The mystery of Lakeside continues to unfold as a reunion in Chicago brings together the power players American Gods season 3, episode 2, “Serious Moonlight.”
The closer American Gods season 3 gets to the words written by Neil Gaiman nearly 20 years ago, the more questions seem to arise. The minor character changes, the backstory details they absorb from ancillary characters are all well and good. But in the context of the greater narrative the series has been spinning since season 1, the words on the pages take on a new meaning, leaving us to ask, “What is the endgame here?”
In episode 2, Mike Ainsel makes the rounds, getting a taste of the unique flavor of Lakeside, while Wednesday tests the waters with allies instead of foes. Just as we start to see what makes everyone tick by the end of season 2, American Gods season 3 introduces a revolving door of outside perspectives that have us reconsidering what we think we know to be true.
Continuing the conversation about American Gods season 3, our writers Natalie and Brittany take in scenic Lakeside and take stock of the who has Wednesday’s back in their discussion of episode 2, “Serious Moonlight.”
SPOILER WARNING: At the very end of our discussion, there are spoilers below the marked section that discuss outcome of Lakeside in Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods novel.
‘American Gods’ season 3, episode 2 review in conversation
Brittany: The welcome wagon is out in full force now that newcomer Mike Ainsel has arrived in Lakeside. But before he can get a bite of one of those famous pasty’s from Mabel, Mike has to defuse a pretty tense situation — namely a shotgun to the back of his head. You nailed it last week that none other than Marguerite Olsen, sorry the Property Manager, had her finger on the trigger trying to stop a mystery man from breaking into their shared housing in the middle of the night.
Once that tension was defused and Mike got into his apartment, what did you think of our first taste of the town?
I for one was in love with the small details—the green fridge!—but also the general vibe of Lakeside. Even the score seemed bouncy. It’s a refreshing contrast to see everyone’s faces in the bright lighting. Though I will say, I got some creepy Stepford vibes once we were out and about with Ann-Marie.
Natalie: Without having seen any Hallmark movies, it certainly gave me that small perfect holiday hometown vibe. Will the Big City Newcomer have to Save the Town? (Yep.) It’s all very cute and cozy, and Shadow becomes cuter and cozier in order to blend – or maybe simply because he can. Just chill out, play the nicest version of himself that he knows, with some genuinely harmless people. Ann-Marie is… pushy, to say the least. I think the Stepford vibe tracks with like, the repetition of the pasty history etc – everyone tells the same stories on rote, everyone knows where you to go to get a coat, whereas Shadow’s actual needs (the car) are at first overlooked.
We obviously know the Lakeside endgame, unless there’s a big twist here – but I doubt there is, as it’s all set up pretty precisely and the slight hardening and controlling vibe from Ann-Marie sells it harder. But we get the town’s history spelled out pretty specifically, the Nordic origin and the things they do yearly to honor the ancestor’s history and give thanks for such a great town. Rituals.
Brittany: I agree, we are very much on track for a Lakeside that will stick close to the pages of the book. But, of course, his first priority was getting out of that frigid apartment and getting a jacket. Why he slept in that short sleeve shirt is beyond me. And from here we get the history of the klunker — place a car on the ice and pick a day and time when it is going to fall through! It’s not a gingerbread contest in a Hallmark town, but we did arrive a few days after peak Christmas season so maybe we just missed it. After getting his jacket and a few other essential items with the help of Alison (more on her later), he is carted around town for more history.
I did particularly enjoy watching Shadow over exert his patience with Ann-Marie after securing the jacket when he tried to ask about the possibility of getting a car. Before he can get his answer, he is handed off to Chad Mulligan who is hot off the case of searching for the missing days-of-the-week underwear (Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday are all MIA.)
But Chad does finally give Shadow an inside line on a car, but not without getting him a pasty. The recipe came from Cornwall, you know.
I think this “where everyone knows your name” buddy-vibe contrasts really well with two things I know we will get to: 1) the dream that Shadow has before his shopping trip where he sees the Buffalo in the store and 2) the conversation that he has with Zorya Polunochnaya on the roof. This two-sidedness of his life, being pulled to the magic and mystery of Wednesday, but craving that normal, settled life. The first glimpse of that is when he places his klunker bet. What did you think of that sequence in the middle of all of this “normalcy?”
