The third season of American Gods came to quite an explosive ending last week, with Shadow holding Wednesday’s vigil on the World Tree. It’s an ending that was well prepared for, concluding a season that spent ample time building up Shadow’s struggles with his divinity, his desire for power, and the cyclical nature of him trying to escape Wednesday’s shadow, only to be drawn further into it. On the whole, it was the most consistent season of American Gods to date. While it might not have reached the same heights of past seasons, it maintained a level of quality that ensured the show never reached the same lows of past seasons. Now, with the future of the show in flux, it seems like a good time to revisit the third season, looking at what worked and what didn’t.
NOTE: There will be full spoilers for all three seasons of American Gods. Read at your own risk.
Characters from Norse mythology remain a popular facet of modern pop culture. These days, most people are probably familiar with the Marvel comics/film versions of deities like Thor, Loki, and Odin, but elements of Norse mythology frequently pop up all over the place. Famously, Neil Gaiman borrowed heavily from Norse mythology for his 2001 novel, American Gods (which got adapted by Dark Horse Comics as a comic series in 2017, so it’s only appropriate that he published his own retellings of Norse tales in 2017’s Norse Mythology. And now, Dark Horse is bringing these closer-to-authentic Norse tales to the world of comics—where the Marvel versions of these characters got their start. The first volume of this series—adapted by P. Craig Russell and illustrated by Russell, Mike Mignola, Jerry Ordway, Piotr Kowalski, David Rubín, and Jill Thompson—is a very faithful adaptation of Gaiman’s source material. Like Dark Horse’s American Gods adaptation, very little is changed here—but it works very, very well. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: Thanks to Edelweiss and Dark Horse Comics for providing a digital ARC of this title. All thoughts are my own.
Norse Mythology: Volume 1 Adapted by: P. Craig Russell Illustrated by: P. Craig Russell, Mike Mignola, Jerry Ordway, Piotr Kowalski, David Rubín, and Jill Thompson Gaiman and Russell team with a legendary collection of artists to take readers through a series of Norse myths, including the creation of the Nine Worlds, the loss of Odin’s eye and source of his knowledge, the crafting of Thor’s hammer and the gods’ most valuable treasures, the origin of poetry, and Loki’s part in the end of all things—Ragnarök.
And with that, another season of American Gods comes to a close. Tonight’s episode caps off what’s been the most consistent season of American Gods so far—and what an episode it is. If last week’s episode felt more like a traditional season finale, then this week’s episode acts as a beautiful coda to the season, bringing many of the character arcs to a conclusion while throwing the narrative door wide open for the show to go in any number of directions. It raises more questions than it answers, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. It straddles a nice line between faithfulness to the book and faithfulness to what the TV adaptation has become and I feel it works very well—even if there are some developments I’m not entirely sold on just yet. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: This review features spoilers for episode 3×10 of American Gods. Read at your own risk.
American Gods: Episode 3×10: “Tears of the Wrath-Bearing Tree” Written by: Laura Pusey and Ryan Spencer Directed by: Russell Lee Fine Teetering on the edge of war and peace, the gods gather to mourn a loss. Bilquis’ divine journey brings her to an unexpected revelation, while Shadow finally embraces a destiny that could bring him either greatness or death.
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve reviewed an American Gods episode—but that’s not because they’ve been bad. Episode seven felt the victim of quick edits (which were needed to remove Marilyn Manson from the episode) but largely served as setup (albeit good setup) for the rest of the season. Episode eight was extremely beautiful when it focused on Salim’s plotline, but then the stuff with Tyr, Wednesday, and Shadow felt a bit under-baked. The same remains true for this week’s episode. On the surface, it feels a lot like a season finale, wrapping up many of the season’s ongoing plotlines while setting up future ones. But it also reveals one of the season’s biggest problems: in its effort to juggle so many plotlines, it’s forgotten which ones are more important and needed more focus, resulting in a moment that should’ve been a big, explosive reveal landing with more of a thud. Still, most of the episode works very well. (4 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: This review contains spoilers for episode 3×09. Read at your own risk.
American Gods 3×09: “The Lake Effect” Written by: Laura Pusey and Damian Kindler Directed by: Metin Hüseyin Shadow has to decide the price he’s willing to pay for his idyllic Lakeside life. As Laura and her new ally close in on her target, Wednesday has to persuade Czernobog that it’s time to make peace with their enemies.
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).
A lot happens in this week’s episode of American Gods. So much, in fact, that it feels like the episode is comprised of two different episodes that have been forced together. The first is the conclusion to the previous episode’s Bilquis (Yetide Basaki) arc; the second is a heist-themed episode seeing Shadow (Ricky Whittle) and Cordelia (Ashley Reyes) finding dirt on Hutchinson (Sebastian Spence), Demeter’s (Blythe Danner) conservator. The combination of these two storylines creates a tonally weird experience, with the first half of the episode being emotional and philosophical and the second half being more comedic. This doesn’t result in a bad episode, though, just a somewhat uneven one. Still, there’s a lot of exciting highs to be found here. (4 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: This review contains spoilers for episode 3×05 of American Gods. Read at your own risk.)
