11:25 pm EDT, March 17, 2019

‘American Gods’ season 2, episode 2 in conversation: ‘The Beguiled Man’

Two fans discuss all things Mad Sweeney and Shadow Moon.

American Gods season 2, episode 2, “The Beguiling Man,” welcomes Shadow Moon to America, sacrifices a feat of American engineering beauty, and goes into the hoard.

The meeting at the House on the Rock did not spark as much conversation about war as the attack on the Motel America does.

The fallout casts both turns even the more passive Gods into enraged ones, ready to stand beside Wednesday when the battle lines are drawn. In the second episode of the season, Shadow encounters mayhem with Mr. Town, Laura and Sweeney begin to recognize they are more similar than they realize, and what does sacrificing beautiful cars have to do with the impending war?

Continuing our conversation about American Gods season 2, our writers Natalie and Brittany take it on the road with the fated pairs as they discuss “The Beguiling Man.”

‘American Gods’ season 2, episode 2 in conversation

Brittany: We’re off on separate journeys in this episode, which I am a huge fan of. Lots of buddy-comedy moments to be had. But before we depart, what are your thoughts on the opening scene, particularly Czernoborg’s speech about a new Zorya being called?

Natalie: My understanding is that this is sort of a clue that the Gods can exist in many iterations – when one is killed, they will rise again in some way or exist in many facets, which we already knew with Jesus, I suppose – it’s also an idea that Gaiman used in Sandman, with the Endless.

The idea of the being can never die, but an iteration can. The difference here is that in Sandman those beings are concepts that it would be impossible to lose entirely, and here in American Gods with Jesus, his belief system is powerful enough to birth many Jesii. It sounds like that the Zorya may not have the same chance – that without a constant belief system, there’s no life force for her. This may be her last life, or each iteration will be weaker and weaker.

Brittany: Right, there’s a lot of need for Jesus so there’s a lot of Jesus. But Zorya might not have the same chance. People aren’t bringing her into the world anymore. And now Mama-Ji must take up arms and fight alongside the gods because the battle is at her doorstep (that is, of course, if she can get the weekend off).

Natalie: I am fairly obsessed with her.

American Gods 2x02 czernoborg nancy

Brittany: But in the current moment, Shadow is missing, and that is the only thing that Laura Moon cares about. Wednesday and Mr. Nancy are off to make a sacrifice. And Salim and the Jinn head out to collect Gungnir, much to the disdain of Mad Sweeney.

Who shall we follow first?

Division of Labor

Natalie: Well, the world’s cutest motorcycle gang probably is the easiest to cover swiftly, but before they actually all split up, we have Sweeney not only disdainful but getting pretty bothered by Wednesday benching him.

But the whole departure scene was laden with all sorts of weird dynamics. At the end of Czernebog’s lament, he says to Wednesday: “Wotan – this country. It’s no good.”

And Wednesday is just sort of like *sad shrug emoji*

What do you think is being felt there? Why is he so dedicated to taking America? Do you think he agrees with Czernobog? Is it all about the challenge? Or is it just all he knows – the American Odin?

Brittany: Instinctively, I think Wednesday is also done with America. But this search for Shadow, the arrival of war, the rallying of the Gods, is what’s driving him. He is very much big picture, the final survey of the bodies lying dead in sacrifice or the masses crying his name is what he sees.

And to get there, he must deal with a whole lot of nonsense. I don’t think he is interested so much in the daily few who speak his name. It’s tedious work, but someone has to do it. That’s why his speeches are littered with grand sweeping gestures of times long gone.

There is certainly room for the argument that this is all he knows. He’s been in America for a good, long while. He’s seen gods come and go. He’s certainly not the oldest by any means, but he is older. Now, especially that Shadow is swaying in his direction, there is a fire in Wednesday. It’s not snuffed out just yet.

Natalie: It’s sort of hard to postulate about why Shadow is so significant to him and why he’s The Guy, because as book fans we know. However, Mad Sweeney clearly hasn’t read the book, because he is very angry about being benched and even more angry about the idea that his glorious battlefield death might all be for the sake of Shadow Moon.

He is so freakin’ pissed.

Brittany: Right. And he has this complex about being so easily replaced. And, in classic Wednesday fashion, he doesn’t reveal much about his plans. Sweeney complains and whines and moans about Wednesday, but the second he feels replaced as his number one guy, well… he is upset to say the least.

