9:00 pm EDT, March 10, 2019

‘American Gods’ in conversation: ‘House on the Rock’ 2×01

Two fans discuss the season 2 premiere.

American Gods season 2 returned Sunday night after a long hiatus with the meeting at ‘House on the Rock.’ Wednesday takes the Old Gods backstage to plant the seeds of war.

It’s been nearly two years since American Gods season 1 ended. Picking up just a half hour after the events of “Come to Jesus,” the American Gods season 2 premiere reconciles the fallout from Easter Sunday, while ushering in the next chapter of our story.

Ahead of the American Gods 2×01 premiere, we recappers (Natalie and Brittany) decided to watch the season 1 finale before tackling the first episode of season 2. It was a great reminder of the head space of Shadow, Laura, Mad Sweeney, and the figure heads of the Old and New Gods, Wednesday and Mr. World.

Looking back at season 1, it is a package of great moments, character development, and Coming to America stories that left a distinct mark on the season as a whole. Season 2 has time to run its own new course, but first we have a meeting to attend at “House on the Rock.” Below is a conversation between two fans of the series about the American Gods season 2 premiere.

‘American Gods’ 2×01 in conversation

Natalie: Let me see. *taps mic* Is this thing on?

It took me a while to sort of piece this episode together, I think because it started through an unexpected lens – Tech Boy and Mr. World. Were they the first people you expected to revisit after the fallout at Easter’s place?

Brittany: No, definitely not. I thought perhaps we would pick up with Laura and Wednesday in a bit of a huff making their way out of Easter’s estate. However, I do think the episode taking a minute to set up World and Tech Boy’s respective trajectories for this episode/season, especially the way they showed Mr. World a little rattled by the display of Odin, makes sense in retrospect.

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But that might also have to do with the fact of rewatching the finale right before turning this episode on.

Natalie: One thing that sort of had me equal parts confused and impressed was the immediacy of addressing the loss of Media – Tech Boy is given this impossible task right away, of finding a person we, the audience knows, won’t be findable – at least in this iteration. It doesn’t get much follow up right away, but we know that Tech will find an evolved iteration in the form of New Media, someone who might have some hard-hitting moments that make us take a look at our relationship to online news and social media, stuff that wasn’t as influential at the time the book was written.

Brittany: And Mr. World saying, “I can’t sell a war without my number one sales person” says exactly that. She is well-hidden because she is everywhere.

Natalie: How are you feeling presently about the loss of Gillian Anderson? Offscreen obviously there’s a fair amount of personal circumstances to have caused that, but onscreen – the New Gods are all about change and adapting to the movements in society.

Do you feel that this sort of metamorphosis is something that’s going to work well story-wise in order to paper over the loss of a cast member?

Brittany: Honestly, I’m very into the idea of having a new Media. Anderson was great in every iconic character she portrayed last season. However, the recasting made me realize, that Media should be fluid. I think I would even be excited to see several different people play Media over the course of a single season. There is so much for Media to do, so many roles for her to take on.

That’s not a slight against Kahyun Kim, especially since we haven’t seen her take on the role yet. I just think it doesn’t need a single actress or actor in the role in the way an Old God or Shadow Moon does.

Natalie: I definitely agree with that, it could literally be a different person every time, appearing in a different way. Because in the book, when we were reading about Lucy, it wasn’t a person looking like Lucy. It was Media using a genuine image of Lucille Ball to communicate. Imagine if they roped in people to actually speak onscreen or on radio as themselves as Media… like… famous vloggers, TV hosts, whatever. Anyway, that’s possibly a topic for later when we meet the New Media.

Brittany: On a semi-related note, I know we see the Mr. World and Tech Boy first, but ahead of the episode who were you looking forward to reconnecting with the most? Either in terms of what we saw last season story wise or other?

Natalie: Oh, Laura. Absolutely the dynamic of Laura, Sweeney and Shadow all facing each other. And we got so much great stuff there.

You?

Brittany: 100% Mad Sweeney. He took me completely by surprise in the first season and made me care for his sorry, unlucky self.

American Gods 1x07 feature

Natalie: Well, after the opening scene at Black Briar – whatever that is to be continued, but it seems to be the official name for the unspoken secret monitoring organization present in the book, the idea that there’s a conspiracy on how closely we’re being watched – cutting through a great Traveling By Map moment.

Brittany: I now expect one [map moment] in every episode.

Natalie: The opening scene with the “heroes” – a full 60 seconds of non-dialogue in the car together, and that whole minute was SO full of so many clear messages about the dynamic of them all being forced in together for this 9-hour road trip.

This was just so great, just seeing who was in the car and the faces they all made at each other and how much story that told. That was really amazing to watch, because it is emblematic of how well those personal dynamics were drawn in season 1 – it’s tense because we all know how messy their interactions and feelings are.

