Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

American Gods struggles to recapture some of that season one magic in “Serious Moonlight”

Ricky Whittle stars in American Gods
Ricky Whittle stars in American Gods
Photo: Starz
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“Half the art of war is knowing when to switch sides.”

American Gods returns to the moonlight, the serious moonlight. But no one is offering to put on their red shoes and dance the blues. Instead, “Serious Moonlight” opens in Wisconsin in 1690. It’s a slaughter race, and the Nordic settlers are winning out against the Native Americans, despite the latter crying out to their gods for help.

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It’s the second episode in a row where the series attempts to recapture the openers from season one—in this case, Mr. Nancy’s famous slave ship scene. On the one hand, the slaughter race is a brutal scene, reminding viewers of the history of white men coming to these lands and Whiskey Jack’s (as Wisakedjak is known in the book) understandable hatred of Odin. But it also highlights how much of that has been muted, like a shadow of its former self. (Moreover, for those who have been paying attention, it’s a profoundly uncomfortable reminder of Orlando Jones’ claims he was fired from the show because the seething rage of Mr. Anansi’s speeches “send the wrong message.” Does the series view the genocide of the native populations somehow as easier on white sensibilities than to remind us what we did to Black people?)

Speaking of Shadow(s), poor “Mike” is in a miserable place out here in Lakeside. Despite the pasties (I do love a good pasty), the town is deeply creepy. And not just because “Ms. Property Manager,” Marguerite Olsen (Lela Loren), is a white lady who is all too comfortable putting a shotgun to the back of a Black man’s head and never bothering to apologize for it. (Please note that at no time in this episode does she apologize, even when she admits it was shitty behavior towards the end of the hour.) The apartment she’s “managing” is miserable, with the heat turned off, because she can’t be bothered to flip a breaker for her new tenant, while hanging a sign on the fireplace that says “Do Not Use.”

Moreover, when the show addresses the racial elephant in the room, it’s weaksauce compared to what came before. Having a teen who Shadow’s never met attempt to fist bump him to “show he’s down” makes for a nicely uncomfortable moment between him and the well-meaning sheriff, Chad Mulligan (Eric Johnson). But then the series just moves on, preferring us to focus on Chad and Ann Marie (Julia Sweeney) dropping large circular hints that this is a small town where they all worship a certain All-Father.

As for The All-Father, it would be the week I had an emergency dental appointment where Odin’s road trip brings forth Tyr the War God-turned-Dentist (Denis O’Hare). (There’s lots of blood split in his dental chair.) Tyr is merely a step on the road to eventually meeting Demeter anyway, who replaces Easter in the Old God lineup. But his scene is also useful to let us know that despite every bus canceling last week, it’s time to make like the Blue Brothers and head to Chicago.

Lela Loren
Lela Loren
Photo: Starz
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Tyr and Odin aren’t the only ones making the road trip. Both Salim (Omid Abtahi) and Mr. Ibis (Demore Barnes) head to the Windy City, as all the Old Gods gather for the funeral of Zorya Vechernyaya (Cloris Leachman), the Evening Star and Odin’s former lover. Salim is still mourning the Jinn, and attends hoping he’ll turn up. (He does not.) Shadow also gets an invite, though not from host Czernobog (Peter Stormare), but Zorya Polunochnaya (Erika Kaar), the Midnight Star, reminding him to bring the silver coin she drew from the moon and gave to him for luck. Odin’s not invited, but when has that ever stopped him?

Odin at least talks his way into staying and partying the night away, until he has Czernobog pledging to join his fight. Shadow merely gets more riddles for turning up to see Zorya Polunochnaya, though he admits seeing her put the moon back in the sky was worth the price of all it took to get there.

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And it did take a lot, including renting Marguerite’s bright purple old beater that once belonged to “Sandy.” Shadow also hit a deer on the way, though he got the windshield and the frame fixed before heading back. But the real cost shows up when he returns, as Lakeside has turned on him for leaving. Teenager Alison (Andi Hubick), who was making eyes at Shadow earlier in the episode, has disappeared, and Marguerite is all too ready to go full Karen and point the sheriff at Shadow’s mysterious car fixes as proof he murdered her.

But by the end of the episode, it seems like Lakeside (and probably Odin) is relenting. Chad announces Shadow’s story checks out, and the townsfolk once again accept him. Now to find out what’s going on with the moon.

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Stray Observations:

  • With no real plot advancement for the New Gods, both Ms. World and Technology Boy are conspicuously absent this week.
  • The series reveals Bilquis’ patron is the head of an IT company, William Hunting Sanders (Gil Bellows), before having her swallow him in the show’s most conspicuous rerun yet.
  • That being said, a “pregnancy” storyline would at least give Bilquis something different to do. (If that’s where they are going.)
  • The White Buffalo is back in new visions for Shadow, stemming back to his childhood. I’m here for that, as long as it goes somewhere.
  • It’s not clear if the figure at the end trying to warn Shadow is a Peacock Angel, the Melek Taus of the Yazidi creation stories, but I’m hoping so.
  • My gods, Ian McShane is having SO MUCH FUN with this season so far. Even if the plot muddles along going nowhere, it’s worth tuning in to see him partying it up.
  • Can we get a full track list of S.Olsen’s Temp Mix, a la Guardians Of The Galaxy? Please and thanks.
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