Last week’s episode may not have been my favorite episodes of American Gods, but this week’s episode is a marked improvement. “The Unseen” shows American Gods firing on all cylinders. The plot continues to progress, most of the characters are given something meaty and entertaining to play with, and, best of all, the episode manages to balance all of these elements perfectly. Almost every complaint I’ve had for the past few episodes is addressed here, and I can’t say enough positive things about this week’s episode. With any luck, there’ll be more episodes like this one in the future. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: This review contains spoilers for American Gods S03E04. Read at your own risk.
American Gods S03E04 – “The Unseen”
Written by: Nick Gillie, directed by: Eva Sørhaug
Shadow (Ricky Whittle) and Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) team up to search for Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), who finds herself captive and in the midst of a crisis of identity. While visiting the local chapter of notorious biker gang Lords of Valhalla, Wednesday (Ian McShane) runs into a familiar face, which puts him in great peril. In purgatory, Laura (Emily Browning) learns about her own destiny and the powerful enemies determined to prevent her from fulfilling it.
Shadow and Technical Boy
If, for whatever reasons, you’ve always hoped for a Technical Boy and Shadow buddy cop scene, then this episode is the one for you. They banter amongst each other, acting like classic enemies turned friends. They work out what happened to Bilquis (she was kidnapped by Sander’s security detail). Shadow sees how badly Technical Boy’s powers are glitching and makes fun of him for it. The duo tracks down a member of the detail and interrogates him, giving him the good cop, bad cop routine until he breaks and tells them where they can find Bilquis.
Seeing Shadow and Technical Boy interact like this isn’t something that I ever knew I wanted American Gods to do, but now that they’ve done it, I am loving it. It’s easily apparent how well Ricky Whittle and Bruce Langley get along in real life because Shadow and Technical boy quickly settle into a nice, bantery rhythm. Their relationship still feels authentic to all that’s previously happened between them, though, with Shadow still giving Technical Boy hell for things he did in season one. It’s nice to have that sense of continuity and it’s a lot of fun to see Shadow and Technical Boy interacting with this. I’m hoping for even more of this in future episodes because it was a lot of fun.
I have mixed feelings about Laura’s plotlines in this episode. I enjoyed a lot of the Purgatory stuff last episode, and that remains true here. Her interactions with the other people in Purgatory are a lovely mixture of depressing and humorous. Learning that she’s got a song called “Requiem of Baldur” stuck in her head makes the theorizing parts of my brain tick as I wonder if it’s connected to something I know about a later part of the book. But I don’t love the continued vagueness in the Purgatory worker telling her she’s got some mysterious, powerful destiny that attracts powerful enemies. I am kind of tired of American Gods’ reliance on vague predictions and exclamations. I wish the show would just tell us what’s going on. And I really didn’t like the repeated montages of her and Mad Sweeney that played anytime someone asked her about him. They felt out of place and the music that underscored them was such a strange choice that it made the moments feel unintentionally hilarious.
On the whole, though, I’m very intrigued by Laura’s plotline—especially now that she’s been resurrected by Baron Samedi’s potion and appears to be wholly human, lacking her powers or her guiding light. That scene she shared with the graveyard worker who found her and Mad Sweeney (and subsequently cremated Mad Sweeney) was really sweet, as was him giving the ashes to Laura. So, I’m curious what the show intends to do with all this and how it’s going to differ from Laura’s arc in the novel. I hope the show doesn’t lean too hard on Laura potentially being in love with Sweeney; the ridiculous montages scattered throughout the episodes were wildly distracting and didn’t fit the tone that surrounded them at all. I like a lot of what is being set up for Laura, though, and I hope they stick the landing.
Bilquis, World, and the Orishas
For the most part, Bilquis spends the episode reacting to things rather than causing things to happen. To be clear, this isn’t remotely a complaint. I’ve said multiple times this season that I’ve enjoyed seeing Bilquis in a more vulnerable state, and that remains true here. We learn that World is ultimately behind Bilquis’s continued incarceration—Sanders’ disappearance has resulted in the Shard Project losing one of its funders/developers. While I wish we’d been able to see Dominque Jackson’s Ms. World spar against Bilquis, it was delightful getting to see her opposite Crispin Glover’s Mr. World again. The two of them clash against each other beautifully and I’m glad the show was able to get Glover to come back. I’m also glad we’re finally starting to learn what Mr. World and the New Gods are up to (that the Shard project is designed to allow them to access the human mind directly and reap worship that way). I’m even happier to finally start understanding why Mr. World is so preoccupied with getting Bilquis to side with the New Gods—he believes that she has the power to convince the Old Gods to back away from Wednesday’s war.