Natalie: The klunker raffle selection was…. curious to say the least. I could not tell if this was meant to be a magical moment, or just something for the audience’s benefit to show what he was drawn to. Given that American Gods is about powers, I assume it’s meant to be somewhat magical or psychic, and I guess I wasn’t expecting that at all.
Chad is a lovely man and a pretty untested cop – I have a few thoughts about that that are basically about patterns of disappearances and the big Lakeside mystery. I can’t help thinking that Sam and Dean Winchester would spot that pattern in a heartbeat. (American Gods is a known influence of Supernatural and season 1 contains a mystery about a town that is very clearly based on this.) But for now, it’s more like he has nothing to do – and he knows it’s kind of ridiculous, but what can you do? I’m pretty fond of him and that line reading about the Piggly Wiggly rumor mill really got me.
There’s a definite rift between Shadow and normalcy, and he can’t escape that even in his dreams, let alone when he goes out of Lakeside to re-enter the world of the Gods. Him trying to lean into the normal side and just relax into it and take Lakeside as a rest while he can… I’m certainly wondering what he himself thinks to himself when we see the klunker bet. He seems to just roll with it, accepting that his life is touched by something magic and just follows it when it taps his shoulder. I guess fighting it isn’t exactly wise.
Brittany: Also a bargain compared to the American Gods novel, you get the whole hour and it’s only $5! Not $10 for a 5-minute window. They’ve gone soft over the years in their betting. But I digress.
I think Chad is so well cast with Eric Johnson. I’d hang out with him and listen to all his wild tales of the town. Which gets us to another near klunker — The Gunther purple mobile. The backstory of this car has changed slightly as it is not in the hands of Missy Gunther, but rather it belongs to Marguerite Olsen the local reporter/property manager. Chad is able to meet both Ann-Marie and Mike Ainsel’s needs (food and a car) like the helpful cop he is and then he is on his way to solve another crime.
So, Shadow’s urgency to rent a car comes down to an invitation that was mailed to his apartment – the memorial for Zorya Vechernyaya in Chicago. We haven’t gotten too much about the Olsen group, but we do know that the car belonged to Sandy (in the book, Olsen’s son who went off to see their estranged father in Florida and never came back.) So, I feel that is shaping up to fill out in line with the book.
Natalie: I think the warmth of Shadow’s — sorry, Mike’s — welcome in town is important to note, in the diner and so on, because of the shift later in the episode. Shadow really seems to be enjoying himself. He also seems to be the only black person in the whole town, and I like that the episode very casually acknowledges it with the teenage waiter who feels the need to prove he isn’t racist. Shadow gets it, with an eye roll, and moves on. But the only person who stays frosty is Marguerite — Chad suggests that Mike borrow the car, and you can feel the tension there completely.
That this is a long-held issue, something no one wants to talk about. Sandy’s car, sitting there unused – Sandy’s gone and no one wants to address it. Shadow certainly doesn’t pick up on any angst here, given the end of the episode. He assumes Sandy is a college boy who isn’t home right now, and that Marguerite is just uptight I guess. The stand-off between Chad, Marguerite and Mike in the office is a great bit of acting honestly. But for some reason she allows herself to let go and allows the car to be used by Shadow.
Brittany: Shadow gets his purple mobile and heads off on the backroads to Chicago. But others are also on their way to pay their respects including a scorned lover and a man running a campaign.
Natalie: In as far as the whole idea that “Shadow leaves Lakeside on a Gods mission and comes back to an accusation” the Chicago trip fills the same role for the American Gods story as one of Wednesday’s recruiting trips in the book (to San Francisco to meet Easter, which got totally bumped around,) but the actual events of his time away are a bit different here and involve the memorial – which he was invited to. And Wednesday was not.
Brittany: Shadow was invited on the sly, much to Czernobog’s surprise. But all roads lead our characters to the memorial is a gathering on Koliada and it’s the hottest ticket for the Old Gods, except for, as you noted, Wednesday.
