Man, this episode is exactly what I wanted to see coming out of last week’s episode. While, on the whole, I liked last week’s episode quite a bit, I did feel like it didn’t progress the overall plot forward enough, instead focusing most of its time developing Shadow’s backstory some. Muninn, thankfully, does the exact opposite; quite a lot happens in this episode and much of it is really exciting. We’re introduced to New Media, Sam Blackcrow, and Argus and a whole lot of pieces are moved around the metaphorical chess board as the season continues down its current path. I really, really, really dug this episode. A lot. (NOTE: THERE ARE SPOILERS FOR THE EPISODE WITHIN THIS REVIEW!)
Episode 2×03: Muninn (Written by Heather Bellson, directed by Deborah Chow)
As he is tracked by Mr. World (Crispin Glover), Shadow (Ricky Whittle) makes his way to Cairo, thanks to a ride from Sam Black Crow (Devery Jacobs). Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) slyly gains Laura’s (Emily Browning) help in forging an alliance with a powerful god. Mr. World introduces Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) to New Media (Kahyun Kim) and assigns them a very important task.
Picking up immediately where the previous episode, The Beguiling Man, left off, Muninn sees Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) gathering Laura’s various body parts in the aftermath of the train crash caused by Mr. Wednesday’s sacrifice of his car – Betty. From there, Wednesday, Sweeney, and Laura go to Mr. Ibis’ (Demore Barnes) funeral parlor, where Mr. Ibis stitches Laura back together. Wednesday needs Laura’s help to find an old friend of his – Argus (Christian Lloyd), reincarnated as the American God of Surveillance – and woo him over to the side of the Old Gods. It is here that we get another of Mr. Ibis’ famous “Coming to America” stories, though executed in a massively different way than they were in season one. Here, Ibis sets up a pretty fun “slideshow” contraption that shows some animation-style images as he discusses the history of Argus and how he arrived in America. It’s an interesting evolution of the “Coming to America” vignettes and a really effective way to continue keeping them a part of the show without killing the momentum of the episode.
After some classic manipulation from Mr. Wednesday, Laura ditches Mad Sweeney and goes with Wednesday on his quest to find Argus. This, of course, turns out to be a total ruse from Mr. Wednesday. In actuality, he doesn’t want to talk to Argus – he wants to take Argus out of the picture as punishment for being a double agent. And he wants Laura to kill him. This whole plotline is a really fun one; I really dug the episode in season one where Wednesday killed Vulcan for doublecrossing the Old Gods, so Wednesday killing another god for doing the same thing here makes perfect sense. It also is a great way to explore the understandably antagonistic relationship between Wednesday and Laura while also giving Laura some more character development. Here, we see her continuing to struggle with her life after death. She insists that Shadow is what she is living for, but Wednesday seeks to prove her wrong – and, perhaps, succeeds. It’s a really interesting development for the plot and it’s executed remarkably well. McShane and Browning have some great chemistry in their shared scenes and the way this subplot concludes is perfect in a dramatic sense while also feeling super bittersweet. It’s fab.
Meanwhile, poor Shadow has been left behind at the scene of the train wreck, later being given advice from Muninn, one of Wednesday’s crows, to go to Cairo (Illinois) and find the Egyptians. In order to get to Cairo, Shadow ends up hitching a ride with Sam Black Crow – a young woman who catches him trying to con the owner of a small gas station out of some money. Sam ends up taking Shadow right to the doorstep of Mr. Ibis’ funeral parlor, engaging in a number of fairly philosophical conversations with Shadow along the way. The introduction of Sam Black Crow (for some reason listed in the credits as “Sam Blackcrow”) is something that fans of the novel have been eagerly awaiting since the show began. The character, who plays a fairly small role in the original novel, has become a fan-favorite over the years and audiences have been chomping at the chance to see her realized on screen. Actress Devery Jacobs is perfectly cast as Sam. She and Ricky Whittle play very well off of each other and each of their scenes in this episode are a delight to watch. After all, it’s always nice to see Shadow share a scene with someone who isn’t trying to hurt or manipulate him. Sam Black Crow isn’t in a whole lot of the episode – maybe 10-15 minutes, tops – and her scenes play out much the same as they do in the novel (except with the roles reversed; in the novel, she is hitchhiking and Shadow gives her a ride), but she definitely makes an impression. In the novel, the character makes a reappearance later on in the story, so I can only hope that we’ll see more of Sam (and Devery Jacobs) in the show. Because this character is a lot of fun.
