​ "House on the Rock" - American Gods S02E01 Review

And so American Gods, the Starz adaptation of Neil Gaiman's novel is back on its own twisted little path.


Since I wasn't around last year, let's review. Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is a man who went to prison, and was separated from his wife, Laura (Emily Browning). After Shadow was released from prison, he was hired by a mysterious man calling himself Wednesday. Wednesday (Ian McShane) is a con man and a grifter, is accompanied by two ravens, and knows a lot of weird people.

Emily Browning, American Gods

Wednesday has Shadow drive him across the country on some kind of quest to bring together various individuals, including Bilquis (Yetide Bada) and Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones). Along the way, Laura gets killed and resurrected by the lucky coin of Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schrieber). We eventually find out Wednesday is Odin, the head of the Norse pantheon of gods. Wednesday has been trying to bring together the old gods to take back the belief of their believers. Said belief having been lost as the believers moved to America and forgot their gods, or siphoned off by the new gods, including Mr. World (Crispin Glover) and Technical Boy (Bruce Langley). The new gods aren't thrilled with the plans of the old gods to usurp any of their power.

Also involved is The Jinn (Mousa Kraish) and a believer/lover, Salim (Omid Abtahi). What role they have to play in anything remains to be seen. Then again, what role most of the characters have to play remains to be seen.

We begin "House on the Rock" with the group of Shadow, Wednesday, Sweeney, and Laura heading to the House on the Rock in Wisconsin. It's the biggest roadside attraction in the U.S., and as Wednesday will tell us, roadside attractions are the "shrines" of modern-day American belief. Wednesday has called his meeting of the old gods there. However, the enormous carousel there provides the entrance--somehow--to the real meeting place. Wednesday's memories of when he was Odin in Scandinavia.

Yetide Badaki, Ian McShane, American Gods S02E01

Wednesday explains they need to go to war with the new gods to get their belief back. One of the major gods, Mama-Ji (Sakina Jaffrey) figures they can get along with the new gods. Bilquis talks about how she's already reached an arrangement with them and they're using technology to get her more worshippers and thus more power. Nobody seems too bothered by this: why, who knows?

Shadow gives an impassioned speech about how they should prove themselves worthy of the beliefs of the people they want to believe in them. They then end up at an all-you-can-eat restaurant where Wednesday praises Shadow for his closing speech.

Meanwhile, Mr. World has traveled to a secret U.S. government bunker beneath a golf club to consolidate his power. Another new god, Media (Gillian Anderson, from last season but left the show) has gone missing and World sends Technical Boy to find her. There's also a creepy Caretaker (Eric Peterson) who seems to be a confidant of World's, or a high-ranking servitor, or something. World calls a strike team on the old gods to show them some shock and awe.

Peter Stormare, American Gods S02E01

The two plots come together when the strike team--a sniper--opens fire on the restaurant and kills some of the gods. Shadow goes after him and gets sucked away in a column of light. Laura can see Shadow's inner "light" and watches him get hauled away across the horizon. One of the dead gods is Zorya Vechernyaya (Cloris Leachman), and her fellow European god Czernobog (Peter Stormare) swears vengeance on the killer.

And that's about it. It's all very symbolic and semi-religious, and superficially examines questions of faith and religious belief. There's nothing new here that I could tell: they did pretty much the same thing in season 1. The old gods had followers overseas, the followers came to America, they brought their gods with them but then stopped believing in them so the old gods live in the cracks and eke out what belief they can. Wednesday/Odin gives a big speech in his memory-meeting telling the old gods pretty much exactly that. He's either reminding them of what happened to them, or retelling the audience, or both. It seems redundant if you watched the first season.

Then again, maybe I'm expecting more than I should for what is basically a season premiere. The creative team checks in with the main plot--Wednesday assembling the old gods--and some of the minor plots. Laura is still undead, Shadow is still pining for her but also drawn to Wednesday. No one is a normal human other than Salim and maybe Shadow, and it's not clear what's going on with Salim because the creative team just checks in with his romance with the Jinn. Salim loves the Jinn, the Jinn doesn't want him around for whatever reason.

