Plot: Shadow’s attempt to break away from Mr. Wednesday and the brewing war is thwarted by the secrets of the Gods — both Old and New.
Review: American Gods has had a rocky few years. While it has developed quite the cult fanbase, the Starz series is now on its third showrunner in as many seasons. Brought to screen by Bryan Fuller, hands have changed each year with the change for season three being announced before the second even hit the airwaves. While using a 500-page novel as the source for multiple seasons of a television series would pose a challenge to anyone, it is not for American Gods. Neil Gaiman’s book was packed with characters who have tales easily expanded for the small screen. This means that for season three, we say goodbye to some favorites and hello to new characters as we continue to chronicle the quest of Mr. Wednesday and Shadow Moon.
Having seen the first four episodes of the third season, American Gods till features the same trademark visual style that set the first two apart from anything on television. But, with the departure of Mad Sweeney, Mr. Nancy, and The Jinn from the main cast, the story has refocused into something a bit different this time around. From the outset, season three finds Shadow (Ricky Whittle) still dealing with the knowledge that he is Wednesday’s (Ian McShane) son. Hiding out from his father, Shadow quickly finds himself in the small town of Lakeside, Wisconsin, a pivotal location from the novel. On-screen, fans will find this realization of Lakeside to be fairly faithful to the book. It also affords a brief reset for Shadow after the events of the first two seasons.
At the same time, Mr. World (Crispin Glover) appears in multiple guises including Ms. World (Dominique Jackson) and an alternate appearance (Danny Trejo). We also meet more gods including Demeter (Blythe Danner) who has a very old relationship with Wednesday. There are also new castmembers Denis O’Hare as Tyr, Iwan Rheon as leprechaun Liam Doyle, Julia Sweeney as Ann-Marie Hinzelmann, Marilyn Manson as Johan Wengren, and Ashley Reyes as Cordelia. First season cast including Yetide Badaki (Bilquis), Omid Abtahi (Salim), Demore Barnes (Mr. Ibis), Bruce Langley (Technical Boy), and Peter Stormare (Czernobog) reprise their roles in varying capacities, but the bulk of the screen time remains with Ricky Whittle and Ian McShane who continue to excel in their roles.
The focus of season three is a bit all over the place as the narrative shifts between Wednesday, Shadow, and Laura Moon (Emily Browning). Most of Shadow’s time is spent in Lakeside while Wednesday pursues more allies for his coming war with the New Gods. Laura experiences the afterlife which offers an intriguing look at Gaiman’s version of Purgatory. There are also the expected opening sequences visiting historical looks at the various gods in their element which has always been one of the cooler hallmarks of this series. The music is still solid and the visuals still reference back to Bryan Fuller’s original vision with extreme close-ups and slow-motion looks at graphic violence and intense sexuality.
And yet, American Gods somehow feels both simultaneously stuck in the middle of a story that should have gained momentum while finding a groove in the lack of forward progress in the narrative. Ian McShane chews the scenery as Wednesday and every scene he is in is made enjoyable simply by his presence. But, I cannot help but wonder why it is taking every one so damn long to get to the point. Sure, for audiences this has taken three years to get to the point we are at now even if the characters have experienced a much shorter span of time. Nevertheless, the loss of Orlando Jones and Gillian Anderson is never adequately addressed which leads to the rotating cast seeming more of a necessary evil than an organic element of the story.
American Gods remains an intriguing story and one filmed with excellent production values, but I am starting to find my interest waning. After four episodes in season three, not much has really happened to any of the characters but I sense there is a lot coming. Structurally, the main arc is all over the place and ends up feeling like too many things happening simultaneously. Without divulging any spoilers, I can say that we finally see some repercussions for Wednesday’s actions which sends things in a potentially intriguing direction. Overall, American Gods‘ third season will keep fans entertained but is not likely to win over many new viewers. For such a heavily serialized story, you will be lost if you haven’t watched the first two runs of this story. For fans of the novel, you know where this season is headed but may not happy with how long it takes to get there.
The third season of American Gods premieres January 10th on Starz.