Do not read if you have not seen Episode 201 of American Gods
Directed by Christopher Byrne, Teleplay by Jesse Alexander and Neil Gaiman
American Gods ended its first season with a spectacular feat of supernatural power when Ostara (Kristen Chenoweth) reversed Spring and left the land barren. The new season opens with Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) frenetically driving a limousine recklessly across a golf course to reach a secret location, where he leaves Mr. World (Crispin Glover). The secret location is an underground bunker that is part of Black-Briar, a continuity plan for the President. There, Mr. World engages the Eyes of Argus. This sets the stage for the continuing and escalating conflict between the old and new gods.
Meanwhile, Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), Laura Moon (Emily Browning), Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane), and Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) are on a road trip to The House on the Rock, a quintessential American tourist attraction. However, there are two key characters missing from this opening narrative, Media (Gillian Anderson) and Ostara.
Ostensibly, Mr. World sends Technical Boy to find Media; while Ostara, according to Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones), is missing because she is mad that Mr. Wednesday ran over some rabbits during his drive up to Ostara’s home. In the real world, neither Gillian Anderson nor Kristen Chenoweth will be returning to the series. Both of them left the series when showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green were replaced over budget issues and the direction of the series.
However, none of these behind-the-scenes issues appear to have affected the first episode. Jesse Alexander (the new showrunner) and Neil Gaiman guide the series back closer to the source material by using the age-old trope of the road trip. With Neil Gaiman as one of the writers of this episode, viewers are thrown back into the incredibly dense source material.
The old gods are rendezvousing at a tourist attraction in the heartland of America: The House on the Rock. The House on the Rock is a real-life structure that is reminiscent of a Frank Lloyd Wright structure (think Falling Rock). However, unlike Falling Rock, which is harmonious with nature, The House on the Rock is a sprawling conglomeration of buildings, forest, exhibits, and the “world’s largest indoor carousel”, which grew over time with no overarching plan. When the viewers see all of the old gods who are gathered here, it is clear that as a group they mirror the lack of coherent design of their surroundings and that there is a lack of harmony with the natural order of things. The old gods are a hodgepodge of beliefs that somehow grew over the ages but refuse to change with the times.
At the meeting “backstage,” the following old gods manifested in the space created by the mind of Odin/Mr. Wednesday. Oddly, Shadow is the only human invited to this conclave of Gods as Mad Sweeney is not invited.
- Mr. Wednesday
- Mama-Ji (Sakina Jeffrey)- a Hindu War Goddess
- Mr. Nancy
- Bilquis (Yetide Badaki)
- Czernobog (Peter Stormare)
- Zorya Vechernyaya (Cloris Leachman) representing her sisters
- Ame No Uzume (Uni Park)
- Ahura Mazda (Al Mani)
- MJ Hobo God (Edward Queffelec)
- Other gods from different beliefs
During the conclave, Mr. Wednesday tries to convince the old gods to fight and therefore focus them on the goal that he wishes to accomplish. Mr. Wednesday makes his case for war, while Bilquis argues for embracing the new gods and their ways. The old gods must evolve or they will perish. Shadow speaks in favor of Mr. Wednesday and his cause. He tells the old gods that they need to believe that they are worthy of the belief of their followers.
Shadow does not realize that Odin/Mr. Wednesday is responsible for the failure of the casino robbery, his time in prison, and for Laura’s death. Also, none of the gods, either old or new, care about any of the collateral damage that a war would cause, nor do they care about humans other than as beings who should worship them. Clearly, all of the gods only care about themselves. When Technical Boy made his mad dash across the golf course in the opening sequence, he callously ran down a golfer without any concern that he had just killed a person. In all of their discussions, not one god mentions the impact the war will have on humanity. The only human who appears to be aware of this is Laura. Laura sees Wednesday for the master manipulator that he is because she knows that Wednesday is the one responsible for her own death.
Laura, Shadow, and Salim (Omid Obtahi) are the only humans at The House on the Rock and it is not clear that Laura is still human, as she is animated by Mad Sweeney’s lucky coin. Salim is there because he loves The Jinn (Mousa Kraish) (the gatekeeper to the carousel ride and “backstage”). Laura is there for Shadow and Shadow is there for Wednesday.
Shadow is overwhelmed by what he is seeing and he believes that Mr. Wednesday is his ‘lighthouse in the storm.’ None of the humans are capable of understanding the magnitude of what is happening nor what part they are playing in this cosmic drama. What is clear is that they are pawns in this drama, possibly with the exception of Salim, but he is like a small vehicle caught in the backdraft of an 18-wheeler, The Jinn.
But the viewers should be asking themselves why Mr. Wednesday chose Shadow Moon. Fortunately, Gaiman reveals a clue about Shadow Moon and perhaps the end of the tale when the arcade machine gives Shadow his fortune card, which reads, among other things, “like father, like son.” Laura’s fortune card, on the other hand, is blank. Mad Sweeney was not allowed to get a fortune card, while Bilquis’ card made her look pensively at Shadow. What does this all mean?
This episode of American Gods is a wonderful commentary on America. As Wednesday explains, American places of power are the roadside attractions whose main purpose is to sell some trinket, not a place of worship. Even Mr. World’s attack makes use of both old and new ways when he employs a modern-day sniper to kill some of the old gods but the underlying principle is an old one: ‘eye for an eye.’ America is where the old meets the new openly. Bilquis and the new gods made an agreement which allows her to flourish in the new world. Odin/Mr. Wednesday is apparently unable to make the adjustment to the new world. Instead, he wants the new to adjust to him. There is a small possibility he could win the war, but humanity will pay the price whether he wins or loses. Or American Gods may show viewers a third possibility. Hopefully, this season gives viewers that third possibility.