Like all of the rest of the internet, I thought the first season of the show American Gods, based on Neil Gaiman’s novel, was fantastic! It even ended when Easter took the spring and that shit was fire! It was awesome!
Only recently did I go back and watch seasons 2 and (half of) 3 as of this writing. And… I’m less than impressed. I was star struck by the first season, and listening to the audiobook along the way, I was eager to meet characters in the show whose chapters I just listened to. I was having a good time.
I was not having a great time for season 2, but it was passable. Season 3 is falling apart before my very eyes and no amount of fisheye effects and oversaturated or undersaturated color palettes (depending on if we’re “Backstage” or not, basically in the otherworld or in the real world) can save a mess of a plot.
I’m not qualified to talk about the representation issues caused by white guys deciding Anansi “sends the wrong message” (or, for that matter, whether Anansi’s portrayal was accurate) and then moving on to a storyline about the Orishas that, as far as I’ve gotten as of this writing, is primarily about holding out hope that tomorrow will be better. Which is fine for Annie, but like the man himself said, “Angry gets shit done.”
But there’s something else here, too, and it’s baked into the premise, into the source material. OK there’s a couple somethings.
There’s something strange I noticed about the goddesses Gaiman chose to write about (and then subsequently made it into the show). The two most prominent (in the show at least) are fertility/sex goddesses Easter and Bilquis, who are respectively the Girl Next Door and the Vamp. I give credit to the TV series for fleshing out Bilquis’s character where Gaiman originally did not, but a first impression like that is hard to shake.
There’s the scene where Bast has dream sex with Shadow and heals his wounds. There’s New Goddess Media offering Lucy Ricardo’s breasts for Shadow’s viewing pleasure.
And unless I’m missing anyone, that’s… it.
I mean if you’ve been following along and doing your own research you’ve probably worked out that goddesses in myth are many and varied, multifaceted beings. Aphrodite, stereotypical love goddess, has a warlike aspect and is thought to be connected to Ishtar and Inanna. (And her Roman counterpart Venus began as a harvest goddess and evolved into the Mother of Rome itself.)
(Noted mortal female character Laura Moon is fridged and then unfridged primarily to propel and assist with Shadow’s plot, although she gets development in the series, because adaptations can actually be great like that.)
The basic premise, if you’ve been living under a rock, is that gods come into being because humans believe they exist, and are fed by prayers and sacrifices of time, energy, and even blood. Human sacrifice gives gods the most power, which is probably an excuse to have crazy death scenes of all sorts of varieties.
Now, I have no idea how the gods came into being, but I don’t necessarily believe my belief in them has caused them to be or sustained them in quite such cut and dried terms.
I’m not trying to say we shouldn’t strive for reciprocity with the gods, because I believe that we should. Prayers and offerings may be primarily for the benefit of the human practicing them; I know that my routine of prayer gives structure to my days and I can’t do without it.
But I also wonder how easily this whole thing could fall apart if humans just never happened to think up the concept of divinity. Sure, trees may have been the first to fill “the god-shaped hole in man’s head”, but what if they weren’t? What if that hole never existed? That’s really the load-bearing idea here, and while humans as we know them are religious creatures, I think based on the way I think about the gods, I would’ve executed this premise differently.
Additionally, I want to take a minute to bring up the antropocentrism of the premise. Gods exist because humans specifically believe that they do. Easter takes the spring to spite the New Gods and the humans, without thought for her other charges. I follow Beckett’s thinking in that gods are gods of other things besides humans. There are more forest and river deities than I can name, as well as gods with sacred animals (whom they probably also have to look after). I happen to hold that Andred is the goddess of hares and rabbits as well as victory in battle, and they are among Her other charges that She is worried about.
So yeah, that’s where I’m at with American Gods right now. I don’t know if I’ll finish season three or just go back to season one and wash the bitter taste from my mouth. Maybe finish the audiobook finally and call it a day with this franchise.