American Gods: The Lake Effect

"I’ll sleep when I’m dead."

American Gods reaches the penultimate episode of season three, and rockets through an impressive amount of plot, impressively quickly. Too quickly? Possibly.

There are a couple of strange pacing issues going on with American Gods at this point in the season. Not bad, necessarily, just strange.

Case in point, at the end of the previous episode Shadow made the decision to not return to Lakeside right away, but instead go to Jacksonville for some goal that we could make a reasonable guess at but went without being overtly stated. That's fine, but generally we're conditioned to expect that the show is going to follow up either by following him to Jacksonville and showing us what he went there to do, or by leaving a suitable amount of Shadow-less space to get across the feeling that he's been away on some mysterious mission which will be explained when he gets back. Where's Shadow? He went to Jacksonville but we don't know why. What could he be doing right now? We don't know. The mystery builds. Then, possibly toward the end of the episode, he reappears and all about the trip and his side-quest there is revealed.

That's the general way that that sort of plot divergence is handled. The choice between the two is largely down to what feeling the show is trying to communicate with the trip, the important point is that you have to leave a space in the story large enough for us to believe that he's gone somewhere else and done something there.

But we don't get that here. Instead, Shadow shows up back in Lakeside almost immediately, which leaves the viewer with a sense of 'Wait... I thought he was going to Florida... Why's he back in Lakeside? Did he change his mind?' Obviously this isn't a hard and fast rule, and the show is perfectly allowed to tell the story however it wants. Nonetheless, it does go a bit against how we're conditioned to understand the language of television.

The reason for their decision to go this way is pretty clear. It's the penultimate episode of the season and by hell or high water we're going to get through the rest of the Lakeside plot-line because next week we have some big stuff planned that we can't get to until we finish up the Lakeside stuff. Fair enough. Moving through the plot at a good clip isn't an intrinsically bad choice, and the cascading revelations about who exactly has been killing the children of Lakeside and why play out in a satisfying way, even if it's true that they've removed a lot of the depth that those reveals entailed in the book. I know, not a fair critique. I shouldn't have had to read the book to enjoy this, and if you hadn't read the book this all plays perfectly well. I was just really hoping for a re-appearance of Betty Gilpin's Audrey from season one, even if I knew in my heart that it wasn't likely.

And that's a good point to segue to, because one of the major themes of this episode, the 'effect' that the 'lake' was having, if you will, is willful self blindness. Shadow went to Florida to find out what happened to Marguerite's son Sandy, and confirmed that Sandy wasn't there. That Sandy had never been there. That Sandy was one of the children who had gone missing over the years. Marguerite clearly knew that on some level, judging by her reaction to Shadow's news. She'd spent years not going to check herself so that she could pretend to believe that he was still safe and well somewhere out there.

Similarly, Chad Mulligan clearly knows on some level that Alison McGovern isn't an isolated case of a kid going missing. His insistence that Shadow stop trying to tell him about all the other missing kids through the town's history and just 'get back behind the line' shows clearly that he's fighting an internal battle between acknowledging the truth and wanting to remain in the comforting lie that the town can remain safe an innocent. He doesn't really believe for a second that Derek killed Alison and then hung himself in remorse. He knows that Derek was killed and made a patsy. He knows that if he just manages to believe otherwise he can keep the town the way it is.

It's a nicely woven theme which builds to its natural peak in Hinzelmann's plea to Shadow to just let things be. Give in. Just live here and enjoy the security and peace, you don't have to ever think about what it costs. And while Shadow was never going to go for that, making his refusal to do so less of an effective resolution, having Chad come in and make the choice to stop accepting the beautiful lie was a very satisfying way to resolve the situation.

So, again, good stuff, nicely done. There are however a few quibbles. The business with Derek appearing to have hung himself out of guilt because his budding trans-ness made him an acceptable patsy for the child killer is uncomfortably close to a few tropes that the world would be better off getting over. Sure, part of the point is that he wasn't guilty of it at all and was in fact a murder victim himself, but they didn't really have any time to spend to make that point more than obliquely. Also, that 'Did Derek really do it' plot-line should probably not have been introduced and resolved within the same episode. That really blunted its effectiveness as a murder-mystery plot point. Again, they just didn't have the time.

