American Gods: The Greatest Story Ever Told

"Peace is a beautiful, but sh*tty idea."

A series whose intrinsic premise revolves around new gods forming around things that Americans actually worship finally gets around to the most obvious example. Hello there, Money.

Also, Mr. Nancy brings all the real.

Let's just get this out of the way up front, because otherwise the rest of the review is just going to be me marking time until I can bring it up.

Every single word of Mr. Nancy's monologue is amazingly written, outstandingly performed, and should be played on repeat in every single social studies and civics class in the United States until the country as a whole finally decides to do something about fixing things. I can't imagine that it won't be available to view on its own on YouTube within the next 24-48 hours, and when it does you should absolutely go watch it. Over the course of a few uninterrupted minutes, Orlando Jones lays out slavery, human trafficking, the alt-right, systemic violence and institutionalized failure, the school to prison pipeline, knee taking and the NFL, and more. It's angry, and it's powerful, and I expect high school speech competition judges will get tired of hearing it in a few years.

I've been a little focused this season on noting the things from season one that we lost with the transitions behind the scenes, but I've neglected to mention one thing that the new season has really improved. That's the interactions between the Gods themselves. In the first season, that interaction was almost exclusively limited to Wednesday and whichever old god he happened to be making his sales pitch to that week. We saw Czernobog and the three sisters in their home life together, but they were already from the same belief system and closely intertwined. This season we're starting to see how the other gods relate to one another just on a day to day basis, and it's really been great.

Which is how we get to Mr. Nancy's speech, and its context gives it its real edge. Mr. Nancy, Bilquis, and Mr. Ibis have gathered at the Ibis and Jaquel funeral parlor, and have a good, solid talk about race. This is in itself amazing, as television has a pronounced tendency to avoid a real and messy talk about race. We have three African gods, all played by actors of color, two of which seem to have made the choice to let things in America continue as they are, only to have the third one essentially sit them down and say, 'Here is what is happening, what has always been happening, to the descendants of your worshipers. How can you possibly be all right with this? How can you look the other way? How can you let this happen?' That's just not something you see on television. And I could not look away.



Meanwhile, in the A plot, Wednesday and Shadow head out to track down yet another new American God in order to persuade them to join Wednesday's side in the war. This time they're trying to track down 'Money.' Unfortunately, his trio of security girl scouts won't give them access, because Shadow has never had a line of credit, and Money hates that. Yes, you read that correctly. Security Girl Scouts. OK, technically 'Penny Scouts,' so as to avoid getting sued by the Girl Scouts of America. They are selling candy named 'Payback,' because not all of the metaphors in this show are subtle.

And on the other team's bench, Mr. World sends Technical Boy to find a replacement for the recently murdered Argus. TB goes to Silicon Valley to find someone who isn't named by the show, but is the head of a company called Xie Comm, so one assumes his name is Xie. This same CEO is the boy we saw in the opening sequence, playing video games and practicing Bach, until he realizes the link between music and math, programs software to write new Bach-like music, and apparently brings Technical Boy into being to play electronic classical music at his father's funeral. It's actually a really well structured and meticulously pieced together dissertation on the interrelationship between faith, love, music, and numbers, and it works all the better for throwing us into it without giving us any context or information whatsoever. I'm not always a fan of the cold open on this show, but this was really well done.

Technical Boy refers to this man whose name we have to assume is Xie as his friend. What's more, he refers to himself as being Xie's only friend, and we're given no reason to doubt that statement. Which makes it all the more heartbreaking when World shows up, uses New Media to steal Possibly-Xie's attention, and then leaves Technical Boy to die.

Oh, yeah. Technical Boy dies.

I did not see that coming. But we did have an extended discussion with New Media earlier about whether old Media had died or just been reformed, so maybe that was foreshadowing for New Technology. I hope not though, because Bruce Langley was fantastic in a part designed to be unlikable, and it would take away from his shock death if they just brought him back again. "I was literally your only friend..." he says to Possibly-Xie. But it seems much more likely that what is breaking his heart is that the reverse was also true. Goodbye Technical Boy. I spent a lot of time hating you, and then you made me cry for you, and then you died. RIP. Unless of course I read the situation wrong and he isn't dead. Then I'll feel foolish for writing this paragraph.

