Season 3 Of American Gods Comes To An End – What Worked And What Did Not?
The season 3 finale of American Gods aired on Sunday. The controversial adaptation of the beloved Neil Gaiman novel ended a fairly solid season with a weak finale. However, the third season was still a marked improvement over season 2. This season of American Gods returned to the source material with a focus on Shadow Moon’s time in Lakeside. But it also wildly diverged from the book in a multitude of ways. Some of the changes worked well in season 3 of American Gods. Others were not quite as successful. Let’s delve into season 3 of American Gods to see what worked, and what did not.
Spoilers ahead for both the book, and all three seasons of American Gods.
Season 3 of American Gods Visits A Quiet Lakeside Town
Image via Starz
In the third season of American Gods, our protagonist Shadow Moon finds himself living in a quiet town called Lakeside. Shadow is all too aware of his status as an outsider in this insular (and very white) community. But he connects with the townspeople and forms relationships. This storyline quickly becomes a murder mystery when one of the young women of the town goes missing. Shadow finds himself the primary suspect, although that plot point is quickly resolved. In the end it is Shadow who uncovers the truth about the missing girl, and all of the other missing children that have vanished over the years in Lakeside. Shadow (and his surprising cop buddy) inevitably take down the spirit that has been sacrificing children for the town’s protection.
Shadow Learns To Ice Skate | Image via Starz
Overall this storyline worked pretty well in season 3 of American Gods. It introduced a major human element that the show was sorely lacking in season 2. The presence of other humans for Shadow to interact with grounds the show in a way that it very much needs. It also makes clear that Shadow is something more than human now, but not yet a god. In giving him a romantic relationship with his neighbor, this plotline also gives Shadow a choice between a normal human life and the path of the gods. And it makes it clear that Shadow cannot escape god-like forces, no matter how hard he tries.
The best part of the Lakeside storyline was seeing Shadow act like a normal human being. In the first two seasons he was a bit of a cipher. He didn’t have much personality. But in Lakeside, he is dancing around his apartment and painting walls pink. Shadow finally gets a sense of humor and depth, we understand him far more as a character in season 3 than we ever have before. This season gives us some of Ricky Whittle’s best acting, and it is really he who carries the show on his back in season 3.
Mr. Wednesday Fails To Recruit Even His Long-Time Allies
Blythe Danner as Demeter | Image via Starz
Another major plot thread running throughout the entire series is Mr. Wednesday’s effort to recruit the Old Gods to his side in war against the New Gods. This plotline was one that worked well at times in season 3 of American Gods. But it was not always successful. The first God we see Wednesday visit in the season 3 premiere was a Native American god (Wisakedjak). This gave me hope that we would see more of the Native gods of America in season 3. Sadly, that was not the case. Instead we got a plethora of Norse gods, some more interesting than others.
One of the storylines that actually worked quite well in season 3 of American Gods was Wednesday’s trip to visit Demeter – his ex-wife and the Greek Goddess of Spring. It doesn’t hurt that actress Blythe Danner plays the role of Demeter to perfection, and her chemistry with Ian McShane’s Mr. Wednesday/Odin is excellent. Wednesday goes to visit Demeter at the mental institution where she reigns as a Goddess over the other patients.
However, Wednesday cannot see that Demeter is happy in her life. He insists that she must be freed of the asylum, and regain her power in the world. In a surprisingly vulnerable twist, he also tries to win back her heart. But Demeter can see through him, and believes that he is only after her money to fund his endless war. In the end, Demeter sacrifices herself rather than join Odin and be complicit in more death and destruction.
Denis O’Hare as Tyr | Image via Starz
This storyline gives us a surprising bit of insight to Wednesday’s own history in America. We learn that as young men both Odin and his trusty advisor Tyr fell in love with Demeter. But she chose Odin over Tyr, and that choice has haunted both her and Tyr for centuries. This leads to a surprising heel-turn from the God of Justice – Tyr – who turns on Wednesday. It is revealed that he is the one who has been killing Odin’s followers. Although this storyline leads to a climactic and visually stunning battle between the two Old Gods, it still felt like it came out of nowhere. Tyr has had a millennia to take down Odin, why would he wait until now?
Bilquis Rediscovers Her True Nature
Image via Starz
One of the storylines that I was most excited to see in season 3 of American Gods was that of the Orishas. Long before season 3 even aired, casting news for the Orishas came out and promised more focus on the black experience. As well as focus on the Old Gods that the slaves brought to America with them. This storyline primarily ties into the continued expansion of Bilquis’s character. Although Shadow has visions of the Orishas throughout the season, he never actually interacts with any of them. That bothers me quite a bit. At one point, Shadow even goes all the way to New York to find Bilquis and discuss his visions of the Orisha. But once he finds her, he just never brings it up?