And now, not only is Shadow the person he might die for, but someone else has been given the task of collecting the spear! How dare he!

Natalie: Sweeney is so interesting, because he talks like he’s very hung up on the deals and pacts that he has made — his bargain with Wednesday and why he’s in his service, and his deal with Laura about the coin. Like “hey, this is why I’m here, this is why I care — we had a deal. I want what I was owed and if you change the game, does that mean my chance to get it is taken away?”

And I do believe that as a motivation, but Pablo [Schreiber]’s performance brings a much more personal side to it – he has such a wounded quality to him. The thing about these Gods… they need believers, right? But that means that they also believe in believing – in faith. So, when a pact is broken, it’s personal – trust is broken. It isn’t clinical, it’s deeply moral and personal and Sweeney’s constantly getting his feelings hurt, it seems.

Brittany: The moments where Sweeney reveals anything about himself that isn’t a proclamation of a contract, as you mention, are loaded with emotion. Honestly, I think that he brings the story of what the Gods are looking for front and center. We’ve seen belief in many forms in the Coming to America stories, but Sweeney is a reminder of it in real time.

There is the line in the car with Laura about infidelity and how deeply he believes in bond between a couple. Again, is that another reference to a contract? Maybe. But I definitely got something deeper in that line. Pablo layers it all in there.

Natalie: Yeah, that was really… loaded. Like some sort of backstory, something done to him or something he did, perhaps before he was a spiritual being. And it’s really interesting that he was — it seems like — a human being who became divine, rather than someone who popped into being. That is, if his history that we know of, that he was once a king, means he was a human king.

But before we get too far on the road with him, let’s deal with the source of his initial jilted ire – the Jinn. Who I feel like needs a first name, not “the” someone – like what does Salim call him when they cuddle?

The Jinn has a mission – he seems like a very capable and loyal member of Wednesday’s crew, fully trusted, has his orders, no questions asked. He’s a team player and doesn’t seem to be as emotionally fluctuating as Sweeney. He’s not angry at Wednesday, he’s just here to contribute in whatever way he can. Either he believes in Wednesday full stop, or simply believes that Wednesday’s plan will get him where he needs to be to survive, he’s all in.

And I wonder how Salim sticking to him as a non-negotiable plus-one will sway him. Because so far, for the Jinn, this mission isn’t personal, and he isn’t getting emotional about it. But now he has a very tiny and fragile human boyfriend to look after. What do you think is going on in his head?

Brittany: He’s definitely confused because you’re right, he is very mission oriented. He granted Salim a new life, something he thought would make him happy and set his course. But that, well, it backfired. And now he has a devout follower who is not asking anything of him except attention and companionship.

What does that look like for the Jinn? What does that look like for any god who cannot simply walk away? So, navigating that is going to be tricky. And it another crack in the way we see these gods, that there is an array of human responses that they can react to, not just a blanket statement of belief, especially blinded love, hatred, pain. After all, they thrive on them in some capacity.

american gods 2x02 jinn

Now he must navigate this very intense relationship and see what his side of it brings. He was hoping he could of course just give him money for the bus. But instead he hands him the helmet and places him at his side in the cutest side car.

They are off to find a spear and define their love. Meanwhile, Sweeney and Laura are off to find Shadow who is in the capable hands of Mr. Town.

Natalie: Well. This was very unpleasant for Shadow. But great for us because we get more Laura and Sweeney road trip.

Mad Sweeney and Dead Wife hit the road

Brittany: Laura, like the Jinn, is very single-minded. Shadow is in danger; he must be saved. As we know, she can see his light, something that plays a bigger role in the episode. But she is fading and fading fast.

More flies, less strength, and while Sweeney is still combative with her, but I did notice a shift in him as he realizes her dwindling spirit. He wants his coin back, but he is still willing to carry on with getting her what she wants, even if on some level he believes she doesn’t quite deserve it after the life she lived the first time around. “Gods didn’t fuck up your life, you did that enough for yourself.”

Natalie: He seems very angry at himself for liking her.

Do you think the car tire thing was accidental or sabotage?

Brittany: I never thought about it, definitely wrote it off as bad luck.

Natalie: Fair enough – but either way, the conversation in the field leads to Sweeney once again being Laura’s champion, encouraging her to not give up and using his own special power to get her where she needs to go.

