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American Gods: Fire and Ice

"Well, I guess I’ll just keep driving to an unknown destination ‘til we run out of road. Or you regain the power of speech."

Well, there's a message from Fred regarding this season as a whole, isn't there.

We've talked a bit about messages from Fred before, but for those who might be newly joining us, it's a screenwriting term for when the writer's personal thoughts about the script accidentally seep into the text. Like when a character says something along the lines of, 'Well, it doesn't look like we have any clear plans for a plot destination, so we're just going to keep going on aimlessly until someone starts giving this story a direction again.'

You know. Something like that. Hypothetically.

At the beginning of season three I would have agreed with the sentiment wholeheartedly, but it does feel like they're starting to find their way, and for the first time since probably 'House on the Rock' it feels like the people making the show have a firm idea where they're going with it. That's a good thing.

It's one of the unappreciated difficulties of adaptation, that in an entirely original work, leaving the audience unsure about where things are headed is seen as a positive. Witness the recent massive success of WandaVision. Whereas in a directly adapted work, it can easily feel like a betrayal of the source material if things aren't sauntering at least vaguely in the direction that the source material indicates. It's a little unfair, but it's part of the package when you're adapting a beloved work. And yes, to spare the comments section, I'm aware that WandaVision was adapting a lot of existing material from the comics. You still get the point I'm making.

Season three of American Gods has largely been an exercise in course correction, and for a series founded on the metaphor of taking a road trip to find the Heart of America, it's fitting that everyone appears to have been put on their new courses and are now traveling toward them. It feels right that they brought Mr. Ibis back to explain a couple of things to underscore this theme.

First, he clearly and concisely explains to the viewer that, while Bilquis was indeed a 'Goddess of Love' with all the sex/worship stuff, before she became that she was something else and is now headed back to being that earlier self. I'm a little surprised that the script didn't also have him explicitly state, 'So we probably won't see her absorbing any more respected character actors into her vagina,' although that was kind of implied.

And then they have Mr. Ibis make the point of the episode, specifically relating to Bilquis but relevant to all the characters. 'Quo Vadis?' which he translates as 'Where are you going, and why?'

The subtext that the script is trying to communicate to the viewers with that moment is very plain. 'All this is headed somewhere, and we know where that is. We know where all the characters are going, and we know why they're headed there.' It's perilously close to an admission that the show has been somewhat lacking in focus for a while now, and that they've taken steps to fix that. For now I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt, because it appears to be true.

Sadly, their message is a little bit undercut right out of the gate by an opening sequence that seems to have been hacked to bits out of the need to not feature Marilyn Manson. From what I understand this would have been his last episode anyway thanks to that really amazing last minute twist reveal, of which we'll speak momentarily. But thanks to the fairly horrific abuse allegations against him, the show chose to excise him from what appears to have been an already completed episode. Meaning that the entire opening sequence is incredibly difficult to follow.

A flaming body falls from the sky in front of Wednesday and Cordelia. Something is watching from the woods by the road and appears to have thrown it at them as some sort of trap. We get what looks like is meant to be a flashback showing us that the body in question was some sort of Odin-worshipping religious figure, maybe? But none of the language of television which would tell us that story clearly are present, most likely because that had to be removed because they had Marilyn Manson in them. To illustrate, shifting to a flashback/memory of a character in a scene can be communicated quickly and cleanly just by showing the scene, then zooming in close to the eye/face of the person whose memory we're about to see. Spot where the problem might be if you can't show that actor.

But I can forgive a muddled opening sequence when the reason why it's muddled is this apparent and this much out of the production's control. And they find ways to explain what's going on clearly enough later. Johan the Berserker has gone crazy and is killing all of his followers. To this end, the big final sequence of the episode shows him going to attack Tyr, former Norse God of War and practicing D.D.S. He's helpfully fully transformed into berserker mode at this point, so they can actually show him, albeit briefly. We then cut from him bearing down on Tyr and move on to other plotlines. I was surprised to discover that I liked Tyr and would be sad to see him killed, so that was an effective moment.

Then Wednesday discovered Johan's corpse as Tyr appeared at Shadow's door in a massive double twist surprise, followed by Tyr tricking Shadow into heading out with him to what appears to be a kidnap/ransom/blood vengeance spot called 'The Wolf's Den.' Really nice plotting, really great editing, and really nice way to tie the plot threads together. The fact that he left the kidnapping demand on a prescription slip was a beautifully gothic touch. Can't wait to see Tyr and Odin face off, it's been a long time coming. For them, if not for us.

Meanwhile, Salim and Laura take a surprisingly cordial sit down with Mister World, still played by Danny Trejo. And I have to say, Danny Trejo playing cordial and businesslike is a flavor that I am here for. Such a delightfully discordant image. Not a whole lot happens here, except that World and Laura come to some terms for Laura retrieving the spear and thereafter killing Wednesday. There are a couple of things to say about this, the first is a massive mea culpa for repeatedly saying in earlier reviews that Laura didn't have anything to do after this point in the book. I just revisited the book on Audible (the 10th anniversary full cast performance, which I can't recommend highly enough) and she has some massive stuff later on that I'd totally forgotten about. This is just another reason why I'm trying to not bring the book into discussion of these episodes. Occasionally, just occasionally mind you, I get something really wrong and now look profoundly stupid in all those earlier reviews. I'm not a fan of that.

The other thing I want to talk about is what they've done here with Salim. I could not love his character growth more. He's right there for Laura, he's smart enough to understand the importance of verbal contracts with gods and apply his own knowledge to the negotiations, and he makes precisely one mistake and one mistake only in the negotiations: he forgets to include himself in the agreement for protection after the contract is concluded. And Laura immediately catches that and makes sure he's included. Interestingly, she mentions protection for Salim before she does for Shadow. Damn, I like these two together.