Not to mention their priorities and conflicts.

Brittany: I think that’s something the show translates so well for television. Like you said it is 60 seconds. But dedicating 60 seconds of a television show to silence can feel like 9 hours. And so much is done and undone in that scene. My favorite detail is Shadow tossing the coin over his hand, grounding himself in some physical illusion, while coming to terms with believing something so much greater. I will say Laura’s frustration in that scene is so palpable.

Natalie: She is just so… sad and hopeful all episode as well. Ironically, she is now the puppy.

And Sweeney trying to get a rise out of them when they do start to speak… Shadow noticing the dynamic between Sweeney and Laura as well, when he says that she has all his luck.
Sweeney likes to toss that around and complain about how ruinous it is, but honestly, all I hear every time he mentions something of the ilk is “heart” – like replace Luck with Heart in every sentence and that is the vibe of his comments to her.

Or maybe that’s just me…

Brittany: No, I think that’s a fair observation. (But I could also be projecting that on him, too.) I did enjoy the little nod to his luck when he tossed the cigarette out the window and it came right back in.

Natalie: How about Shadow and Laura? Given that this is about 30 minutes after he’s reunited with her – she’s so desperate to make amends and he is almost physically horrified by her. Do you think that’s because she’s dead, or because of how she died?

And yet he says that he wants to “believe” in her – believe things could be okay? Or what? He definitely seems to not really know how he feels or what he wants.

Brittany: Shadow definitely has a lot to take in right now, least of all his wife being back from the dead. But even if we take the rest of the God stuff out of the equation, Laura is ready to dive right back into being what they were, which as we might recall, wasn’t all that great from Laura’s point of view.

She was bored, he was happy. He took joy in the very simple pleasures of life. Now these monumental ideas are being thrown in his path. I think his hesitation is a combination of her suddenly being very much alive, coupled with reconciling his feelings about how she died.

Natalie: And of course, she now knows that Wednesday ordered her killed, and she knows that Shadow also “believes” in him. There’s no indication that Shadow knows any of what Laura knows about Wednesday – he’s really quite the innocent in all of this, and I must say, maybe it’s just seeing the story brought to life, but Ricky’s Shadow seems pretty evangelical about Wednesday now – more so that I felt he was in the book.

He seems more like a believer for the sake of believing, or faith – than being shown the truth and being accepting of it. Of course, this may be because of the shift in plot to reveal much more about the divine to Shadow BEFORE the book’s reveal at House on the Rock.

Brittany: Right. Having the big display at Easter’s, followed by partaking in something so mundane — a road trip — is quite the juxtaposition for Shadow. He is constantly plunged into situations and then completely removed to something out of everyday life.

It must be quite dizzying, but works in the favor of the onscreen adaption because it builds us and Shadow towards this massive gathering at the House on the Rock.

American Gods 2x01 Carousel Nancy

Natalie: I was trying to piece together the story so far in terms of deviation from the book, and aside from the Easter reveal it’s actually not TOO far off – not as far as I thought. Season 1 definitely unspooled a few stray threads, but I feel like this has now sort of neatly woven them back into the big picture.

The basics are the same – they go to the House and go backstage, where Shadow learns the true deep reality of the Gods, and then when they’re back in reality no one wants to admit to using the G-word and the restaurant is ambushed with Shadow taken – a reveal that the Other Side are on their tail. Wednesday will then hide Shadow in Cairo and Lakeside, which I’m excited for.
So those big basics are the same, but what we saw here was a richer group of attendees, more people that we, the viewers know – Laura, Salim, the Jinn, Bilquis, Sweeney.

How do you feel about their parts in this iconic scene – the things that went on while Shadow was backstage?

Brittany: Odin’s backstage is exactly how I thought it would look. Grand, impressive, but ultimately very hollow and empty. Anansi is the best hype man to ever hype, as we knew he would be, but as for the actual scene, the speech was used over so many trailers, I thought it fell kind of flat in the moment.

Calling on the Gods to rise to action by Odin wasn’t as thrilling as I was anticipating, but the counter arguments to his message played well. Mama Ji noting that as a goddess of war she sees no battlefields and Czernobog saying that sure he brought his hammer, but only because he lost a game, and of course, Bilquis petitioning them to see an option of an alliance, there’s no real rally to fight. And I think that fed the visual very, very well.

Because by the time Shadow gets to speak, it’s over. And back to reality. No fanfare, no call to arms, just a pitch into the ether. I mean we knew this was a BIG scene. All that to say I felt a little underwhelmed (minus the scenes filmed in the actual House on the Rock). But how did you feel about it?