Wednesday finds out about the invite when visiting Tyr, the war lord, whose dental business is… booming? Denis O’Hare, a personal favorite, is both unnerving and endearing in this role. Wednesday doesn’t have much recruiting to do here, instead it is a financial run. His loyalty is a given, but he provides Wednesday with much more than he came for — namely the information about the memorial by a slip of the tongue assuming that Wednesday was invited and the whereabouts of Demeter. It’s kind of odd to see Wednesday walk away with a win. What are your thoughts on the mission here and then subsequent arrival in Chicago?
I had to look up some Tyr stuff, but the rubber hand and the wolf statue (Fenrir?) I don’t know what to do with this knowledge, but I have it.
Natalie: So, first of all, I love Tyr both in general and specifically new American Gods version. I immediately felt very warmly about him. His entire personality, in myth, is genuinely one of the good guys, honorable and all that. He’s decent, and I felt that in this Tyr strongly.
Like Thor, this is an important Norse God who wasn’t actually a feature of American Gods the novel. Seeing his missing hand made me hyper-attentive – see Neil Gaiman’s retelling of Norse Mythology for how and why Tyr lost the hand to the wolf Fenrir. It’s always Fenrir who bit it off, but Neil’s version, and I think in some others, Tyr lets and encourages Fenrir to take his hand because it’s a consequence of the other gods tricking Fenrir, which Tyr doesn’t agree with. It’s a whole “do it, pal” moment. And it makes me wonder if this Tyr will be Neil’s Tyr – a genuinely just and good and smart god, who is maybe going to suffer at the hands of those less ethical than he is.
He seems to support Odin just fine, but he also is really smart and with it and has clear distrust in Wednesday’s whole being too. I want a Tyr backstory episode.
Brittany: I could definitely see this Tyr going in that direction already and I agree, a backstory vignette is high on my wish list now.
Natalie: Tyr is… noble. Those characters really work for me.
Brittany: Wednesday is almost put off by it? There is Tyr pledging his unrelenting loyalty, writing him a check no questions asked, and could not get out of there fast enough. Even before he saw the postcard. It’s such a contrast to seeing Wednesday be holier than now begging for people to remember his greatness. He can just walk across this bridge because this is one of the rare few that is not burnt.
Natalie: He’s one of the closest Norse Gods in power to Odin, maybe Odin is aware he is outmatched. Maybe he is aware that Tyr’s support is Tyr’s choice and that Odin can’t really boss him around or intimidate him. Tyr’s happy to hand over money, so he isn’t impartial to the war and all that. He’s a god of war but it’s more tied to justice whereas Odin is more of a trickster – so maybe this is close to Odin meeting his match, someone with whom he can’t get away with stuff.
Tyr assumed he would be coming to Chicago, sure, and then the postcard thing – which he calls out and warns Wednesday to behave about later. In general I feel really solid about this guy which means he’s either a new fave or dead meat.
Brittany: I really hope it’s not the latter, but seeing as we are still holding our very own memorial service for another fave, the odds are not in our favor.
I am very much looking forward to Blythe Danner joining the series, but we are not quite ready to meet Demeter just yet.
Natalie: Do you think she will be another incarnation of Easter or a different goddess of a similar theme, a separate harvest and fertility god?
Brittany: I think it will be along the lines of a similar theme, the address (I paused to look) is Harvest Gate in Springfield, Massachusetts. However, based on her character description when cast, she is involuntarily in a mental institution. So it should be interesting.
Natalie: No wonder Tyr warned Odin very seriously to watch his step.
Brittany: Yeah, that does color that line reading very well. I didn’t think of that until now!
We do have one more duo to get to Chicago before the drinking and celebrating can begin, and that’s Salim and Ibis. We find Salim is back in Cairo after finding a note from the Jinn who says that he is on a mission for Wednesday that is of vital importance and that they have reached the end of their relationship. But Salim is not going down that easy and scrapes together whatever resources he has which boils down to knowing that someone in Cairo may know how to get a hold of Wednesday or is in the know about the Jinn’s mission. What did you think of first the note and the intention behind it?
Natalie: I mean, this is an interesting choice. I have no idea why American Gods season 3 chose to write out the Jinn and keep Salim, like this quest. It must have an endgame – Salim wants, at least, to get dumped to his face. It sounds more like the Jinn is protecting him, but…I guess here is another human caught up in the story. He’s sooo sad though!
Brittany: And he keeps that sweater! I would keep it as well, it is the one item of clothing besides the Motel America t-shirt that I wanted most when this series aired.
