It’s taken a while for the central conflict in Starz’s American Gods to get going, as Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) and his beleaguered associate Shadow (Ricky Whittle) travel across America to gather the gods of old to their side for the ultimate battle. So far, the audience has encountered the gods of Egyptian, Slavic, Middle Eastern, African and Norse mythology (as well as a leprechaun), as Wednesday attempts to charm the powers of the past in order to wage war against the idols of the present. Obviously, this doesn’t bode well for the other side, who have tried to win Shadow over to the battle of the New Gods.
In this week’s episode, after brief encounters throughout the season, the trifecta of the New Gods – Media (Gillian Anderson), Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) and the terrifying Mr World (Crispin Glover) – gathered to strike fear into Wednesday and Shadow, and they made one hell of an impression in the process. After the omniscient Mr. World rats out Wednesday and Shadow to the local authorities for their bank robbery, the three New Gods convene in the interrogation room and offer a “merger” of old and new beliefs – an upgrade to the traditional mythology’s way of life that’s stronger and harder to resist than ever before.
With a glorious, unicorn-filled technicolor sales pitch, Mr. World offers a new way to be worshipped via a missile named Odin, to be aimed directly at North Korea – infamy through destruction. When Wednesday refuses, Mr. World is set to leave when Technical Boy petulantly disagrees with their plan, leading Media to knock out two of his teeth in the best way possible.
As explained in the episode’s animated opening – another vignette of historical mythology, this time rooted in Native American mythology – the power of a god is contingent on belief. Even if only one person has a sliver of memory, it’s enough to keep that god alive. This is evidenced by the god Anubis and his companions to the afterlife, none of whom are true believers of ancient Egyptian death culture, but had stories passed down to them from family that they kept in their memory long enough to make an impression. Once that final believer is gone, so is the god, forgotten to time. The old gods who remain are weaker than they were in their prime, but still known enough to remain part of the new world. In comparison, the new gods are immense in their strength, all knowing and omnipresent. The American people have turned their devoted attention towards technology, media and surveillance, and so our trio were formed.
This episode signalled the return of Technical Boy, who had previously been seen in the pilot trying to intimidate Shadow before sending his droog-style goons to lynch him. Fortunately, Shadow’s recently deceased wife Laura (Emily Browning) saved the day in a bloody massacre, and Technical Boy’s bratty attitude has not gone unnoticed by his comrades. In the novel, Technical Boy is a more familiar stereotype of a geek: overweight and acne ridden and teenage in appearance, essentially the ’80s movie trope of the basement-dwelling nerd. Showrunner Bryan Fuller convinced author Neil Gaiman that Technical Boy’s image needed updating, and so now we have a more era-appropriate image: White boy cornrows, vape pen and mannered speech akin to Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. Technical Boy is powerful but still an infant, even by the standards of the New Gods, and is quick to rebel against his collaborators.
As is befitting our world, where technology rules all but becomes outdated as quickly as it is made, Technical Boy has an image problem, dressing like a background dancer in a Justin Bieber music video. The timeless figure calling this out is the goddess Media herself, dressed as David Bowie from the Life on Mars video and speaking in lyrics from his many songs, ordering Technical Boy to apologize to Shadow.
Media is defined by her wily skills of persuasion. She takes whatever form is best suited for getting the message across, be it the monochromatic TV icon Lucille Ball, as seen in a previous episode, the Thin White Duke himself, and later on, Marilyn Monroe, floating across the floor, skirt billowing ahead of her seductively. Her forms may change but Shadow still recognizes her as “I Love Lucy” when she comes calling in her Monroe garb.
While still young, especially compared to Mr. Wednesday, Media possesses incredible strength, finding worship through an assortment of cameras and screens that litter the world to be viewed by billions. As our culture worships idols of popular entertainment, it makes the most sense for Media to take those forms, with the Bowie image remaining especially potent so soon after his death. That persona is absent in the novel, being a choice made by Fuller (much to the delight of Gillian Anderson). With the goddess being a major player across this season and beyond, audiences will be sure to expect an exciting array of image changes.
This episode brought with it the introduction of the most enigmatic of the New Gods. When his name is first brought up by Media, it clearly terrifies Technical Boy, and even Mr. Wednesday can’t hide his unease. It is revealed that Wednesday and Shadow were found by the authorities thanks to an elaborately detailed pack of evidence, including images shot from a satellite used mostly for tracking terrorists.
While his presence may be tough to nail down, Mr. World’s power is undeniable. The God of seemingly everything – from the surveillance state to the financial market to war itself – Mr. World treats every moment like a sales pitch, but is steadfast in his respect for the old gods. Those oft-invisible powers that watch over all of us, god-like in nature and ever-knowing of the minute details of our life, are the wheelhouse of this particular god, who giddily recites a list of very personal details from Shadow’s life to show his might.
His offer to Mr Wednesday in the form of a missile is presented in a garish sales pitch, part Dr Strangelove, part Rainbow Brite (cartoon unicorns are involved), and his image for a world ruled by an alliance of gods old and new includes a strange salsa metaphor. This is The Wolf of Wall Street with even scarier consequences, but even Mr Wednesday can’t agree to the offer. He prefers their manner of worship from humans, saying that all the New Gods do is “occupy their time. We gave back. We gave meaning.” While Mr World lets them go, it’s not without a fight, as a twisted tree sprouts from the police station and tries to envelope Shadow.
There’s much more to come from this batch of New Gods, as well as the possibility of further additions to the team who were not present in the novel. We already know of the upcoming arrival of Vulcan, the god of guns (created by Gaiman specifically for the show), but the possibilities are limitless. As humanity’s endless belief system opens up further doors for American Gods to explore, for now, the journey of Mr Wednesday and Shadow has become more treacherous than ever.