Meanwhile, Laura and Liam stop at an abandoned church to practice using a weapon intended to kill a god. So, not on the nose at all. It was sweet that Liam feels obligated to help Laura, even to the extent of lending her back Sweeney's coin so that she would get a lucky throw with the spear. That was a nice continuation of Sweeney's legacy in the show and I can't help but think he would have approved of it.

We get a bit more of Technical Boy, breaking free of the face hugger and embarking on his quest to find 'artifact one,' but really not any more than a brief reminder that that plotline exists. We'll have to see how it intersects with events next episode.

And last but not least, Crispin Glover is back for the latest stage of the oncoming war, the seemingly doomed peace talks. Even Wednesday acknowledges that he's the only Mister World that really measures up. All of which culminates in Laura Moon, manipulated by forces and Gods well outside of her awareness, killing Wednesday with his own spear, which cements the war between the gods into absolute certainty.

Which is exactly what Wednesday has wanted all along. Funny, that.


Quotes:

Laura: "I’m very happy for you with your lucky powers or whatever."
Liam: "You’re not, but go on."

Marguerite: "The truth, whatever it is, doesn’t get me out of bed in the morning."

Wednesday: "Sent my girl Friday to the roof and told her that there would be a goddess who has a fondness for kissing my employees."

Liam: "Has anyone ever told you that you’re very cynical and more than slightly over-dramatic?"

Liam: "There has to be life after. It doesn’t have to be bowling. We could get tattoos."

Cordelia: "I’m sensing a pattern here. We drop in on old friends of yours, they hate your guts and freak out, you eat their food and drink their booze until they calm down. You ever worry that one day it won’t work?"

Wednesday: "Personally I prefer Odin’s Wain. Or do I."


Bits and Pieces:

-- I just still can't bring myself to care about SHARD, no matter what their advertising budget. It's just so ill defined. Do we know for sure that it's even an acronym?

-- Wednesday and Cordelia's goodbye was genuinely touching. I've actually come to like Cordelia.

-- It ties in a bit with the pacing issues mentioned above, but the sequence where Shadow sees the line of frost leading him to the town ledgers, leading him to figure out that a child has disappeared at the end of December every couple of years for as long as the town has been there feels incredibly drawn out and tedious. Much like that sentence.  I honestly don't know if it's just a result of knowing what he's going to find out from having read the book and getting impatient for them to get on with it. Clearly they need to show us that plot point so that the viewers who haven't read the book get to know what's going on. I just can't tell if the moment is poorly done because it feels so tedious, or if it feels tedious because I'm overly familiar with the source material and I should just mind my business on this one. Anybody else have any thoughts on this?

-- The Gonesh-Elephant-Trunk-Car connection is a cool line of deductive clues, but why on earth would an Ice Festival in a small Norse/Germanic-based town in Wisconsin have an ice sculpture of Gonesh? Was it a vision only Shadow could see, or was there an ice sculptor out there really indulging themselves?

-- So now Sam being Marguerite's half sister is just an interesting coincidence, and not signs of Machiavellian goings-on behind the scene. That makes things a little less interesting. But, again, only if you're bringing the source material to it with you.

-- In the interest of balance, one thing that's a huge improvement if you're bringing the source material with you was the decision to have Laura be the one that kills Wednesday, and live in front of everyone instead of on video feed. That was a great change, and worked fantastically. The moment Czernobog went for her you really felt how these characters that we're invested in had ended up on different sides of a very dangerous situation.

-- I hope Liam's OK. He took a pretty good hit with Czernobog's hammer before vanishing into the hoard.

-- It’s SO Laura to try to have sex with Liam on the night before she might die. But new Laura with growth realized in time that it would be a bad idea. Too bad, because Liam was down for it.

-- The disorienting dream sequence of Shadow's perfect life with Marguerite was nicely done. Particularly what sounded like Frank Sinatra on the radio descending into some sort of weird spousal-abuse nightmare tune. What the hell was up with that?

-- Julia Sweeney has done an amazing job as gender flipped Hinzelmann this season. The gradual reveal of just how much every aspect of the town is under her control has been very well handled, and she exudes what can only be described as a 'cozy menace' in a way not everyone could pull off. Great job.


A solid ramp up to the season/series finale that only suffers from being a little rushed in service of getting to where it wants to go.

Three out of four unlikely ice sculptures.

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.

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