But yeah, I enjoyed the fact that he went in and held his ground with Wednesday. These humans, no respect for the old gods, in particular Odin. He brings it on himself. I am feeling very hopeful that we will get Salim and Laura on a revenge/finding lost love tour. If they can figure out how to get her back. I saw her in the series preview, she has top billing, I am still so lost over how they are going to accomplish this.
Natalie: No Laura this week, it’s very confusing.
Brittany: Salim is all that is good in this world and I want him to be happy, but I do see the Jinn using this as protection and it will certainly be interesting to see how he complicates things.
Natalie: BUT. When Salim confronts Odin, Odin says something like, I’ve got no idea where that son of mine is. So he both denies that it’s his quest the Jinn is on, and confirms that relationship between them, of being “his man,” is like Sweeney’s. Did we know that for fact before now? He casually confirmed it. We pitched that he was rounding up relatives who could stand for him.
Brittany: I don’t think we did. The Jinn very early on was Wednesday’s way or the highway. I think we did get the sense he could be a fringe character, teetering on the line of service and possibly running away and starting a B&B with Salim. But he seems to have gone all in on some mission, just one that does not include either of them at the moment. It’s read like an “I thought he was with you” moment.
Natalie: So who’s lying? Wednesday or the Jinn?
Brittany: Although I would under normal circumstances bet all the money in my pocket on Wednesday lying, these aren’t normal times and none of my quarantine pants have pockets, so I’m going to go with the Jinn on this one. Wednesday gains nothing by lying here. It may come easy for him to do it just to toy with Salim, but at the same time dealing with this single human doesn’t help or hurt him.
Natalie: That’s true. Like, he really has no reason to be bothered, unless he knows the Jinn is swayed by Salim and it’s in Wednesday’s interest to separate them. I really don’t know.
Brittany: Also a good point.
Natalie: It seems the Jinn will be a focus of the season for Salim, so I hope we see him again by the end.
Brittany: I do as well.
The entire Chicago scene is pretty tense, but dissolves into drunken revelry rather rapidly. Shadow learns to bring gifts for the family (cigarettes, vodka, a romance novel) and tries to keep the peace with Czernobog who reminds him that he still owes him a strike to the head. But luckily Wednesday shows up with an even greater debt—a battle— that Czernobog swore allegiance to fight. Their partnership is so stressful.
Natalie: The way Wednesday manages to twist the blame from himself – she died in the line of fire – to the New Gods, the way he’s bold about being there to recruit… Czernobog caves pretty fast despite his initial fury actually.
The slap-dancing was a lot. Stressful indeed.
Brittany: He does cave easily, I wasn’t expecting it to dissolve to such a state of acceptance like that. And so they drink the evening star, dance/slap battle, while Shadow slips away to see the sender of the invite up on the roof.
Natalie: I feel like Zorya Polunochnaya is a really nice girl. She feels like a very good fit for Shadow in this weird life and it’s nice that she’s still on his side.
Brittany: I think the conversation that Shadow has on the roof is kind of… nothing new or groundbreaking, but it does cement the thread I mentioned earlier about what I’m looking for this season. That push and pull of what Shadow wants because he isn’t going to get straight answers. And you’re right, Zorya P does have that keen insight into what is going on as far as she can see, but also lives in the comfort of knowing she cannot nor share all the answers. While he doesn’t get what he wants entirely, Shadow does seem better having seen her. “Worth the trip.”
Natalie: Shadow doesn’t really confirm or deny her claims about him – that he says he wants out but he actually loves the magic of it all. But he does state that what he wants – is the truth, no more riddles. Maybe only then he can confirm where he wants his path to go.
Brittany: Even when he goes downstairs after talking with her and witnesses the Salim fight, when he goes to leave he is all smirky with Wednesday about describing Lakeside and how he almost froze to death twice and got shot. Just a very resigned, accepting of the “for now” Shadow Moon.
The truth isn’t going to be written on a card from a machine in the House on the Rock, but maybe he’ll be able to sort some things out that will get him prepared to choose the path when it presents itself.
Natalie: I too really liked the goodbye to Wednesday, the little smiles and “Miguel.” For now, between them, this is all fine. Even if Salim thinks Shadow should have let the leprechaun (RIP, king) kill him, Shadow is just kind of accepting and making the best of it right now.
