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American Gods Season 3 Premiere: ‘A Winter’s Tale’ is a Promising Start

It’s no secret that American Gods Season 2 was underwhelming (to put it nicely). Negative reviews were scattered left, right, and centre following its release, and there was yet another ensuing cast and showrunner turnover. Charles “Chic” Eglee will now be overseeing the new run of the show, this time without Kahyun Kim (New Media), Mousa Kraish (the Djinn), Pablo Schreiber (Mad Sweeney), and most controversially, Orlando Jones (Mr. Nancy). However, things have been looking up in regards to Season 3 for a while now, with author of the book and executive producer Neil Gaiman stating on Twitter that it will be “focused” and closer to the source material.

Following Season 2’s rather lacklustre conclusion (covered by Rachel Stewart) in which Shadow discovered his true paternity and bailed, Season 3 starts to pick up the pieces. Interestingly, a ballet/metal concert serves as the cold open, and we soon discover that the band, by the very original name of Blood Death, are giving a dedication to Odin. In all his fur-and-leather glory, Odin enters the theatre, crowd-surfing in his typical charming, powerful style. We’re right into the action already!

Considering Shadow has the weighty son-of-a-god revelation to deal with, the brunt of the episode is focused on his journey. But before I get into that, there’s a couple of key moments for other characters to cover. Importantly, Laura’s death(?)! When we first see her in this episode, she’s bargaining with Bridgitte from last season, hoping she can get Baron Samedi to resurrect Mad Sweeney. When this falls through, Laura makes an incision to finally remove Sweeney’s lucky coin from her chest in an attempt to bring him back, after writing ‘GET SPEAR KILL ODIN’ on his forehead with a marker pen. As a result, she collapses to the ground and turns to dust, the resurrection potion ironically left lying on the ground mere centimetres away from her. As the coin falls from Sweeney’s hand, Laura’s plan tragically backfires for them both. Since we know Pablo Schreiber has left the show for good, it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing any more of Mad Sweeney. What also feels like a very final death scene for Laura could still remain up in the air for a show like American Gods, especially since she has already technically died twice before. Without a physical body, it’s difficult to see how she could be brought back a third time, but I’d be sad to see her go.

Laura Moon looks down mournfully as she stands in a mausoleum
Laura standing over Mad Sweeney’s dead body in the mausoleum.

Aside from old familiars, what of the New Gods? Mr World has now transformed into a new form, Ms World (Dominique Jackson). Her role in this episode involves spearheading an ongoing meeting with lackeys she’s created, plus Technical Boy. She brushes off their compliments about her new look and reprimands them for not controlling the clip of Odin at the metal concert that got out. Ever the brains of the operation, Ms World emphasises how Odin’s power grows the more his video is shared. One lackey makes the mistake of claiming she’s “overreacting” and is met with a fatal baseball to the head, setting an example for the others. During a conversation with Tech Boy, Ms World reminds him that he’s on thin ice due to the problems he caused in Season 2, pressuring him to convert Bilquis to their cause. She also mentions financing for the new ‘SHARD project’—a “virtual church of the mind” that will supposedly render the Old Gods obsolete. This bold violence, strategy, and refusal to underestimate Wednesday all creates a powerful presence for Ms World; she instantly feels more active than Mr World was throughout Season 2. I’ll be interested to see exactly what the logistics of the SHARD project are, and what consequences that will have for mortals and immortals alike.

Following up from his meeting, Tech Boy later hounds Bilquis. Once again, he attempts to enlist her, reminding her that he caused her comeback, but she insists on remaining neutral. When Tech Boy gets a little too enthusiastic about war, Bilquis taps a vision into him, forcing him to briefly experience the realities of war in first-person. The immersive clip, complete with a very cool 3D effect, concludes with Tech Boy getting shot. Startled and shook up, he makes a hasty exit. It was enjoyable seeing Tech Boy humbled by both Ms World and Bilquis, serving to bring him off his high horse a bit, while also showcasing the latter gods’ powers. Bilquis’ neutrality towards war and ‘picking a side’ makes her distinctive, and her personal commentary on war was poignant. I’m looking forward to what is to come for her character this season—hopefully she’ll get more to do individually.

Bilquis stands powerfully over Tech Boy
Bilquis stands powerfully over Tech Boy.

Which brings us back to Shadow! Now working in a metal factory in Milwaukee, we see he’s taken on a fresh new persona (and haircut): Michael Ainsel, from his fake ID at the end of Season 2. His brief return to normalcy is his attempt to distance himself from Wednesday and the horde of gods, but it’s doomed to be short-lived. Expecting to be fired, Shadow enters his boss’s office only to be put up for a promotion instead. But there’s a catch—the feds will conduct a background check on him first to make sure everything is in order. We obviously know it’s not, and can see right through Shadow’s smile.

Soon enough, Shadow bumps into Wednesday, initially under the guise of an elderly woman he kindly helps on his way back from work. Realising he’s been tricked, Shadow walks on, saying “Nice trick, asshole” as the ‘elderly woman’ flips the bird, making for an amusing image. But Shadow isn’t free of Wednesday yet—as he turns around, his dear old father is there in the flesh. Charming as ever, Wednesday attempts to butter him up, but Shadow retorts that he no longer does his bidding, warning him to “stay away”. As expected, Chekhov’s feds show up to knock on Shadow’s apartment, so he quickly does a 180 and ends up reluctantly riding with Wednesday again.