I’m also intrigued at what Bilquis learns from the Orishas, who finally answer her prayers in this episode. Oshun (Herizen Guardiola) tells Bilquis that there’s more to her past than she realizes, but it remains unclear as to what this means. Is Bilquis an Orisha? Does she just have powers she doesn’t know of? The whole sequence between Bilquis and the Orishas is pretty neat but frustratingly vague. These first four episodes have continually hinted at something being up with Bilquis, at her possessing some kind of power that we haven’t seen and I’m kind of ready to just learn what that power is and quit beating around the bush. Still, I’m enjoying the Orishas—who seem to also be reaching out to Shadow in his dreams throughout the season—and I’m excited to see what role they play in the show’s larger mythos.
Wednesday, Cordelia, and Johan
There’s nothing sweeter than seeing Mr. Wednesday having to overcome obstacles. For so much of the show’s first two seasons, he didn’t have to work very hard to convince people to join his cause, so I’m taking quite a bit of delight in seeing him struggle here. The idea of Wednesday and Cordelia (Ashley Reyes) planning some kind of heist to break into Demeter’s conservator’s house to steal his computer so they can find something shady they can use to convince a judge to transfer Demeter’s conservatorship is an excellent idea and I’m looking forward to seeing that play out later this season. Shadow’s continued rejection of Wednesday this episode also remains a delight. I really like this new dynamic between Shadow and Wednesday. Shadow would never have talked to Wednesday like this in the first or second season; he’d have just gone along with Wednesday on whatever con Wednesday wanted. I’m sure Shadow will eventually acquiesce and join Wednesday on this heist, but I’m enjoying him fighting against it.
The scene Wednesday shares with Johan (Marilyn Manson) at the Nordic-themed biker bar is quite good, too. It’s clear that Johan is barely holding onto his sanity, and I like that Wednesday immediately assumed Johan is responsible for his bandmate’s murders when he saw the news report in last week’s episode. Naturally, Johan denies having anything to do with it, but his inability to keep his temper in check doesn’t exactly lend a bunch of credence to what he’s saying. Equally damning is Johan blowing up the biker bar and leaving Wednesday a naked, rambling mess who’s wandering about the wreckage. It’s weird seeing Wednesday like this—I didn’t think Gods could be hurt the way that humans could, so it’s extra funny seeing Wednesday rambling incoherently the way he does at the end of the episode. Shadow’s complete lack of concern about Wednesday’s condition is equally hilarious, and I look forward to Shadow, Wednesday, and Cordelia eventually reuniting to deal with this.
I’ve spent the past few reviews complaining about this season’s editing choices—particularly its reliance on cutting back and forth between short scenes that prohibit the show from establishing an enjoyable rhythm. Well, it’s as though this episode was a direct response to my earlier criticisms because almost every problem I’ve had with this season’s editing are fixed here. Most of the scenes are longer, letting you settle into the flow of the episode better. And when they’re shorter scenes, they’re cut together in such a way that their shortness is used either as a tension-building tactic or a demonstration that the two scenes are happening simultaneously. I much prefer this approach to the one we’ve been getting. The episode still feels as story-driven as the last few have felt while feeling a lot less choppy. The editing’s not perfect—I’ve already complained about the weird music choice in the Laura/Mad Sweeney montages. Ultimately, I’m much happier with this episode’s editing and I hope future episodes skew closer to this one than to the previous two.
More than almost any episode so far, “The Unseen” feels like a story-driven episode. Nearly every character is actively working towards a goal and we can see them make some progress towards that goal. The episode spends more of its time pushing the plot forward and less of it stalling for time as it works to set up future storylines. To be clear, there’s still a lot of set up happening here, but it’s better mixed amongst what feels like narrative progression. That sense of confidence I commented on in the season premiere is back here, too. Nick Gillie, and the other writers, are confident in the story they’re telling, and that audiences will be hooked on that story, and it shows clearly on screen. I can honestly say that I’m hooked on a lot of these plotlines and I’m very excited to see where they go. I wanna see the culmination of Bilquis’s journey of self-discovery, I wanna see how the Orishas factor into this grander war, I wanna see Wednesday and Cordelia (and Shadow?) pull off their heist, and I wanna see what happens next with Laura. This was a great episode, with a solid and well-executed script, and it’s got me looking forward to the rest of the season.
4.5 out of 5 wands.