What exactly, for you, was the moment that you think inspired him to want to help beyond his own selfish need? It’s all very repetitive, the coin, the coin, we can get you alive again, but you won’t let me do that until we get Shadow, it’s really all just a means to an end to a coin… but no, it really isn’t.

His help was personal and intimate, and it was framed on film thusly. What was the turning point there?

Brittany: I agree, that it is very repetitive. But I think her adamant replies each time are more like declarations of belief. Despite the doubt cast upon her the reminders of her infidelity of the way she lived her life, she still wants to save Shadow and live again.

I do think Sweeney grew fond of her combativeness and strength. And now she is failing, she is weak, she is giving into weakness and doubt. So, he has a chance to revive that. When they reach the literal end of the road, he does reluctantly go out into the field to sit with her. It’s very telling that he just goes quietly and not yelling and moaning about.

The journey through the hoard, from the cheeky comment before they dive, to the moment at the other end where they stand on the bridge and she releases his handcuffs, is all very telling of the trajectory of their relationship so far.

Natalie: The handcuff removal was actually my favorite part of the episode purely because of the feeling of it being such a gesture. Why was that The Moment? Obviously, it’s a pretty heavy-handed metaphor for freedom, but it wasn’t like they were magically binding him to anything or anyone.

I didn’t even realize he still had them on until then – do you think it is just a throwback and advancement of their partnership? Perhaps a little more care taken, a few more lengths gone to?

Brittany: I definitely think it was symbolic of their journey together thus far. From Laura breaking the handcuffs out of necessity to get Sweeney in the car to go find Shadow and Wednesday, to now, a moment of small kindness. They weren’t hurting him or hindering him, but she just wanted to do it.

They are making tiny allowances for each other. And it’s wonderful. Then, of course, they get to fight a bunch of people and get bloodied up. Courting between leprechauns and dead wives is wild, man.

American Gods 2x02 sweeney laura

Natalie: I really enjoyed his face when she jumped onto the train. Just so, so much. And then inside, they are formidable. Some of those violent scenes were SO disgusting.

But his comment back in the field – “I thought that we were supposed to save somebody” – I want to know where this deep vein of nobility comes from. I know there is an episode coming that delves further into his pre-leprechaun backstory, even though we were blessed last year with the Essie tale – I am so weak for honor and chivalry and he has it in spades.

Mr. Nancy and Wednesday: A Buddy Comedy

Brittany: I cannot wait for another Mad Sweeney story. But we do have other stories to tell here. First, Mr. Nancy versus the map.

Broadly speaking Mr. Nancy and Wednesday are off to Cairo, or so Nancy thinks. Until Wednesday reveals he is going to sacrifice Betty. I liked that these two were the interwoven humor component to the episode.

Natalie: Their friendship is pretty questionable and very odd. The whole microaggression with the chicken, and then Nancy pretending to be grateful – what do you think that was all about?

Shutting up to keep the peace, symbolic of gritting teeth and putting up with white nonsense to achieve anything? It was so funny but so weird.

Brittany: A combination of the two. As we see when he realizes that Wednesday is going to destroy Betty, Nancy can walk away at any time. So, it’s I think partially friendship, part just having someone to pass the journey with. Until a certain point. You can only spend so much time with friends until they get on your nerves.

Before they even start the trip, when Wednesday is telling Sweeney that battles require preparation, Nancy makes a comment “and sacrifice to you.” I got the sense that he is definitely just putting up with him.

What say you? Obviously, Wednesday is going to get the gang back from here, but it does seem like he needs a companion at all times. Supervision maybe?

Natalie: Well, yeah – Wednesday alone seems dangerous. Have we seen it before? Also, Nancy was like, asleep in the car – was he planning to let him get squished by the train too??

What is going on with these two? I honestly don’t get it, because there is an old friends’ element of more than duty, but yeah – Nancy is losing patience and Wednesday is burning bridges. And honestly, he isn’t that charming – I personally wouldn’t come crawling back.

Brittany: No way. We’ve really only seen Wednesday alone when he is on the plane, but he was collecting Shadow.

Natalie: I just do not trust Wednesday alone and he clearly does require supervision.

And RIP Betty.

Brittany: Honestly, the worst death we’ve seen so far? Such a beautiful car.

Natalie: But like – is this actually going to work? Wednesday was taking this very seriously. Would that death actually empower him? It is a CAR?

