It’s ironic that in its second season, American Gods, a show about old gods fighting to stay relevant in a world besieged by new deities, feels like it’s taking a more traditional approach to storytelling. That’s when you compare it to its first season, which was visually bold and unlike anything else on television at the time. Yes, American Gods, like its characters, is changing.
Appropriately named after Odin’s trusted raven Muninn—one of the dual embodiments of his thought and memory—this week’s episode is a rumination on the past and how events set in motion long ago are still playing out in ways sure to impact events of the future. What’s old is new and what’s new is old, and if all of the show’s characters would keep that in mind, chances are their lives would all be far, far simpler.
More explicitly illustrating the mystical rules American Gods is defined by has made this season of the show feel decidedly more grounded, which so far has been neither a good thing nor a bad thing, it simply is. You’ve got to make the decision whether the show’s newest incarnation is still the kind of ride you want to be along for.
All of the emotional heft of Wednesday sacrificing his Cadillac Betty in the last episode begins to be undone as “Muninn” opens, and we see just what sort of scheme the Allfather was getting up to by parking his car on the train tracks in the first place. Like her driver and all of his oddball friends, Betty isn’t really what she seems and beneath her mundane vehicular facade burns an interesting truth: Betty’s one of Odin horses (if not the embodiment of all of the god’s horses) fashioned into a form more appropriate for an old man to be driving around in.
By opening with Betty’s seeming resurrection (unless that’s some other random car Wednesday and Mad Sweeny stuff Laura into the trunk of), “Muninn” reminds us that there’s still quite a bit of magic to the old gods and that the power of a sacrifice is something all of the divine beings can manage to mold into a strategic move for themselves. It’s that point that makes Wednesday’s decision to leave a badly-injured Shadow in the wreckage of the train crash somewhat less curious; it’s obvious that American Gods isn’t done exploring their relationship, but for the time being, the two of them are meant to be apart.
As obvious as Wednesday’s designs on Shadow are to us as an audience, they’re not something most of the other characters (aside from Laura) seem particularly interested in. Laura herself doesn’t make much of Wednesday’s interest in her ex-husband outside of the fact that their no longer being together is, at least partially, the work of the gods. The more time she spends with the gods, the more you appreciate how much more the show is giving her to do compared to Neil Gaiman’s original novel, and Wednesday’s referring to her as a revenant makes her presence within the story feel much more akin to that of Mad Sweeney and the Jinn. Like them, she’s neither a god nor a mortal, but a being whose very existence is wrapped up in magic more so than any other worldly concern.
Laura is a zombie walking through her afterlife with a group of gods she doesn’t believe in even though she can touch and smell them. And yet, for all the weirdness of her circumstances, she’s unbothered by all of it and resolute in her determination to find Shadow for reasons that she herself can’t fully articulate. Laura’s inability to be forthright about her intentions are mirrored is Wednesday’s lack of desire to do the same, and as the two of them journey off in Betty in search of Argus Panoptes, it’s impossible not to get the sense that the two of them might very well tear Shadow apart in their own smaller, more personal battle over him.
Before any of that can go down, however, Shadow’s got problems of his own to deal with by way of failing to grift a woman out of her money, and then accidentally crossing paths with Sam Black Crow (Devery Jacobs), a young Two-Spirit woman who’s immediately able to see through the lies he tells about himself. Like Shadow, Sam’s rightfully skeptical about everything she sees around her, but her spirituality and respect for things larger than herself that she can’t yet see is part of what makes her so much more clear-minded than Shadow could ever be.
“Muninn” is an episode about the magic all around us that we can’t see, either because we don’t believe in it or we’re not looking for it in the right place, both of which have been plaguing the Technical Boy in his search for the missing Media. Following Wednesday’s last move against them, Mr. World is still shaken and hesitant to retaliate without everyone on his team by his side, including his best spokesperson. There was always a kind of redundancy between Media and the Technical Boy that made their alliance seem tenuous. He’s the god of all things digital and 21st century tech, and she was the old god of information made new and defined by global pop culture. With the arrival of New Media (Kahyun Kim), the similarities and interconnectedness between the Technical Boy and media as a concept become that much more apparent, and you can see the how American Gods is angling the two new gods against one another for a kind of power struggle that’s sure to displease Mr. Word.
Seeing New Media and the Technical Boy together in search of Argus, the mythical, many-eyed giant who now functions as the embodiment of the American surveillance state, is fascinating because, in a way, none of the three could fully exist with other the other two and they’re all concepts that have existed in one form or another over the millennia. But here, in this war, as they (attempt to) come together, they’re all aware that any one of them could be gone in an instant, another casualty of the fighting. For all of her workplace cordiality and charm, New Media understands the danger that being in a position like hers has put her in, and so she understandably makes moves of her own to partner with Argus for her own personal reasons—Mr. World’s plans be damned.
The way that both Wednesday and the Technical Boy move to cut New Media’s power play short feels indicative of the direction American Gods is going this season. While there’s definitely a war waging, there are also countless smaller, more strategic battles to be fought along the way, and everyone’s got to be careful about how they move forward, lest they end up making the wrong move and biting the dust.
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