American Gods Season Two: House on the Rock

American Gods began its second season last week.

Let’s talk about it!

But first we need to have some behind the scenes discussion, just like in the show itself. Bryan Fuller is no longer the show runner for this season. He was let go after writing a couple of this season’s episodes.

American Gods is taking new steps forward today, though; Jesse Alexander, who worked with Fuller on Hannibal and Star Trek: Discovery, has been officially named as its new showrunner. Meanwhile, the six scripts Green and Fuller had already written for the show’s second season are allegedly set to be tossed out, with Alexander and Gaiman returning to square one as they fight to get the series back up and running for its anticipated January 2019 return.

  ——  https://www.avclub.com/the-bryan-fuller-american-gods-breakup-was-apparently-e-1822682450

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The new show runners are the author of the book, Neil Gaiman, and Jessie Alexander (who is also now out). I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’ve never watched a show run by Gaiman before, but I am familiar with Fuller’s output. Those of you who watched last season are going to notice some differences in how the story gets told, and I am not confident that Gaiman will keep that same in your face attitude that was such a great part of the first season. Its possible the show may end up being little more than a lovely spectacle, but I’m not going to give up on the series just because Fuller isn’t on it. I’m really curious about what’s going to happen this season, and the show has already been renewed for a third, so even though I have some doubts that it won’t be as good as Fuller’s version, there might be other compensations. I’m sticking with it.

That Fuller is an openly gay man had a lot of influence on what was depicted on screen, most especially in the episode Head Full of Snow, where we met Salim and the Djinn. Fuller was also responsible for the many subtle layers throughout the season, as he is a master of subtext. There have already been some dramatic changes, because Kristen Chenoweth and Gillian Anderson left the show on Fuller’s heels, and the writers have had to accommodate that. So  we do not pick up where we left off at the end of season one, and Ostara’s actions at the end of that season seems to have had little effect on the world.

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Aside from a brief background news piece, this action has no clear impact on the world, and Easter has apparently turned her back on Wednesday because he ran over some of her bunnies.

And to explain Anderson’s absence from the show:

Meanwhile, the New God Media, who Anderson played with an overabundance of confidence as she threatened and cajoled heroes and villains alike, was apparently so shaken by Wednesday’s display of power that she’s gone into hiding to reinvent herself. 

——-   https://www.theverge.com/2019/3/10/18258816/american-gods-review-season-2-ian-macshane-gillian-anderson-kristin-chenoweth-starz

The story opens with Mr World bruised and battered, being ferried to a secret location by Technical Boy. Media has disappeared, after her run in with Easter, and TB is  tasked with finding her by Mr. World. Mr. World is in this secret location to visit Argus, a secret surveillance site (and an old god of some kind, which is the reason Technical Boy is not allowed to meet him. Mr. World can spy  on the old gods, thanks to the presence of Bilquis, and her tracking device.

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In the meantime, all the gods we saw from the first season make their way to the House on the Rock, along with a couple of hangers on. Sweeney, Laura, Wednesday, and Shadow all travel in the same car and their proximity to each other is not easy. Sweeney hates everyone, and Shadow and Laura are not comfortable with each other.There’s a lot more of the book dialogue in the episode, as Nancy ,and Wednesday talk about the history of the House on the Rock. Neil Gaiman wanted more of the book to be on the screen and he has somewhat got his wish.

We are  introduced to Kali, also known as Mama Ji who is one of my favorite characters from the book, even though she doesn’t get a lot to do beyond some ass kicking, and her speech in this episode.  I hope we get to see more of her this season. As a human, she works in a local hotel, in the humble position of a housemaid. She argues that she doesn’t need a war because her position as an Indian deity is pretty strong, due to the influx of Indian immigrants to America. As am extremely powerful True God, in her own right, she argues that she is in no danger of being forgotten. Whiskey Jack and John Henry also get name checked.

