American Gods: Season Two Review
Picking up not long after where Season One left off, this season of American Gods continues the show's deep dive into the guts of a war of divine proportions.
Once again we are following Shadow Moon on his job as 'bodyguard' to Mr Wednesday, now revealed to be Odin, as they traipse across small town America recruiting for the battles to come. Their first stop is The House on the Rock, where they meet with various gods from a variety of different cultures.
The most striking element of this episode is the contrast between the gods' lives in America, and their forms shown during the meeting on the carousel. Just as the memories of the gods themselves have begun to fall though the cracks of society, so have their lives. Kali, the great Hindu goddess of both nurture and destruction, runs diners and motels - with the hungry patrons as her worshippers (Kali's inclusion in the host of old gods is somewhat confusing considering the large amount of practicing Hindus still in the world, but we will overlook that for now). The uniform of a motel worker is far from the flames and blood soaked swords of Kali's goddess form. This is the same for many of the old gods, sitting in worn out clothes and often outdated fashion in Kali's diner at the end of the episode.
This contrast continues throughout the season, as Shadow and Wednesday visit more and more of the forgotten areas of America - from rundown small towns to out of favour shopping malls. The reason this aspect of the show stuck with me is because it shows just how depressing it is to be forgotten. Though most of the gods are making their way through the world, one way or another, none of them are close to their former glory. So it seems fitting that their surroundings would reflect that.
These surroundings also bring the other forgotten people of America to the forefront. They show how the America that is usually seen, the slick skyscrapers and cosy suburbs, even the urban ghettos, isn't the reality of everyone living there. It exemplifies how the Old Gods live in the spaces that the world has abandoned, just as they live in a world where their worshippers have abandoned them.
Visuals in general are something that American Gods does impeccably, from setting, to costume, to lighting. What we witness on screen is put together so well and so precisely, it enhances the story tenfold. One example of this is the lighting outside the funeral home in Cairo. When Shadow and Wednesday are leaving for an errand the lighting is grey and boring, indicating the somber nature of the funeral home. However, later in the season, when Shadow awakens on top of a crypt the sun is sending a bright warm light through the trees, bringing life to the previously dull and creep environment. The sunlight radiates from behind Laura as she watches Shadow wake up, mimicking the way that Shadow glows for her. This is almost a mockery of what she sees, or maybe a revelation. As, for the whole show, Laura has put so much importance on Shadow because of this glow, and to Shadow, Laura used to exude that glow for him, she was his everything. And yet this scene is where that all falls apart, as Shadow tell Laura she can no longer call him 'puppy', the uncomfortable nickname she has for him.
This scene also links nicely to the most endearing plot thread of this season, the relationship between Laura and Mad Sweeney. Now, neither Laura nor Sweeney are nice people, but this season had me rooting for them much more than before. Though this was mainly because of Sweeney's story, as Laura is still an asshole.
As the season progresses we gradually learn more about why Sweeney is 'mad', and what his past actually is. We go back further than the story of him following a worshipper to America. We discover he was a king, not just to mortals, but to the old gods of Ireland. We see his fall from grace as he refuses to trust the church, and is cursed for it. And, finally, we see him die.
These trips down memory lane, paired with the increasingly obvious fact that he has fallen in love with Laura, make Sweeney much more sympathetic than the swearing, boozing, bar brawler introduced in the first episode. In showing how Sweeney is a God, one who once rivaled Odin in seniority, American Gods somehow manages to humanise him. His weaknesses and motivations are shown, as is his ability to love. This made his death one of the saddest moments of the season. However, there is hope, as who knows what Laura may do with his body now that she has carried it away from the other Gods in Cairo.
The dynamic between Laura and Sweeney also served to make this season more enjoyable than the last. Watching Season One I was often tempted to simply skip to the parts with Shadow and Wednesday, as I found Laura to be incredibly annoying, but this didn't happen in Season Two. Every thread was important and captivating, all of the drip fed information utterly tantalising. With the visuals to match the plot, this season was a joy to watch unfold.
Speaking of drip feeding, another part of this season that I thoroughly enjoyed was Shadow's ever thinning patience. Though he continued to follow Wednesday and pine after Laura (at least up until the final episode), he also reached breaking point, demanding answers from those around him. This all lead up to the final reveal of the season, something that I had suspected for a while; Shadow is Wednesdays son.
The revelation explains a lot. Like why Wednesday chose Shadow to be his bodyguard, and went to such lengths to make it happen. And yet, even with this and all of the other development that happened over the eight episodes, there is so much more that is still unknown, so many mysteries to be solved and secrets to be uncovered. This leaves the story wide open for Season Three, not making it feel at all forced or over stretched, as is the case for some other shows.
Season Two of American Gods is a beautiful and eclectic marriage of visuals, audio and storytelling that ramps up the quality and intrigue from Season One. It touches on issues of race and class with it depictions of the forgotten areas of America. The discussion of racism is especially captivating and poignant, and is something that I hope will continue throughout the rest of the show. The story does not shy away from anger or love or sadness, and shows some of the darker sides of existence in brilliant splashes of colour. It is truly stunning, and I am poised at the edge of my seat for more.