I wish I could give this episode 3.75 stars, as it’s back to semi-mediocre form this week, and although it doesn’t quite reach the heights of last episode it’s a marked improvement on the first two instalments in season 2. The Greatest Story Ever Told sends both Shadow (Ricky Whittle) and Mr Wednesday (Ian McShane) and Tech Boy (Bruce Langely) on a mission to get the incredibly powerful god Money on their side, while Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), Mr Nancy (Orlando Jones), and Mr Ibis (Demore Barnes) stay at the funeral home and enter into an intriguing alliance.
This episode thankfully restricts itself to following three groups of characters, which makes it easier for us to keep track of who’s where and what they’re doing, but there’s a lack of clarity about the roles some secondary characters have to play (if they have one that stretches beyond this episode, that is). Yet I bring good news: Shadow continues to stand up to Mr Wednesday and manages to grow a bit of a backbone this episode, in what I am beginning to hope is a growing trend for our hitherto flimsy protagonist.
Spoilers follow for The Greatest Story Ever Told, so read at your own risk!
Respect for the dead
Kicking off with someone else literally licking Shadow’s wounds was a bold move, especially as what followed was a strange sex scene that he eventually gave up fighting against, which felt - not going to lie - slightly uncomfortable to watch. It appears to have been just a quick and kind of lazy way to heal Shadow’s injuries from the previous episode’s train crash. Then Mr Wednesday wastes no time in pulling Shadow away from what had the potential to be a fascinating conversation, as Mr Ibis joins Mr Wednesday in lying about when he had last seen Laura. Abandon any hopes you had about learning why the Old Gods seem eager to keep the two apart, as it wasn’t to be. Dang it.
Shadow is drawn aside into a meeting with the god of Money, The Bookkeeper (William Sanderson), where he has very little to do. Switch your gaze back to the funeral home, however, and Bilquis, Mr Nancy, and Mr Ibis have courted their own alliance as African Gods, once that aims to serve America’s oppressed and marginalised black population. This turn of events has sure spiced up the divide between the New and Old Gods, and hopefully hints that the Old Gods are not as united under Mr Wednesday as they might seem. American Gods always does well when it focuses on the development of its deities rather than events, and seeing Bilquis and Nancy unite in their desire to save their people confirmed that they do have hearts rather than just being mercilessly bent on power. Plus seeing Mr Ibis stand awkwardly in the background while they made out was pretty damned funny.
RIP, Tech Boy
It’s a shame that this season kills - or ‘retires’, as Mr World (Crispin Glover) puts it - Tech Boy, as he was on a riveting character arc after being challenged by New Media (Kahyun Kim). The beginning of the episode told the brief story of one of his most devout followers and overflowed with more feeling than the entirety of the second season has managed to muster so far, and Bruce Langely’s performance when he realised he was doomed almost managed to live up to the same height. Almost. If he had been given more of the scene to himself, doubtless Tech Boy might have even stirred some sympathy in those watching. Both his panic and heartbreak at being ignored by one of his followers was plain, and was brilliantly undercut by New Media’s cruel taunting before his sudden death/retirement.
It’s not just New Media who’s finding her place in the Old/New Gods dispute: Shadow is continuing to stand up for himself and I really can’t get enough of it. Backing Mr Wednesday into a corner about why the god chose him in the first place, Ricky Whittle surprises by delivering a cocky, calculating scene where he manages to prod some of Mr Wednesday’s buttons. In these kinds of confrontations Shadow shines. Like Tech Boy, he should have been given more time to try and catch Mr Wednesday out, yet the scene got derailed by the appearance of Money. Nothing came of his scene, no big change in the alliances or power dynamic between the Old and New Gods, so it felt kind of pointless.
The Greatest Story Ever Told wasn’t quite as meandering as the first two episodes in the series, and as long as the show continues to focus on how the individual gods react to events rather than on the events themselves, season 2 might have promise yet.
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