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Bilquis was sent by Mr. World to spy on the meeting of the old gods, and according to Mr. World, make her complicit in his act of betrayal later in the movie, which we’ll get to in a moment. Bilquis was chosen for this because she owes Technical Boy a favor for creating the dating app that has given her new worshipers, and she is definitely feeling her own power, (as we saw last season when she tried to seduce TB), and she is reluctant to do anything for the new gods. They need a way to keep her in line, and one their side, otherwise she is too powerful to control. So ironically, Bilquis ends up in exactly the situation that was talked about in the first season when she was exiled from her homeland, her sexuality now under the control of a men, to be unleashed when they only with their permission.

At the House, the Djinn, who is working security, is confronted by Salim, who tells him that he is following his heart and wants to stay with him. The Djinn wants him to go away because its too dangerous for him to get involved in this war. The Djinn issues everyone coins to a mechanical oracle as a kind of reverse entry fee to the meeting. Bilquis prophecy has something to do with Shadow because when she receives hers, she glances sharply in his direction. Notice the very warm greeting between her and Mr. Nancy vs. the one between her and Wednesday which is decidedly cooler, as she chastises  him that she is older than him, and he neglected to invite her.

Sweeney, Salim, and Laura are not invited to the meeting, and must wait outside, but Shadow gets a ticket and his prophecy is interesting:

Every ending is a new beginning
Your lucky number is none
Your lucky color is dead
Motto: Like father, like son”

If you’ve read the book, then YOU know what that prophecy means but Shadow is mystified.

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The gods all meet up just before the meeting which involves riding the Carousel. Bilquis expresses some interest in who Shadow is. Everyone is always curious about Shadow and what he’s doing hanging out with Wednesday. Bilquis and Nancy admire Shadow’s physique although of course Nancy takes every opportunity to belittle him. Nancy’s son gets a shout out, too. If you haven’t read Anansi Boys, then check it out. Its not directly related to American Gods,  but is related thematically for its theme of  relationships between fathers and sons.

Laura, even though she’s not invited, demands a coin for a prophecy too ,and the Djinn tries to refuse her but is warned away from making Laura angry by Salim and Sweeney. Her prophecy is blank, because she’s already dead. She has no future. Wednesday meets with the eldest Zoraya, The Evening Star, who looks lovely and is played by the magnificent Cloris Leachman, and her brother Czernobog, who is his usual profane self.

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The old gods all meet to ride the Carousel and invite Shadow to ride as well. As I mentioned last season, there are a lot of things the gods do that is related to their worship, like smoking, and prophecy. The act of or the idea of spinning is a theme across several religions, with the most famous being Sufi Whirling, or Whirling Dervishes of Turkey. Whirling in circles is a form of active meditation used  to touch the divine. Even some of the fundamentalist Christian regions mention spinning in circles as a way to connect with God, or a sign that one has connected with God.

This is the purpose of the carousel, as Shadow is connected to the gods by the whirl of the machine, he wakes up in a mental state in which he can see the gods true forms.  The old gods are reluctant to join Wednesday in his war against the new gods, but Shadow gives a rallying speech ,which Wednesday believes will sway some of them.

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After the meeting the old gods meet at a local diner where Shadow get gaslighted by the gods, who pretend the carousel event didn’t occur, and will not answer his question about whether or not they are all gods. Technically, some of the them are just Personages, not gods. I would call them Powers, like Mad Sweeney, and the Djinn. Shadow also  tries to ignore Laura exists, but she is somewhat compensated by Bilquis’ attention to her.

I have no idea if Bilquis has the ability to turn her seduction powers on and off, or if they are simply innate to her, or if they work, or don’t work, on some people. Certainly many of the gods, both old and new, seem able to resists her charms, but ordinary humans cannot. It’s hard to tell if her powers are working on them. First she tries to guess if Laura is some sort of god, because she recognizes that Laura is different from an ordinary human, and seems attracted to her, until she finds out that Laura is married to Shadow, and then kisses her. Beyond looking bashful Laura doesn’t really respond.

