After over a year away from television screens, American Gods returns this weekend, and it carves out a one-of-a-kind space in the genre television world in the process.
The Starz series picks up right where it left off in the summer of 2017, with Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) still grappling with the fact that his road trip buddy Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) is really Odin, and that a war between the Old and New Gods is imminent. The season opens with Shadow, Wednesday, and almost every principal character from Season One coming together at the House on the Rock, a meeting that will set the rest of the conflict into motion in more ways than one.
What unfolds in the season's first two episodes is undoubtedly interesting, with even the occasional missteps and issues being more entertaining than most shows' successes. Every time that you think the story is about to default on an old trope, it zigzags around it in a way that might not be the most ideal, but still shows a unique kind of promise behind it. With the original novel's author, Neil Gaiman, taking on a larger role in Season Two, it's clear that the series is wanting to serve as a fleshed-out adaptation of the source material -- albeit one that's been remixed by a slew of outside forces.
Anyone who's followed the series even tangentially probably has some knowledge of the behind-the-scenes drama, with original showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green departing after Season One and stars Gillian Anderson and Kristin Chenoweth later following. While the nature of those exits do bleed their way into the first two episodes, particularly with how characters explain the absence of Anderson's Media and Chenoweth's Easter, it's all handled in such a way that probably won't feel out of place for people watching both seasons back-to-back.
Those behind-the-scenes changes both do and don't affect the show as a whole, as there's almost a sort of effortlessness to how the Season Two story continues on. To an extent, the first few episodes feel like a modern twist on a classic war movie, where even though the specifics of the battle still remain vague, you can't help but be invested in the characters and dynamics that exist within it.
Season One's most prominent romantic relationships -- both Shadow and Laura Moon (Emily Browning) as well as Salim (Omid Abtahi) and The Jinn (Mousa Kraish) -- are further developed in interesting ways in these episodes. And even some of the platonic dynamics -- particularly Laura and Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) in addition to Wednesday and Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones) -- have some standout moments.
While a lot of the ensemble's performances are worth noting, it's really the women of American Gods who make the season shine. Yetide Badaki's Bilquis is given a much-deserved larger role in the proceedings, with Badaki delivering a performance that will easily turn her into even more of a fan-favorite than she already was. Browning's Laura remains a dark horse in the show's ensemble as she continues to get further and further away from her book counterpart for the better. A thousand words could easily be written about the ways that Laura subverts what's expected of a female character, something that is even more prevalent in these early episodes.
Zorya Vechernyaya (Cloris Leachman) and Mama-Ji (Sakina Jaffrey) also bring something interesting to the table, with the latter easily being the most promising character introduced in both episodes. Weaving throughout is a conversation about the roles that women willingly and unwillingly play in the stories of "great" men, a critique that could be really compelling depending on how the rest of the season plays out.
Technically speaking, American Gods still keeps the energy that it had in Season One, with a sensibility that feels punk rock and boundary-pushing, but also wholly lived-in. The soundtrack and cinematography both continue to stand out, providing a much-needed balance to the show's human and larger-than-life qualities. The House on the Rock sequence, in particular, is adapted to live-action in a genuinely thrilling, zany way.
There's something compelling about the way that American Gods makes its long-awaited return, which will hopefully make fans continue to have faith in the series. The beginning of Season Two feels akin to catching up with an old friend -- you might not know exactly what their current situation is, but you're happy to have their energy around you once more. With gorgeous visuals, a compelling ensemble, and an intriguing blend of old and new, the journey of American Gods feels truly unlike anything else on television at the moment.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Season Two of American Gods debuts Sunday, March 10th, at 8/7c on Starz.