Shadow Moon and Wednesday travel together in Wednesday's RV, Shadow looking out of the window reluctantly while Wednesday chats gleefully
Shadow looks out of the window reluctantly while Wednesday chats gleefully in the RV.

The turning point is father and son’s heart-to-heart in a diner. I admire Shadow’s sharp dismissal of Wednesday’s lollygagging and outright demand for answers here; he’s had enough of being messed around at this point, and his recent discovery that Wednesday has been hiding their connection was the straw that broke the camel’s back. When Wednesday does disclose information about his relationship with Shadow’s mother, explaining he couldn’t leave America or he’ll “cease to exist” (the price gods pay for emigrating there), he seems genuine and honest for probably the first time in the show. Even further than this, there is a vulnerability to Wednesday when he pleads with Shadow: 

“If I don’t have the support of my own son, how can I expect the loyalty of anyone else?” 

We’ve known for a while that Wednesday truly needs Shadow, but here is a glimpse of true dependence—clinginess, almost. Humbleness is a confusing look on him, but this could easily be yet another of his manipulations.

It’s clearly enough for Shadow to finally cave. He soon finds himself travelling in an upgraded Betty on the way to try enlist Wisakedjak (or ‘Whiskey Jack’), a Native American god. With some Old God magic, Wednesday transports him and Shadow into another dimension. They enter the RV, which is now a doorway into a surreal-looking forest, aka the home of Wisakedjak. While Wednesday is walking ahead, Shadow has an intimate conversation with Wisakedjak, who tells him the following cryptic words: 

“When your head and your heart are brought into alignment, that’s when the answers will come.”

The focus on Shadow’s path and “destiny” lays the foundation for his journey this season, and I’m sure Wisakedjak’s words will hold further significance later. Seeing this conversation occur outside of Wednesday’s knowledge (as far as we know) was also important and in line with Shadow’s independence during the episode. It’s satisfying seeing him deflect Wednesday’s inquiries about it.

Wednesday and Shadow stand in a forest, Wednesday gesturing with his arms while Shadow looks on, confused
Wednesday and Shadow in Wisakedjak’s forest dimension.

In North Dakota, Wednesday’s ‘fiancee’, Cordelia, arrives in a VW. Joining Wednesday, the two of them plan to travel to Utah to collect Tklehoai (the Night Carrier). Shadow chooses to part ways again. Although he attempts to go his own way, he is inevitably manipulated into staying in Lakeside, thanks to Wednesday cancelling buses. I love the cat-and-mouse-like relationship that Shadow and Wednesday have, and it plays out in a comedic yet occasionally sentimental way in this episode. Tired, and perhaps aware he can’t resist against the tumultuous waves of fate thrown at him, Shadow accepts.

Cue another visually pleasing map animation, this time with added snow. On arrival in Lakeside, Shadow is hounded by two teenage girls, Sophie and Alison, who will instantly be flagged up by fans of the book. Moving on, we meet a gender-flipped Hinzelmann behind the counter in a general store, with Murnau’s Nosferatu playing on a little TV in the background (points for taste). The choice to make Hinzelmann a woman is certainly intriguing and, without giving too much away for those new to American Gods, will have to be a deliberate, purposeful decision. We’ll catch up on that later this season. 

Local sheriff-cum-taxi-driver Chad Mulligan gives Shadow a lift to the apartment Wednesday left for him, casually (if a little expositionally) chatting about Lakeside along the way. Annoyingly, Shadow’s key breaks off in the lock, and as he wanders around the building trying to find another way in, a gun cocks against the back of his neck. First cliffhanger of the season, and it’s certainly a dramatic one!

Shadow walks through Hinzelmann's general store
Shadow walks through Hinzelmann’s general store.

To hark back to previous comments, Season 3 almost immediately feels closer to the source material. Fans of the book know Lakeside as a place for Shadow to lay low in between Wednesday’s side quests, a segment that occurs long before Shadow’s true identity is revealed. This post-revelation Shadow arriving in Lakeside is a very different person, as his naivety has been compromised. Despite this deviation, the conversations and interactions, especially between Shadow and new characters, feel more book-like. A special sort of gentle kind-heartedness exists alongside Shadow’s introversion at the core of his character, and that aspect to his personality reared its lovely head here. We see through his interactions with his co-workers, boss, Hinzelmann, even a random elderly woman on the street, that he’s extremely likeable, and that warmth shone through. His individual presence in this episode was also refreshing to see, since we haven’t properly seen him independent of Wednesday or other gods since the start of the show. Even if it’s an illusion, the way that Shadow is driving the story really brings the show together. As a whole, there seems to be more of a set path this time, as opposed to the often incoherent, rambling plot of Season 2.

There are a few exciting questions to explore this season: How will Shadow cope with his paternity? How far will Wednesday’s manipulations go? Will we see more of Wednesday’s vulnerable side? What is the New Gods’ “church of the mind” scheme? How will the plot deal with Lakeside? Are Laura and Mad Sweeney permanently dead and gone?

American Gods Season 3 is certainly turning over a new leaf by setting this segment of the story in motion. How it adapts these new characters and plot for the screen is to be highly anticipated in the first quarter of 2021.

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Written by Robin Moon

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