 

Bilquis leaves but has signaled the location to Mr. World , who has sent an assassin to take out as many of the old gods as possible. The primary casualty is Zoraya, The Evening Star, who dies in Wednesday arms. Her brother goes on a long rant about what he pans to do to the killer, and its an interesting speech. You  will recognize the prophetic content of it if you’ve read the book.

I really do hope we get to see the Zoraya sister again. Cloris Leachman is a favorite of mine, and her character was hilarious, and played to perfection.

Shadow runs outside to beat up the assassin, but gets abducted by what appears to be a UFO. This is the introduction of another character I do not remember from the book, Mr. Town. He works for the new gods and wants to get to the bottom of who Shadow is, and why he is with Wednesday.

So in the second episode we get to find out a lot about Shadow along with some new questions as well.

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*I am very late with these reviews, but life has a way of delaying one’s well laid out plans and that’s what happened this week.  So for the next couple of weeks, it’s just going to be reviews of shows I’ve been watching, rather than my usual essays. Next week is the premiere of the last episodes of the last season of Into the Badlands, and I’ll be focusing on those, and I have  reviews of Doom Patrol, Upgrade vs. Venom, and  Siren, coming soon.

American Gods Season One: Lemon Scented You

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In tonight’s episode the New Gods and Old Gods meet for the first time in the narrative. This episode is a lot less confusing for some people in that it’s pretty straightforward. (Okay, except for that crawling tree-thing in the police station. ) Anyway since the plot was actually understandable, I can focus on the characters. Namely, the gods who are the four main players in both the book, and the series. They will be joined by others later, like Anansi and Easter, who both have  big parts to play, but for now, the major characters are Technical Boy, Media, Mr. World, Wednesday, and I’m including Shadow.

While we were not confused by the plot, Shadow spent most of the episode reeling and coping with the strangenesses around him. Til now he’s been a real trooper, handling all this batshitness like a boss, but I think this episode knocked him for a loop, because the hits just kept coming. He’s visited by his dead wife, and it’s not a dream; he’s arrested by the police after trusting Wednesday; the man who tried to lynch him apologizes for it; Marilyn Monroe is floating into his jail cell; there’s spiders running around; all the police are massacred; he gets attacked by a giant crawling tree. It’s not that weird stuff hasn’t happened before it just didn’t happen all at once. There was time to digest.

That was all a bit much for one night!

The episode isn’t frantic, or fast paced, but there is a lot to understand. There’s no plot movement but Fuller and Green are very aware that, at this point, the viewers need a breather, so some shit can get spelled out for us, we can take a minute to absorb, see where everybody is standing, and get some idea of the layout.

For four episodes now we’ve had Wednesday telling us of how frightened he is of being forgotten. Remember, the gods don’t die like humans do, there is no afterlife for them. When humans have forgotten about their existence they become nothing, which speaks to their non-corporeal existence. They come from nothing, are only what we make them out to be, and go back to nothing. And we witness this in the prologue of tonight’s episode, in a scene taken directly from the book.

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Nunyunnini (NUN – you – nini) was worshiped by the first people to cross the land bridge to what is now America. Notice the ritual where the priestess calls on the god to inhabit her and how it involves smoke. Remember what I said, in an earlier post, about smoke/and smoking being a part of many summoning rituals, and how when we’re introduced to a lot of these gods and goddesses, on the show,  there is smoking involved.

After facing many hardships, including the death of their priestess by the Buffalo god ( in the book he’s called a spirit of the land) N’s worshipers are offered a new god by the people already living there, in exchange for survival. Eventually, it is never remembered that N was worshiped at all, and  his name is forgotten. This is what Wednesday is afraid of, and this is important because he wants to be relevant again, and his war is one way  to accomplish that. The choice to make this scene animated was a deliberate choice on the part of the creators. Using live action would’ve given a modernity and immediacy to Nunyunnini’s story that would not have reflected its great age.

