Sunday, March 10, 2019

REVIEW: 'American Gods' - Mr. Wednesday Assembles the Old Gods to Make His Pitch for War in 'House on the Rock'

Starz's American Gods - Episode 2.01 "House on the Rock"

Following the epic showdown at Easter's party, Mr. Wednesday continues his quest to pitch the case for war to the Old Gods. Meanwhile, Mr. World plans revenge and Technical Boy goes on the hunt for Media.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the season premiere of Starz's American Gods.

"House on the Rock" was written by Jesse Alexander & Neil Gaiman and directed by Christopher J. Byrne

The first season of American Gods aired in the spring of 2017. Two years later, the drama is back for its second season. During that extended hiatus, the drama swirling around the behind-the-scenes antics of the show became more well-known and recognizable than the actual content on screen. The first season certainly had its ups-and-downs. Some episodes were strong while others were just meandering around. However, the visuals were always dazzling and beautiful to the point where it could cover up some of the shaky storytelling. And then, series creators Bryan Fuller and Michael Green were fired. They were let go for going over budget and straying too far from Neil Gaiman's source material. And yet, they were the creatives actually passionate about this property and adapting it for the screen. They had a distinct vision that brought so many interesting elements and talented actors to the table. Gillian Anderson and Kristin Chenoweth chose not to return this season as a sign of support for the previous showrunners. Jesse Alexander was tapped to replace them at the helm. He seemed like a hire that could deliver the same kind of energy as a Fuller project without having to be in business with the creator himself. He previously worked with Fuller on Hannibal and Star Trek: Discovery. But the stories continued to be written about how production of the new season was mired with even more conflicts and complications with scripts being heavily rewritten and Alexander also being fired for the way that he managed everything. As such, this show has been known as a mess for those covering the industry for awhile now. It seemed impossible that the creative side of things could ultimately outweigh all of the drama happening behind-the-scenes. That means expectations for these new episodes should be tempered. The audience shouldn't expect too much. And yes, this premiere does make it seem like the show is trying to copy what worked in the first season without really adding anything new or comprehensive to the proceedings. In fact, it mostly embraces some tropes that are really annoying and problematic. That means this may have been nothing more than a waste of time for everyone involved. That's very disappointing. It's still great seeing some actors ham things up on the screen. However, that doesn't make the audience completely invested in what is happening to their individual characters. Ian McShane may be fantastic as Mr. Wednesday. However, he is still mostly talking in vague terms about this war with the New Gods while fully expecting everyone to just blindly follow him. It's a trick that is still working for Shadow Moon. But that's a dynamic that was annoying and played out last season. And so, it's only infuriating to see it once again be the main focus of this first episode back.

In fairness, the show does capture some beautiful imagery while at the House on the Rock. That is such a unique location that has never really been explored in this way before. Sure, the show also states that it has these powerful and mystic properties that allow the Old Gods to feel strong and majestic once more. Of course, that also makes it seem as if this conversation is happening in a dream state just to unnerve Shadow and the audience even though the situation is the same exact conversation that has been happening for a long time now. Sure, it's meaningful to see Wednesday actually dressed up as the traditional understanding of Odin. The other Gods are celebrating as their true essences as well. However, it's all done so that Shadow continues to question if any of this is really happening. The narrative is way past that point though. His wife has come back from the dead and is incredibly strong. These gods have proven their strength in the real world as Shadow knows it. Shadow has to belief in something at this point in order for the narrative to have any stakes at all. He has to be falling into the temptation of Wednesday's message despite how manipulative he is obviously being. Laura and Mad Sweeney can see that. That's why they are kept out of this meeting. But again, too much of this conflict is built around the overarching discussion that Wednesday believes needs to be had instead of the individual character beats. Sure, some of that can possibly be because the show is taking stock of which characters are still left around to use. Media is missing from the dynamic that Mr. World and Technical Boy have. That doesn't stop them from firing the opening shots of this war. They shoot at the Old Gods as they have assembled at a diner after visiting the House on the Rock. In that moment though, it seems as if Zorya has been killed just so Wednesday and Czernobog can have big reactions to it and have a personal investment in this war against the New Gods. That is such a stereotypical plot development. It may have been because Cloris Leachman only wanted to make a brief appearance this season after the changes behind-the-scenes. The solution just doesn't serve the story well at all because it appears as if the show is no longer as imaginative as it requires the audience to think that it is. This conflict also means that Shadow is taken by the New Gods. He is flown far away from Laura and the Old Gods. That could be a refreshing way to shake up the foundation of the show. Shadow needs to be taken out of his new element. But there is also so much uncertainty about whether or not that will liven up Shadow as a character. So far, he has remained painfully boring.