But the best thing Salim does here comes when Laura tries to justify ignoring his perfectly legitimate concerns by making it into a religious intolerance issue so that she can try to claim the high moral ground, and Salim spends exactly zero seconds before calling bullshit both on her argument, and her reason for making it. Salim has come a long, long way.

We need to talk about Derek:

I've been flip about the Lakeside Panty Thief for as long as it's been a plot line, and I want to apologize for that now. The revelation that Derek enjoys expressing himself through wearing women's clothing and how that's in conflict with his life in this small, insulated town is a very real and common thing.  Taking the route of stealing feminine items is a thing that a lot of trans and gender non-conforming teenagers do while trying to figure out and understand who they are. Eddie Izzard, just for example, was arrested in her youth for stealing makeup from a local department store. Being Eddie Izzard she makes an incredibly funny story about the experience in one of her specials, but even then you can clearly see that the pain underneath it is still real.

I appreciated that Chad tried to be supportive of Derek's gender identity, regardless of whatever it turns out to be. It's interesting to me that we didn't get to hear what the offer Chad made him was. Above all, I appreciated the representation.



Quotes:

Salim: "I’m done waiting in lobbies."

Chad: "I-I... I don’t care if you are a... a boy or a girl, or... or-or-or both, or-or neither. Okay? I-I don’t get it, but I don’t have to!"
-This is actually an amazingly accurate representation of a smaller town mid-west law enforcement officer trying as hard as they can to be supportive while desperately worrying about accidentally saying something offensive after learning that you're LGBTQ. I can verify personally.

Salim: "Back in my country, I was an excellent businessman. Allow me to negotiate the terms and conditions."
Laura: "Um... Just out of curiosity, were assassination attempts your specialty?"

Cordelia: "Which partly explains why it’s partly cloudy with a chance of human remains."

Shadow: "I didn’t have anyone I could talk to. You have me."

World: "God speed."
Laura: "Eat a dick."

Amiable Businessman Danny Trejo might be the best Danny Trejo

Bits and Pieces:

-- Sitting in an outdoor hot tub while it's snowing is as great as Marguerite says. Having sex in one under those conditions... Well, it's possible, but you should keep an eye on your exposures, in every sense on that word. Crawling out of the hot tub immediately after having sex and laying down in the snow...? Really good way to get hypothermia and die. This has been a public service announcement.

-- I don't know if Ricky Whittle can actually ice skate, but if he can he was doing a great job of acting like he couldn't.

-- Wait, does seeing Ganesh under the ice mean they're going to wrap up the whole Lakeside story this season and not come back to it at the end after wrapping other stuff up?

-- Really minor point, but an orange topped coffee pot means it contains decaf. In this part of the world anyway, I don't know about anywhere else. Hinzelmann wouldn't have had to worry about her caffeine intake.

-- Wednesday appears to have used some pretty slick reverse psychology to get Cordelia past the whole 'god' revelation. He let her overhear him talking to Shadow about seizing your chance at love, thereby appearing more vulnerable. Then he offered to let her out of his service implying it was too much for her. All very slickly handled. It helped that he clearly had loved Demeter and been hurt by her leaving him, and the Cordelia had seen that.

-- A couple nice regional touches: Hinzelmann is reading a magazine called 'Fish and Tackle,' which is exactly the kind of magazine you'd have lying around in that kind of small town in that kind of diner. Also, Marguerite calls Shadow a 'Miracle on Ice.' As a citizen of Minnesota, I'm actually required by state law to stand, salute, and say a small devotion to Herb Brooks every time the Miracle on Ice is referenced.

-- That final montage set to Leonard Cohen's 'You Want it Darker' was amazing. Just a triumph of editing.

-- Nice touch that Hinzelmann started the Lakeside Youth Initiative.

-- It's disappointing that Cordelia found out the truth about gods off screen. But sweet that Shadow was so supportive of her.

-- Why on Earth did they bother inserting the one shot of Technical Boy during the final montage? Was there a contractual obligation to Bruce Langley or something?

-- I'm lost as to what most of the Bilquis and Eugenia stuff was about. The building number was 1619, which was certainly a reference to the 1619 project regarding America's foundation on slavery. Is there a specific building referenced as well? Apparently Eugenia helped deliver Shadow, and gave a lot of cryptic clues to Bilquis about 'splitting up the family,' and going to find 'the other.' Are they borrowing a plot point from Ananzi Boys? Is Bilquis one of the Orishas now? Is Eugenia? If you know the answer to any of these questions, please let me know in the comments.

-- That's actually kind of a larger recurring point this season. Seems like every episode has left me homework to look up random dropped names of gods or offshoot sects, or some such. I actually really enjoy the research, but I can't always tell if the episode makes sense without doing it. Should you have to do the legwork after the fact to enjoy good television? Debate to be had in the comments as well.

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I like the roads these characters are heading now. Mostly I like that it feels like they are all heading somewhere now.

Three out of four ways to avoid hypothermia.

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:

Anonymous said...

Hate to nitpick but Eddie Izzard has come out as trans and should be referred to as "she" rather than "he". Name's still the same.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Not a nitpick at all, I was unaware of her pronouns. I'll change that right away.

Thanks for letting me know!

Mikey Heinrich said...

Fixed it. And genuinely, thank you. I have huge respect for people's pronouns. I should have thought to double check hers before posting.

Anonymous said...

Anon says thanks, knew this site could be trusted to care.