Season 2 | Episode 1 | ‘The House on the Rock’ | Aired March 10, 2019
On every level, American Gods is a show about what people are willing to believe. The power of belief has kept the Old Gode alive in America for hundreds of years. Now that belief is starting to slip away. Americans are less preoccupied with ideas like Death, War, and Chaos. They’ve become distracted by things like technology, entertainment, and Globalization. As these ideas grow or diminish in the public eye, their avatars, the star-studded cast of American Gods, increase or decline in power. This, to maintain their power, they need people to be willing to believe in them.
The Old Gods
In Season 1 of American Gods, we were introduced to Shadow Moon, the show’s protagonist and the only mortal human character in the main cast. Shadow is on the side of the Old Gods, led by the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). Wednesday and his fellow Old Gods have a problem. In the few hundred years since Europeans first washed up on the shores of North America, the Old Gods have been losing their mojo. Wednesday may be the Norse god of war. But without periodic blood sacrifices, he’s not much more than a one-eyed man with a great accent. Wednesday’s plan to get back in the spotlight? A war. A war against the New Gods. The kind of big flashy war that people can’t help but pay attention to. Or so he hopes.
STARZ network executives may find themselves secretly pulling for Mr. Wednesday oddly. The Season 2 premiere, “The House on the Rock, ” is the first episode of American Gods made with no input from Bryan Fuller or Michael Green. Fuller (Hannibal, Star Trek: Discovery, Pushing Daisies) and Green (Logan, Blade Runner: 2049, Alien: Covenant) developed the show at STARZ and had such a distinct impact on the overall aesthetic of the show’s first season, that expectations for Season 2 bottomed out almost immediately when it was announced that the pair had left.
In place of Fuller and Green, STARZ hired first Tim showrunner Jesse Alexander, who worked with Fuller on Heroes and Hannibal. Those credits, as well as his frequent collaborations with J. J. Abrams, prove that Alexander is no slouch. But still, he must sympathize with Shadow Moon. He’s being asked to prop up a titan that people have lost hope in, and bring it back to its full potential.
The New Gods
If the Old Gods are scrambling to try and devise a plan that will reconcile their power, the New Gods aren’t much better off. Mr. World (Crispin Glover) and the Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) were both hurt in their battle against Wednesday in the Season 1 finale. But while the Old Gods were forced to take refuge at the titular Rock on the Hill, being in fashion has its benefits. Mr. World and the Technical Boy barricade themselves within the fictional Black Briar Country Club, a secret US surveillance bunker fronting as an exclusive West Virginia Country Club.
As the living embodiment of globalization, World has more connections than anyone. He identifies himself to a guard at Black Briar as “the man behind the man behind the man.” Mr. World uses the facilities at Black Briar to summon up his Spooks. And while Shadow should be wary that Mr. World’s lackeys are now hot on his trail, there is one person who is even out of the reach of the great Mr. World.
In addition to the lose of showrunners Fuller and Green, Season 2 of American Gods is also playing without Gillian Anderson. Following the Fuller/Green exits, Anderson announced she would be leaving the project well. Anderson’s performance as Media was heralded as one of the best parts of Season 1. Now, with the Technical Boy out desperately searching for Media, one can’t help but see the parallels between the show’s plot and the actual hardships of its production. On the other side of the battle line, the absence of Kristen Chenoweth’s Ostara is palpable. Chenoweth decided not to return we well after the announcement that Fuller, Green, and Anderson would all be leaving after Season 1.
The Gods That Never Were
The result is an episode of television that feels very much like a memory of something else. Like Mr. Wednesday, the show isn’t the American Gods; it is an American Gods. The Season 2 premiere feels like a hollow echo of a show that could have been. A memory, desperately hoping that enough people still believe in it to give it power. To give it one more chance at greatness.
In Season 1, Bilquis says that she’s “not what [she] once was.” The same could be said for the show. Both critically and commercially, the first season of American Gods was a bigger success than anyone had any right to expect. Even if Season 2 dips, it could still end up being very good. The question is, can the show convince enough people to keep believing in it?
Hopefully, Wednesday’s war will turn enough heads.