American Gods S2.01 review: "Dragged its heels re-explaining what had gone on"

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Dragging its heels a bit too much, it’s not the start season 2 needed.

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American Gods is back for its second season, and after the first one ended with a bang - or, more accurately, a famine - season 2 picks up rather predictably with Shadow (Ricky Whittle) on the road once more with Mr Wednesday (Ian McShane), accompanied by the still very dead Laura (Emily Browning) and Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber). The episode should have got American Gods season 2 off to a rapid start, with the war between the New Gods and the Old fast approaching, but instead it dragged its heels re-explaining what had gone on in season 1, but it did leave us with a cliffhanger it very much needed. Beware, because there are spoilers from this point onwards. 

Old Gods vs New Gods...again

Mr Wednesday, Shadow, Laura, and Mad Sweeney are off to get all of the Old Gods together - getting deja vu reading that, are you? Well, you’re not wrong to think it sounds a bit familiar, as the final episode of season 1 had Mr Wednesday win over Ostera (Kristen Chenoweth) to his cause, but now he needs to do it all over again with Mr Nancy (Orlando Jones), Jinn (Mousa Kraish), and… actually Mr Nancy is the only major new-ish god who gets much screen time in this episode (we were only shown him briefly him in season 1), despite the fact that there are multiple new old gods in the episode. Mama-ji (Sakina Jaffrey), a newly-introduced the Hindu goddess of war, gets a speech but that’s about it, and in the background a Shinto goddess (Uni Park) looks on sceptically, but we’re not even given her name. It feels like season 1 took its time letting us know who each god was, but season 2 is skipping over fresh additions far too quickly to make them feel like they actually matter.

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American Gods season 1 ending explained - everything you need to know for season 2

Anyway, Mr Wednesday gathers them all at the House on the Rock, a tourist attraction that boasts an impressively decadent carousel. Twirling around it with wild abandon, jewel-like colours sparkling on the screen, this is the bit where American Gods gets closer to the rich fanfare of colour and extravagance season 1 cemented, before it transitions into a meeting in a Viking longhouse ‘Backstage’ behind reality, in Mr Wednesday’s mind. Mr Wednesday does his usual spiel about having to triumph over the New Gods, with Mr Nancy backing him up. 

To me it sounds like he’s just repeating himself from season 1, stating something we already know, but it did give an excuse for Jaffrey to give a vindictive, enraged performance as Mama-ji to take the centre ground, furious that she’d been forgotten too. Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) does a convincing job at trying to persuade the Old Gods to side with the New, and as she’s allowed to the party afterwards we get a taste of the grey area the Old Gods inhabit: even when one of their own betrays them, they’re still able to have a drink together.

Praying for relatability 

It’s an insight into these gods that season 2 desperately needs if it’s going to move the story on any further, as you can only do impressive speeches so many times before it gets dull. Tech Boy (Bruce Langley) and Mad Sweeney are more or less the only gods who actually behave in a vaguely relatable manner, with Tech boy swearing at his new task to find New Media and Mad Sweeney becoming infuriated at Laura, the Old Gods, and Shadow. Laura is her usual no-nonsense self, taking charge when she feels sidelined. Boy, I wish Shadow would take a page out of her book! 

Speaking of the new gods, Gillian Anderson’s absence as Media is very much felt, with only a passing reference to her successor New Media. Although the New Gods feel strangely unbalanced without her, Crispin Glover’s Mr World is as brilliantly fraught and on-edge as ever, as you can practically see him coming apart on the screen thanks to Glover’s twitching performance. But unfortunately the New Gods get pushed to the sidelines despite Mr World’s nefarious plan to assassinate one of the Old Gods in their post-carousel-ride moment of revelry.

Shadow's being passive, surprise surprise

And succeed he does, shooting beloved Zorya Vechernyaya (Cloris Leachman) through the chest. Her death scene feels a bit rushed, with the attention taken off of her to focus on Chernobog’s curse on the assassin that went on for a little too long. This moment could have seen the gods act remotely human for once, but the only one who seems to care is Mr Wednesday, with a brief moment of heartbreak crossing his face as he exchanges dry wit for quiet sorrow, for once. Oh, have I not mentioned Shadow Moon yet? That’s because he’s behaving in his usual aimless way, being pulled along by Mr Wednesday and acting as passive as humanly possible. Get it together Shadow, c’mon. Maybe being kidnapped at the end of the episode (after a rare outpouring of action from him) will force Shadow to act at last. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. 

In all, the first episode of American Gods season 2 was a mixed bag. Although it did a good job reminding us of the Old Gods’ priorities of the upcoming war, it spent a bit too much time retreading familiar ground. We need that sense of urgency so we can see where season 2 is going, as there’s only so long the Gods can dine before we get restless for a showdown. 

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Zoe Delahunty-Light

While here at GamesRadar, Zoe was a features writer and video presenter for us. She's since flown the coop and gone on to work at Eurogamer where she's a video producer, and also runs her own Twitch and YouTube channels. She specialises in huge open-world games, true crime, and lore deep-dives.