The rest of the episode focuses on three plotlines: the first of these is Salim (Omid Abtahi) and the Jinn’s (Mousa Kraish) quest to retrieve Gungnir – Odin’s spear – from Iktomi (Julian Richings). Their quest takes them to the Corn Palace, which winds up being another roadside attraction that seems to be nothing more than a glorified strip club. They succeed in obtaining Gungnir and quickly ride their motorcycle right out of the episode. Their scene, though short, is still a whole lot of fun. The chemistry between Abtahi and Kraish is electric, as always, and it’s a lot of fun seeing Salim continue to come to grips with the world that the Jinn really lives in. The next of these subplots consists of a series of short vignettes featuring Mad Sweeney attempting to get to New Orleans. There are only a few of them and they’re mostly continuations of Sweeney’s ever-worsening luck, a plotline that was explored a bit more in-depth last week, so the inclusion of these vignettes doesn’t do much to additionally further it – though, a lovely gag is set up as Sweeney ends up hitching a ride with a Christian Rock band to New Orleans.
The biggest of these three subplots is the introduction of New Media – and the subsequent quest that she and Tech Boy are sent on by Mr. World. Argus, it turns out, has aligned himself with Tech Boy, but Mr. World needs Argus to upgrade himself even further, so he sends Tech Boy and New Media to figure the situation out. Once there, New Media seemingly betrays Tech Boy and Mr. World by trying to align herself with Argus, prompting Tech Boy to allow Laura’s murder of Argus to happen unstopped. The big news here is the first few scenes featuring Kahyun Kim as New Media. Narratively, she is technically a new character – she is the Goddess of Social Media – but, really, she is just the new incarnation of Gillian Anderson’s Media, just focusing more on social media than Golden Age TV and movies as social media is far more relevant these days. That’s not to say, however, that Kahyun Kim is just a replacement for Gillian Anderson; she most definitely isn’t. From her very first bit of dialogue, it’s clear that Kahyun Kim is bringing her own take on this character. If you look closely at her performance, you can see hints of Gillian Anderson’s Media in there – especially in the way she tries to manipulate Argus -, but there is also plenty of new things being brought to the role. From a writing standpoint, I’m not sure the writers fully have their feet underneath the character. At the moment, she sounds a bit too much like Tech Boy – though, I suppose that’s understandable given the closeness of their realms of worship. I fully suspect this will stop being an issue as the character is developed further; it’s always tricky to introduce a new character like this and Heather Bellson – the writer of this episode – does an admirable job at doing so. Ultimately, Kahyun Kim’s performance is what makes the character work, though, and I am very excited to see her in future episodes.
All in all, Muninn is a superb episode of American Gods. It’s clear that, with this episode, the new behind-the-scenes team are really starting to find their feet. The dialogue feels a lot sharper than it has in the previous two episodes, the plot is advanced a lot more than it previously had been, and new characters are introduced and developed with excellent results. While last week’s episode felt like a lot of setup with little payoff, this week’s episode started to deliver some of that payoff. We see Shadow start to fight back against Wednesday in the final scene, we get some more development for him through his scenes with Sam Black Crow, we get some more development for Laura through her scenes with Wednesday, we get to see Wednesday continue to be a manipulative bastard as he expertly moves a whole bunch of chess pieces across the metaphoric chess board that is this show, and it’s also really nice getting to see what Mr. World and the New Gods are up to – something we never got to see much of in the novel. Ultimately, this is just a great episode. It sets up the next episode to continue to pay off on some of these character arcs that have been established in the previous episodes and I continue to be very excited to see how the rest of this season plays out.
4.5 out of 5 wands.