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Shadow walks into his motel room to see his dead wife and takes it rather well, I think. He seems more focused on her having cheated on him, than the how and why of her return. Shadow is the protagonist of the show, but he’s also our stand-in. Our Everyman character we’re meant to identify with, and through whose mind we’re meant to process the craziness happening on the show. Til now, no one has bothered to explain what’s going on to him. If you’ve read the book, you know more than Shadow, which changes the dynamic of your relationship to the character, than if you didn’t read the book.

Laura is unable to manipulate Shadow the way she has in the past. He stays focused and blunt with her, insisting she answer for having cheated on him with his best friend.. At one point she asks for cigarettes, and after smoking one, (she doesn’t exhale any smoke, which is a nice detail), she kisses Shadow, and her heart beats. Once. (Many viewers found it remarkable that cigarette machines still exist in that world, along with pay phones that still work, but Shadow seems okay with it.) When he goes back to his room you’ll notice the number 55 is prominently displayed. I’m told that if you go to page 55 of the author’s preferred version of the book, you’ll be at the exact scene in the show, where Laura and Shadow meet. Later, in his convo with Laura, Shadow tells her he is no longer her puppy. I know a bunch of people stood and applauded this moment, since they see Laura as a manipulative user, who didn’t love him. I personally don’t care what she was, as long as she’s on his side right now.

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Technoboy is having a meeting with Media, and this is one of my favorite scenes from this episode because I’m a huge Bowie fan. Gillian Anderson turns in a wonderful performance as David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, imparting to TB that he fucked up (when he tried to lynch Shadow), while using nothing but David Bowie song cues, which I thought was pretty clever. Mr. World is mentioned for the first time, requiring that TB apologize to Shadow for what he’s done. Even TB has a master, it seems.

Wednesday’s raven spy knocks on his door, and either snitches to him that Shadow has company, or that the motel is under surveillance. I prefer the former because it just tickles me to think that. If the raven is telling him about Laura, than Wednesday was attempting to get Shadow out of the room and away from her, which is how I initially interpreted that scene. But if the raven was telling him about the police, then he was trying to get Shadow to escape with him before they got caught. It doesn’t work anyway.  They are both promptly arrested and taken to the little podunk police station.

They’re interrogated and Wednesday puts on his forgetful old man act, while at the same time, he completely explains what’s happening, knowing the officer won’t believe him. Shadow refuses to speak at first,  but is finally convinced, by the detective questioning him, that Wednesday has some pretty huge enemies, because they were tipped off to their whereabouts by satellite surveillance photos, and GPS coordinates of their location. Of course not everything in the episode makes sense. Why don’t the police search Shadows motel room if they though he’d stolen money? They didn’t even bother to go inside his room until much later.

While Shadow and Wednesday are being detained, Sweeney finally catches up with Laura, and demands his coin back. One of the funniest moments for me is Laura throwing Sweeney across the room by popping her finger at him. She’s got some idea of her strength now, and no, Laura is not a nice person. She taunts Sweeney about the coin and he tries to choke her in the bathtub. It is then that he is interrupted by the police, who naturally think he’s insane for trying  to choke a dead woman, in a tub full of water. Why the police show up at that particular moment is still a mystery. Is that just more of Sweeney’s bad luck?

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Back at the station, Wednesday is frantic to leave before company arrives. He’s helped by a tiny friend of Compe Anansi,who unlocks his cuffs. But it’s too late. There’s the sounds of fighting and screams from the rest of the station, and Media arrives in the form of Marilyn Monroe, dressed like her character from Some Like It Hot, and while I admire and applaud Gillian Anderson’s mimicry, I have never been impressed by Marilyn. (Personally, I prefer Eartha Kitt.) I think she broke Shadow, because he nearly loses his shit at the sight of I Love Lucy literally floating into the interrogation room. Apparently, Marilyn was the last straw, after his dead wife. Shadow doesn’t regain his equilibrium for the rest of the episode.