American Gods 2x01 backstage

Natalie: Well, first of all, the House on the Rock looks terrifying and I never want to go there. I knew it was weird, but it’s just SO – strange, and so perfect as an example of the oddness of the human mind. But here’s the thing for me – I really liked the Easter episode, but one of my favorite parts of the book is Shadow going to the House as a really innocent unknowing observer. I love the moment where Wednesday, Nancy and Czernobog sneak onto the carousel and we have Shadow’s inner monologue truly not know what’s going on but relax into finding wonder in the moment – the special experience simply of three old men having a laugh riding the world’s oldest carousel. And then, everything changes unexpectedly.

I missed that innocent moment a lot, that mental shift at that moment, despite the grandness of the scene. There is a shade of it – Shadow still doesn’t know the full truth and he does sort of get into the carousel riding for the sake of it for a moment – but it wasn’t the same spirit as having that total naivety and reveal.

And of course, his total naivety meant that in the book he didn’t speak at the meeting, and here he has a huge and zealous speech. It felt a little like he had been brainwashed or something. I don’t like to compare too directly, but there are some parts of this that were not quite in the spirit of what I wanted – but I assume that’s all to do with the episode count and budget cuts last season, and why they chose to do that Easter episode instead of ending at the House.

I really loved Bilquis’s inclusion and I have a million questions about her angle – is she a spy, is she on the run – because her solution did make sense… but we know neither side wants that sort of collaboration. Clearly, she’s the only smart one there.

Brittany: And she had that moment with the phone and Laura at the end.

Natalie: Yes, HUGE questions about Bilquis and Laura.

And then I was much, much more interested in the “left-behinds” – why is Sweeney excluded? How are the Arabic boyfriends going to work it out?

Brittany: Oh, yes, the leftovers were a ragtag group. Plus, we’re going to have a bit to work out with Salim and the Jinn. The Jinn was obviously not thrilled to see him there, but didn’t exactly kick him to the curb at the after party.

I’m most looking forward to evolving those not invited on the carousel ride. I feel that they’ll have a much better story to tell than breaking a rule at some house in Wisconsin.

I think sticking with going off book, that Laura and Mad Sweeney have so much to unpack in the upcoming season that, while there are many characters left to meet and get a taste for, the direction for their story might be one of my most anticipated. Are there events that you’re looking forward to seeing in the upcoming weeks? As we know, we will not make it to Lakeside this season, so we have a finite set of characters/events to play with.

Natalie: Definitely more of Sweeney and Laura – I was very interested in both Shadow and Sweeney’s weird dicks out almost-argument over her as they were climbing to the House, and also Wednesday’s conversation with Laura about how she doesn’t have to be roadkill forever.

The dynamics between those core four have to come to a head when Shadow finds out that Wednesday really did have Laura killed, and the Sweeney-Laura-Shadow situation is a little love triangley but II have to admit, I never hated love triangles as much as some people do.

And then the truth about Bilquis, what game she is playing – who’s side she is on, whether that connects to Mr. World and his monitoring of the situation. His comments about having someone come willingly – who is he pulling strings with?

Biliquis history american gods

Brittany: I’m definitely interested in what is going on with Shadow and his connection to everyone. More from a feelings level. In the books we are ALL Shadow, ALL the time. And now, I just want to get more involved with him. But it’s telling, in the choices made on screen.

The way he smiles on the carousel, or how he tackles Laura (who is indestructible and dead) to take cover in the restaurant, to then running outside to take down the guy who is shooting up the place. A mortal, among Gods, taking charge.

Natalie: That shooting isn’t something we see the details of in the book – we follow Shadow when he’s ambushed and don’t know much about the fallout. How did you feel about actually seeing all those gods taken down, and the personal stakes for some of the leading gods?

Do you think it was needed? Do you like seeing a more 360 view of the ensemble, or would you rather stay close to Shadow and work it out only as he works it out, as you mention with the book?

Brittany: I’m a bit conflicted about this because I want to learn more about these characters and I especially liked watching Czernobog’s curse, but whenever Shadow is involved in a scene, he is the one I want to follow. I want to see his interactions with everyone, I want Nancy to make fun of him, I want to see his bewilderment.

And maybe that plays into why things feel a bit off kilter with his ease of belief. I want more time to watch him process. That said, the 360 view is not something I would sacrifice at this point. We would lose something by, say, keeping the New Gods plans completely off screen and getting random dumps of exposition ala “Lemon Scented You” in season 1. “I’m Mr. World and here is what I’ve been up to!”

Natalie: True. And we’re maybe not at the stage of media watching in general where an audience would be engaged and interested only knowing the pieces from one person. To actually just trust and be okay with the fact they don’t know everything. I know I myself am terrible in movies this way. I always want to ask whoever is with me if we know XYZ yet – if I’m just the dummy who missed it – or if it’s something that we are meant to be patient with and wait for the reveal.

