-looking CGI, and crass misogyny. I’m disappointed, to say the least.

Here’s a (spoiler-free, in terms of plot details) review of what to expect this season, based on Episodes 1-3.

Boredom was never something I had to worry about in the first season of American Gods. Uneven, chaotic, and surreal, sure, but under the dual guiding lights of showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, I knew that no matter what went on structure-wise, each episode as a whole would never be anything less than engrossing. But early on in my binge watch of first three episodes of Season 2, I found my eyes wandering off my laptop screen and over toward my phone.

Look, I love Neil Gaiman’s original novel, but it’s not like the book didn’t have myriad issues. Fuller and Green took a known property and updated it, jacked up the overall diversity, and molded it into something fresh and new. The last thing I want out of a TV show is a direct remake of the book. Much of what drew me in was Fuller and Green’s interpretation. Their aesthetic cannot be duplicated…yet that’s what Season 2 feels like it’s trying to do. Much of the style set by Fuller and Green has been carried over to the new season, but the end result is more paint-by-numbers than a dazzling masterpiece. Everything is little more than a carbon copy of something far greater.

This season, the violence lacks the operatic elements that were the signature of Fuller and Green, while the sex careens toward the obscene and gratuitous. The cinematography is provocative, but also familiar and commonplace; it’s nothing you haven’t seen before, first on cable a decade ago and now on network television dramas. And the dialogue…yikes. When it’s not heavy-handed and obvious, it’s either florid or flat. Characters spend most of the first three episodes driving around on back country roads to various destinations—except for the one place they actually need to get to. Without the gaudy-yet-bonkers visuals of Fuller and Green, the weaker aspects that dogged the first season of the show have expanded so much that they’ve sucked the air out of the room. Stylistically, American Gods Season 2 is prestige TV in terms of talent only.

But oh, that talent! Ian McShane is a godsend. He salvages much of his purple dialogue by sheer force of will. Ricky Whittle and Emily Browning aren’t given much to do in two of the first three episodes, but they keep building on their characters’ foundations and everything that happened in the previous season. Crispin Glover continues to Crispin Glover all over Mr. World, and I love every moment of it. Yetide Badaki as Bilquis is a marvel at revealing untold depths with a single glance. Pablo Schreiber is as expressive as ever, even as his character is stuck repeating the same few beats from last season. Orlando Jones chews up so much scenery I’m surprised there are any sets left, but I’d pay good money to watch an entire episode of just him and McShane roadtripping together.

To give credit where credit is due, the casting of Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs as Sam Black Crow—a queer Kahnawà:ke Mohawk actor playing a Two-Spirit half Cherokee, half white character—is a huge boon for the show and for television as a whole. Jacobs is a fantastic addition to the cast and brings a sense of chill fun to a show that takes itself way too seriously. Her inclusion doesn’t fix the problematic racial politics, but it is a step in the right direction. Here’s hoping she’ll return soon.

But even with the charismatic Sam, overall it’s women who’ve suffered the worst in the changeover between seasons. A female character is fridged in the first episode. Her body isn’t even cold and men are already speechifying about it. Her death isn’t hers, but a motivational tool for a bunch of arrogant dudes. Instead of mourning the loss of a person, she becomes fodder for Odin’s crusade. In her debut episode, New Media is introduced wearing a sexy schoolgirl outfit, engages in hentai tentacle sex with another god, and there are at least two shots where the camera is looking up her skirt. Even Sam and Kali, while engaging characters, are thinly sketched and seem to exist largely as plot points in the arcs of male characters.

Laura was a lot more interesting last season, especially with her standalone episode. Now she’s back to being defined by the men in her life. She’s perpetually patronized and put down. Bilquis, meanwhile, has been downgraded from a sexually powerful being to a tragic coquette. Her sexuality isn’t hers, anymore, but there for men to enjoy—a character objectified rather than empowered. Even her unexpected kiss with Laura is stripped from her and turned into entertainment for Shadow and Mad Sweeney. Both Bilquis and Laura are constantly demeaned in sexual terms by men. In fact, on the whole, the show’s conception of sexuality has now become cis-heteronormative and targeted to the straight male libido.

American Gods was never going to be easy to get on the air, but by the time the book made it to the small screen in April 2017, there had already been plenty of behind-the-scenes shenanigans. Despite receiving high critical marks for the first season, Fuller and Green were replaced by Jesse Alexander, a producer and writer who has often worked with them. Even with his efforts to bring the show closer to the novel, production delays, frustrated actors  (those who hadn’t left in support of the previous showrunners), time spent fixing dialogue on set, constant reshoots, and endless last minute script rewrites eventually got Alexander ousted as well. All this turmoil is obvious in the final product. If this season is closer to Gaiman’s personal vision for the series, then color me concerned.

 

Final Thoughts

  • “Every ending is a new beginning. Your lucky number is none. Your lucky color is dead. Motto: Like father, like son.” —Whew, they’re going in hard on the foreshadowing this season. By the end of episode 2, if you haven’t figured out one of the major twists you’re ignoring some big neon signs. Much of this is taken directly from the book, but it feels less insistent when spread over several hundred pages than pointed out multiple times in a single episode.
  • “How the fuck is that an upgrade?”
  • That opening limo scene looked suuuuper cheap. That was some early 2000s network TV CGI.
  • Julius Caesar is only one of half a dozen potential Library of Alexandria arsonists.
  • If I never see Shadow in a Jesus-on-the-cross pose again it will be too soon.
  • I’d rather the show stop doing intense close-ups if they’re just going to replicate shots by Fuller and Green from Season 1.
  • So long to the “Coming to America” stories that opened each episode of Season 1. Anansi’s rallying cry in the hold of the slave ship was one of last season’s best scenes. We’ll never see its like again.
  • Season 2 also manages to contradict its own canon, first with how Odin insists America was a godless land and again when we learn how Argus arrived in the states.
  • Supposedly Fuller and Green wrote the first 6 episodes of Season 2, but Alexander had to toss them. I’d make a Faustian bargain if it meant getting to see their bonkers version of the meeting at the House on the Rock.
  • I’ll see y’all after the season finale.

Alex Brown is a high school librarian by day, local historian by night, author and writer by passion, and an ace/aro Black woman all the time. Keep up with her on Twitter and Insta, or follow along with her reading adventures on her blog.

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