American Gods: The Unseen

"I’m going to need you to dial it back to about a two."

Season Three is starting to tie its plot threads together. It mostly holds up all right.

There's kind of an intrinsic problem with the 'Lakeside section' in American Gods: the book. Partially it's that most of the other characters aren't in it. Additionally, the most interesting thing about Lakeside doesn't get explained until nearly the end of the book, which means that at the current rate that they're making the show we'll get to see it somewhere around 2035. Which is a heck of a long time to ask your audience to wait for a payoff.

Neither of those is a real problem in the book, because reader's expectations are different than viewer's, and we interact with different forms of media in different ways. But in a serialized TV show with regular cast members who need to earn their paychecks, you need to find things for them to do. Because I can guarantee you that Ian McShane has some sort of contract stating that he's getting paid whether you give him a plotline or not. Less pragmatically, you also don't want the audience to forget who the other characters are by just dropping them from an entire season.

So, we have five focal characters at this point; Shadow, Laura, Wednesday, Bilquis, and Technical Boy. I exclude Salim and Mr. Ibis, as the show seems pretty comfortable just forgetting about them in a way that they don't do for the aforementioned five. Mister/Miss World is a whole different issue that we'll get to in a bit. Of the big five, only one has anything to do at this point in the story, and even he only gets 'hang out in a small town and notice that kids go missing,' which isn't exactly edge of your seat television. Again, in a book it works fine because you can use the time to really dig into internal characterization. On a TV show it would be nice to work in some explosions.

So they've fashioned season long arcs for the other four out of whole cloth, and drawn Shadow into them. That's actually a nice solution to the problem, although if you're familiar with the book it does make the newly created plotlines feel a bit intrusive and less important than the 'real' plotlines. But that's somewhat unfair to the show, which is after all its own thing and really should only be judged on its own merits. I never watched Game of Thrones, but I imagine fans had to wrestle with this issue a lot as well.

Let's start with Bilquis, as she's the key to tying them all together. As I previously have mentioned, at this point in the book Bilquis is spending all of her time being super dead after Technical Boy killed her. But Yetide Badaki is too good in the part to let go, and so they've hinged this season on her 'consummation' of Bill Sanders, as briefly played by Gil Bellows a few episodes back. Turns out Bill was super important in the tech sector, with his log line being 'Bill Gates, but sexy.' Apparently everybody knows that he entered Bilquis' apartment and never came out again, and so she's in the crosshairs of Sanders' understandably worried daughter.

It was nice that Technical Boy was able to reconstruct for us that that's what happened, and made sense given how much electronic surveillance is out there, but it did feel just a little plot convenient. Ah well. Due to how much I enjoy what Bruce Langley has done with the part I was momentarily upset when Shadow started to beat the crap out of him. But then I remembered that Technical Boy literally had Shadow lynched back in episode one, and after that I could have watched it all day.

So, Buddy Cop pairing of Shadow and Technical Boy established they head out to track down Bilquis, and I have to say, Shadow's plan to make the guy talk by smacking Technical Boy until he went all glitchy thus making the guard think they were aliens out to conduct experiments on his reproductive system was really enjoyable. I love lateral thinking. Oh, yes – Technical Boy's arc this season seems to be that whatever Bilquis did to him in 'Winters Tale' has seriously messed him up and he needs her to undo it. OK, that's fine. As plot motivation I'll call that 'serviceable.' It facilitates Shadow and he having to team up, and that's been comedy gold so far, so I'll accept it.

But a problem arises, as Bill Sanders' disappearance has disrupted the supply chain for some parts that Miss World desperately needs in order to complete something called SHARD which will somehow connect worshippers directly to Gods or something. Honestly, I find it hard to care about Miss World's plan at this point and I wish they hadn't chosen to invest so much screen time in it. It did however facilitate the return of Crispin Glover as Mr. World for the one episode that they could get him to do this year, and it didn't do Dominique Jackson any favors. She's done great with what she's been given, but having your performance as a super creepy villain immediately compared and contrasted with Crispin Glover's is not a battle that anyone is going to win.

It was worth it though for Mister World's interactions with Bilquis, which were electric, despite the fact that I still have no idea what World's long term plan for Bilquis is because they're still being so damn muddy about it. At one point I honestly thought that they were going to show Gil Bellows flying out of Bilquis' hoo-ha at World's insistence. Thankfully, that did not occur.

Wednesday's season long arc has now clearly been established as trying to get Demeter out of the institution where she's committed. I still say that they'd have accomplished it in one scene if Wednesday hadn't been in such urgent need of a plotline. So now he has to 'battle of wits' with Dr. Hutchinson, the skeezy embezzler who runs the place for the whole season. OK, that's not a terrible way to have Ian McShane spend the season, but it does read as time filler. I do wonder whether he blew up that bar (see... explosions!) just as a way to get himself committed in the same institution, or did Johan blow it up, or what? I still don't know that I buy the existence of an Odin worshipping biker gang, and even if one existed would they really name their bar 'Valhalla East'? Wouldn't it be 'Valhalla West'? That's just basic geography, people.

