While last week’s episode of American Gods saw quite a lot of stuff happen, things slowed down some this week. In “Conscience of the King,” we finally get some answers about Wednesday (Ian McShane) and Demeter’s (Blythe Danner) past, Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) confronts Mr. World (Danny Trejo) about his endless glitching, Laura (Emily Browning) and Salim (Omid Abtahi) struggle to find Wednesday, and Shadow (Ricky Whittle) spends some quality time in Lakeside with Marguerite (Lela Loren) and her family. It’s a quieter episode, but one with a focus on the characters and their future. As usual, though, the show may have tried to cram a few too many things into its fifty-minute runtime. It’s a great episode, but some parts feel woefully underexplored. (4 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: This review contains spoilers for episode 3×06 of American Gods. Read at your own risk.)
American Gods S03E06: “Conscience of the King”
Written by: Aric Avelino
Directed by: Mark Tinker
Despite his past following him to Lakeside, Shadow (Ricky Whittle) makes himself at home and builds relationships with the town’s residents. Laura (Emily Browning) and Salim (Omid Abtahi) continue to hunt for Wednesday (Ian McShane), who attempts one final gambit to win over Demeter (Blythe Danner).
Wednesday, Demeter, and Tyr
Much of “Conscience of the King” focuses on the culmination of the Wednesday/Demeter arc. Demeter keeps getting Wednesday into trouble with the orderlies, hoping it’ll resort in him losing their wager and leaving her alone. But Wednesday proves crafty; instead, spending the bulk of his time crafting a shadow play that explains his history with Demeter—and how Tyr (Denis O’Hare) fits into it—as a way of apologizing. Turns out that, in the days following the Revolutionary War, Tyr had fallen in love with Demeter and took Wednesday with him to meet her. In typical Wednesday fashion, he swept Demeter from under Tyr’s feet, married her, had a child with her, and abandoned her when that child died. A tragic tale, to be sure, but one that seems befitting of these gods. It provides a satisfying-if-sad explanation for why Wednesday is trying so hard to recruit her, why she’s so reluctant to join him, and why there’s so much tension between Tyr and Wednesday.
At Demeter’s request, Tyr attends Wednesday’s performance, leading to a bit of a blowout between the three of them. Tyr and Demeter don’t have many kind words for Wednesday, but they both admit to being charmed by him because of their past love for him. No love is lost between Tyr and Wednesday, though, but Tyr still gives Wednesday some advice—which Wednesday does take. Ultimately, Demeter agrees to leave, deciding it’s time for her to rejoin the world. But she has no intentions of leaving with Wednesday. Instead, she disappears in a storm, leaving Wednesday alone. I found this whole arc very satisfying. The backstory provided in this episode makes perfect sense, and Demeter’s choice to regain her divinity—but not with Wednesday—feels true to her character. Plus, I love seeing Wednesday not get what he wants. In the wake of Demeter’s disappearance, I sense there is more to come from Wednesday and Tyr’s relationship—which excites me. I hope we get to see more of the animosity they share. I love the idea of a Norse war god turning against the Norse All-father and it feels like that’s where we’re headed. If so, I’m into it.
Mr. World and a Glitching Technical Boy
We find Technical Boy in the warehouse from last week’s episode. He summons an old computer and performs a diagnostic on himself. The problem, it seems, is that he’s suffering from emotions. The fix? Something called Artifact One. Having no idea what that is, Technical Boy pays a visit to Mr. World (now played by Danny Trejo). World and his goons have been searching for Tech Boy since he went off the grid after the Bilquis situation. Mr. World senses something is bothering Technical Boy and offers him a surprisingly compassionate ear. Technical Boy eventually relents and tells Mr. World what’s going on and that he needs Artifact One. World dodges whether or not he knows what Artifact One is, or where it is; instead, he tells Technical Boy that he’s World’s favorite creation and that he’ll always have Technical Boy’s back. It’s a sweet moment and one that makes me think of the events of last week’s Cold Open. Did Mr. World create Technical Boy and base him on that inventor who made the automaton? I know Mr. World is untrustworthy, but there is a part of me that feels like he does care about Technical Boy, even if he’s lying to his face.
And, of course, Mr. World is lying to Technical Boy’s face. Immediately after their conversation, World takes an elevator to the basement of his base, revealing Artifact One as some kind of stone. He makes a phone call to persons unknown (though, as someone who’s read the book, I suspect I know who it is). Mr. World tells the person on the phone that Technical Boy is losing it, but Artifact One is safe. He also reports that he’s heard Laura Moon is back and looking to cause trouble, asking how he should handle it. The question I’m left with, though, is who would Mr. World be needing to get permission from? Doesn’t he run the New Gods’ entire show? Naturally, we’ve no answers just yet, but I am loving what they’re doing with Mr. World this season. I love the show embracing World’s ability to shapeshift. I really love Danny Trejo’s performance in this episode—he feels so distinct from Dominque Jackson and Crispin Glover’s portrayals while still feeling as though he’s the same character. And, ultimately, I just love getting to explore Technical Boy and Mr. World like this. I am so curious to see where Technical Boy’s arc is going—what are we going to learn about his past? About his powers? Will he break free from Mr. World’s control, or will Mr. World destroy him? I’m eager to find out.
