His Dark Materials: a bear necessity
We’re going to assume that, if you’re reading this, you’ve already watched the first season of American Gods. If not, go and do it, and then come back, because the first eight episodes boast an all-star cast, spectacular set pieces, and healthy doses of clever allegory and wordplay along with a ladleful of smut and violence. It’s delightful, and it set the bar rather high for the second season.
At the time of writing only the first four episodes of American Gods S2 have aired, so there’s hope that it’ll reach the heights of the first season yet… but the first half of the proceedings is not without its problems. First up, there’s a new hand at the helm because the original showrunners departed after the first season.
Then there’s Gillian Anderson’s absence. After a stunning run last season as Media, one of the new gods, Anderson’s left the show, and though the plot’s explanations for her character’s vanishing act work well enough, she’s missed nonetheless (who can forget her turn as an animated version of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic, blustery skirted still).
There’s a fittingly named replacement/amalgam, New Media (Kahyun Kim), who may turn out to be great, but it’s simply too early to tell.
Gone, too, is Kristin Chenoweth and her rabbit-loving character Ostara, with no explanation as to why the wintery havoc she wreaked at the end of Season 1 has either been confined to an insignificantly small area or has somehow been undone.
None of it makes much sense, but we’re optimistic the writers will turn it to their advantage and wow us down the line.
Problems aside, there’s still plenty to enjoy about American Gods, most notably, the leprechaun Mad Sweeny (Pablo Schreiber) whose luck looks set to worsen a great deal more – which is guaranteed to be hugely entertaining – before it improves, if it ever does.
Similarly, two of the show’s shining lights continue to blaze as brightly as ever: Mr Nancy (Orlando Jones), the fiery-tongued, colourfully besuited, West African trickster god Anansi, and Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), the literal man-eating siren who’s having a hard time choosing sides in the looming conflict between the old guard and the new.
Of course, the show’s real protagonists – Mr Wednesday (Ian McShane) and his muscle-for-hire, Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) – continue to delight, even if more questions are prompted than answered about each with every passing episode.
Though Moon’s meant to be the one we’re rooting for, Wednesday is the more enchanting and richly realised character, and despite his misdeeds, we get the feeling we’re going to be left feeling conflicted however his fate plays out. We’re not sure we can say the same about Moon, who seems to get a little flatter with every effort at exposition the script offers up.
The second season of American Gods manages, like the first, to alternate between the grotesque and gory, and the profoundly beautiful. It’s not a show for the queasy or the conservative, and there are some scenes in the most recent episodes that aren’t just gratuitous in their blood-letting, but in their advancing of the story.
Nonetheless, it’s an intriguing premise with an incredibly strong cast and there are moments the dialogue is sharper than one of Mr Nancy’s outfits.
It’s as hard to choose a favourite hero as it is a favourite villain in American Gods, and that’s one of the reasons we’ll keep watching until it’s done and dusted, however meandering the route it may take to get there.