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We finally meet Mr World who walks in on glowing floor tiles like Michael Jackson in Billie Jean. It’s a lovely entrance, (☺️) but not as impressive as Anansi’s. World and Media explain to Wednesday that they don’t want a war, and offer him a merger in the form of a missile named after him. But their charms don’t work on him or Shadow. Mr World calls TB who offers an insincere apology to Shadow for lynching him. World offers Shadow the opportunity to knock out a couple of TBs teeth, and Shadow looks appalled, but when TB disrespects Mr. Wednesday, like the little shit that he is, Mr. World gives him the business end of his tongue, then has Media knock those same teeth out with a blown kiss. Shadow gets his offering anyway. The three new gods exit the station.

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Shadow and Wednesday try to escape, but the police show up with Sweeney before they can get out the front door. They head to the back door, but before they reach it,  Shadow is stabbed in the same spot in his side as his earlier wound , by a giant tree creature, that grew out of one of the desks in the station. They escape via the back door into a thick ground fog, that I suspect was conjured, like the snow in the episode Head Full of Snow, by Shadow.

The police who are dropping off Sweeney are alarmed by the silence at the station. They abandon their suspect, and charge into the station,  guns ablazing. Sweeney escapes the patrol car and runs off into the night, determined to get his coin back. Laura has been taken to the local morgue, where she accidentally kills the nightman when she breaks out of one of the drawers. She gets dressed  but not before examining herself in a mirror. A nice little detail is Laura trying to breathe on the mirror, but there’s no moisture, or warmth, in her to create any condensation, so the mirror doesn’t fog. She walks out into the night. She and Sweeney are on another collision course.

Note:

To those of you who haven’t read the book, how is it going? Was this episode at all helpful? I mean I read the book, and have some frame of reference, and  sometimes even  I’m confused, so I can’t imagine what y’all must be thinking if you have no context . Oh, and it turns out that the tree-thing, that attacked Shadow, might have been Yggdrasil. Yggdrasil is an Ash tree that connecting the nine worlds of Norse mythology, the nine worlds consisting of the various heavens, earth, hells, and the  tributaries of knowledge referenced in The Prose Edda. If the tree thing is Yggdrasil then there’s great significance in its attack on Shadow.

 

New Gods vs. Old Gods

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Mr. World is the god of global capitalism, which is the master of media and the internet, which makes him Media’s and Technoboy’s boss. He knows everything. Just by touching Shadow, he knew everything Shadow liked, loved, hated, how many men his momma slept with, and what he looks like when he masturbates. He’s also a world class shapeshifter. Those of you who’ve read the book already know his real name. Crispin Glover is known for playing eccentric characters and he’s perfect here, smooth, polished, charming, and just a little bit unhinged..

Media and Technical Boy are the new gods everyone is worshiping without knowing they’re doing it. As media says, all she requires is time and attention. She’s the god of television, and movies, which is why she keeps showing up as iconic characters, or people who have used the media to great effect. What better person to chastise Technical Boy over his image problem than the master of his own image, David Bowie. Btw, the songs referenced in Media’s conversation with TB are: Starman, Under Pressure, Cat People, Rebel Rebel, Life on Mars, Space Oddity, and Oh, You Pretty Things.

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The New Gods are not corporeal in the same sense as the old gods. The old gods feed off more material things, like blood and flesh, and as Wednesday says, grant boons and wishes to their supplicants. The new gods give nothing back and take the energy and attention of their worshipers. Notice how the old gods are so physical. Lusty, hungry, angry, dirty, sarcastic, violent, in ways the new gods aren’t. The old gods are sensationalist creatures who are messy, emotional, love blood, sex, a good cigar, and  liquor. They enjoy interacting on the physical plane with their subjects. More human than human. Which is entirely in keeping with the eras in which they were created, when humans had more concrete, basic concerns.