It is Bilquis who interacts most with the Orisha. After she is imprisoned by Mr. World, Bilquis has hit a low point. Reaching within herself, Bilquis discovers untapped power that is separate from the Goddess of Love that America turned her into. She channels the power of the other Orisha, elemental power that links her to her sisters. In a stunning moment, Bilquis escapes her jail cell by summoning a huge wall of water to wash over her captors. This is timed perfectly with Shadow’s arrival to rescue her, something that is not necessary after she rescued herself.
Herizen F. Guardiola as Oshun | Image via Starz
Later, Bilquis meets up with the Orisha once more. She meets them at a party, where she dances with them in the ancient tribal dance of their ancestors. I do have to say that while I love the colorful imagery of the Orisha dance, more could have been done with these characters. Very few of them get dialogue in the show. The three women all have names and specific deities associated with them (Oshun, Yemoja, Oya). These Orisha have amazing mythologies and backstories that the show just flat-out ignores. They never got their ‘Coming To America’ moment that so many other Gods have had. They are utilized too much as a plot device, and don’t get enough characterization of their own.
Season 3 of American Gods Attempts To Reckon With Race
Oshun & Bilquis | Image via Starz
The lack of attention paid to the Orishas is a shame. Especially considering the way American Gods has treated its black cast members in recent years. After a showrunner change last season, actor Orlando Jones was vocal about racism on the set of American Gods. He claims that he was fired for being too outspoken about issues affecting black people. The showrunners (and author Neil Gaiman) tried to defend the choice to not include Jones in season 3. They claimed that there was no storyline for Anansi in season 3 of American Gods. And I’m here to tell you that is absolute BS.
There were so many storylines this season that Anansi definitely could (and should) have been included in. The Orisha storyline is one of them. Even though Anansi is not part of the Yoruba tradition that the Orisha come from, they are still all Gods of Africa. It feels almost imperative to have them interact with one another. Additionally, the season 3 finale gave us the pivotal moment where Shadow hangs from the world tree Yggdrasil. In the book, Anansi is there for the vigil. There were many opportunities to include the Spider God in season 3. But the show ignored those opportunities in favor of focusing on boring white people (I’m getting to you Laura Moon). There was no reason to cut Orlando Jones out of season 3, and the season would have been much better if he had been involved.
Orlando Jones as Anansi | Image via Starz
It seems clear that American Gods wanted to address the issues of race in season 3, and it is questionable at how well they succeeded on that front. They brought in the Orishas, and then squandered their story potential. A focus on Bilquis was refreshing, but even she didn’t get all that much screen-time compared to some of the other characters. There are a few lines of dialogue about Shadow’s experience as a black man in Lakeside. But even that storyline doesn’t fully explore the black experience. This is something that the show needs to work on if they want to be the diverse and all-inclusive series that claim to be.
Laura Moon Is Still A Drag, But All Of Her Companions Are Great
Image via Starz
There is no storyline that has been expanded more in American Gods than that of Laura Moon. Shadow’s ex-wife goes through purgatory in season 3 of American Gods (a storyline that I did not think worked very well). Then she goes on a road-trip to kill Odin and “free” herself and Shadow from his plots. And this is something I would typically never say about a main female character on any show, but I’ll say it now. Laura Moon gets too much attention, too much screen-time in season 3. And it is often at the expense of other (more interesting) characters.
Unfortunately, Laura’s (male) companions on the road trip are much more interesting than she is. First there is the character of Salim, who is recovering from a broken heart inflicted by the Djinn whom he loved. Salim gets a stand-out episode in season 3 that introduces Tu’er Shen – a Chinese god of homosexuality. Throughout that episode, we see Salim come to terms not only with the loss of his love but also with his own sexuality. It is a powerful episode that is unfortunately undercut by Laura’s presence.
The other standout companion that Laura gains for a few episodes is (yet) another leprechaun. This time we get Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones) who is surprisingly charming and fun in the role. He helps Laura retrieve Odin’s from Mad Sweeney’s hoard (RIP Sweeney). And he actually ends up helping her take down Wednesday. Rheon was a surprising casting choice, but he was very good in the role. Unfortunately he was another character that was underutilized for the sake of focusing on Laura Moon.
Laura Gets Too Much Screen-Time In Season 3 of American Gods
Image via Starz
Now, don’t get me wrong. There were some elements of Laura’s story that worked this season. It makes sense for her to team up with the New Gods to assassinate Wednesday. There were moments in her relationship with Salim that were genuinely touching. This is a woman who has lived through death, gone to purgatory, and come back to life. She has had an extraordinary journey over the course of three seasons. But, it seems like that journey has not changed her at all. Laura is still a wet blanket; selfish, cruel, foul-mouthed, and rude, constantly espousing negativity. And honestly, she drags the entire show down.
Typically I would applaud a main female character who gets to exhibit these traits that are often acceptable (or even encouraged) in male protagonists. However, Laura is constantly falling into stereotypes and bad tropes: the crazy ex-wife, the cheating slut, the cold and unfeeling bitch. Worst of all, she is falling into the trope of the Mad Woman. The show makes no effort to subvert these tropes, instead they lean into them and it does her character (and the show) a disservice.
There are far more interesting characters on American Gods. So can we please focus on some of them next season, instead of Laura Moon?
Technical Boy Slowly Learns How To Be A Real Boy
Technical Boy Learns To Feel | Image via Starz
One of the unexpected storylines in season 3 of American Gods revolved around the character of Technical Boy. After a visit to Bilquis early in the season, Technical Boy starts glitching as he begins to experience real emotion for the first time. This sets up a bit of a mystery about the New God’s origins, and we get some backstory for him as well. I’m still uncertain on how to feel about this storyline. On one hand, it felt wholly extraneous at times. On the other hand, I can see how this storyline has the potential to pay off in a big way down the road.
Although this is another storyline that took up too much time in season 3, it did work well to establish the friction between two of the most prominent New Gods. Technical Boy and Mr. World are clearly at odds in season 3, and we can see how Technical Boy is starting to chafe under the restrictions that World has placed on him. Will this lead to Technical Boy rebelling against Mr. World?
Kahyun Kim as New Media in Season 2 of American Gods | Image via Starz
A side note here: Whatever happened to Media? It feels like the show completely abandoned this character and that means there is a glaring lack of women in the New Gods contingent. Media is a much bigger character in the book than Technical Boy. After Gillian Anderson departed the role following the first season, the show cast a younger actress in the role as ‘New Media.’ But that character disappeared entirely in season 3. This means that the show cut out their only Asian-American actress in Kahyun Kim. This is problematic when we consider how the series has treated other minority actors in the past.
A Quick Shout-Out To Cordelia, The Best Original Character This Show Has Seen
Ashley Reyes as Cordelia | Image via Starz
Season 3 of American Gods made another change from the book by introducing a new original character. I was hesitant about this development, given the huge ensemble cast already in place. However, the character of Cordelia (Ashley Reyes) is one of the highlights in season 3. Hired by Mr. Wednesday to act as an assistant and driver, Cordelia slowly finds herself entangled in the plots of the Gods.
Cordelia could have been a minor side character, forgettable and unnecessary. But she brings a new dimension to the show, and a necessary human element to act off Wednesday’s other-worldliness. Although Cordelia doesn’t get much of a backstory, she is still a fully fleshed-out character with complex emotions and very human reactions. She is also the hardest working character on the show. Quite literally. She might be the only character with an actual job.
Cordelia also gets a stand-0ut episode in season 3 of American Gods when she teams up with Shadow to pull off a heist. This was a surprising episode, incredibly different in tone and style from the rest of the season. It was also one of the most fun moments of the whole season. And the sibling-like relationship between Cordelia and Shadow was heartwarming to see. Honestly, I would have taken an episode delving into Cordelia’s backstory over most of the Laura Moon stuff. Maybe next season Cordelia will get her due.
An Uneven Season With Some Incredible Moments
Image via Starz
In the end, season 3 of American Gods was pretty solid. There were some stand-out episodes that we will be highlighting in an upcoming article. There were also some weak links. This unfortunately includes the season finale that spent too much time dragging scenes out, instead of wrapping up storylines. However, it was still a marked improvement over season 2.
The inclusion of the Orishas and the expansion of Bilquis was among the most compelling storylines this season. I just wish they had done more with these characters. Hopefully next season Shadow will finally get to interact with the Orishas. I would like to see the show explore more of Shadow’s black ancestry, how it entwines with but also battles with his Norse blood. For a show that bills itself as the most diverse cast on television, the showrunners still have a long way to go to make up for the missteps both behind the scenes and in the show.
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.