American Gods: Serious Moonlight

"Don’t worry about it. I was having a bad day. It made me smile."

OK, now that was a lot better.
American Gods gets its groove back by dropping most of the side issues and focusing on telling the story of Lakeside. Crazy.

That's probably an oversimplification, as the Lakeside stuff isn't all that's going on in this episode. For a couple of reasons that we'll break down in a moment, this either a better episode or a more satisfying episode than 'Winter's Tale.'  Those aren't the same thing, and I'm not 100% which one is more accurate.

Let's work through this. There are two distinct forces at work here. They're mostly unrelated to one another, and in fact in some ways work against each other. And yet they're both fairly effective. Broadly speaking, we can call them 'the plot' and 'the direction.'

Less pretentiously, the story they're telling this week is much more disciplined, much less scattershot, and has all of the irritating ancillary plotlines that dragged last week down cleanly removed. The stated goal was to focus more on the book's plot, specifically the Lakeside sequences, and it very much feels like they achieved that objective here. The events going on in Lakeside were engaging, the characters were really starting to come together beyond their basest plot functions, and they were finally getting down to recounting to us the events of that section of the book. When you actually break it down, the episode is much less focused on Lakeside than it seems, but it's structured in such a way that it feels like we're being told one coherent story as opposed to random scenes thrown together in no particular order.

The times we pull away from Lakeside fall into two different categories. 1: getting everyone who is still in the cast to Chicago for Zorya Vechernyaya's wake, and 2: Stylistic flourishes that we'll talk about in a minute. 

The wake, cleverly referred to on the invitation as a 'Koliada,' was an inspired way to bring everyone still in the cast together in an organic way. It served Wednesday's purposes, but more importantly it served the Lakeside plotline, as Shadow needed to be suspiciously 'away' when Alison mysteriously disappeared so that the town could properly suspect him. That's a nice example of accomplishing several different things simultaneously in your scripting.

Similarly, Wednesday's trip to the dentist to basically sell God War Bonds could have come across as extremely unnecessary, but it allowed Wednesday to find out about the wake in an organic way, which allowed him to be there uninvited, which fueled everything that happened with Czernobog, which led to Wednesday accomplishing exactly what he wanted. So, again, nice solid plotting. And also a nice little echo of Wednesday's visit to Vulcan back in season one.

Ah yes, there's the segue I was looking for.

That would be the opposing force at work in this episode. A clear, unmistakable, desperate attempt to bring back the look, feel, and sounds of that first season. We open with what's essentially a 'Coming to America' flashback for the first time in simply ages, and I didn't really know how much their absence had been hurting the series until now. This time we're in 1690s Wisconsin, at what appears to be the founding of Lakeside by slaughtering the native tribe that was already living there. 

What appear to be Vikings sacrifice a child to an oncoming storm. That's probably going to be relevant later on. 

Everything about the way this sequence is presented screams 'remember that first scene in episode one? Wasn't that great? We can still do that, you know!' It should feel like pandering, but it's well done, so it doesn't. At least not that much. The same can be said for the buffalo dream sequence and the shadow of the Thunderbird bookends. We've seen all this before. But not for a long time, and we'd been really missing it.

It's undeniable that a lot of this episode calls back to the way things looked, sounded, and felt back in season one. Bilquis' scene is almost a direct lift from the show's premiere. The entire opening part of the scene with Gil Bellows and Bilquis felt odd and unnecessary, however. They made a big deal of telling us who this guy was as if the name was supposed to mean something, and if it did I don't know what that might be. The sex/devouring scene makes for an interesting comparison with the same from episode one. Here it's shot in a much more romance/seduction style, whereas the Joel Murray version was shot clinically enough to almost feel like a wildlife documentary with soundtrack by Structures Sonores.

So, an odd mix of things. On the one hand a successful attempt to refocus the storytelling onto the next section of the book, but at the same time a clear attempt to evoke the style and feel of the show as it existed in season one and then mostly abandoned in season two. The fact that they mostly succeeded in both goals with only a slight implication of pandering to mar the effect is laudable.



Quotes:

Wednesday: "Half the art of war is knowing when to switch sides."

Chad: "Let’s not all get in a fuss over the Piggly Wiggly rumor mill."

Chad: "So, you two have met."
Shadow: "At gunpoint."

Salim: "If he truly does not love me, I need to hear him say it to my face."

Wednesday. "Wow. He really did invite everyone but me."

Salim: "You should have let the leprechaun kill him."


Bits and Pieces:

-- I really wonder how all of this reads if you don't live in the American Midwest. Just for example. Anyone from this area with any sense whatsoever would just know to be extremely careful to watch for deer on the freeway. Particularly at that time of night, in that sort of terrain, and at that time of year. (Deer are in rut basically November to January, which means they're very active. Thus, likely to run out onto the freeway). True, Shadow wouldn't have known that. But as a viewer, if you're not from the area your response to the moment is, 'Oh my god what just happened,' whereas if you are from the area your response is, 'Well, what the Hell did you think was going to happen, you idiot.'

-- Similarly, pasties – totally a thing here. Not so much in southern Minnesota, but in Wisconsin through the UP and into Minnesota's Iron Range they have a cult following that is not being over-exaggerated in this episode. UP is 'Upper Peninsula,' by the way. Basically, the part of Michigan that we try not to talk about.

-- The best variation of pasties have a little pouch of fruit filling, generally apple, on one end so that if you start on the other side, that's your dessert. You shouldn't serve pasties with any side dishes. People do sometimes, but you shouldn't.

-- I really liked how disciplined the script was about not overstating that the reason Shadow was suspected was that they knew the windshield had been replaced because the High School sticker was gone. That was a nice touch and they resisted the urge to beat it into the ground.

-- It's not safe to use an unmaintained fireplace. I don't care for how long your vindictive property manager had turned the heat off. It literally would have been safer to build a bonfire in the middle of the living room than use that fireplace.

-- What in the world was up with the peacock? I kind of like that I have no idea. Again, very season one.

-- Julia Sweeney is just killing it as gender flipped Hinzelmann. I'm really loving how the gender change is affecting her character's role in the town. Such a good decision.

-- They really do not know what to do with Salim, do they. I'm guessing the Jinn has left the cast as well. Honestly, sweet as he is, why are they keeping Salim around at all at this point?

-- Dammit, they actually made me interested in Cordelia, via her and Shadow having some good chemistry. I'm still not sure what purpose her character serves other than to have someone other than Shadow driving Wednesday around, though.

-- The fundraiser of putting an old car on a frozen lake and betting when it will fall through is totally a real thing. Or rather, was. The EPA frowns on it these days. The Jaycees did it every year when I was a kid. It was super exciting every time you drove by to see if it was still there. Obviously this was before video games.

-- The god Tyr is super interesting, and rewards looking him up. What happened to his original hand, for starters.

-- I honestly don't know if the guy playing Chad Mulligan is cute, or if my affection for the character as written is just making me think so. Can I get an objective weigh in on this one?

-- I like what they were going for, but the English subtitle printed over the other language subtitle thing that they tried a few times here was just was too hard to read.


A much better episode than last week, but it mostly achieves it by bringing back the things that worked from series one and I'm not sure if that's course correction or just pandering. Either way, a big improvement

Three out of four pasties.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. If you'd like to see his raw notes for this and other reviews, you can find them at What Was Mikey Thinking.

4 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Was there something in the episode about the David Bowie song, "Let's Dance?"

Mikey Heinrich said...

Disappointingly, no. Not even a big glass spider :)

Billie Doux said...

That's disappointing.

Mikey Heinrich said...

I should rewatch it again to see if anyone puts on red shoes and dances...