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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

As it closes out a strong third season, American Gods continues to reinvent itself

Odin's body in American Gods season three
Odin’s body in American Gods season three
Photo: Starz
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“One shock at a time.”

When American Gods arrived back in January for season three, it didn’t hold much promise. Season two had been a disaster on and off-screen, and one of the most unmistakable signs was the show’s unmooring from the pages of the source material. Early in my premiere recap, I compared the series to Game Of Thrones, which wasn’t just a facile juxtaposition. Not only are the two shows mirror images, but both require the deaths of their stated leads.

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American Gods sidestepped the significant deaths in season one by slowing down, only getting through the first 125 pages or so in the first eight installments. But that also held warnings the series might not be able to stomach murdering high-profile characters by leaving Sweeney alive. If the show couldn’t bring itself to kill off Pablo Schreiber, what hope was there for Ian McShane or Ricky Whittle? And to be fair, these are hard choices. No one likes killing off the star that sells the show. Marketing doesn’t take kindly to the man on the posters and the sides of buses suddenly exiting the series.

Season three did genuinely impressive work in finding stories to tell within the American Gods framework. However, it didn’t seem like the show was quite willing to go back to the book’s requirements, killing off Odin to catapult the war with the New Gods to a higher pitch or Shadow Moon’s sacrifice at the World Tree. Sure, the show finally killed off Sweeney and did not bring him back. But on the other hand, it not only resurrected Laura but gave her a new and just as hot leprechaun substitute in Doyle.

That’s why last week’s decision to get back to the story at hand was such a fantastic turn of events. Now obviously, things have changed. In the books, Laura, being dead, does not kill Odin. The New Gods do it outright. (That being said, for all adding Laura in here complicated matters, the result was still the same, and it gave her a reason to stick around.) Also, the book doesn’t allow the Old Gods to see the significant impact of Shadow’s sacrifice at the World Tree; they’ve all stormed off, readying for war. But the changes the show has made have, somehow, improved the series for the better.

Now, that’s not to say that it will all work out come season four. There’s a lot of things that could go very wrong. But so far, the handling of things, like setting Bilquis on Laura’s tail, has been genuinely impressive. The reveal this week that Bilquis’ trip to Chicago to visit Eugenia was all a dream she had over the candles was a nice twist, as was the vision of Eugenia with buffalo nickel sewn to her eyes. I’m not sure how I feel about Laura as “the other” and Shadow’s soulmate. (She’s nothing of the sort in the books.) But one does not hire Emily Browning and then not find a way to turn her into a main lead. Think of it as an apology for all the flies in the first two seasons.

Emily Browning as Laura Moon in American Gods season three
Emily Browning
Photo: Starz
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Also, by waiting three seasons to get here, Shadow is readier to make the damn fool mistake of trying to step into his father’s shoes than he was in the novel. Unlike in the books, which hide Shadow’s oncoming death, the show leans into three seasons of ego growth and the “I am the son of a god” that everyone knows won’t turn out well (Even Cordelia, Ibis, and Czernobog realize it.) This is also where some of these added side stories help. After all, Shadow just took out an entire extra Norse god over in Lakeside. No wonder he thinks he’s ready to lead, even when he knows perfectly well Odin never did a damn thing in his whole life that wasn’t directly tied to his self-interest.

And Shadow’s death was beautifully executed. The Norns, the anointing, the scenes in the tree, one could (and some will) quibble that had this been Fuller directing and writing, it might have been religious ecstasy instead of merely trippy. But I’ll take trippy, especially when it ends where the show began, on a plane in first class, and Shadow realizing his father used him to the very last.

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But in the end, for all it finally screwed its courage to the sticking point, American Gods isn’t going to have to do the hard thing for long. Odin is already about to rise again, and one assumes that come season four, Shadow will not be far behind. (This time, Laura’s not dumping anyone’s ashes in the river.) But perhaps the most intriguing part of the finale is Technology Boy. Book readers will know where the scene he shared with Mr. World is going. (And probably most others as well, due to the accidental timing of this season ending right around the promotional push for a certain Disney+ show.) But the reveal that Artifact One is the “Shard,” the first tool used by man, and Technology Boy is no new kid on the block may be the show’s most considerable improvement. He’s the old god Prometheus, who has forgotten who he is many times over since that first jump to tools and fire reinvented him in the minds of man. Let’s hope next season, American Gods keeps reinventing itself back to the show fans deserve.

Episode grade: A-
Season grade: B+


Stray observations

  • Once again, the bifurcation of the series storylines means Laura has never seen the original Mr. World. I do love how the show keeps using those oversights to its advantage.
  • Doyle is gone? Damn it.
  • That lovely track used heading into Shadow’s vigil for Odin was “Carry Me Home” by The Sweepings.
  • I straight up cackled at the image of Technology Boy “consuming raw data” by eating old-school tape reels like pasta.
  • Shadow really is a chip off the old block. Hopefully, a small side of death will clear that up next season.
  • I could write an entire extra piece about showrunner Charles Eglee cutting Mr. Nancy and claiming he’s no longer a good fit for the show, and then spending an entire episode at the Center of America.
  • On that note, as pleased as I am by this season getting back on track, there has been an undeniable softening of the African gods this season. It’s been good for Bilquis overall, but it’s also the season’s biggest disappointment.
  • Though there is no official renewal as of this writing, where the show ends tonight suggests there’s at least one more round of American Gods planned. But whether Starz decides to see the project through remains up in the air.
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