The new gods are cool dispassionate creatures. Technical Boy likes to do his dirty in a virtual, bloodless realm of his own control. Media has no real face of her own, and is a consummate shapeshifter herself. They’re not physical the way the old gods are physical. They’re clean, polished, bloodless, and pretty beings, who do not require physical sacrifices, as they feed on far more intangible things, like time sacrificed to them. But, and here is what they have in common with the old ones, they are just as much grifters and con artists. Especially Media. They both promise all manner of things, power, money, sex, but the problem is they don’t actually deliver those things. The old gods, when they are sacrificed to, give back something physical in return for their worship. Bilquis gives unending orgasmic bliss, Odin will help you out of a tight spot, Anansi will tell you the truth. Even the Zorya sisters tell fortunes. Sure, it’s a con, but it’s a real one. The new gods seduce, cajole, and charm,they promise much, but largely give back nothing in exchange. Some of the other new gods like commerce, or the stock market are even less tangible. Those gods don’t exist on the physical plane at all.

Next week we get to meet one of my favorite old gods: Hephaestus, the Roman version of the god of weaponry, Vulcan.

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American Gods

As y’all should be well aware, tomorrow night is the premiere episode of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. TV ads have been hyping the Hell out of this, so I predict that this is going to be cable’s next big hit, and my newest obsession, following close on the heels of Westworld.

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Peter Stormare as Czernobog

 

There are a whole bunch of reason why I know I’m going to love this show. I’m a fan of Neil Gaiman, and have read most, if not all, of his books. I’m also a Bryan Fuller fan. A better marriage between director and writer I couldn’t even make up. The lead character is a Black man named, of all things, Shadow Moon. How cool a name is that? And it features a truly astonishing cast: Ian Mcshane who I fell in love with in Deadwood, is the embodiment of Mr. Wednesday; Orlando Jones as Mr. Nancy is absolutely perfect; Crispin Glover is Mr. World (AKA Loki); Gillian Anderson is Media,; and Fuller didn’t forget the sisters, either , as he cast the actress  Yetide Badaki as Bilquist, a fertility goddess.

 

 

I still haven’t finished the book but that’s okay. I’m 3/4 of the way  through the book and will be finished before the second episode airs. For those of you not into the book experience, who haven’t read it, there’s always the audiobook option, or if you’re really pressed for a primer, Wikipedia gives a complete rundown of the book’s plot, which I can attest is accurate.

In anticipation of the premiere, here! Have some links:

Why You Should Read the American Gods Novel Before Watching the TV Show


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Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday (Odin)

American Gods may have finally nailed the modern-fantasy formula on TV

Come for Ian McShane; stay for a faithful, 16-years-later retelling of Gaiman’s classic.


‘I Thought I Understood America’: Talking With Neil Gaiman About ‘American Gods’

As Starz launches its adaptation of the sprawling Gaiman novel, the show’s creators address its new and unexpected meanings in the Trump era.

By David M. Perry

https://psmag.com/i-thought-i-understood-america-talking-with-neil-gaiman-about-american-gods-5f892dab8711


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Crispin Glover as Mr. World (Loki)

American Gods Is a Gorgeous Mess

The new Starz show, adapted from the 2001 book by Neil Gaiman, is extravagantly ambitious and frequently absurd.

https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/04/american-gods-starz-neil-gaiman-bryan-fuller/524742/


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Ricky Whittle (Shadow Moon)

American Gods Star Ricky Whittle on Becoming a Neil Gaiman Fan and on the Non-Book Season Finale


American Gods: Exclusive First Look at Mr. Nancy as Orlando Jones Talks Anansi BoysSpin-Off

Inside the mind of the African trickster god.

http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/03/american-gods-mr-nancy-anansi-orlando-jones-anansi-boys-spin-off

 


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TV Review: ‘American Gods’ on Starz


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Yetide Badaki as Bilquist

Neil Gaiman’s obsession with identifying the metaphor, in one Americans Gods passage

http://www.vox.com/culture/2017/4/27/15436034/neil-gaiman-american-gods-metaphor


We’ve Seen Your New Favorite Show, and It’s American Gods

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Gillian Anderson as Media

The Gospel According to Neil Gaiman

The beloved author’s American Gods — now a TV show — is more politically relevant than ever. And that scares him.

By

 

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