This review covers episodes 1-5 of American Gods Season 2. Mild Spoilers Ahead.
“Your light is strong,” Shadow Moon’s (Ricky Whittle) mother tells him in flashback. “You are different.”
That sentiment is reminiscent of the kind of platitudes that were thrown at season 1 of American Gods (by those who watched it at least). The Starz show, based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same title, which was helmed by Bryan Fuller delved into the fictional world of the gods who live among us with radical and arresting singularity. Even if the odd pacing and weirdness of it all weren’t to your tastes it was impossible not to admire the shows sheer audacity.
Unfortunately, American Gods has experienced a series of behind the scenes changes and setbacks and it shows in the diminished season 2. Fuller was fired as showrunner. Gillian Anderson and Kristin Chenoweth— both highlights of the first season as the God’s Media and Easter respectively— left with him. Their absence is sorely felt, with the writers scrambling to justify their disappearances.
This is only a fraction of the fractures present in Season 2. In its first five episodes, there has yet to give any clear indication as to where the show is now headed. Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) and Mr. World (Crispin Glover), leaders of the Old and New Gods respectively, continue to do little more than gather their forces. It’s a continuation of Season 1 rather than an escalation, and it is hard to stay excited.
Gone also is the rebellious storytelling of Season 1. The show feels more bound to conventional structures, dedicating a whole episode to fleshing out Shadow Moon’s backstory. The vignettes, witty dialogue, and scope of Season 1 are absent. Gone too is the exploration of religion which made Season 1 so engaging. The new showrunners attempt this depth, but never feel as if they’re doing anything other than imitating that work of Fuller.
This is not to say that American Gods Season 2 is devoid of joys. It remains one of the most visually decadent shows on television. The House on the Rock, the setting of episode 1, is truly stunning, made all the more so because it is a real place. Season 2 leans hard into the wonder of Americana but often does not know what to do with it, making the show an ever more frustrating watch.
The cast all continue to provide A-grade performances, Emily Browning’s Laura Moon remains a highlight. But it is clear that the caliber of actor is far higher than that of the writing provided to them. Often characters will wander in and out of the story without giving any clear indication of why they are present at all.
“We are off balance, and must marshal our forces before we can strike,” claims Mr. World. It feels unfortunately true of American Gods on a whole as well. Three episodes remain in the season, there is still time for it to pull out a great finale. But even that is a pyrrhic victory as the lead-up to it has been so muddled.