Starz’s American Gods
Season 2, Episode 1: “House on the Rock”
Directed by Christopher J. Byrne
Written by Jesse Alexander & Neil Gaiman
* For a recap & review of the Season 1 finale, “Come to Jesus” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Beguiling Man” – click here
Forget any behind-the-scenes nonsense, okay? Let’s see what the writing offers. Then we can judge what American Gods is all about in Season 2.
Following the big Easter fiasco, things haven’t gotten any less wild. Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) is making sure Mr. World (Crispin Glover) has a driver to the Black Briar Club, where they’re going to regroup before they attempt to “eradicate [Odin’s] paternal stain” from the earth. The New Gods are looking to “sell war” against the Old Gods, so they’ve got to recruit the best of the best. World wants Technical Boy to track down Media, wherever she’s gone.
Elsewhere, passing over Illinois and on into Wisconsin, the crew keeps driving. Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShae), Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), his undead/semi-estranged wife Laura (Emily Browning), and the Leprechaun Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) are headed further across the country on their own journey. They come across the House on the Rock. We get narration about Alex Jordan Jr., its creator, involving plenty of capitalism— one of those modern religions attempting to eradicate ancient ones.
“I want to believe in you”
Speaking of ancient, Ms. Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) reappears. She’s sought out the Jinn (Mousa Kraish), right at the same moment Salim (Omid Abtahi) has turned up to find him, too. Salim’s arrived at a bad time. He’s there when Wednesday and the crew come, along with Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones). Bilquis was “not invited” so Wednesday’s curious, though Anansi recognises her. She won’t take no for an answer from Odin, either: “I was old in the desert before they sacrificed the first horse to you. I will be heard.” Wednesday certainly doesn’t turn her away. Love this exchange between Old Gods and an even Older Goddess. Everyone puts their coin in a fortune teller machine, each getting an individual prophesy. Wednesday meets with Zorya Vechernyaya (Cloris Leachman) and Czernobog (Peter Stormare) once again, as well. Quite the meeting of gods.
At Black Briar, World is readying himself for war. He’s got to flex first. He references involvement in Operation Paperclip, the moon landing, Roswell, the Compton Crack Wars to show his muscle. He needs access to the “Eyes of Argus,” a reference to Greek mythology: Argus Panoptes was a giant with many eyes, whose vision was omnipotent.
Shadow goes with Wednesday and the others to the carousel room. (A scene straight out of the book, down to using “The Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss II.) This is where the Old Gods convince him to ride the decorative horses. There are no rules on the carousel. Bilquis, Anansi, and Odin feel the power of the carousel as it spins out of control. The carousel becomes akin to a magic or ceremonial circle, time become a perpetual loop, and soon, like a child sitting in bliss on the carousel, their physical forms are transported through consciousness to another place. Suddenly they explode into the universe, riding the carousel’s seats like horses into the apocalypse.
When Shadow wakes he’s on a beach “inside Wednesday‘s memories.” He follows Bilquis along the shore, where they see viking longboats, and, further up, a temple. Inside are the gods in their ethereal forms. They tell stories of when they were brought to America from the Old World, and when they were abandoned almost entirely, living “at the cracks of the edges of society.” Not all the gods are convinced, like Mama-ji (Sakina Jaffrey), who does’t see war brewing. Bilquis and Shadow speak their cases about how the world is changing, from macrocosm to microcosm, the latter knowing the individual devastation of a loss of faith in the world, and the former believing it’s necessary to learn from some of the New Gods and not allow them to destroy the Old.
“The choice is yours— evolve, or die.”
Soundtrack note: Sanford Clark’s “The Fool” plays at the start of the diner scene.
Things are shaping up for Wednesday’s quest to go to war. He’s helped by Shadow passionately pleading with the other gods to take up arms. Afterwards, they have a celebration. Bilquis, along with her cellphone – is she recording? – has a private talk with Laura, on whom she plants a kiss. She’s curious about if Mrs. Moon is a death goddess. Problem is, Bilquis’s allegiances lie elsewhere.
Mr. World is preparing “shock and awe” for the Old Gods. He’s sent an assassin to the diner. Bullets begin raining through the windows. Brains splatter. People hit the floor everywhere. The assassin’s bullets read DEUS MORTUORUM, translating roughly from Latin to: “God is dead.” Another great soundtrack addition here includes “Everybody Walkin’ This Land” by Paul Cauthen while the diner’s being attacked.
Shadow sneaks outside while the sniper continues firing, and his friends try to dodge the bullets. He eventually beats the gunman down, but then a chopper’s signalled and appears out of nowhere, grabbing Shadow out of the parking lot and pulling him into the sky. Sadly, the others see Zorya’s taken a bullet and lies dying on the diner floor. Czernobog lays a curse of “eternal darkness” on whoever killed his old friend. And Wednesday sees this as yet another reason why they must go to war.
“Is this what it takes?”
Fantastic opener for Season 2! Fuck all the dramatic coverage of changes during the production. All that matters is, does this season deliver? The initial episode is a good looking start, regardless of what comes later. “The Beguiling Man” is next time.