Brittany: And he was forcing the sacrifice. Does that count? How many points does that win him?

Natalie: Or was he just being melodramatic? My assumption was that it was going to be Shadow’s train and that was his way of helping – like derailing the train – using Betty as an obstacle and being a drama queen about it.

But if this is actually an actual power-up… I don’t know what to make of that.

Brittany: I think it was definitely a power move, but to what end I have no idea. And now they have no car.

American Gods 2x02 betty

Natalie: I still don’t understand if he was legit going to let Nancy be in the car, but if Wednesday thinks the car is going to Valhalla… he might have a few screws loose.

But this personhood given to the car is Dean Winchester levels of weird. I am really curious to find out if this is melodrama or an actual tool, because like… can they just throw a bunch of cars in front of a bunch of trains?

Or do you think it’s more like The Magicians and Jane’s doll – that the power comes from the meaning of the object, its value to its owner?

Brittany: I definitely don’t think it’s an any car, any train situation. He does go on about the manufacturing, how it was born out of a different era of America. An era of pride in manufacturing and detail. Like a Ford station wagon will not have the same result. And also, a little bit of the value of ownership. Betty was a great thing to come out of an American dream. I think that’s where the power really comes into play.

Natalie: I just did not expect sacrifice of inanimate objects to come into this – but the final shot in Wednesday’s eye is a horse galloping away, so maybe he infected the car with the power of a Norse steed – Sleipnir, maybe – and is awaiting its reincarnation. Can you think of anything comparable in the book?

Brittany: Not that I can recall at the moment. But initially I was definitely getting my Gaiman confused here because I wanted to jump all in on the four horsemen, but that is another series for another month on another platform.

Natalie: !!!!!!!!

New Media Rising

Brittany: Picking up on where we left Media last week, I enjoyed how the series handled the disappearance and the reprogramming arc in this episode. Especially, Tech Boy’s speech about the dated content she was using last season.

Although a classic never dies, adaption is key for the new gods. What did you think about Tech Boy’s patience running thin? What did you make of their meeting?

Natalie: This was really intense and Bruce Langley is, for me, reaching that level of “would avoid this actor on the street because the character is so disturbing.”

He’s no Joffrey – and Bruce is a lovely guy, as is Jack Gleeson! – but he’s very fully-felt as a character and it’s so harsh and disturbing that it’s starting to give me the shivers. But yes, the way the conversation was formulated was very interesting, the way Media had the ability to respond.

As you say, his angle was very much assuming dominance – which I don’t think is wise. Because he’s speaking from a place where technology is what makes media possible – he’s the essential, she depends on him… but if you look at the world of tech and social media right now, he may just be about to meet his match or be outranked.

Because today, new media is the reason we’re addicted to tech. We need our devices because of the spread of information. His world becomes merely the platform and hers becomes the cause, the driving force.

Media grew from technology, but it’s also grown to be more important in and of itself – we’re more addicted to media and merely use tech to access it. What do you think that may mean about the power balance between these two?

Brittany: It’s hugely telling that Media is tapping into the new potential. I enjoyed that we see Media all over the place, using the billboards, phones, cars. And I’m just now realizing how limited the scope of Media was in season 1. Especially in terms of the way she appeared.

american gods media

Granted, Shadow didn’t have a cell phone and wasn’t around a lot of technology. But in terms of a power balance, we see Tech Boy take off the VR goggles at the end, Media is not trapped by one platform, is she becoming smarter? It’s the rising of the robots question. What if AI can take agency? I think there is the possibility of exploring Media in rebellion against Tech Boy.

But he does call Media a ghost. “I am binary, without me shit don’t spin. Lick your wounds, put your face on and come out.” So maybe Media will never get there.

Natalie: I would think it would be a matter of remaking herself in a more powerful way, but it could play out differently. It could be that she concedes entirely, and Tech finds New Media in a different way. But I’m imagining more of a metamorphosis.

Brittany: It will definitely be interesting to see the forms she takes on as we know Kahyun Kim has been cast in the role.

And Bilquis Stands Alone

Natalie: Speaking of Team New Gods, we have a few moments with Mr World as well, and he’s accosting Bilquis about her attempts to play the middle. I feel a bit confused about her position in all of this and this episode furthered that confusion. Is she a rebel, and World is there to harass her? Or was she at the House on the Rock at the New Gods’ orders – a double agent?

