I honestly don’t know what I was expecting from this second season finale of American Gods but I can pretty confidently say it wasn’t this. And I mean that in the absolute best way humanly possible. The summary provided for the episode was just vague enough that all anybody really knew when going into this episode was that many of our characters would be reeling from the events that happened at the end of the previous episode and that Mr. World and New Media would launch some kind of attack on the nation at large. Aside from that, it was really anybody’s guess. There were certain things that could be inferred based on a basic knowledge of the novel and from events from earlier in the show’s history, but much of this finale was genuinely surprising and very satisfying. (Spoilers for the season 2 finale of American Gods, as well as the novel, follow!)
Episode 2×08: Moon Shadow (Written by Aditi Brennan Kapil and Jim Danger Gray, directed by Christopher J. Byrne)
In the aftermath of Sweeney’s (Pablo Schreiber) death, Wednesday (Ian McShane) has disappeared, and Shadow (Ricky Whittle) is tormented by the night’s events. Those that remain witness the power of New Media (Kahyun Kim) as she is unleashed, and the nation is enveloped in a state of panic brought on by Mr. World (Crispin Glover), who cunningly illustrates the power of fear and belief.
This is one of those episodes that really sort of defies explanation. I mean, the first ten minutes are devoted to this surreal reenactment of the infamous 1938 Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast, and the fear it inspired – all narrated by Mr. World, espousing the use of fear as a belief system. As someone immensely fascinated by that particular event in American history, I loved seeing American Gods touch on it – for a second time, as Media (played then by Gillian Anderson, in her best David Bowie impersonation) mentioned it briefly in the fifth episode of the first season. It also acted as a great setup to the biggest theme of this episode: the media instilling fear in the public. As mentioned in the summary of the episode, New Media and Mr. World would be launching some kind of attack – presumably through the media – on America in order to scare the public; basically, the New Gods’ version of what Wednesday and Easter (Kristen Chenoweth) did in season 1. What we didn’t know was just how they’d do that.
Ever since Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) was “retired” back in the fourth episode of this season, Mr. World had been hinting that he’d make a return – aided by the Silicon Valley tech geniuses. And return, Technical Boy did. Again aided by the CEO – now known as Mr. Xie (Andrew Koji) – from the fourth episode, Technical Boy was reborn in all of his glory in order to hack into the computers at XieComm (the company owned and run by Mr. Xie) and leak a bunch of confidential government secrets to the public, which New Media and Mr. World then used to send the FBI and the Police after Shadow, Wednesday, and Salim (Omid Abtahi) for the various “crimes” they have been accused of over the course of the series (Wednesday and Shadow still being blamed for the deaths of the police officers in the fifth episode of the first season and Salim being accused of stealing a taxi). It’s in this sequence that we really get to see New Media’s power as she literally manipulates the news media into spewing her propaganda, at one point making the newscasters talk directly to Shadow as a way of reintroducing herself. It’s nice to see this new version of Media fully rebooted and displaying her full power and Kahyun Kim plays it marvelously. It’s also really nice to see Bruce Langley back as Tech Boy so soon. I knew they wouldn’t keep him away for long, but it was still delightful to get to see him returned. It nicely rounds out the New Gods’ arc of rebirth that had been introduced early in the season and repeatedly touched upon throughout.
Back at Mr. Ibis’ (Demore Barnes) funeral parlor, Mr. Wednesday has mysteriously gone missing (later turning up, alone, in some restaurant as he watches all the mayhem unfold) and Shadow is still reeling from his role in Sweeney’s death. Laura quickly appears, once again trying to get Shadow to see that Wednesday is bad news. Shadow seems a bit more open to the idea now than he might’ve been in the last episode, but in light of everything that’s happened between him and Laura, he’s still not exactly happy to see her. In a particularly devastating moment (accompanied by a pretty cute flashback), he asks her to stop calling him “Puppy” – her nickname for him. It’s always nice to see Shadow finally start standing up for himself to the various characters who walk all over him – and it’s not the last time this episode that Shadow will (finally) put his foot down about something. As the episode went on and New Media and Mr. World’s attack ramped up, Shadow had to really put his foot down about how he was going to let Wednesday and the other Gods treat him, eventually deciding that he was not going to go down for them any longer, leading him to attempt a daring escape, only to be interrupted by Ygdrassil. As I mentioned last week, Shadow’s inconsistent loyalty towards Mr. Wednesday was starting to bug me as he seemed to change his opinion on Wednesday from episode to episode, but much of Shadow’s characterization in this episode (and the knowledge he would soon glean from Ygdrassil) went a long way toward explaining all of that.
Like Shadow, Salim reacts poorly to the news he witnesses on the television. At first, he is all too willing to believe that Shadow and Wednesday are utterly guilty of the crimes they’re accused of – a belief he quickly gets scolded for by Mr. Ibis, who tells Salim he should be more skeptical of what he sees on the news. It’s a pretty subtle indictment of fake news, especially for a show that often lacks subtlety when tackling such issues. Of course, Salim’s song soon changes as his name is dragged into the mess alongside Shadow’s and Wednesday’s. As Salim (understandably) freaks out over this, Shadow suggests he, too, leave the funeral home before the proverbial shit hits the fan. Salim, true to his nature, refuses to leave the Jinn behind even as Shadow suggests that these Gods don’t truly care for them. Of course, it turns out that the Jinn does care for Salim as the two share a tender moment as the FBI and Illinois police surround the funeral home. There hasn’t been as much development between Salim and the Jinn this season as I’d have liked there to be; there have been interesting scenes that have deepened their relationship, but it hasn’t really been a focus of the show. I suppose that’s understandable, given everything else that’s been going on (and how both characters didn’t actually factor into this overarching story in the novel). So, with that said, it’s nice to have this sweet moment in the finale. The Jinn, underneath all of his gruffness toward Salim this season, does still love Salim. It’s great and I just want the two of them to be eternally happy and get the hell away from Wednesday before he ends up being the death of them.
