REVIEW: American Gods, S2 Ep1 – House on the Rock

American Gods Season 2 2019

American Gods begins its second season with the gathering of the old gods at the historic House on the Rock as Mr. Wednesday tries to convince them to join him in the war against the new gods.

A lot has happened behind the scenes of American Gods since the show premiered in 2017. With the change in showrunner, some differences in the execution of Gaiman’s vision were expected. When compared with Fuller and Green’s more otherworldly and visual approach, the new season, at least based on the premiere, does seem fairly straightforward. The aesthetic of season one was certainly more adventurous and unconventional while, as one reviewer notes, season two feels more grounded. While others have mourned this change in the show, I believe it’s too early to be making too many comparisons. For the moment, I did enjoy the season premiere, particularly the scenes set in the House on the Rock and the moments leading up to it.

While less spectacular than the carousel sequence, the brief scenes of the strange group on the road – Shadow, Mr. Wednesday, Laura, and Mad Sweeney – were gold. One very subtly sees the awkwardness among them and the varied dynamics between each couple. Each one of them has a different motive for being there and one senses that each is simply waiting for the opportune moment to strike. Except for Shadow, who is just along for the ride, in more ways than one, and whose wonder and growing belief fuel the show.

American Gods S2Ep1cThey meet up at the sprawling complex of House on the Rock, a labyrinthine carnival with fascinating displays and an intriguing history. Mr. Nancy is there as well as the Djinn (with Salim following on his heels). Bilquis is also there, though she had not been invited. Wednesday suspects her but also welcomes another potential ally. Other familiar faces include Czernobog and Zorya Vechernyaya.

As the group goes “backstage” after a psychedelic carousel ride, Shadow finds himself in an ancient hall where all the old gods debate, while appearing in their original forms, glowing, burning, smoldering while the hapless mortal watches in awe. Several new faces are shown but not named. The only new character to speak is Mama Ji, a Hindu goddess of war, who is opposed to starting any conflict with the new gods.

American Gods S2Ep1bDuring the TCAs, the American Gods cast talked about how impressive the House on the Rock scenes would be and I have to say that these did not disappoint. One feels like this part of the episode stayed true to the show’s otherworldly aesthetic.

The villains of the piece, at least from one perspective, are the new gods, Mr. World and Technical Boy, who have also recruited Bilquis to be their spy and double agent. The episode opened with them plotting to shake things up at the meeting of the old gods and to remind them of who is truly in power. The scenes with the new gods feel perfunctory and bland, probably because the new gods themselves are less exciting and dynamic than their ancient counterparts (with the exception of Gillian Anderson’s Media, who, sadly, will not be appearing this season.)

American Gods S2Ep1cAfter the ethereal gathering in Odin’s memory, Shadow finds himself in a regular diner where all the human versions of the gods share a meal together. While admiring the ordinariness of this encounter and even exchanging a few words with Czernobog, Shadow also has a quick chat with his dead wife, who warns him that Mr. Wednesday is dangerous. An interesting dynamic is emerging among these characters where Shadow is striking out on his own and following Wednesday’s questionable schemes; Laura is determined to protect him while gradually realizing that he isn’t her “puppy” anymore; and Mad Sweeney is following Laura, ostensibly to get his coin back but also because he seems to have developed a bond with the corpse.

The whole thing explodes when an assassin shoots up the diner, murdering several gods in the process, most tragically, the evening star,  Zorya Vechernyaya. As Wednesday cradles her in his arms and Czernobog curses the one who killed her, Laura goes off in search of Shadow and realizes that he has been taken by mysterious forces. The first shot has been fired and the war between the American Gods has begun.