Brittany: The phone and speaking with Laura, leaving right before Shadow was abducted are all red flags for me. My feelings are that she was forced to go to get intel, but now, she is trying to place herself on the sidelines.

However, she is indebted to World after the “Gods of Progress” got her back on her feet, showed her how to adapt. Bilquis is very clearly articulating some great points about the weaknesses of both sides.

But as World says, she will just be trampled by both sides. There is no middle ground. Love will not conquer all, unfortunately.

Natalie: I definitely don’t think she’s in on the deeper plot on either side, because her points about combining forces are truly spot on if genuinely helping godkind was the aim here. It’s just – as we know – not what either side has in mind.

Bilquis is the most sensible one of all if Wednesday and World’s aims are as magnanimous as they’d like their teams to think. But we know that they WANT a war.

They don’t want to make peace and succeed together as Bilquis suggests. And even though her ideas are objectively better, no one wants to hear them. I do enjoy Bilquis’ role being increased to incorporate her as a symbol of this perspective.

Brittany: And it elevates her above these boys and their foolish war games. I will say though, these two forces she is in the middle of are threatening and ones I don’t feel she can get away from. Mr. World, especially.

Bilquis is not so far removed from her life on the streets, reduced to nothing. But she is still the older and wiser than both Wednesday and Mr. World. She’s unfortunately not in a position to flex that particular muscle after falling so far.

I do think there will come a time for her to do that though. And speaking of Mr. World, what you mentioned earlier about Langley’s Tech Boy, and the reaction to his character, I feel tenfold for Crispin Glover’s Mr. World. Chills.

Natalie: Their scene was so interesting, because beat by beat I was like “Is this an organized meeting? Did he stalk her? What’s their deal” – and I think that was borne of his insidiousness. He makes any interaction feel creepy even if it’s consensual (though her declaration that she won’t work with him is very cut and dried.) I found her commentary about his choices at the shootout very telling – “Here’s why you failed” – but of course she doesn’t know the bigger picture.

I still really want to know what game she was playing there with Laura and if she was doing that for herself, her own game, or if she was at that moment World’s agent and now is the moment she turns her back on him.

Either way, his methods of intimidation and camaraderie are very similar to one another, which is unpleasant.

American Gods 2x02 mr world

Brittany: He’s also extremely confident, which is equally upsetting. And I think that’s a great point, perhaps Bilquis is doing a bit of playing the field. I do believe she went to the House on the Rock meeting under Mr. World’s orders. But the Laura stuff might have been for her own insurance. Use her relations with the Old Gods and bit of tech from the New to neutralize herself in the battle.

However, to focus on someone who clearly has a side — Mr. Town.

I must ask, have you seen an American Allstate Insurance commercial?

Mayhem Ensues

Natalie: … No

Brittany: Because Dean Winters plays a character on them for years now called Mayhem — he’s the window car thief who side swiped cars making a getaway, he’s the lost cell phone you can’t reach while driving and crash, he’s the branch on your tree that falls during a storm — anyway he is literally destruction personified and it was very fitting for to see him in this role.

Anyway, he says at the end of each commercial, “be better protected from Mayhem like me” and I just wish Shadow had Allstate Insurance is all.

Natalie: That’s hilarious. I had a different angle – the first thing I want to say about Town is how much his whole vibe reminds me of Agent Coulson in Marvel.

His look and performance – Coulson has his more benevolent moments but in the actual Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series I find him pretty cold in his harder moments as a ruthless agent which really seems like the blueprint for Secret Underhand Organization Outside the Law. Someone “doing the job” for an organization outside common jurisdiction – there’s certainly a type.

Brittany: And he’s very methodical. Asking the same questions, inflicting the same torture. His patience is almost the worst tool in his torture options.

Natalie: Yeah, there is a special horror to people who are very chill and comfortable in those situations. Not heated, not frustrated, just unaffected.

Brittany: I really want to dive into the specific coin element of Shadow’s story, especially since we see Town holding it, but maybe we should get to the place where he first gets the coin and the root of his belief, specifically Shadow Moon’s very fragmented Coming to American story.

It’s not told with a voice over narrative or in one continued shot, which I particularly liked.

Natalie: Yes. I must say that I was not expecting this – maybe I missed some teasers about it – but I was very much not expecting these flashbacks.

