"Donar the Great" is more like season one American Gods insofar as it spends less time on social commentary, and more on characterization backstory, and world building. It doesn't move the plot along much, other than ending one quest as Wednesday finally has Gungnir rune-working. But it doesn't drag in anything new, either.
What was it that made "Donar" a reversion to type? Most of it is set in the past, at a Chicago burlesque house in the 1930s. Wednesday (Ian McShane) owns the place, MCs, and gets to sing. His feature acts are Donar the Weightlifter (Derek Theler), and Columbia the burlesque dancer (Laura Bell Bundy). Doran and Columbia are romantically involved, and as revealed pretty early on, Donar is actually Wednesday's son Thor, wielding a hammer in his strongman act, and generally acting like Thor.
Technical Boy comes to the club and wants to recruit Columbia as the new Face of America. And the Friends of Germany, complete with swastika armbands, wants to recruit Donar to be a weight lifter for the games they're sponsoring. It's a setup to make Donar the American champion and then have him throw a match against the German champion. Donar being Donar, he doesn't see a reason to throw fights. He and Wednesday argue, they fight, Gungnir is broken, and Donar goes off.
It turns out Columbia is actually the Goddess of America, and Technical Boy wants her to join the new gods and become the avatar of the new America. She accepts and leaves, and Donar eventually kills himself. Wednesday has been busy endorsing all of these arrangements, and ends up with nothing. Nancy (Orlando Jones) is working as a costume designer for the show.
This is against the modern-day backdrop of Wednesday and Shadow trying to find the dwarves who can remake Gungnir. This leads the duo to a mall where, in a world-building bit, the dwarves work at kiosks at a financially-dying mall. Wednesday gets a spiel about how malls used to be centers of commerce but now they slowly are going bankrupt and are mostly occupied by senior citizens.
To get the dwarves' cooperation, Wednesday has to steal a rock star's leather jacket. There's a cute bit where he pretends to be a bishop to con the clerk at the store where it's displayed, and Shadow comes in posing as a Federal agent to arrest him and takes the jacket as evidence. Since Wednesday has mentioned Shadow reminds him of his son, Shadow keeps him in handcuffs and asks about Wednesday's family background. Wednesday gives a few terse comments and then refuses to discuss it anymore. They take the jacket to the dwarves and the rune-carving dwarf Dvalin (Jeremy Raymond) puts the runes on Gungnir.
There's also a bit where World (Crispin Glover) summons New Media (Kahyun Kim) and has her gather the power of her followers to power up his own schemes.
Overall, "Donar" is the best episode of the season to date. It's not great, but it doesn't dwell on modern political injustices and primarily gives Wednesday a chance to act... Wednesday-ish. it adds some background to him as it explores the idea of the son we've never seen until now. It also establishes Wednesday as a force to be reckoned with, something the creative team has toyed with throughout the season but hasn't really gone through with. When Wednesday doesn't get his way, he goes into Odin-ish furies
I still have some trouble reconciling American God's Wednesday/Odin with the "classical" Odin. Or even the media version of him we get in other TV shows and movies. The Odin on AG is primarily a Loki-like conman, trickster, huckster, and MC, rather than a font of wisdom and berserker fury. It might be historically/mythologically accurate, but it's still disconcerting.
Despite his apparent retirement, we get Bruce Langley back as Technical Boy. There are a few brief comments on how he is in the 1930s at the dawn of new technology when Bakelite dial phones are a big technological advancement. Like the mall commentary, it's a lot more subtle than having Nancy making another speech about race relations in America.
There is some sexual commentary, although it's kept in the background. Nancy gives a speech to Donar about a male god among women, and there's one shot that has Donar lifting weights in his dressing room, surrounded by pictures of naked and near-naked weightlifters. The suggestion being Donar isn't fully heterosexual.
There's also humor, with both Wednesday and Donar being surprised there are Friends of Germany. And wondering why they wear twisted-arm crosses. So two of the gods Hitler supposedly revered have no idea what Nazis are. There's also a bit where Wednesday is dozing, Shadow wakes him up, and Wednesday says what he was doing was no Odin Sleep. I like Wednesday more as the god who casually says god-like things and doesn't care if Shadow believes him. Rather than the secretive Wednesday who refuses to tell Shadow anything.
I wouldn't say the reveal Columbia is also a goddess is a major surprise. But writer Adria Long does as well with it as possible under the circumstances. It also allows for Columbia to come back somewhere down the road. Or at least reveal what happened to her.
The whole thing leads up to how a god can die: by killing himself. It's another of the dead-end conversations on the show where Wednesday knows something and won't tell Shadow. But at least we get an episode dedicated to it rather than a short exchange of question/non-answer. And there's a reason for Wednesday keeping the secret: it's personal. Mostly in season two, Wednesday is portrayed as keeping Shadow in the dark just to be a jerk.
"Donar" is definitely a keeper, and as I noted before, the best so far. It helps that it keeps the main cast at a relative minimum, so there are no diversions with Samir, the Djinn, Bilquis, and Ibis. I like the characters, but they often feel extraneous to the main story. They worked better last year as guest stars rather than this year when their promotion to main stars seems to mean the creative team feels obliged to toss them into every episode. Having them as more upfront characters this year means we've had more subplots and quests: Samir and the Djinn get Gungnir and a piece of the World Tree, Bilquis deals with being between both sides while trying to get a new church, Ibis cuts up bodies and talks profoundly.
But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?
Written by Gislef on Apr 15, 2019