Last Spring, Starz’ adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods premiered its eight-episode first season and it was met with much critical acclaim. Fans have been eagerly awaiting the second season, which is set to premiere sometime in 2019.
The story revolves around Shadow Moon, who finds himself in the midst of a growing war between the Old Gods – American personifications of ancient gods like Odin, Anubis, and the pagan goddess of Easter – and the New Gods – embodiments of modern institutions such as Technology, Media, and Mr. World.
Consider this the final SPOILER WARNING – I’m about to discuss the ending of the book, so if you only watch the show/haven’t read the book, stop reading.
The first episode of American Gods has some rather well-written and – let’s be honest – funny foreshadowing, that shows just how far forward-thinking the show is. At this moment in time, to understand the scope of the show, we must look to the book:
The climax of the novel involves quite a few twists. In the last quarter of the novel, we find out that Mr. World is actually Loki, the Norse God of Mischief, and is allied with Odin (Norse God of War), and that the war between the Old Gods and New is just a con-game for the two of them to gain power. Among the other revelations is that Odin (also called Mr. Wednesday) is actually Shadow’s father or that another character is a god hiding in plain sight. That being said, a few of the story’s twists are foreshadowed rather subtly.
One thing that I admire about the novel is how it foreshadowed Odin and Loki’s con-man relationship. Towards the middle of the novel, Shadow and Wednesday (Odin) discuss their careers of crime – Wednesday mentions several grifts he pulled off, which Shadow notes all involve two people. When Shadow points this out and asks if Wednesday use to pull these schemes with a partner, Wednesday simply says yes, and doesn’t mention it again. Readers who are familiar with the Norse pantheon immediately think of Loki, who is also something of a con-man among gods. When you think of Odin’s two-men con-jobs, you realize that the entire war between the Old Gods and the New Gods is just a con-job between the two. In hindsight, the slight mention of Odin/Wednesday having a grifting partner becomes the best moment of foreshadowing in the whole story.
…but not if the television show has its way. In the first episode of the show, Shadow’s first meeting with Mr. Wednesday happens on an airplane. Mr. Wednesday aggressively offers Shadow a drink, and Shadow, likely sensing that this isn’t the kind of guy he wants to associate with, declines. Mr. Wednesday seems scorned, saying…
“I offer you the worm from my beak and you look at me like I fucked your mom.”
As mentioned earlier, what makes this a line of such high importance is the fact that towards the end of the book, Wednesday is actually revealed to be Shadow’s father.
Wow. Foreshadowing this clear must be deliberate, no? Imagine if in Star Wars, when Vader first met Luke or Leia he said something like “You’re so young, I could be your dad!” It’s impressively bold to foreshadow something that big so early on, but what truly sells it is Wednesday’s glib nature. Through the rest of the episode, the more you get to know that character, you know that this is something he would casually say. But through the rest of the series, you know that he is a meticulous planner, and he certainly wouldn’t have said this without knowing the implication.
With continued moves like this, American Gods could become a show as well-foreshadowed and critically acclaimed as Westworld. However, there is the sad possibility that the show – approximately one quarter or one third of the way through the source-novel – does not make it to the grand reveal of Shadow’s parentage. The tragic element in American Gods‘ brilliant foreshadowing is the fact that the show has had a difficult infancy. After its first season, the showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green left after the first season. Gillian Anderson has officially left the show (for no other reason than Fuller and Green’s departure) and Kristin Chenoweth (Easter)’s future in the show uncertain. There’s been a great deal of behind-the-scenes tumult which suggests that although the show made it to a second season, it might not make it to a third.
If the show was cancelled before reaching a third or fourth season where it could payoff all of its subtle hints and foreshadowings, I think that would be quite funny, in an ironic way. Obviously, I love the show and hopes it lasts as long as it needs to, but I think it’s rather ironic to imagine a group of showrunners planning all of these great hints, only to be thwarted by a lack of network support.
The analogy I hate to make (but must) is if George R.R. Martin were to die before finishing his Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire series – a series which shows the danger that any character can die before they achieve what they were destined to. I pray that such a thing does not happen – but how ironic would that be?
If anything, American Gods shows you that if you really love a show, you should read the book, or at the very least, watch the show over and over again, every season, to pick up on everything the casual viewers might miss.