Review: American Gods (Season 2)

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80%
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Offbeat

Despite some key personnel seeing the exit door, American Gods continues to entertain in weird ways with a killer cast.

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At the time, Bryan Fuller’s departure from American Gods in November 2017 felt like a premature death knell for the ambitious mythological series. The showrunner, writer and producer is one of TV’s singular figures; part of the emerging force of auteurs dominating the Golden Age of the small screen, placing his unique stamp on a couple of 90s Star Treks before truly making his name at the helm of the beloved, short-lived shows Pushing Daisies and Hannibal – then heading back to Star Trek for the latest addition to that universe, Discovery. But he’s known for often coming to blows on his vision; he was committed to Gods and Trek, and now he’s out of both. On the back of a promising first season, American Gods lost its chief creative force, and with him followed some key acting talent – Kristin Chenoweth’s deity Easter (a shame) and Gillian Anderson’s wonderful portrayal of Media (a double shame). The subsequent production was delayed and supposedly a bit of a farce, with it still uncertain who was actually at the reins. So, with all this backstage drama, how does the second season shape up?

Surprisingly well, it turns out. It may help that it’s been off the air for almost two years now; we’ve largely forgotten what American Gods was all about in the first place. Those pre-episode recaps are sorely needed, though it doesn’t take too long to get back into the swing of things. The first season saw Mr. Wednesday, a gleeful Ian McShane continuing to take full advantage of his elder statesman status to ham it up a bit, amassing followers to his cause for the coming war between the Old Gods and the New. In this conflict ex-con Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) becomes entangled, hired as muscle by Wednesday for his various pilgrimages. It soon becomes clear that Shadow’s role in events is far more embedded than he or the audience suspected, this being a thread that Season 2 continually hints towards before eventually coming to a resolution. Kind of. American Gods excels at depicting an abstract sort of reality, one where it’s always up in the air what the external form says about the internal truth. The images themselves are an unreliable narrator, but if you’re happy to go along with the abundance of conceptual weirdness you should be more than satisfied.

The cinematography and visual flourishes may lack the same level of luscious, sensual texture that Bryan Fuller honed with Hannibal and brought to the table originally, yet there is still an old-school sense of style, infused with deep Americana, to be appreciated. The direction is still trying to do interesting things with the camera, thankfully. What is essential for this show to persist, though, is the potency of its central premise. That the capabilities of Gods are determined by the strength of their worshippers, and that through this notion more unconventional divinities have come to be: Gods of Globalisation, Technology and Media, turfing out the Norse and the Egyptian. The show positions this lot as the bad guys, headed up by the intrinsically shady Mr. World (Crispin Glover, creepy as hell). They certainly escalate the conflict in season 2, but the dichotomy here is far from a Good vs Evil tale. Mr. Wednesday, the Allfather, Odin himself, has plenty of tricks up his sleeve, and the full extent of his manipulation remains to be seen going into the next season.

There isn’t much Event, with a Game of Thrones capital ‘E’, in this batch of new episodes. Whether it’s because of production troubles or not, American Gods takes a meandering pace that can make it feel directionless at times. Nonetheless, it’s a fun, challenging road to drive down. The whole thing has a road trip vibe to it, with spiritual American being the map of choice, and the writers know how to pair off our characters in fruitful combinations: Wednesday and Shadow continue to explore their intriguing paternal dynamic through pithy dialogue exchanges, Whittle displaying genuine A-list potential having started out on Hollyoaks; Salim (Omid Abtahi) and the Jinn (Mousa Kraish), who prove an endearing pair in their clash of temperaments, eschewing heteronormative portrayals of love in Islamic culture; best of all, Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) and Laura Moon (Emily Browning), the sweary leprechaun and the similarly brazen dead wife, a compelling duo whose begrudging companionship appears to be forever blurring. It’s a colourful ensemble of characters played by a colourful cast of actors. That alone makes it more than worth the watch.

Season 2 of American Gods is available in its entirety on Amazon Prime Video now. 

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Film Editor 2019/20. Enjoys classic Simpsons, R.E.M. and the MCU.

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