Laura and Salim’s Quest for Wednesday
Laura and Salim don’t appear much during this episode, but when they do, they’re on the hunt for Wednesday. Laura first appears in Lakeside, trying to get Shadow to reveal Wednesday’s location to her. At first, he struggles with the fact that Laura is alive once again, but then she struggles with the reveal that Wednesday is Shadow’s father. Understandably, Shadow doesn’t want to tell Laura where Wednesday is—he and Shadow may have a complicated relationship, but Shadow doesn’t really want to be involved in Wednesday’s death. Frustrated, Laura returns to the hotel room she’s sharing with Salim, where Salim tells her he thinks the TV has spoken to him, promising information about the Jinn. To me, this sounds like some New Gods shenanigans, but Laura doesn’t really buy into it and the two quickly head to a Blood Death concert they find an advertisement for.
Of course, given the murder of most of the members of Blood Death, the concert has been canceled. However, their trip proves not to be in vain as they’re greeted outside the venue by none other than Mr. World. Clearly, whoever Mr. World talked to on the phone either instructed him (or permitted him) to try to recruit Laura. It’s a fun idea, and it feels like something Laura would do—teaming up with the enemy of her enemy in order takedown Wednesday. I’m wondering what World’s ultimate game is, though. Maybe he just wants Wednesday taken out as much as Laura does, so he’s willing to use her to his own ends. But I remain suspicious of his motives. Still, it makes for an intriguing wrinkle to the story. Laura knows of Wednesday’s war with the New Gods, that everything he’s done that’s angered her has all been to advance the war. Will she hold Mr. World accountable for Mad Sweeney’s death?
Shadow’s (Mis)Adventures in Lakeside
I feel like the Lakeside portion of the episode got the short end of the stick. We briefly check in with Hinzelmann (Julia Sweeney), Sheriff Mulligan (Eric Johnson), and the rest of the town as they are reviewing their evidence in Allison McGovern’s missing person case. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have any new evidence since the last time we checked in on them, and the stress of this is starting to take its toll on the town. I know the book is like this too, but it kind of feels like a shame that the mystery of this missing teenager has taken a back seat to everything else that is going on. The show keeps insisting that it’s important and that it’s scary for the town, but we spend most of our time dealing with other things. It kind of robs the mystery of its intrigue. Though, to be fair, Shadow’s discovery that Derek may be responsible for the spree of underwear robberies does suggest we may soon see some progress on this.
Most of Shadow’s screen time this week is spent getting ready for, and then attending, dinner with Marguerite, her son, and her half-sister, Sam Blackcrow (Devery Jacobs)—a reveal that stops Shadow in his tracks. Viewers may recall that Shadow and Sam previously met in the third episode of season two, so Sam knows that Shadow isn’t just the quirky, mysterious Mike Ainsel. Unfortunately, the episode doesn’t do as much with this revelation as the book does. Their interactions are relegated to a bit of awkward banter during dinner and a short-but-sweet conversation where Shadow thanks her for not outing his identity to Marguerite, and she tells him that she’s a good judge of character, but if he hurts her sister, she’ll know. She also drops a few more hints about Marguerite’s missing eldest son, Sandy. Look, I love that the show is trying to veer closer to the book than previous seasons have. However, it sort of seems pointless to do this plot point if they’re not going to bother spending enough time on it to make it have any weight. I loved seeing Devery Jacobs again, but she doesn’t really do anything in the episode. It’s just so woefully underexplored that it feels pointless and kind of detracts from everything. I liked it, but I would have liked it better if they’d done way more with it.
While I’m really digging a lot of the narrative of this episode, and the season as a whole, some cracks are starting to form. It’s becoming clearer that each episode may be juggling a few too many plot strands, inevitably leading toward some feeling less explored than others. I know I keep saying the same thing every week—that I am deeply enjoying where the story is going while feeling like individual episodes have editing/pacing problems. And that’s because it keeps being true. Now, the problem is less that the episode frantically cuts from scene to scene, prohibiting itself from establishing an enjoyable flow. Instead, it’s that it’s trying to cover too many plotlines at once. The Lakeside plotline was so underexplored this week that it might have been better to simply take a week off from it, giving the Wednesday/Demeter, Tech Boy/Mr. World, and Laura/Salim plotlines more room to breathe.
All of that being said, though, I still think this week’s episode was good. Good narratives very often outweigh pacing problems or editing problems, or even problems where one plotline got underexplored. Sure, I’m disappointed that Devery Jacobs’ return was so brief. But I enjoyed the resolution to Demeter’s arc so much that it outweighs my disappointment. I am so invested in where this story is going and I am enjoying each narrative twist, turn, and detour. I feel like this season has such a solid grip on these characters, and such a defined endpoint in mind for them, that it’s very easy to allow myself to simply go along for the ride. Time will tell as to whether the show sticks the landing with any of these storylines, but so far I’m into them. Ultimately, “Conscience of the King” is one of those episodes that exists to explore the characters and gently push the plot forward. And in that regard, it works very well. It may be a bit too overstuffed at times, leaving certain things underexplored, but what it does properly explore is captivating. I am so eager to see where the Technical Boy storyline goes, and how Mr. World manipulates Laura, and how Wednesday reacts to Demeter’s disappearance. All of these developments push the show into an exciting territory and I can’t wait to see it all play out.