Two years have passed since we’ve last stepped into the world of American Gods and the road to the second season has been struck with creative turbulence to say the least. Showrunners Bryan Fuller & Michael Green left the show halfway through writing the second season and they were soon followed by two of the biggest names in the ensemble, Gillian Anderson and Kristen Chenoweth. From there Jesse Alexander took hold of the reigns and after multiple production issues he soon left the project as well leaving the second season without any clear showrunner.
So what does that all mean for the sophomore season that premieres this Sunday on Starz? So far Season Two has promised to return to form and stay true to the beloved novel. At times, the first season was bogged down by backstory in ways that really halted the narrative. Even Ian McShane recently acknowledged that those flaws, as well as the behind the scenes drama, has led the producers and massive ensemble to create an even better second season.
The premiere episode wastes no time in jumping directly back into the action that the entire first season was building up to. Almost immediately the old gods assemble for the highly anticipated meeting at The House on the Rock hidden deep in an aesthetic of American mythology.
All of the buildups fooled audiences into putting too much faith into the meeting of the gods and in the end, it didn’t clue us in on anything new. Maybe the wait was simply too long or maybe it can be blamed on a lack of imagination but the journey was much more interesting than the result. Bilquis seducing the rest of the ensemble, Jinn and Salim being reunited, an out of this world carousel – were the highlights of the episode and hopefully were the guiding lights for the rest of the season. We were also introduced to new gods, most notably Mama-Ji representing Kali the Hindu Goddess of death and liberation.
At its best, the first season painted a picture of immigration in America especially that universal feeling of loneliness in a new land and the inner battle between your home culture and a new life in the United States. Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), a modern interpretation of the Queen of Sheba, wanders through the country as her artifacts have been stolen and trapped in a museum. As a way to regain power she literally consumes men and women sexually. Salim (Omid Abtahi) is a closeted Muslim on a business trip and takes on a new identity after a passionate night with a Jinn and then travels cross country to chase happiness with the man he lives. We were briefly introduced to the old god Vulcan who effortlessly assimilated into America as a white man embracing modern gun culture.
In its second season, the show finally starts to elaborate on the new forms of nostalgia that seem to permeate our memories. The unique western Americana that pops up in the premiere through the country western soundtrack, a road trip through flyover states that comes with the aesthetic of a postcard, a classic diner equipped with a buffet, and an exploration of Wisconsin’s The House on the Rock fully equipped with the elaborate toys of an old school boardwalk including a fortune machine and carousel.
The second season premiere falls short when it fails to dive deeper into the world of the new gods with the same excitement. Crispin Glover fits perfectly as their leader Mr. World, a manifestation of globalization. After spending so much time diving into the histories of our favorite characters the new gods can come across as tiringly cartoonish. Or it might just be that a giant hole is waiting to be filled after the departure of Gillian Anderson who is replaced later in the season by Kahyun Kim in a character rebranded as the New Goddess of New Media.
Like many of the great fantasies, we’ve come to admire American Gods has had issues with its gateway protagonist into this new world. Shadow has always been about 17 steps behind the audience and it’s quickly becoming an aggravating element of the show. Instead, the show has put much more weight into his dead wife played by Emily Browning. At first, she came across as nothing more than a frustrating distraction but as her role progressed she became the more interesting question of mortality for the audience to engage with. The idea of a character coming back from the dead to right their wrongs and gain a better grasp on the world is not necessarily new ground but Emily Browning makes it feel like fresh. It’s also worth noting that her chemistry with Mad Sweeney is stronger than any scene with her actual husband and the best deviation from the novel.
Moving forward American Gods has finally been given the room to explore the rest of its story and the season has plenty of potential. Equipped with the blueprint of Gaiman’s novel but now with the freedom to breathe and play with its ensemble beyond its backstory. We’ve already been promised more adventures between Salim and Jinn and we all have high hopes for wherever their relationship takes them. As a woman whose power was stripped from her by intimidated men Bilquis’s story has the power to resonate in a really powerful way as long as writers don’t lose sight of that and turn her into an endlessly exotic sex symbol. And either way, whether the season lands or not at least it will be visually engaging.
The second season of ‘American Gods’ premieres Sunday March 10th on Starz