AMERICAN GODS S2 – EP 1-2
“HOUSE ON THE ROCK” AND “THE BEGUILING MAN”
Starring: Ricky Whittle, Emily Browning, Ian McShane, Crispin Glover, Orlando Jones, Bruce Langley, Yetide Badaki, and Pablo Schreiber
Directed by: Christopher J. Byrne / Frederick E.O. Toye
Written by: Neil Gaiman & Jesse Alexander / Tyler Dinucci & Andres Fischer-Centeno
Grok It, Reader-Bots! Spoilers Ahead!
“It’s a motherfuckin’ fortune from a fuckin’ wax dummy! DUMMY!”
The above quote from Orlando Jones’ Mr. Nancy, I feel, is a pretty good summation of Amercian Gods S2 so far. It may not be what it once was, but it’s still too weird to outright ignore. That’s right. Welcome to DIS/MEMBER’s first bout of television coverage! Starz’s American Gods S2! Hosted by me, Neil Gaiman’s worst fan, Justin Partridge! Today, we are going to be looking at the opening episodes of the prestige series’ sophomore season. To be quite frank, it is kind of a mixed bag. But… hey! What the hell isn’t these days?! Let’s get into it, shall we?
Kicking off the season, we have the better of the two episodes. “House on the Rock,” from the man himself co-written by already ousted season 2 showrunner Jesse Alexander and directed by the long-time second unit director on Hannibal, Christoper J. Byrne. Picking up mere days after S1’s explosive closing episode, Wednesday and his cabal are headed for a gathering at the famed House on the Rock in an attempt to sell the war against the New Gods. Meanwhile, Mr. World and the Technical Boy lick their wounds after their battle at Easter House in an underground bunker called Black Brier.
Obviously, book readers have been waiting for this sequence, and it doesn’t disappoint. It is appropriately weird and stagey and beautifully acted by the core cast. It also has the added novelty of actually featuring the House, instead of recreation, so this whole episode teeters just on the edge of ridiculous and glorious. Something I think the book did really well too. Sure, that Byran Fuller Charm and acerbic wit are missing from this and the second episode, but as I said, this show is still too weird just to completely write off. Especially for fans of the book as it seemed to be moving toward a more faithful adaptation.
But it is the second episode, “The Beguiling Man,” where it started to lose me. We open on the aftermath of Mr. World’s attack on the Old Gods as they celebrated their meeting, which was easily another highlight of the season opener. Shadow has been taken by Mr. Town (played by the Beeper King himself, Dean Winters), so Laura and Mad Sweeney are determined to rescue him as Nancy and Wednesday continue their journey to gather forces. Though graced with some truly gorgeous photography from Westworld’s Frederick E.O. Toye, Tyler Dinucci & Andres Fischer-Centeno’s script really spins its wheels and introduces a new original element in Shadow’s backstory that I do not love. An element I worry will muddy the waters of the show’s eventual endgame.
As he is questioned by Mr. Town, Shadow reflects on his now passed mother and his tumultuous introduction to America after being raised abroad. These flashbacks make up the majority of the episode, intercut with vignettes of the rest of the cast basically just doing bits and a little bit of headway into the search for “New Media” as Gillian Anderson has left the building. I will say, the episode starts to come alive a bit thanks to Emily Browning and Pablo Schreiber’s antagonistic chemistry, but even they can’t keep the whole thing shining for long.
I never love when Media starts to over-explain things. Especially things that are best left oblique. These Shadow’s Mom flashbacks are the very picture of that. Not only are they maudlin and extraneous for Shadow’s character, but they also add to the super decompressed feeling of these opening episodes. Just for a bit of context, both season 1 and these opening S2 episodes have only covered roughly the first 80 pages of the novel (give or take). I understand that they would have to slow things A TOUCH down to sustain the show over multiple seasons (like the 3rd which was just announced), but cheese and rice, we could move it along a BIT.
I know I’ve been grousing a bit, and I truly am glad the show is back. I just think these opening episodes could have been tighter and move a whole hell of a lot faster. There is still a spark here, however. It might be the cast. It might be the hammy performances. Hell, it could even be that something Gaiman is on TV and an actual hit. But something is just below the surface, keeping me watching, but I am really hoping that the later episodes start to fan that spark a little more. I am turning it once again into a burning entertainment inferno of Sunday Viewing.
Until next time, be seeing you!