After years of development, the adaptation of one of Neil Gaiman’s most notable works has made it to the small screen. To prepare, I re-read the novel and his recently released Norse Mythology (definitely recommended). There will be some book discussion but I’ll reserve the spoilery talk for my fifth thought, which will always be dedicated to talking about adaptation choices. In this episode, Shadow gets a rematch, and Mr. Wednesday secures funding for his mysterious endeavor. Beware, spoilers for the episode will follow.
1. Shadow Meh
Up until this point, I liked Ricky Whittle’s portrayal of Shadow. As a book reader, I was prepared for a pretty flat character. Even then, Whittle imbued the performance with more emotion than what was in the book. That works as long as there is a strong character for Whittle to play off of, but this episode takes that crutch away from him. Shadow meets the third Zorya sister and she doesn’t have as strong a presence as some of the other gods we’ve encountered so far. The pair had zero chemistry, so the rooftop conversation felt awkward and had me wishing it would end as soon as possible.
Then, Shadow challenges Czernobog to a Checkers rematch, and we’re supposed to believe that Whittle can convince him with his persuasive charisma. I know that Czernobog needed to agree for the story (and because of whatever magic is in that silver dollar from the moon), but there’s no way that performance would have won him over, especially if the slick Mr. Wednesday couldn’t manage that feat. Czernonog’s disgusting feet were more compelling than Whittle’s attempt to drive the scene.
2. This Is Not a Book
The show has a lot working against it as far as pacing goes. It’s already adapting a fairly unwieldy book, and adding to that, the episode count was originally supposed to be more, but got cut down for budget reasons. It was inevitable that the show’s flow would falter a bit, and this is the first episode that felt a little disjointed. Returning to Czernobog and the Zorya sisters seemed anti-climactic after last week’s dramatic ending. Shadow getting a redo kind of dulled the impact of the last game’s outcome. The whole thing felt tacked on and should have been part of the same episode.
The “Somewhere In America” segments are compelling when taken on their own, but I’m still not convinced of their effectiveness being placed in the middle of episodes. It’s disorienting to jump to settings and characters that have nothing to do with the main plot. This episode also had a double dose, since the cold open wasn’t another origin story this time. The Anubis story was very compelling, but the show broke it’s established rhythm by using it instead of an origin and got the episode off to a confusing start. However, the smaller, personal feel of the segment was a nice change of pace from the flamboyant first two cold opens.
3. This Is Definitely Not HBO
If it wasn’t clear from the many erections seen last episode, American Gods provides equal opportunity nudity. If not for Bilquis making another appearance, I would have questioned the inclusion of the Ifrit scene as well. I’m guessing one or both of them will reappear at some point. Or at least I hope so, because the outcome of the scene was fairly confusing and it will be nice to get some clarification. From the book, I know that the Ifrit stole Salim’s identity, but that fact is not very clear from how it’s depicted here. And where the book portrayed Salim as distraught as he realized what happened, here he seemed excited. Maybe the excitement is due to him now being an Ifrit, since something besides bodily fluids got transferred between them. That was hard to decipher as well since the terrible CGI made its return at the climax of this scene. The two characters were barely recognizable, and the CGI again proved to be a distraction from an otherwise powerful interlude.
4. Mo Slow Mo
In some other coverage of the show, someone pointed out that this show employed quite a bit of slow motion. It hadn’t really stood out to me before, but now I can’t help but to notice its overuse. I don’t think there has been a scene in the rain without it, and this may turn into a J.J. Abrams lens flare situation if Bryan Fuller and the directors aren’t careful.Continued below
5. “We’re going to rob a bank, you want some coffee?”
With the exception of Laura appearing in the last scene, there weren’t many adaptation issues to discuss (I’m sure there will be plenty next week). So, once again, I have to talk about Ian McShane’s Mr. Wednesday. The episode definitely suffered when he was not on screen, and has me worried a little bit for next season when he leaves Shadow in Lakeside. Besides the wonderful bank robbery scene, I had to chuckle as he flirted with Cloris Leachman’s Zorya Vechernyaya in order to hear his fortune, and then marvelled at the casual way he shrugged off the news of his impending death. McShane is really putting on a master class here and we’re all lucky to witness it.