American Gods season 2, episode 4, "The Greatest Story Ever Told," does more than any episode of the series to date to explain the rules of how gods are born and how they can be killed. It does this primarily through an opening sequence that reveals the untold origins of the new god Technical Boy and another sequence suggesting his death and possible rebirth.
The plot of American Gods is centered around a growing conflict between the gods of the Old World, who came to the United States with their immigrant followers, and the new gods of the New World, who draw power from the forces Americans believe run the world now, such as Technology, Media, or Money. American Gods season 1 saw Mr. Wednesday (as the Norse God of knowledge, Odin, calls himself now) trying to mobilize the other old gods into an army that will stand against the new gods when war inevitably breaks out. Wednesday also acted to strike down or convert those old gods who had previously joined forces with the new gods, such as Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and blacksmiths.
While previous episodes have depicted how the various old gods made their way to America with their followers in a number of "Coming To America" sequences taken directly from the novel American Gods, nothing in the book or the show has discussed how the new gods came into being. The series has also been reticent on the subject of just how precisely a god may be killed. "The Greatest Story Ever Told" takes steps to explain both processes in detail and suggests some surprising details about the strength of the new gods relative to their older counterparts.
- This Page: Technical Boy's Birth & Death
- Page 2: Argus & Zorya's Deaths In American Gods & Neil Gaiman's Godhood Rules
The Birth of Technical Boy
The first segment of "The Greatest Story Ever Told" centers upon a young boy and his father somewhere in America. The father is a classical music enthusiast, who forces his son to practice the piano endlessly and lectures him upon how the lives of various composers influenced their music. The son is a technically accomplished musician but he lacks his father's passion. The son's enthusiasm is reserved for computers and video games and he'd much rather play Pong than practice the piano.
The sequence skips forward in time, with the tween son now a college student. Inspired by a sloppy violin player in his dorm and one of his father's lectures on how Bach went on to break his own rules of composition to redefine orchestral music, the son goes on to play an original composition for his father in the same style as Bach's later works. When the astonished father asks his son if he composed this song that so perfectly captured the essence of Bach's oeuvre, the son explains that he wrote an algorithm based on Bach's music with pre-programmed deviations. The end result was a computer program that could create music in the style of an artist so technically perfect that even a trained expert couldn't tell the difference.
Shortly thereafter, the father dies, with the unspoken suggestion that seeing the music that fueled his soul reduced to a series of ones and zeroes by a son who completely missed the point of why he was meant to be studying music robbed him of his will to live. The final scene of the segment shows the son at his father's funeral, apparently listening to the string quartet that is playing as part of the ceremony. Inside his own head, however, the son hears a distorted, electronic beat and from his perspective, at the organ behind his father's casket, we see a pixelated figure slowly shape itself into the familiar form of Technical Boy, tapping at an unseen keyboard as if he were frantically writing code.
The Deaths of Technical Boy and Media
One subtle trait that was shared by both Technical Boy and Media in American Gods season 1 was that they were continually changing their appearances. Nominally this was because their respective areas of influence were built around constant updates, with Technical Boy changing appearance as his toys and apps upgraded. By contrast, Media shape-shifted to present her audience with with whatever image might be most appealing in selling her message.
In both cases, the characters were continually changing themselves in an effort to become something better. This is why Media, after the events of Mr. Wednesday's attack in American Gods' season 1 finale, goes into hiding and dies, only to be reborn as the exponentially more powerful New Media. This suggests that, on some basic level, the new gods are weaker individually than the older, more established gods.
One only need look at the basic power structure the new gods operate under to see that this is the case. While the old gods all seem to have fallen on hard times, they still have enough power to operate independently in their respective spheres of influence. The new gods, by contrast, encourage strength in numbers, having formed a new pantheon under Mr. World's aegis. For all the power that Technical Boy and Media seem to possess, they still ultimately answer to Mr. World for any actions that they take.
The failure to produce results over the past few episodes ultimately leads Mr. World to deliver Technical Boy an ultimatum regarding upgrading the systems that allow the new gods to effectively track the old gods' movements. The final straw comes when Technical Boy fails to persuade his first follower (the college student who created him, now a powerful Silicon Valley entrepreneur) to draw upon the power Technical Boy has to track anyone through their cell-phones to create a next-generation tracking protocol. As Mr. World shows up and New Media enraptures the executive with a pretty picture on his smart-screen, Technical Boy runs for his life, only to fall prey to one of the virtual reality helmets he used to kill people in season 1. It remains to be seen if he will return in a new form, but Mr. World later confirms his death, saying "I retired a god today."