Brittany: All the more reason he will join Laura “Get Spear Kill Odin” basically Salim and Laura’s motto right now.
Shadow is just getting back in his purple mobile and making his way back to the tundra. But not without running into someone I am afraid to like because [gestures at our track record again], but Cordelia is hanging out in the cold waiting for Wednesday to wrap up his recruitment. So we find out that she was kicked out of school and arrested for hacking, had a ton of debt, and she found Wednesday on Craigslist. Nothing creepy on that site ever. But seems to have worked out for her and I like that he is plugged in with this wayward soul.
Natalie: Very interesting moment, we learn how she got the job and what she’s doing. Also that she’s obviously not hooking up with Wednesday – she’s gay. But she isn’t looking a gift horse in the mouth, being paid tons to drive around and get Wednesday a cell phone. I really wonder why she’s here, this new player. Like if she’ll take on the role of anyone else in the book, like some of Sam’s role in Shadow’s life – though why would she? That doesn’t track
Brittany: I have a lot of questions but I like her whole vibe. I think she is a good match for Wednesday as well, a compliment to Shadow. Their exchanging of information for when it all gets a bit too rough poked at my heart.
Natalie: Indeed. He’s definitely worried about her situation, but she seems to think Wednesday isn’t half-bad as far as fathers go.
Brittany: Shadow may need to call her sooner rather than later because when he returns home, that smile isn’t buying him any good will.
As we learn that Alison, our shopgirl and friend from the bus, went missing around the time that Shadow left for Chicago. And as the only new person to set foot in the town and probably step out in quite some time, all eyes are on him as the prime suspect. Why he would return to town if he took her, I mean who knows. But this town has their scapegoat. The Lakeside actors are very good at playing small town charm and pitchfork carrying villagers.
Natalie: The turn was really instant and cold and stressful. Like, him leaving town at the same time she vanished – I get it. I love Chad hating to have to deal with it, but luckily he isn’t too harsh and eventually Shadow’s story checks out.
Brittany: We see Margie talk to him after the investigation clears Shadow, but I am curious to see if he folds back into the town as easily. It was unsettling to watch the entire town flip like that. With Mike’s name escaping yet another red flag, there is one great moment for him — heat! Margie decides to literally stop freezing him out, but we’ll have to wait for more episodes to see if she verbally stops freezing him out.
Natalie: Yes, finally Shadow may now, and only now, have a working radiator given that he’s proven to be not a criminal. She was pretty funny in that scene, like how she knew she’d been ridiculous.
But she shuts down again when Shadow offers a real kindness – he got the artwork from her son’s car windshield transferred to some cardboard so it could be repainted or stickered later. He assumes Sandy is at school – he even heard his voice on the CD in the car. He definitely didn’t pick up on the fact that this kid is dead or missing, just thought he was borrowing an extra car. His innocence here is jarring.
Brittany: It is! I almost wanted him to stop asking questions. But at the same time, he doesn’t know. And then she shuts him out completely, just when he felt like there was an opening to smooth out their rocky start. Poor Shadow, just cannot catch a break with anyone.
Natalie: I mean, presumably she’ll realize that too. It isn’t his fault. But we’ll see.
Brittany: I think that about wraps us up in the current timelines for Lakeside, but across the country in a penthouse apartment is the only other tangential storyline we get for this episode and it centers around Bilquis.
Natalie: Indeed. She seems to be getting some tech support from some billionaire mogul, and I guess from his conversation with her they have a thing going on (only when she says so) and he comes to her to feel, like, I guess dominated? or at least normal, not the guy people want things from but he pushes her too far and he ends up having to give her everything. And by that I mean, she sexually eats him – back to the good old days!
However, what’s interesting is it seems like she hates this. Either something is wrong with this guy – she’s poisoned by him or he’s wrong or something, or she simply hates the act, the life taking, or hates this need she has to do it.
Brittany: Yeah this man is different from her typical worshippers, who are truly just happy to be there.
Natalie: Because she physically throws up after, and is crying. Doing this today made her sick.
Brittany: I feel like his worship was not genuine and that she stole it. He didn’t get there on his own and it was a fight for him, maybe he never actually got there at all. And forcing that made her physically sick. Almost worse than not having it at all.
