In Touch with American Gods

The Gods are going to war. No one knows, or can say for certain at this point, who will remain standing when the dust settles. Some Gods are vying for staying power, such as the ancient Goddess of Love, Bilquis (Yetide Badaki). Some Gods are struggling for a wider berth and recognition as New Gods, such as Mr. World (Crispin Glover). In between stand we hapless mortals; at once the cause of the Gods themselves, due to the power of our combined beliefs, but also their fools and playthings. For two seasons now viewers have been enthralled by the altruism, decadence and disappointments of the key deities portrayed in American Gods.

We see the world of the ancient Gods and the new Gods not only open up, but collide, and we see this all through the eyes of Shadow Moon. It sounds a bit conspicuous for a name, you may think. Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is an obvious yet ominous word play which points to the ancient tale of Odin’s wolf, who would eat the moon during eclipses, causing a great darkness to fall. This could foretell not only Shadow Moon’s future involvement in the war of the Gods, but also the actual powers that the demigod could manifest.

Neil Gaiman’s original novel detailed the antics of Odin, aka Mr. Wednesday (the day of the week which bears his name) and, while Gaiman is one of my favorite authors due to his incredible and ethereal epic Sandman graphic series,  sadly I’ve never read the American Gods novel. I also do not believe it necessary to have done so in order to enjoy the show, but you really should keep an open mind.

A bit of Gaiman’s trademark ethereal style is brought to play throughout the run of American Gods so far. When something miraculous occurs, it is downplayed to appear almost as if imagined, as if it happened only in a dream. There is an almost spiritual quality to the direction and stop-motion camera wizardry. The consequences of said miraculous occurrences, however, are all too real. For example, Laura Moon (Emily Browning) is killed in a car accident and is magically or mystically brought back to… sentience. I hesitate to say ‘life’ because for all intents and purposes she is a zombie. Technically: a revenant. All the good and the bad which goes along with being a zombie, as well:  the super strength, the milky eyes, the rot and resulting horrendous smell that you can almost perceive through the screen. Browning portrays the very flawed Moon with sublime grace and gritty realism. It’s only near the end of her search for Shadow that we learn the very reason she died in the first place. I won’t spell it out for you but Odin, the ‘oldest son of a bitch’ (a nickname given to him by other Gods as well as some of his worshipers), is at the very least a person of interest.

American Gods pulls you in with every character. Odin is best played by Ian McShane, hands-down. While I admired Anthony Hopkins’ turn at the old Nordic God in the Thor film franchise, there is simply something sleazy but lovable about the cheeky Mr. Wednesday in the hands of McShane. We’re lucky to have him! From his turn as Swearengen in Deadwood: The Movie (2019) to his role in the recent re-imagining of Hellboy (2019), his reprisal as Winston in John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019) to his communal-living, hippy-dippy role as Ray on Game of Thrones (2016), Ian McShane has been a busy man of late. Watching his role in American Gods, however, reminds me of what a truly gifted actor this man is. Odin is sneaky, conniving and temperamental, but in equal measure also warm, sincere and generous. Odin is the ultimate used-car salesman of magic, the original devil with which humanity had to make its first bargains.

Of the older Gods we also glimpse Kali, Anansi, Anubis, Vulcan, and ‘Mad Sweeney’ himself; Lugh of the Long Arm, a fallen Celtic deity played with tarnished grace and sympathy by Pablo Shreiber. All the intricacies and formalities of these ancient deities make for fascinating television, and not simply for history or religious buffs, either. When you see all of these ancients come together for a round-table, you see their true humanity seeping through.

These antiquated Gods have raw feelings, sensitive emotions (such as Orlando Jones’ Anansi), very long memories, and they hold grudges for eons. The ensemble of actors whom have brought these roles to life are perfectly cast, in my opinion. Some of my favorite performances come from the ‘Lesser’ and ‘New’ Gods; Gillian Anderson, Kristin Chenoweth, Corbin Bernsen, Peter Stormare and Cloris Leachman, just to name a few of the amazing talents which lend gravitas and believably to their roles.

Ultimately, I believe what we get out of American Gods is the same concept which intrigued the ancient Greeks: the idea that we are like our Gods. Or, that our Gods are very much like us.

Therefore, our God(s) can have bad tempers, can be fallible, can be very much… human. And what would Gods do with human motivations? I suppose time will tell. These ‘New Gods’ on the block: Media, World, Technology (even Money itself, is a ‘New God’), they are rallying, marshaling their forces against the ‘old guard’, ancient Gods such as Odin, Czernobog and Bilquis.

The battle is joined.

After two years unrivaled on television in creativity and unparalleled in complexity, American Gods is poised to make its greatest mark yet on epic television with their highly anticipated third season. I certainly will be watching!

I highly recommend you do the same.

Article by Zak Standridge