American Gods season 2 episode 4 review: at least the cast is still great

Ian McShane and Crispin Glover bring everything they have to their roles in the latest American Gods season 2 episode. Spoilers...

This review contains spoilers.

2.4 The Greatest Story Ever Told

One of the things you can say for American Gods is the show’s creative team still manages to pull in good actors for even the smallest of bit roles. For example, the one-off appearance of Vulcan in the first season was delightful—I mention it pretty often—because of the performance of Corben Bernsen, who has always been a fun actor to watch. This week, perhaps in an attempt to curry favour with New God The Reviewer, American Gods brings in none other than William Sanderson to play Money, the most powerful God in this history of Gods, and the God that stands beyond all descriptions. New, Old, or Other, Money has always been important, and since the first incident of bartering for coin, Money has been the most powerful God of the pantheon.

Unfortunately, like the average pay cheque, Money is very quickly wasted on what amounts to another episode of World and Wednesday competing for a God’s attention while peripheral characters have long talks with one another about nothing particularly revelatory.

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There is some interesting stuff happening, particularly between Ibis, Nancy, and Bilquis. Their conversation, such as it is, works on one level. Nancy gets to agitate, giving Orlando Jones a chance to go on a long soliloquy about America’s treatment of black people during its history. Ibis serves as the voice of reason, letting Demore Barnes be cool and imperious in the face of Jones’ fire. Bliquis serves as the linchpin, teetering between the Old Gods and the New, which gives Yetide Badaki the chance to be won over by Jones’ fiery speech (though I confess that his shifting accents range from good to too broad, and tends to be a distraction).

It’s an interesting point raised by Nancy in the teleplay by Peter Galloway and Aditi Brennan Kapil, but it feels meaningless. The three black Gods are together, and may be going into business for themselves, but they seem so far away from the main narrative that it doesn’t resonate all that much. Nancy agitates for something, Ibis is set on peace and simply observing, and Bilquis drifts into Nancy’s orbit after a speech and a kiss, bringing (possibly) a single human worshiper with her. Ruby Goodchild’s purpose is as yet meaningless, but maybe it can grow into something bigger.

Strangely enough, the tale of the nameless child at the beginning of the episode, who goes from playing Pong to designing computer programs that write symphonies, is more interesting than anything that happens with World, Wednesday, or any of the other Gods in the episode. Shadow’s sex scene with Bast (Sana Asad), which comes from the book, feels pointless and lacks the beauty and intensity of previous sex scenes in the series. The continuing lack of Jacquel in the funeral parlour seems strange, given his importance last season. But The Ceo, as the character is billed at the end credits of Stacie Passon’s episode, gets a full life journey, and Andrew Koji does a good job portraying the grown-up version of the character at some of his bigger, more pivotal moments in life. His dismissal of Technical Boy, his only friend in life, is nice foreshadowing of the way Technical Boy is retired by Mr World near the end of the episode. Technical Boy, given his power struggle with New Media, feels a bit unnecessary, and even his worshippers at Xie Comm seem to be willing to turn away from him towards newer, shinier toys.

Perhaps that is the fate of all gods. They have their uses, and then they’re discarded. Bilquis makes this point during her discussions; the Old Gods are old for a reason, and they’ve outlasted any number of New Gods. That’s why Ibis is hesitant to get involved, and why Bilquis is willing to step aside. Nancy is making what seems to be a power grab, or at least trying to start one.

But the show is still missing something crucial. There’s not a spark of life behind it, despite Ian McShane and Crispin Glover both bringing everything they have to their roles. McShane is a charming, soliloquising figure with a hidden streak of savage behind his dapper hats; Glover is all threat and menace, showing up in scenes to put 200% intimidation into every word, then backing off like an extra from Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal video. They look cool, and their hopping around is nice, but they’re never able to put it all together despite their efforts.

That’s a metaphor for the slow unravelling of the show itself. The elements are there, but nothing’s holding them all together. The centre will not hold, and the show’s elements are spinning out into orbit. The things I like about American Gods are still there, but they no longer seem to serve a greater purpose. Like the Old Gods, they lack meaning without some greater purpose to serve.

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Unless you count Money as a greater purpose.

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Muninn, here.