American Gods' Storytelling Is Stalling in "The Greatest Story Ever Told"

(Episode 2.04)

TV Features American Gods
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<i>American Gods</i>' Storytelling Is Stalling in "The Greatest Story Ever Told"

At one point during “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” Nancy (Orlando Jones) asks, “You done yet? Because I’m getting bored watching this bullshit.” Unfortunately, I agree with him.

The biggest sin the gods on American Gods can commit isn’t murdering another god—it’s being boring. After all, gods can be reborn; viewers cannot. It’s been a repeated issue so far this season. While storytelling is central to the soul of American Gods, if the story is boring, the story is worthless. Instead of storytelling, the exposition that’s been happening feels like characters just talking.

The best talkers are Wednesday (Ian McShane) and Nancy. When they are speaking, their voices capture attention and their rhythms hold onto it. When they talk, it sounds like someone telling a story. But when others are doing the talking, their exposition falls flat.

Talky exposition may seem more natural on the pages of a novel, from which American Gods is adapted. But on TV, when visual storytelling techniques are ignored for wordy explanations, it hurts the storytelling.

And the storytelling could use some help. In “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” new elements are introduced and just as quickly forgotten. I know it’s in the book, but I really could have done without the woman who healed Shadow (Ricky Whittle) through anonymous sex, who disappears almost as soon as she arrives. Wednesday did promise Shadow he would feel better in the morning, but there must be other ways to give Shadow a boost than a nameless woman showing up just to be sexy and then leaving. However, it does lead to a scene of a naked Shadow, which feels like it evens out the male-female nudity ratio a bit.

The introduction and dismissal of the god of money happens almost as quickly. It’s inspired to have the keepers of this god be Girl Scouts selling candy—after all, who in America can resist handing them some money—but the god of money seems like he should be a much bigger deal. Wednesday says that money is the most powerful god in America, and technology and new and old forms of media are so closely tied to making money that it seems like the god of money should be more influential than he comes across. Instead, he appears for a few minutes toward the end of the episode and then declines to make a deal. The old gods and the new are the same before they meet with him as they are after, and it’s not clear if he’ll ever be back.

With the god of money bowing out, the death of Argus, the disappearance of Easter, and the retirement of Technical Boy (Bruce Langley), it seems like there aren’t actually that many players in this war. None of the possible new participants add anything to the conflict, which is the main focus so far this season. How critical or dangerous is it, really, if no one wants to participate except Wednesday and Mr. World (Crispin Glover)? The stakes are too nebulous and impersonal to feel a loss when a god decides they don’t want to participate, which makes each scene where they try to get a new recruit and fail feel wasted. Plus, we don’t spend enough time with the new gods to invest in them before they disappear again.

I also don’t understand why Mr. World retires Technical Boy when he is having trouble getting gods to be on his side. Technical Boy might not be the best soldier, but he is a willing soldier, and Mr. World is failing to recruit any others.

There are, however, a few things that may have consequences that reverberate through the rest of the season. One is the alliance among Nancy, Ibis (Demore Barnes), and Bilquis (Yetide Badaki). The three old African gods band together, and whatever they plan will surely have repercussions for the war.

The other is that Shadow is finally catching on that he’s important to Wednesday, even if Wednesday won’t tell him why. It’s telling that Wednesday keeps saying Shadow shouldn’t live in the past, even while he’s arguing for a war to maintain the power of the gods of the past. It’s a good clue to Wednesday’s character that his argument changes depending on what’s personally beneficial. Shadow should trust his gut way more than he ever trusts Wednesday.

I missed Laura and Mad Sweeney in this episode—two characters who generally prefer action over talking. Laura and Mad Sweeney’s stakes are also a lot more personal, which makes it easier to get invested in their storylines. Mad Sweeney wants his luck back, and Laura wants to be alive.

Whatever the old and new gods want from their war—and at this point, I’m not sure what that is—hopefully it won’t be boring.

Rae Nudson is a Chicago-based writer and critic whose writing has appeared in Esquire, The Cut, and Hazlitt, among other publications. You can follow her on Twitter @rclnudson.