The news of American Gods‘ truncated second-season order offered hope for the show’s ever-changing creative team, an opportunity to deliver a more focused, kinetic narrative, shrinking the show’s scope a bit, without sacrificing the epic scale a show about a war between gods needs. Despite centering most of the season’s action around a single location, American Gods’ sophomore effort is even more obtuse and meandering than the first, a series of weightless story beats and character developments which come to a laughably inert conclusion in “Moon Shadow”.
It doesn’t get off to a great start: the opening sequence is a repetitive slog of bad dialogue, with Mr. World pontificating on the power of fear (just in case you don’t get what he’s talking about, he says “fear” about 19 times). Using the original War of the World radio broadcast as its “slice of Americana” reference point (which itself is a curious choice, given that the story is a long-disproved hoax), “Moon Shadow” opens with a mediation on misinformation and intimidation, all in service of a plot point (Mr. Shadow, trying to get Wednesday, Shadow, and Salim arrested for some reason) that is completely ignored by nearly every other character on the show.
American Gods‘ sophomore effort is even more obtuse and meandering than the first, a series of weightless story beats and character developments which come to a laughably inert conclusion in “Moon Shadow”.
And by the time it reaches its quiet conclusions, there’s no feeling this story is a major culmination of themes, or even a powerful catalyst for a climactic development in the war between the old and new gods; it’s just another in a short line of things that happen this season on American Gods, a disparate collection of moments barely tied together by a suggestion of a larger story. Like anything that happens this season, from Sweeney hiding the weapon Wednesday’s spent a fucking season hunting down, or the arrival of New Media (who quickly overtakes Technical Boy as the show’s most annoying character), the events of “Moon Shadow” are just things that exist in the empty void of American Gods, a season-long identity crisis that swallows every rare moment of consequence with waves of insecure, pontificating bullshit disguised as world building.
Ostensibly, “Moon Shadow” should advance the story between Wednesday and Mr. World, after the beginning of the season upped the ante on their brewing conflict – or at least, push the characters into a place that gives the show a chance to finally secure a tangible identity for itself (which it never does, oscillating between college freshman art house cinema and aimless fantasy drama over the season). Wednesday’s council with the old gods was a suggestion of movement, however, rather than a meaningful catalyst for the season to follow; look no further than the deaths book ending the season (Zorya and Mad Sweeney) to see how weightless and inert this strange world of faith and deception has become.
Perhaps the best example of this is Bilquis, whose attempts to balance the old world and the new led her to spend… the entire season stuck inside the funeral home, trying (and apparently failing) to gain herself any new followers? Bilquis’ powerlessness in Cairo is an interesting narrative thread to pull on; but like Wednesday’s parentage of Thor, Laura’s attempts to come back to life, or that godawful, ignorant story of Froggie James, the arcs of season two are mostly suggestions, a completely random array of moments completely absent of any connective tissue, or coherent arc. They’re all equally evocative and empty; like Mr. World’s voice, the power they wield is spoken about frequently, but never actualized into anything meaningful – and without a major central event like last season’s Easter finale, “Moon Shadow” has nothing to anchor itself to, a disparate collection of silly, overtly pointless scenes, more a gathering point for next season’s stories, rather than a satisfying conclusion to the events of the present.
“Moon Shadow” is the shortcomings of American Gods season two in a nutshell; maddeningly uneven in both its pacing and visual delivery, what few moments of clarity it does offer – the evolution of Technical Boy, finally making Mr. World’s dramatic acquisition of Argus meaningful – are buried by the moments that don’t work, and the unshakable feeling of dissatisfaction triggered by every anti climatic moment of this final episode. Never able, or willing, to shed the identity forged by the original creative team, the second season of American Gods was constantly in fear of its own evolution, relying on suggestive moments than anything tangible, obfuscating what few moments of meaning it has with an endless array of bullshit plot and hollow, short sighted conflict. It renders the season as muted and stone faced as its boring main character, and as grandiose and hollow as Anansi himself; although it isn’t as aggressively awful on the scale of “The Ways of the Dead”, “Moon Shadow” is arguably the most disappointing episode of the entire series, a unconvincingly dull, self important episode that is an extremely troubling sign for Starz’s aimless drama.
It doesn’t help that American Gods heads into the off season facing another uncertain future; yet another creative team is set to take the helm in its third season, left to coalesce the many dissonant tones, themes, and boring ass characters on Starz’s bloated, aimless drama. That may be the real culprit behind the creative failure of “Moon Shadow”, and season two as a whole: there’s no conviction to the entire affair, an emotionless march through vaguely allegorical stories of the gods and their existences, all told from the inelegant point of view of television’s most boring, cardboard protagonist. If American Gods is to survive yet another changing of the guard, season three needs to overhaul every creative aspect of the show; but with no developed identity to speak of as “Moon Shadow” comes to a close, there’s not a lot of hope for American Gods to shed its lineage, and finally begin to actually tell its damn story.