American Gods Season 2 Review
Are we ready for war yet?
The visually opulent but painfully languid dreamscape that brings author Neil Gaiman's novels to life returns for a second season on Amazon.The first season of American Gods relied heavily on the talents of Bryan Fuller (the mastermind behind the exquisite Hannibal TV series) to adapt fever dream author Neil Gaiman's American Gods tales, arguably miscasting its blank-faced lead actor (Hollyoaks' Ricky Whittle) but making up for it with a fantastic supporting cast headlined by Ian McShane (who, post-Deadwood, can do no wrong), but also including the likes of Gillian Anderson, Emily Browning, Pablo Schreiber, and Peter Stormare.
Fuller already had the visual acuity nailed from his Hannibal days, and whilst the first season was very slow-paced, colourful character-building work, it finished with a nice culmination of well-laid ground-work, as its tale of rising Old Gods and threatened New Gods in modern day America ended with battle lines being drawn.
the second season appears to be a seamless extension of the first, with some stunning visuals and a suitably brooding display of Old War power
Unfortunately, Fuller would depart the show as showrunner halfway through writing the second season's scripts, taking with him co-showrunner Michael Green, and replacement Jesse Alexander lasted even less time, leaving the second season without any firm guiding hand behind it. Worse still, it makes the fatal mistake of not capitalising on the culmination of the first season (i.e. the build up to war) and instead continuing on what feels like a potentially endless recruitment drive for some as-yet-undated day when the long-gestating war finally breaks out.
Thankfully, for all the changes and challenges behind the scenes (which also include the loss of key cast members, including Anderson, but unfortunately not including Whittle), the second season appears to be a largely seamless extension of the first, with some stunning visuals on offer and a suitably brooding display of simmering Old War power.
After the climactic events of the first season, where Mr Wednesday - Ian McShane's sneaky, scheming Old God - revealed his full powers, the second season starts with him calling forth a war council of Old Gods who are prepared to fight against the New Gods. Cue lots of deliberating and discussions, and plenty of displays of shimmering fire in the Old World dreamscape where they meet.
American Gods always teeters on the brink of being pretentious, vacuous, visually opulent but narratively vacant nothingness, promising so very very much, but delivering next to nothing, and yet drawing you back in with the hint that something may be just around the corner if you just hold on a little longer. In the meantime, it dazzles you with its majesty of shimmering, vibrant colours and otherworldly landscapes; seductive Gods hiding in plain sight, and moments of interstitial tension where - almost universally - nothing actually happens. The exception to all of this was the climax of the first season, dropping the hammer to signal that perhaps the war had finally begin.
American Gods always teeters on the brink of being pretentious, vacuous, visually opulent but narratively vacant nothingness
So it's a shame that the second season starts off almost as slow as the first, with the first episode - at least by the end of it - suggesting that maybe now's the time, although if you've been burnt by thinking that before it's understandable to still be cynical about it now.
McShane is still great value for money, thankfully taking centre stage over Whittle's still-vacant Shadow Moon, whose stupidity is actually a source of further amusement in this episode, and enough key players return (Browning, Stormare and villain Crispin Glover) to keep the proceedings engaging, but American Gods has a way to go if it wants to capitalise on all the painfully slow and protracted world-building it has done so far, and if it proceeds along at this same snail's pace, it may well not last the proposed 5 seasons and end up delivering none of what it has so clearly set out to (eventually) deliver. Few shows could come as close as this to bringing Neil Gaiman's fever dream ideas to life, but visual decadence only buys you so much time, and American Gods is in great need of some of that full-on War that it's been building to for oh so long. Ah well, maybe in next week's episode.
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