American Gods S03E05 – “Sister Rising” Written by: Damian Kindler Directed by: Nick Copus Shadow (Ricky Whittle) explores notions of purpose, destiny and identity with a newly enlightened Bilquis (Yetide Badaki). Elsewhere, Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) struggles with an identity crisis of his own. In his efforts to free Demeter (Blythe Danner), Wednesday (Ian McShane) asks a reluctant Shadow to assist in a new con.
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.
No TV show can be perfect. Even the best-made ones stumble from time-to-time. Plotlines get fumbled, character arcs don’t pan out, whatever—every show has an episode that isn’t stellar. Unfortunately, this week’s episode of American Gods is one such episode. It’s not that “Ashes and Demons” is bad or anything. It’s still fairly solid. But it’s the episode that’s most emblematic of my complaints regarding season 3. It’s an episode filled with things that I liked, but it’s also one that never manages to come together as a satisfying whole. The editing, primarily, is what lets this episode down and results in it feeling like a collection of unrelated scenes with no sense of purpose or flow. But still—on their own, those scenes are pretty good. And there’s a lot to like about the episode. (3.5 out of 5 wands)
NOTE: This review features spoilers. Read at your own risk.
American Gods – S03E03 – “Ashes and Demons” Written by Anne Kenney, Directed by Thomas Carter As the search for the missing girl continues, Shadow (Ricky Whittle) dreams of Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), a hint that she too may be in danger. Wednesday (Ian McShane) discovers the whereabouts of his old love, the Greek goddess Demeter (Blythe Danner), and resolves to free her from the grip of an unscrupulous antagonist. Meanwhile, an impatient Laura (Emily Browning) is forced to confront her troubled past in purgatory.
It’s difficult to write weekly reviews of a serialized TV show. When writing a review, you typically want to be able to examine all aspects of the thing you’re reviewing. For a TV show or a film, you want to look at the acting, directing, and writing. That last element is particularly difficult when you’re covering a show that airs week-to-week as many of the episodes don’t have a self-contained narrative that can be evaluated; instead, you hope that what gets set up in earlier episodes is paid off in later ones. This is very true for American Gods—a show which has often been criticized for its slow-paced narrative. So, in that light, I don’t think it’s such a great idea to review each episode of the show the way I’d review an entire story. Instead, I am going to simply talk about what I liked and didn’t like in each episode, with an emphasis on what I hope to see the show do going forward. For this week’s episode, “Serious Moonlight,” there’s a lot to like. Sure, the episode still acts primarily as a setup for the rest of the season, but the individual events of the episode are pretty delightful—from finally getting a good glimpse at Lakeside to journeying to Chicago for a Slavic celebration. There’s a lot to like about this week’s episode and a lot to look forward to. (4 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: This review will feature spoilers for American Gods S03E02. Read at your own risk.
American Gods S03E02 – “Serious Moonlight” (written by Moise Verneau, directed by Julian Holmes) Shadow (Ricky Whittle) explores his oddly welcoming new town before heading to Chicago for a gathering of the Old Gods on Koliada, an ancient Slavic festival. At the Koliada, Wednesday (Ian McShane) reconnects with his oldest friend, and Salim (Omid Abtahi) mourns the unexpected end of his relationship with The Jinn. Shadow returns to Lakeside to find the town rocked by the disappearance of a teenage girl—and discovers that he himself is a suspect.
After a nearly two-year break, American Gods is back on our TV screens—and not a moment too soon. And, as is customary for the show, a lot’s happened in those two years. There have been more shakeups in front of, and behind, the camera, leading to the departure of actors like Orlando Jones, Kahyun Kim, and Mousa Kraish. However, unlike the previous season, it appears that the making of season three was a far smoother affair—an assumption that is borne out on screen. Despite everything that may have happened behind the scenes, the season premiere of American Gods is great. It does everything a premiere should do—establishes where the characters are as the season begins and where they’re headed, lays the groundwork for future episodes, and energizes audiences for the season to come. While the premiere sometimes feels like a pilot episode for a new show, it remains distinctly American Gods-esque and is genuinely fun and exciting to watch. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: This review contains full spoilers for the episode. Read at your own risk.)
American Gods S03E01 – “A Winter’s Tale” (written by David Paul Francis, directed by Jon Amiel) After months apart, Wednesday reappears in Shadow’s life, resolved to drag him back into his divine war effort. A meeting with the god Wisakedjak leaves Shadow with a prophecy about his destiny—a destiny that seems determined to bring him to the idyllic, snowy town of Lakeside, Wisconsin.