A recurring theme from the various Gods throughout the episode is that Shadow’s ignorance is his downfall. Of course, it’s initially fairly vague as to what, exactly, Shadow is ignorant about but it soon becomes clear that they are referring to Shadow’s heritage and his role in this greater battle. As the FBI and Illinois police surround the funeral home, Shadow is literally sucked into Ygdrassil and thrown into another of those classic American Gods strange dream sequences where he finally connects all the dots that have been laid before him and realizes that he is Wednesday’s son. It’s a reveal that’s not quite as explicitly stated as the Odin reveal in season one was, but it’s a reveal that has been no less telegraphed throughout the season. The clues had been laid throughout the season – and they were exceedingly obvious to not only those of us who’ve read the novel but even to audience members who hadn’t. Still, it was genuinely surprising to see the show reveal this bit of information so early in the grand storyline; the novel didn’t reveal Shadow’s heritage until the final third. With that said, it feels like a smart decision for the show to reveal this bit of information in light of the need to really develop Shadow as a character. In the novel, it absolutely works for Shadow to be such a blank slate for much of the book – he’s the audience’s window into the story and we experience everything through his eyes. But that kind of blank slate doesn’t really work on TV and it’s a problem that a lot of people have been having with Shadow’s characterization thus far, so it only makes sense for them to introduce this element of his character earlier in the story in order to give him something to emotionally do during the remainder of the series. The sequence also does a lot to explain Shadow’s complex relationship with Wednesday. The knowledge that Wednesday was his father had probably been bubbling deep in Shadow’s subconscious throughout the season, aided by Wednesday’s charm and the gift of the Gungnir spear, so this episode did what I hoped it would when it came to making sense of Shadow’s character arc. It was an arc of discovery. Last season was of Shadow discovering who Wednesday is, this season was of Shadow discovering who he is.
After all, with knowledge comes power and Shadow (unconsciously, I’d bet) uses this new knowledge and power to literally cause the FBI and Illinois police to leave the funeral home, leading to them losing the trail of Shadow, Wednesday, and Salim and bringing the events of New Media and Mr. World’s attack to a close. The episode then ends with the characters all going their separate directions, presumably to reunite once the war properly begins. Salim and the Jinn depart, with the Jinn potentially ready to defy Wednesday’s orders. Laura is last seen carrying Mad Sweeney’s corpse down the street. Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) and Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones) are nowhere to be seen – perhaps they are still inside the funeral home, perhaps they have departed. Wednesday sits, alone, in the restaurant he was seen in throughout the episode, remarking that his son would be okay. And, lastly, Shadow finds himself on a bus, heading towards Lakeside, with an ID that now (mysteriously) reads “Mike Ainsel” – two references that should excite fans of the novel immensely. Like the ending of season one, this ending seems to perfectly set up the (already confirmed!) third season, with Shadow well on his way to Lakeside, ready to face all he will have to face then. Mr. World, New Media, and Tech Boy appear to have brought this war between the New Gods and the Old Gods to a higher level and it looks like everything is just inches away from exploding. It’s an exciting way to cap off a season and a great tease for what’s to come.
Moon Shadow was an excellent close to this season of American Gods. Visually, this episode was really interesting. It opens as if it’s a broadcast being put on by the New Gods, even filmed in a 2:39:1 aspect ratio – an aspect ratio heretofore reserved for flashback and fantasy sequences. The episode maintains that aspect ration until the very final scene, only returning to the usual 16:9 ratio after Shadow notices his ID no longer bears his real name. It’s an interesting choice that gives the entirety of the episode a heightened quality, perhaps suggesting that all of it exists in this otherworldly realm the gods inhabit, instead of the grounded reality of the normal world. But, of course, American Gods always looks good and I was never really worried this episode wouldn’t look good. I was, however, really nervous going into this episode in terms of the actual narrative as a lot of this season has felt like there wasn’t really a clear vision behind where the show was headed throughout the season. It often felt as if there was nobody steering the ship behind the scenes, so certain character and plot arcs felt a bit uneven episode to episode. Thankfully, this finale (written by Aditi Brennan Kapil and Jim Danger Gray) managed to bring a lot of those arcs to as satisfying a close as could be expected. As I had expected (and hoped), Shadow’s inconsistent loyalty to Wednesday was tackled as he dealt with the fallout from Sweeney’s death and the surprising reveal of his identity. The New Gods’ ongoing theme of rebirth was brought to a conclusion as both New Media and Tech Boy fully experience the power of rebirth. The stakes were suitably raised for the series going forward, setting up events for the third season to (hopefully) tackle and explore in greater depth. It’s been a bit of an uneven season, though I suppose that’s only to be expected given all that happened behind the scenes. With that lens, it’s deeply impressive that things turned out as well as they did. I’ve got a lot of hope for the third season and for the new showrunner, Charles “Chic” Eglee. Hopefully, he can provide the next season with a steady hand, maintaining the quality that’s been established by the writers over the past two seasons, and leading the show into a future that continues to be deeply, deeply enjoyable. Moon Shadow was a great way to end this season and it’s left me very excited to see where the show goes next.
5 out of 5 wands.