After the pilot episode sets up a show's themed stall, the second episode usually takes a breath and settles in a little. It's not that it makes less effort, but having passed the audition it sits more comfortably in the role. To it's credit, Starz adaptation of Neil Gaiman's American Gods continues with the brutal themes and wanton theatricality.
Having set up the Norse passage to America in the pilot, episode 2 opens on a slave ship with one of the kidnapped men's desperate pleading to Anansi. Rather than a carved idol of their god, Anansi is conjured as a sharply dressed New Orlean man. Orlando Jones almost sings his chilling monologue about what the future has in store for Afro-Americans in centuries to come. The future is as ugly as it is honest and made all the more eerie due to the enchantingly southern drawl. What options do the men have? The one Anansi offers isn't necessarily one of mercy. We've already learned that sacrifices are needed.
It's following this that we catch the last moments of Shadow Moons rescue from his lynching. The blood that arcs into frame is as much a reminder of the savagery the gods have wrought into present day as it is a recap from the last episode. In case that didn't make you wince, we see Shadow patched up in close-up glory at the hospital. Gorily dabbed and stapled, he's sent back to Mr Wednesday at the aptly named American Hotel. Oddly, there's still something more painful about Shadow boxing up his old life and the memories of his dearly departed. While the catharsis is obvious in packaging up the past, the snowballing pain of Laura's indiscretions are unavoidable. Leading to a "hard" confirmation in more ways than one. Thankfully, it's not long before our odyssey continues and the playful tone sets back in. Ian McShane continues to play Mr Wednesday like an old guitar - carefree yet precise.
Episode 2's real glory is the introduction of other gods. Media presents herself to Shadow in the most obvious way, but the execution is so intimidating, it may take you a moment to realise it's Gillian Anderson, clearly enjoying the chance to play something malevolent.
Mr Wednesday's recruitment drive takes him to the run-down home of old friends. It's here the whole episode has the most fun. The exchanges between Wednesday and the 3 sisters are peppered with familiarity and mysterious references, like the slumbering third sister that we don't yet meet. However, it's not until Peter Stormare's Czernobog drearily enters that mischievous tone shifts and the atmosphere crackles.
Even with only 2 episodes under our belts, McShane's Wednesday swallows any scene that he's present with sheer charisma. Stormare's Czernobog brings just as much gravity, albeit a heavier one. It's an oddly equal matching; limitless charm vs understated power. When the two parley, it's as if the frame begins to bulge, unable to hold the energy coming from them. It's impressive to see such potency from such different methods and delivery.
Even if the ending weren't such a cliffhanger, the watching Mcshane and Stormare stalk each other is worth the price of admission/subscription.
4* - Something Wicked This Way comes
Other Episodes in American Gods - Season 1: