Shadow Moon is tired of being the God’s shadow puppet in a Season 3 Episode 1 return to former American Gods glory.
To say American Gods is beleaguered is putting it lightly. Neil Gaiman’s fantastic story should be everything this world needs right now. The books and season 1 had the skeptical cynicism of a world on fire controlled by elder Gods who have seen and done more than anyone should, and the magical surrealism of an ever-adapting all-powerful group of beings who can manipulate almost anything if enough people worship them. Showrunners and talent have dropped like flies. They are changing almost as fast as a teen girl preparing for a date. Finally, after all the dust has settled both behind the scenes and in the lives of American Gods, Lakeside looms on the horizon. Lovers of the books know this is where the real magic happens—American Gods Season 3 Episode 1 rights the ship.
The best duo on the show from the beginning has always been Laura Moon(Emily Browning) and the larger than life foul-mouthed Mad Sweeney(Pablo Schreiber). They make a brief appearance together for one final time as Laura’s actions at the end of Season 2 are explained. She took Mad Sweeney’s body to New Orleans to ask for help once more from the voodoo priest and priestess. Given more talk than actual help, Laura takes matters into her own hands, cuts Mad Sweeney’s coin out of her chest, and places it in his hands. She then turns to dust. I’m not saying her sacrifice was for nothing, but things may not turn out as she hoped. In any case, it isn’t time to get the vacuum cleaner out just yet.
Meanwhile, the New Gods led by Tech Boy(Bruce Langley) and World, now going by Ms. World(Dominque Jackson), are licking their wounds and cracking skulls. Their plan wasn’t exactly successful at the end of season 2, but it wasn’t a bust either, so back to business as usual. The New God’s power has always been the place for the most cutting social commentary to happen. We, as a people, have become self-indulgent, self-absorbed, and superficial. Tech Boy and Media simply use what they are given, and World has always been a power-hungry asshole, so that hasn’t changed.
The new and improved world domination plan is to create a virtual church of the mind. They would control all humans and all money. It’s a bold power play for the bombastic orchestrator that has clever sycophants as her minions. In an instafamous world where reality stars can be President and influencers are mega-rich teenagers, it’s not that unrealistic. Combine those same YouTube celebrities with a megachurch and introduce a little VR and the skies the limit. Unfortunately for World, Tech Boy is having a crisis of consciousness brought on by the beguiling Bilquis(Yetide Badaki). His continued growth could be one of the most touchstone worthy plot beats of the season.
The Shadow Moon that greets us at the beginning of Season 3 Episode 1 is done with the “fuckery”. To be honest, so are we. We are all ready for a reboot, which Lakeside, Wisconsin or Toronto, Canada, as our friends to the North refer to it is precisely that. We are prepared for a return to what made Season 1 work so well. You can’t match the mystery, the mysticism, and the razor-sharp social commentary coupled with out of this world imagery. Already American God’s Season 3 seems to have returned to at least some of its early luster.
Shadow or Mike, as he’s referring to himself now, is not having any of Mr. Wednesday’s(Ian McShane) machinations. He’s done being the errand boy of the snarky man with enigmatic words and even more questionable motives. Shadow just wants a normal life. It’s all he had ever wanted. Mr. Wednesday’s promise of purpose doesn’t cut it anymore. It isn’t about a desperate need to have a father or an ability to atone for previous sins, but normalcy.
Peace, even complacency, sounds good. He craves the kind of mundane life a comfortable suburbanite has. Where there is time to watch and enjoy shows like American Gods while eating takeout from styrofoam containers and casually discussing politics and climate change, it’s not that Shadow Moon is an uncaring person. He just is bone tired of being jerked around. He’s grown out his hair and his beard and is indulging in a little dress up in an attempt to become the person he always wanted to be.
Enter Mr. Wednesday again with more charm than is fair and malice in his eyes. His words say he only wants to make the world better, but his actions speak otherwise. Despite all of Shadow’s attempts, he has no choice but to go with Mr. Wednesday. That quest in a beat-up RV with Betty’s soul leads Shadow to Whiskey Jack or Wisakedjak, played by Graham Greene. The Six Nations actor marks the clear delineation between Whiskey Jack and Iktomi. Whiskey Jack has more than a few choice words for Mr. Wednesday, who he has avoided thus far. He also understands Shadow Moon is searching for the truth. Their paths will be entwined as American Gods Season 3 progresses.
Shadow has no choice but to go to the place Wednesday has been leading him with nowhere else to go. Lakeside, Wisconsin, is quirky, snowy, and full of secrets. This perfect small town is indicative of what makes a story like American Gods so compelling. Beauty and kindness is living right next door to evil. Some of that horribleness rears its head through slights, prejudice, contradiction, and other times through terrible crimes left unchecked by an unwilling or unable authority.
America, both in the series and IRL, is kind of a mess. The irony is not lost on me that a man wearing a Viking helmet took selfies from inside the Capitol after storming the castle. In a nutshell, that is what American Gods is about. American has warts. Big, nasty, oozing ones. We also have genuinely decent people who try to do the right thing. It’s not all bad, but there is enough bad that sometimes we lose ourselves in the intricacies of hiding the shame. Gods like Tech Boy, Media, the newly departed Mr. Nancy, and Mr. World could be easily replaced with Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Kim Kardashian, and Colin Kaepernick. They are all influential businesspeople and stars who could use their collective powers for good or evil with the stroke of a pen.
Newly arrived in town, Shadow is met with kindness in the way of Julia Sweeney’s Hinzelmann and Chief of Police Chad Mulligan(Eric Johnson) and distrust on the wrong side of a shotgun. What strange things wait for Shadow in this kooky place that feels like Fargo and Twin Peaks had the best baby ever? This change of scenery allows everyone the chance to breathe and dive deep into what makes American Gods work.
Finally, Ricky Whittle’s Shadow Moon is not the focus of all the fuss. He has been the last to know and the most exploited character on the board for two seasons. Now he has some, if not all, his agency back. He is an innocent if exhausted bystander of the greater mystery Lakeside has to hide. He is no longer the ill-informed demigod with no idea what is going on, how he got there, and his importance to the cosmic story. Lakeside’s mysteries also allow a respite from Media and Tech Boy’s manipulations, making it harder for Ms./Mr. World to control everything. This is an isolated world cut off from the internet by and large.
American Gods Season 3 Episode 1 is all about the first step towards finding yourself. Whether that be finding your place in the world or finding your humanity despite recently learning, you are a god. Not wanting to be a God isn’t an option. What kind of God you will be is. Almost all of the major players are in for a massive dose of self-discovery and growth. Like the supremely well placed The Rolling Stones song says, It’s Just A shot Away.
I get the negativity American Gods has been faced with. Messiness is usually not a good indication of a quality show. Huge named actors unceremoniously leave or flame away in a torrent of social media fire, showrunners are replaced with wild abandon, and sophomore seasons that while still entertaining failed to captivate like Season 1. I understand all the criticism. The one thing American Gods has always avoided was cliche. The storylines might be more serpentine than necessary. Some of the characters were a little too ignorant for believability. Occasionally, there was a tedium level broken only by intense, off the wall set pieces and an abundance of scorching sex. One thing you would never say about American Gods is that it is boring.
That continues for American Gods Season 3 Episode 1 which looks and feels markedly different than the previous two. It is a complete reboot. A chance for everyone to get back to basics. Albeit the harsh basics of a colder than Hell Toronto Canda aka Lakeside. An opportunity for the actors and the viewers to glimpse the spell that has hung just outside of reach after Season 1’s success. Everyone gets to dig deep and define who and what they want to be. It’s about time we came into the cold. Catch a new episode every Sunday night on STARZ. Follow us weekly for all our American Gods coverage.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.