Natalie: Interesting angle. I’m not sure what to make of her scene honestly – we don’t get another one, so this is left hanging to what I assume will be a season long thread for her.
Brittany: I did find it interesting that he worked for the largest IT company. Was he fed to her by World? They are trying to get in with these people. But again we don’t have much to go on but we do know that the New Gods are actively working to recruit her, and maybe they are turning to some less than palatable measures.
Natalie: Definitely thought maybe he’s one of Tech Boy’s people and it continues this thread of “you aren’t much and you owe us.”
Brittany: Right, exactly.
We’ve discussed all we can discuss about Lakeside in this episode without too many allusions to the book, but for this last bit, we’ll throw up a warning that there will be spoilers for American Gods the novel in this next section — namely about the klunker and its role in the story and how it connects to the context of the flashback opening of “Serious Moonlight.”
So, STOP READING TO AVOID BOOK SPOILERS now.
Natalie: Yes, so the opening of this episode began with some European traders, a french and a Germanic guy, massacring some tribal Native American people in what I think is the future Lakeside area.
One of them calls out to the Thunderbirds for protection, but is slaughtered. Finally, the Germanic trader kills a young teenage girl in a sacrificial way while calling out to Odin for the area to be protected from the oncoming storm, and this was horrible but set my brain on fire because I’m very much assuming this is the origin story of why Lakeside is so perfect and why the klunker plot goes down.
Did you get this at all? In the book, Wednesday says he stashes Shadow in Lakeside because he called in a favor. It’s somewhere he can’t be found and is protected. I assumed this was because of Hinzelmann’s power — that he’s the god at work here and the kids in the klunkers are what keeps him going. So Wednesday got a favor to hide his son in Hinzelmann’s super protected town.
Here, though…. it seems like the child sacrifices are to Odin, that maybe Ann-Marie Hinzelmann is just the agent to carry it out.
Brittany: I definitely got that as the origin story. Tugging that thread of how the sun always shines on Lakeside, in a very literal sense in the opening. But prices must be paid and in the case of the klunker that’s how the ritual continues in this case to Odin, not to Hinzelmann. She is a great agent of chaos.
It’s all well and good that Hinzelmann probably still comes from the lineage of that first sacrifice, but I definitely got the sense that the debt is paid to Odin here.
Ann-Marie knows how to keep Shadow moving, engaged with the ritual in a way that doesn’t put him off from it, but explains it in such detail that it’s like, “oh just another quirky thing for me to absorb.” This is also making me rethink how I saw the magical klunker pick early on. Perhaps it was just a visual clue to the audience that Shadow needs to remember his pick and not just let the day pass him by and wake up thinking “oh did the car break through the ice?”
Then of course at the end, we get the flyover of the Thunderbird. But that’s another spoiler for another day I think.
Natalie: You think the town founder mentioned in the Lakeside scenes is the guy in the opener? It has to be him right, and Hinzelmann is either still a lesser god they brought over or there’s an unknown element. She’s so fluffy but I can definitely see a dark turn in this actress. The thing I wanted to add about how the Winchesters would have this on lock is the pattern of the child going missing the day before the klunker goes out! Come on, Chad!
Brittany: I was wondering about that name drop. I think that’s a good call that it is one of the guys in the opener and then the wealth and good fortune is a trickle down from Odin with Hinzelmann being another brought over and worshipped deity somewhere in there. It’s all a bunch of misdirection right now, but unlike Shadow I am fine with these riddles.
The streets are full of crime, Chad is a busy man! 1099s all over the place!
Natalie: Shadow, in the long run, discovers the pattern of children going missing every winter, but the town just accepts this. I really can’t help compare it to the Scarecrow episode – I’m sure Lakeside was the influence – but unlike that, I think maybe the townspeople have a veil over their eyes about it?
Brittany: They seem to be a people who are okay shaking their head and carrying on.
Natalie: It isn’t like humans are involved – Hinzelmann was doing the sacrificing to himself/herself. So maybe here she’s sacrificing to Odin. There must be a twist which I guess we will find out.
Brittany: First we need to get out onto that lake!
American Gods season 3 airs Sundays at 8:00 p.m. ET on Starz