And finally, the heavily telegraphed resurrection of Laura Moon, through the magical gris gris that Baron Samedi gave her last year. All it took was a couple drops of blood from someone who loved her and presto she's back. And look at that, Pablo Schreiber's bloody corpse has been right there next to it in one of the most telegraphed plot surprises I've ever seen. I could have forgiven one cloying montage of Laura and Sweeney's Greatest Romantic Hits just to ram that point home, but two is unforgivable. Like the brief reappearance of Crispin Glover, it just reminded me of better times. What's even the point of Laura at this stage in the show? Her plot's pretty much done. She's headed to Cairo to see Salim and Ibis, because what else do you do at that point I guess. I don't know, maybe they'll reveal that Bill Sanders owed her money or something.

So, lots of pieces sauntering vaguely toward one another, and Laura. That's pretty much where we're at.



Quotes:

Shadow: "Whatever she did to you, you probably deserved it."

Guard: "We like our phones empty. And dumb. Like you two idiots."

Cordelia: "I don’t think phone numbers have that many digits."

Guard: "That’s a secure line."
Technical Boy: "Well, apparently not, dickhead."




Bits and Pieces:

-- Start with a big 'My Bad'. I somehow missed last episode that all the magazine women were Bilquis. And that they said 'Find Me.' I probably should not have been confused about why he then went to find Bilquis. I don't know how I missed that.

-- I had to do a little research to see who the gods were that showed up to the slaves in the opening sequence. Googling their names I discover that they were the Orishas, divine beings in Santeria. Originally Gods from Africa, they were combined with a bunch of other religious traditions into a their modern forms because Santeria is a Syncretic religion, which means it's a fusion of a bunch of different faiths. I also learned the word 'syncretic' today in my research. It's a good word. Fun to say. Try it.

-- The Orishas were also the ones dancing in the convenience store cooler last time, as well as being who Whiskey Jack recommended Shadow seek out for answers. They seem very 'lovey-supportey' here, which makes me wonder if the producers' desire to use them this season was part of the decision to drop Mr. Nancy.

-- The poem/doggerel that Wednesday is reciting in traffic is the lyrics to the song 'Pressed Rat and Warthog,' by Cream. I also had to look that up.

-- Wednesday referred to Johan as his 'blood drinking fire bear.' So I googled 'blood drinking fire bear' and it seems to indicate that Johan is something called a 'berserker' from Norse Mythology, which is pretty much what it sounds like and explains why Wednesday was just assuming Johan had slaughtered the rest of his band. That sounds like it was going to go somewhere interesting, except now it won't because the show dropped Marilyn Manson from the rest of the season after his abuse allegations. Man, it's been a rough couple of weeks for that sort of thing.

-- At some point, someone is going to stop by with questions about my internet search history.

-- The opening slavery montage had some fabulous imagery. The blood soaking the land and the house literally being built out of bloodsoaked money were particularly compelling.

-- The music Laura was hearing was apparently Schweiger’s requiem of Baldur. I must be spelling something very wrong because I couldn't find any information about it. The title is not a good omen (no pun intended).

-- Should knock out drugs really work on a god?

"I could literally just go home now..."


It was OK. I can see where the plotlines are going, and I don't hate it for the most part. There was some fun to be had with Shadow and Technical boy out buddy-copping. I've spent worse hours.

Two and a half out of four exploding biker bars.

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.

2 comments:

Billie Doux said...

At some point, someone is going to stop by with questions about my internet search history.

Lol, Mikey. :)

In one of my jobs, I had to research obscure artists, and a lot of them had sites that were not rated PG, and were not in English. It can be interesting.

magritte said...

@Mikey, I didn't notice that all the women were Bilquis or that she said find me, either. I think the whole scene was just so strange that we probably weren't looking closely enough at the magazines. I think the show sometimes is too visually busy making it hard for viewers to recognize what's important in a scene.

I guess you're right that the episode is showing more of a sense of direction. I'm just not all that interested in where it's going at this point. It was interesting that you brought Game of Thrones because one big issue that AG has that GoT didn't is the quantity of source material. AG is one three hundred thousand word novel, GoT nearly two million...and still not finished. So it's more like the Man in the High Castle, but that show basically dispensed with all the plot elements from the book in the first season...really it just used the setting. What American Gods is attempting is embroidering around the existing plot which I think is harder. The closest thing I can think of to a show that's done that successfully is The Magicians...and they mashed up the original plot almost beyond recognition.