Thursday, July 18, 2024

American Gods has a Few Missteps but Keeps Balance

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Now American Gods, I’m getting real tired of you jumping the gun and putting scenes that happen way later so early into the series. Okay maybe I overstated that a little too much, it does bother me slightly but only because of the reason I always bring up in these analyses. Why would you knowingly put in scenes that happen later in the books this early into the series when you already have a pacing problem? Granted, last week they did themselves a favor a bought some time by giving a whole episode devoted to Laura, but they’re not doing themselves any favors by bringing in later events to fill in for space you’re trying to fill for including too many scenes in one single episode. Their original stuff is good, creative and follows the canon of the novel even though we do see some changes, both minor and major. I’ll say this though, the episode was great. The adaptation of the scene in question was mostly faithful to its novel counterpart, but different at the same time. To be completely honest, with the changes they made it wouldn’t be unheard of if they decided to reprise the true scene later in the series without the complete sequence we saw in this episode and it wouldn’t feel the same; If that makes sense?

Now while this episode took a little less creative freedom than the previous episode it returned back to the formula of portraying where it was at compared the book while still trying to add its own thing as filler, the beginning vignette, adapted scenes and a little extra. For the most part it was a really good episode, we finally got to see the face of the stories main “antagonist”, as well as their so to speak masterplan. Like all charismatic villains he tries to convince Wednesday that their goals are similar and should he decide to finally take his side of things that he’ll be rewarded with exactly what he wants and such, but book readers know better than to trust Mr. World, especially after we finally deduce his true identity. After five episodes however, the stage is set and all that’s missing is the House on the Rock segment to tell us all what Wednesdays main motive is, the war.

Coming to America

With basically all of the novels Coming to America sub plots used and the absence of one in the previous episode, we knew that an entirely original one was coming. In this beautifully rendered CGI sequence we come back to one of the main themes of both the novel and series which is what can truly be accomplished with the power of belief. Granted this was a much darker and much less hopeful version of said narrative but it got the point it was trying to make across.

The scene follows a native people migrating over a land bridge to a while new continent which can be assumed is from Siberia to North American in either Alaska or somewhere in Canada. It’s more of a treat for you to actually watch the scene then my feeble attempts to explain what’s going on, but the gist is that these people tried to bring their own goods to this new land, sacrificing lives on the harsh journey there. Of course at the end of their journey they find that their own Gods had abandoned them and the native Gods who roamed there already had all the favor. This of course will be solidified later in the episode in Mr. World’s reveal of how belief is what’s keeping Wednesday in existence. Belief is what gives these Gods their power, their life and it seems that this is a mirror of the last stand that Wednesday will soon have in the works.

Self explanatory

The Living and the Dead

Okay I lied; I have more than one big issue with the series. The first obviously being the pacing problem which by now probably sounds like a broken record. The second is some of the portrayal problems with Shadow and Laura. The scene where the dead Laura is finally revealed to Shadow in the novels is just like her, cold, blunt and uncomfortable. Anyone who has been cheated on has always faced the dilemma, do I really want to know the details of what exactly transpired or should I just end it there and then no questions asked, no explanations wanted. Yet in the novel Shadow isn’t exactly given a choice, nor is he as angry as the show version of him is when the talk finally happens. In the novels Laura simply asks him whether he wants to know or not where as in the show it’s the first thing his mind jumps to, other than the fact that his dead wife is right in front of him. In each it’s pretty much the same, she was lonely and needed a fill in (pun not intended) until Shadow got out and that would be the end of it. Shadow is oddly pretty understanding about it, there are moments where she doesn’t realize she’s going into explicit details of her time with Robbie, but mostly Shadow is very calm and they even joke about it.

This is no criticism on Ricky Whittle as an actor, it’s more to do with the writing but they are making Shadow far too emotional. Of course everyone has some emotion; even Shadow at points in the novel, which people will probably argue is a lot more of a human approach. (SPOILER) But this is Shadow we are talking about; he is the last thing from human. Neil Gaiman has said before that when he wrote Shadow he purposefully made him a dull character with not the most colorful of personalities, this of course was the build up to the big twist of his true identity towards the end. It is very pseudo coming of age or rather coming of identity plotline that of course strictly show watchers won’t get till the end of season 2, if that is the definitive end. At least the script for that scene was on point, minus the coin talk, which Shadow still doesn’t know that it brought her back to life.