My understanding of the technology of it, before we get into the details, is that Town is asking why Shadow took the path he has, why he goes along with things and tolerates them and doesn’t enact a lot of choice. He wants to know why he is the way he is. And it seems like the rigging that Shadow is in allows Town to force that backstory out.

So, my first question is: do you think his story answered Town’s questions? Do you feel like those scenes revealed why Shadow is the way he is in the way Town was asking?

American Gods 2x02 mr town mayhem

Brittany: I think they answer them in so much as they reveal enough of what was buried to remind Shadow of what makes him tick — the light, his curiosity, his shock at the reaction the world can have, and the amount of burying and compartmentalizing he is able to do.

Mr. Town even says that he has forgotten how to tell the truth. Shadow is a tough nut to crack, I don’t think Shadow would be able to definitively say whether or not he gave Mr. Town everything.

Natalie: I feel like what I got out of it the most in terms of answers was a spelling out of the need to blend, to become unobtrusive, to be underestimated and to keep the peace by not expressing too much of your true value.

Which seems in contrast with the idea of letting your light shine, but Shadow is very grounded, privately – I remember a part of the book that talks about him being an awkward, bookish, shy and smart kid, and then when he grew and became beefy, the expectation of that was big and dumb and simple. It mentioned him liking that lack of pressure. So, I wonder if his defense mechanisms of just going along with things are just a way of playing it as safe as he can – but his lack of autonomy was a source of conflict with him and Laura as well in season 1, that he wasn’t personally driven in any way.

So it is very interesting to witness someone clearly very bright, and parented very well, someone who has normalized complex thoughts as a teenager, someone who reads and knows Latin – as well as being more worldly than most, traveling in diplomatic circles in Europe, which are generally upper class communities, progressive, educated.

Pull all their experience and perspective in and choose to get along by never leaning into the things that made him unique.

We see a bit of his learning curve there when he moves back to America as an older teen.

The Truth of Shadow Moon

Brittany: It does a lot to explain his relationship with Wednesday in terms of sticking close to someone with that sort of unwavering belief in you without asking for anything in return. Shadow’s mother never asked him to change, just to be careful. But she always filled him with her belief.

Wednesday is, in a sense, doing the same thing. Shadow pretty much only believes in love, at least that’s what he tells Wednesday. And so, when Shadow asks him, “Did I make it snow?” He is asking for some kind of permission, might not be the right word, but way to accept that he is doing something extraordinary. Something that sets him apart and it’s okay because this person sitting next to him trading his life over a game of checkers is allowing him to have the same space his mom did to be extraordinary.

In that sense, it does kind of answer why Shadow goes along with Wednesday. Laura never asked him for anything more, and yet resented him. But now, she sees that light in him. Literally.

Natalie: And Shadow’s mother died before he was old enough to get past that need to blend and truly become his whole self – with his safe space taken away, he just continued to preserve himself instead of thrive. So yes, I guess you can see a parental awakening there with Wednesday.

The details of the different scenes in Teen Shadow’s story are quite interesting – the whole tale about France and the mom saying “remember, you’re not French” is a little heavy handed, but I think it’s good to have the perspective of Shadow not having been indoctrinated in America as a child.

I don’t know if the journey he was on would have been achievable for someone who was mindlessly going along with the American dream and American rules and norms. Shadow, because of his life history and constant displacement, is set apart as someone who views norms and privately questions them.

He might not challenge them – he’s good at adapting to them, like in prison – but he isn’t thoughtlessly complicit. It’s a constant choice to learn the rules and learn how to safely game the system.

Except his ambition when gaming the system isn’t to selfishly succeed, it’s merely to get by without attracting trouble or attention – to avoid making waves.

And it seems like a bit of a waste of his “curious spirit” – to be so hyper-aware of things others are not, and to use that only to get by quietly. I mean, perhaps it’s actually zen master level smart, but we know this is a journey for him from an ineffectual life to one with a hero’s journey or purpose – his Something More.

Brittany: That line he says to Mr. Town “Curious spirit” in response to why he follows Wednesday, was definitely not something I got at all from his flashbacks.

He is fueled by questions, but not ones he is openly looking to answers for unless he is entirely under distress. Like his mom talking on the phone about getting sicker and he goes off in the direction of the kid screaming. I don’t think he was curious by any means but something else is igniting that flight. Same way he was going after the gun man, I got the same vibe from both of those scenes.