Some of the relatively minor characters who were guest stars in season 1 become regulars in season 2. Which means they get a little more screen time. Orlando Jones as Mr. Nancy (i.e., Anansi) takes full advantage of his expanded screen time, and runs around like a 70s Ben Vereen gone amuck. Bilquis gets a little more to do this year, but her role as a traitor within the old gods seems really downplayed. Mousa Kraish (The Djinn) and Omid Abtahi (Salim) also get a brief reintroduction and then are ushered off-screen. Demore Barnes as Mr. Ibis is credited but doesn't appear.

Ian McShane, American Gods S02E01

Also, while I enjoy Ian McShane's performance, is it just me or does he act more like Loki than Odin? Particularly since we've already met "Low-Key" Lyesmith back in the first episode. And he plays a role in Shadow's life down the road if you go by creator Neil Gaiman's novel. I'm sure there is some mythological basis for Odin as an outgoing conman and smooth-talker. Maybe I'm too used to Anthony Hopkins in the Thor movies.

Although that raises an interesting question which I suspect will never be asked or answered. How much influence does modern media have on the current interpretations of the gods? The Norse mythology is relatively "big" these days thanks to the Marvel Thor movies. Disney gets a mention in "House": are the Disney/Marvel movies part of the new gods' plan to usurp Odin? Bend him to their conceptual will? Turn him into something different than he is? That probably involves a level of meta-reality the creative team doesn't want to deal with. Or can't, because of the legal issues.

But shouldn't our belief in the gods shape how they appear? And isn't our belief shaped by media, and technology, and the "new gods"? They haven't addressed that dichotomy yet, that the old gods are unique unto themselves and yet are apparently shaped by belief.

Yetide Badaki, American Gods S02E01Overall, "House" is a decent reintroduction to American Gods. But it's basically same-old same-old. Wednesday is still assembling the old gods for a war. Shadow still seems oddly disinterested in everything except Laura, despite one impassioned speech that comes out of nowhere to the congress of old gods or whatever you call them. World and Tech Boy are still scheming to destroy the old gods. Wednesday is still Wednesday, and he and the other gods seem to delight in either being oblique ("Let's all chuckle and smirk at Shadow!") or are vague misty-faced god-icons (most of the congress of old gods).

It's frustrating we don't see Shadow react to the gods. To take one example, in the final dining scene, Wednesday calls Shadow over to meet Mama-Ji, the Hindu Goddess of War. What do a mortal and a goddess say to each other? We never find out, as the camera cuts to Laura watching Shadow and Sweeney watching Laura. Because we never find out what they say to each other, we never find out how Shadow is reacting to the whole thing.

It's the same with the other gods, not just Wednesday. Shadow tries to get a straight answer from Nancy, and Nancy makes enigmatic comments and walks off. It's not just Wednesday being oblique: it's all of the gods Shadow interacts with. It gets a bit boring after a while to see them all talk like Shadow is some kind of termite. Chernobog is probably the most "human" of the gods, and he wants to kill Shadow. Does that make sense, to either treat your follower as a puppet or kill him? I don't expect the old gods to fall at Shadow's feet, but they treat him like a pet. Which is odd, since they seem to need his belief to sustain themselves.

Or maybe not. It's only the first episode and a re-introduction at that. Maybe we'll get some more interaction. It sounds like next week's "The Beguiling Man" looks into Shadow's early days. But I don't want to see his early days: I want to see him interesting in the present day. Hopefully the creative team (or teams, people seem to have dropped in and out pretty regularly between seasons) will get its mojo on and give us some new stuff rather than rehashing the past like they did in "House".

But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?

Written by Gislef on Mar 10, 2019

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