Written By: Mathew “JJ” Simoes
American Gods builds on its premiere episode with a thought provoking and slightly expository second chapter.
Immigration is an inherent theme in American Gods, one that is especially relevant today, and the series’ writers seem to be aware of and leaning into it. This is evident in the episode’s opening scene, which tells the story of how the spider trickster god Anansi arrived to the new world, and it was not under the best of circumstances. Coming through the prayers of an African Slave being shipped to the Americas, Anansi proceeds to explain how fucked their people will be over the next few hundred years of American history. Part of the series charm is blending aspects of Americana and folklore, and the series’ writers connected a trickster god to a very dark part of America’s past. Anansi spurning them to kill their captors and burn the ship is very much in the nature of a trickster god, but it also elaborates on the absolutely shitty situation African slaves found themselves in when coming to America. This thematic thread builds from Shadow’s lynching in the previous episode, which is mentioned shortly after Anansi’s opening scene. Colonialism (which is how the gods in this series came to America) caused a lot of harm, so it’s good to see the show using its mythology to explore larger topics.
The opening also uses the show’s visual style to show fantasy co-existing with reality, as Anansi appears to the slaves looking like he stepped out of the present. I’m not sure what the implications of the anachronistic nature of the scene was, but its jarring nature fits with the concept of gods breaking into the real world. Orlando Jones’ performance was electric, chilling and captivating. When the episode transitioned back to the present I just wanted more of him, so hopefully the show won’t take too long in bringing the character into the main narrative. Bilquis returns this episode as she continues to ‘consume’ her sexual partners. Yetide Bataki is a regular this season, so I’m interested in where the writers are taking her character, and if she’ll ever factor into the main narrative. That being said, her asides are still enchanting. Despite getting numerous individuals to worship her, the ending of her sequence shows that an emptiness remains present.
Moving on from those two individual scenes, the chemistry between the two lead characters is present in the second episode, and it makes their conversations engaging components of the episode. One of the episode’s best moments was Wednesday calling out Shadow on his lack of charisma, and it’s that kind of banter that makes viewers get attached to these characters early one. Shadow’s still mourning the loss of his wife, though she doesn’t seem to be as lost as he may think, and it adds another human layer to a very high concept series. Though the series takes its time in revealing explicitly the series’ mythology, this episode at least made clear the main mission our characters will embark on this season. Seeing the gods use their powers and discuss god matter in front of a perplexed Shadow in an enjoyable part of the series, because let’s be honest, most people wouldn’t believe it even if they saw it. It’s become a world of skeptics, and that’s what these gods are fighting against.
The second half of the episode slows down the pace quite a bit, with most of the momentum disappearing until the checkers game. Much of the focus is put on Wednesday’s meeting with the Slavic deities, and it just isn’t as entertaining as his discussion with Shadow. The shift in pace is so drastic that it effects the viewing experience and causes one to disengage from the story being told. There is quite a bit of significance to their conversation as it reveals more about the season’s main conflict, but the momentum from earlier is not present. The checkers game and its stakes build it back up, but not by much.
American Gods continues its use of exciting and unique visuals, as well as a fascination with aesthetically beautiful blood. The image of the penis was unexpected, but based on how his wife died, the repeating image does make sense. Even though Shadow has lost his wife and the pain is there, he struggles with the circumstances of her death. The introduction of the “Lucy” aka Media (the goddess of television), was a visual treat, as was her conversation with Shadow. “Lucy’s tits” was a funny line from the book, and I’m glad it was included in this adaptation. That shot of Czernonbog handling the bloody hammer just looked so well, and once again blood is presented in an elegant and graceful manner.
American Gods latest episode explores the series’ connection to history deeper to great effect, but the second half of the episode just doesn’t match up to the beginning.
Mathew’s Rating – 8.3/10
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