Natalie: Before the sickness part, how did the flashbacks in general set for you – the ferry into New York, and the confrontation with the gang youths?

Brittany: Well, to separate those two specifically out from the rest, they were a good introduction to rest of the arc of Shadow Moon in terms of revealing the bond with his mother, especially how he was raised, the type of person he grew to be under her and as a product of his environment abroad.

And then to be hit with the reality of the neighborhood he lived in, the bubble was popped. And he did nothing but walk and appreciate the world for what it was giving to him as we saw with the drums.

The young Shadow [Gabriel Darku] was very, very good.

Natalie: I don’t know enough about racial history in Europe to boldly say this claim is accurate, but Shadow’s conversation with his mother about the resentment of Black people in America as a reminder of America’s crimes was something I don’t see spoken about on TV too often. Europe does have racism and did have slavery in parts, but the African-American history does seem to have taken on a different sort of cultural pattern in the way that his mom describes.

And then as he adjusts to New York, the issues that he has with those other teens also serve to represent the idea that the rules and prejudices are constantly shifting in any scenario. I was struck by the line “not every place is the same place.”

In terms of the territories of gangs – as an example for how constantly Shadow has learned to adapt to new sets of rules at every step. But he was still fairly naive here – he learned it and had to live it. And I guess my takeaway from that is that he had to adapt to accepting the unfairness instead of pushing back against it, even though he is still very much driven by justice when the moment calls.

He just came out to have a good time and he’s honestly feeling so attacked right now.

Brittany: Right. I think it feeds into his hesitance to go too far beyond what he knows as well. He curiosity, even if it was just a walk around the neighborhood, did not end well. So he ran and his retreat left him in an even worse spot. Trouble it seems finds him. Hence, Wednesday.

American Gods 2x02 shadow coming to america

Natalie: Indeed – even when all he wants is to avoid it. But the first altercation and arrest addressed some pretty significant issues that mixed-race people often face – that he’s not black enough in this case, even though he doesn’t identify as white.

That rejection from both communities is a big issue for some people, and in this case it reminds me of the conversation that he had with Czernobog in season 1 about shades of grey – that every society finds some sort of ranking or hierarchy based on something akin to racism, some sort of caste system in some way.

And overall, it’s all in a bigger picture about belonging or the right to belong. Shadow is lucky to have had a mother so perceptive and compassionate to at least equip him with the inner resilience needed to understand the world and those social issues – many people don’t and fall deeper into those cycles of prejudice or marginalization – but then of course he loses her as well

Brittany: And it says something that she insists he believe that the light is inside him. Because it’s not always going to be a visible feature that is on his side.

Natalie:Brittany: Yes, he does take the coin as a literal touchstone. Something that grounds him in reality in a sense. But then watching the coin fall and shatter was just a beautiful shot of his reality breaking apart with his mother’s passing.

Natalie:Brittany: I don’t think we are supposed to know yet. But the coin especially I think is meant to point us in the direction of Wednesday, if we call back to many, many moons ago in the opening episodes of last season with the coin in the car and Shadow’s reaction to seeing him play with it.

Natalie:Brittany: Shadow, when we leave him at the church in the episode, is very much headed in the direction of “things happen to me” territory. That path is set. So, to not get out of America, to have that great loss burden him, and then to have to figure out a way forward is going to take an agency I just don’t think he has. And that takes us to where Mr. Town finds him. A follower, who happens to be there because a man sat next to him on the plane, not by any of his doing.

Natalie:Brittany: I do not think he is lying at all. The truth is that Shadow simply doesn’t know and I think he is trying to make things add up and make some sense. Take agency over making the connection and finding what he feels is right enough to be his truth.

Something that he hasn’t done in a long time. These big moments, the meeting backstage, that has washed over him. But the smaller moments (at least on the scale we are working with), the making of the snow still stands out. He watched Jesus drop a glass in a pool while sitting on top of it.

And yet, the snow keeps coming up. Why? That should seem inconsequential after everything. But if he could just get one definitive answer to any of it, without Nancy ignoring the question, or Wednesday speaking in sweeping statements, he’d be more steadfast in his answers.

The truth right now is — Shadow doesn’t know anything for certain.

American Gods season 2, episode 3, “Muninn,” airs Sunday, March 24 at 8:00 p.m. ET on Starz.

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