Enter Mr. World

Now here is where the biggest changes happened, considering we haven’t even reached the House on the Rock scene yet, we’re given the kidnapping sequence that is supposed to happen much later. As Shadow leaves the motel to talk to Wednesday the two are taken by the police, rather than in the novel where they are taken by two men in black thugs named Mr. Stone and Mr. Wood, and arrested for robbing the bank. Before we actually see them to it however, we return to the Technical Boy who is currently being reprimanded by Media in the form of David Bowie. The constant references to his music we’re awesome, we miss you Bowie. Anyway, the significance of this scene and the exchange between Mad Sweeney and Laura later in the episode is of course to give the non-book readers a glimpse into Wednesdays plan before he himself reveals it. This of course in the books was given to Laura during the rest of her late night visit. I was actually pretty okay with this, keeping Shadow in dark until the actual proper moment when he needs to finally know what is truly at hand.

With gasoliiiiiiiine

My greatest issue was the whole moving the kidnapping scene forward. Yet, I do like that they introduced Mr. World so early, it’s hard for a person to really invest themselves into a series without getting a face of their main villain and Crispin Glover was such a good casting choice. While his first appearance is even much later than the kidnapping, its effect was well placed. What I really think this episode missed out on was Laura’s retribution for this act. In the book Shadow is held by Spooks under the command of another elusive man in black, Mr. Town, by the time he’s nearly done interrogating Shadow, Laura comes down on them and massacres them all. With how well the show is using blood and gore it would have made for a fun scene. Yet as I said before, this could still happen.

Getting back to Mr. World though and Media, their portrayals are so masterful. The constant of changes in persona for Media are clever, well thought, and accurate to her ever changing personality in the novels. Her belief in this cause strikes her as someone who could never be bought or have a change of heart. She’s completely invested and that makes her very dangerous. Mr. World on the other hand is a little different than his book counterpart but this is an absolute good thing. We all know who he is but just for fun I’m not going to say it here, just in case someone stumbles in here not wanting one of the biggest twists of the novel revealed. But the fact that he’s so different gives us our own little mystery. Of course it’s not like losing our memory and going back to not knowing who he is, but a change in character, that adds something entirely new. It gives us instead of a new twist, not knowing what to expect between then and now. Valhalla anew indeed.

Casting at its finest

It is also in these final moments of the episode that we get to see the real Mr. Wednesday; the cunning con man with a silver glib tongue, who can talk his way out of any situation. He is the man who is willing to start a war just so he can be the thorn in someone’s back. Granted that’s not the only reason he is doing it, the true motive is still yet to be seen. The exchange in this scene between the two major powers keeps you at the edge of your seat and boy will you look back on this when Mr. World finally reveals himself. Speaking of revealing information, the evil tree tentacles. Yeah they might as well just say it was Yggdrasil and that it’s symbolic, but not to who you think, aimed towards the non book readers of course.

Another great exchange was the scene when Mad Sweeney finally catches up to Laura. It’s great that they give Sweeney so much more screen time than he has in the books. While he’s pretty likable in the first episode his personality gets a lot uglier as time goes by, especially at times of desperation. In this episode he’s used as a plot device to throw in some information that we should have known by but hasn’t been revealed to Shadow yet. He’s not there just for show, he serves a purpose in giving us a look into what is really going on while still being able to say we know more than Shadow. It builds suspense in the way of not knowing how Shadow will react when this information finally reaches his own ears.

The writers are so mean to Sweeney

Final Thoughts

While this episode had a lot of content that hasn’t appeared thus far in the book yet it’s a dual edged sward. The changes we see either bring the show forward in order to keep up a pace, even though the pace has been slowing down it’s still too fast for my liking. On the other hand they use some exposition and alternate storytelling to sort of root out a whole level of character development, specifically centering on what our main characters know and don’t know yet. However, on the bad side this does mess with how they portray certain characters and changes some of their personalities completely. While it works for some characters like Media and Mr. World, it feels just wrong on others like Shadow and Laura. With the series entering its final few episodes they’ll need to strike a balance between keeping things interesting and fresh for show watchers but also with a semblance of faith to keep the book reader enjoying it without feeling like the novel they loved so much will be stripped of what made it so magical.

All Images Courtesy of STARZ

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