What should come next, vaguely, is Shadow getting free and getting a message to hide in Cairo with Ibis and Jackal, meeting Sam along the way. I am really excited that we have already met the funeral home gentlemen because they have such a great vibe, and they tied into Laura’s story too. I’m hoping that period is even richer than in the books, and hope they spend some time on it – a few episodes.

American Gods 2x01 czernobog

Brittany: I would certainly hope so, too. I know we have most Coming to America stories already, but I am also looking forward to more background on everyone. I think flashbacks were used very effectively last season and I can’t wait for more of that.

Natalie: How did you feel about the general tone, quality, look, writing, mood, heart, soul – the environment of the show – from this premiere? Obviously season 1 was very unique with the Fuller influence, and then the production sort of fell apart. How do you think they’ve done piecing it back together?

Brittany: If we were to story board this episode, we’d really only have four major sets — House on the Rock, the Motel America restaurant, Black Briar, and Backstage. I didn’t exactly feel a dramatic shift in the production at any one of these places and the opening shots felt akin to the frantic pacing set down for Tech Boy versus the chilling, severe, calculating slowness of Mr. World.

I would also say I laughed about the same amount as I would have in any other episode, perhaps a bit more, when watching this episode for a second time. So far, I feel like everything tracked. But I’m interested to see if the plates start spinning a little differently in future episodes. Did you notice any giant shifts?

Natalie: Not giant shifts – it’s just going to be a matter of whether it is sustainable. I saw one review saying it sort of kept the sheen but not the spirit, and I don’t think I agree with that, especially, as you say, on the rewatch. There may be a certain je ne sais quois missing, or maybe I was just looking for something to be missing when I shouldn’t have been, trying to play spot the differences – I genuinely don’t know.

It’s been a very long time since season 1, and it was clearly a stressful scramble to put this together, but I feel like if it carries on from this in this direction, it will be fine. There was clearly a bit of wallpapering to be done, like Easter – plots they’d depended on that they needed to reconfigure – but in the circumstances, I was impressed. I am keen to go deeper and see how it grows. The performances were very good, especially from my favorite characters, and that is what really matters to me.

Brittany: Yes, I agree. I think if I started picking away at it, I’d find something. But the gap of time really might have helped that matter.

Natalie: Any particular favorite micro-moments, exchanges, lines?

American Gods 2x01 Shadow alone

Brittany: I think my favorite moment of the entire episode was Nancy telling Shadow after he overanalyzes his fortune, “It’s a motherf*ckin fortune from a rubber dummy, dummy.” That and Sweeney looking at Laura when Bilquis kissed her. That look screamed so many things.
you?

Natalie: I was really obsessed with Emily Browning’s playing with her sunglasses as Laura, using them as a tool to sort of feel more cocky with them on or more vulnerable with them off, hiding her obviously dead eyes. I also liked the camaraderie between Sweeney and Laura when Nancy meets them at the car – even though Sweeney was taunting her (“Roadkill Rhonda”) it felt like a very gang-like moment, both of them arms crossed facing off an outsider.

I also really loved Nancy analyzing Shadow from his measurements. And Salim being a sad baby, but trumping the Jinn with “I do not grant wishes.”

The one thing I would like to regain is the show’s slowness. Like I said, I’ve seen some very harsh takes on the season’s screeners so far, and that’s just not how I approach things. But I did love the slow pacing of episodes starting with a Coming to America tale and very slowly picking up steam, tying the message of that tale into an episode.

Here, it was more of a rushed and sort of standard network tv structure and I get why, they had a lot of repair work to do that was borne of both the lost episode last season and the changing showrunner. But I hope they slow down again.

And leave bigger, quieter spaces – though this episode still did play with silence well in parts.

Brittany: I agree. I don’t agree with pacing arguments being made about the series. It’s not something that I personally noticed, but I also agree that the slower, intimate moments are where the show shines. One of my favorite moments in season 1 was when Shadow and Wednesday were in the car and Shadow asked if he made it snow.

That entire scene was just 4 minutes of them talking in a dark car. It’s not riveting TV with a war or action plans, but it is essential and arguably more captivating than Wednesday conjuring some lightening (*channels Jeff Goldblum’s not impressed look at the Lord Sparkles over here vibe)

Natalie: The upcoming plot lends itself to a lot of mundane moments, so I’m hopeful for that!
Perhaps I am a very strange person for liking my media to be very, very slow, but so be it. This episode was very full, but I think they have the chance to slow down over the course of the season.

Brittany: No, I agree. My favorite pieces of media over the last 5 or so years have been very, very slow. I think it also aids the BIG events better. Which is kind of why I would have hoped to have an episode and THEN House on the Rock perhaps. But with the extended break and the need to get moving here we are.

Onward.

American Gods season 2, episode 2 airs Sunday, March 17 at 8:00 p.m. ET on Starz.

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