So, having 'retired a god' in Technical Boy, World gets past the sinister Girl  Penny Scouts, and he and Wednesday both sit down in front of Money, or 'The Bookkeeper' as he's credited, to make their sales pitch. Money gives a hard pass to both of them and leaves. Neither Wednesday or World seem that miffed about it, so it was probably more about preventing him from joining the opposition than getting him to join the team.


Quotes:

The Father: "This is Grief. And yet, the rising notes of joy shattering his own rules. Can you hear it?"

Ibis: "Like any formative life experience, death changes you."

Bilquis: "A woman’s heart should never be so hidden in God that she cannot hear her own truth."

New Media: "I wonder if the next version of me will feel me inside of her."

Mama-Ji: "You think America was eager to hand over her moneybags to the hungry, the tired, and the poor? We battle for every goddamn scrap."

New Media via a sign on a wall: "You’re only as good as your last win."
Technical Boy: "Eat a giant bag of dicks."

Bilquis: "This country has not been kind to my face."
Ibis: "You are as perfect and vibrant as the Euphrates."

Nancy: "Y’all done yet? ‘Cause I’m getting bored watching this bullshit."

Bilquis: "Suffering is not sacred."

Bilquis: "This country has done things to us."
Nancy: "We have done things to us."

Wednesday: "I’m gonna win this one. People like me more than they like you."
World: "I prefer to be feared."



Bits and Pieces:

-- A note for the pedantic. Yes, technically Bilquis is from Persia, and as such is not technically an African God. However, Ibis greets her as his queen, and he's clearly from Egypt, and Nancy refers to all three of them as African Gods, so I'm going with that read. Besides, our understanding of the Persian Empires geography is far from clear.

-- Is it strange that Jacuel/Anubis wasn't anywhere to be found for the discussion of African God's obligation to fight racial injustice?

-- It's strongly implied that Wednesday was instrumental in getting Bast to have sex with Shadow in his dreams, possibly fulfilling his promise that Shadow would wake up feeling great. That felt gross and robbed Bast of her own agency, which is particularly egregious in her case.

-- On that note, this is a rare case where without reading the book it would have been very difficult to know what the Hell was going on during the sex scene. They sort of half-explain it afterwards, but I don't think I would have understood it at all.

-- The direction of the sex scene was telling. In season one it would have been far more graphic, laying everything on screen in a non-exploitative and almost clinical way. See, for example, Salim and Ifrit's sex scene in 'Head Full of Snow.' Here it's directed much more conventionally, right down to Shadow having the sheet discretely draped over his personal business afterwards.

-- I wish they hadn't leaned so heavily into the Asian father who makes his son practice music thing, but it was really the only way to tell the story of how music and math intersected in the boy's life to create Technical Boy, or at least his friendship with Technical Boy. It's just kind of a tired trope.

-- Speaking of, and just for the record; music and math are incredibly connected. In many important ways they're the exact same thing. A software program that can be taught to understand and recreate Bach isn't unfeasible by any stretch of the imagination. It probably already exists, I haven't googled it.

-- It's a little messy, structurally, that Wednesday got Shadow to the funeral home only to take him away on a day trip right away so that Bilquis could stop by and have an important conversation. That feels like a vestigial remnant from the book, i.e he goes from the train to Cairo there, so that's what he does here.

-- No Laura or Sweeney this week. Looks like they're back next week.

-- It also appears that next week we'll see more of Bilquis' new friend Ruby Goodchild. I liked Ruby a lot. She felt like a real person.

-- The actor playing Money was William Sanderson. You might know him from literally every movie and television show ever made.

A really great episode that leaned into the new regime's strengths as opposed to leaning away from the previous ones'.

Three and a half out of four Emmys for Orlando Jones. Please, can we get an Emmy for Orlando Jones?

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, volunteer firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla.

1 comment:

434444334 said...

Mr Nancy killing it with his speeches again I fully agree with him why shouldn't they light the gasoline of war

Also is tech dead D:(tbh he's a little shit good job on the actor playing him)