American Gods Is More Like He-Man Than You'd Think
But who DOESN'T want Crispin Glover to play a modern-day Skeletor?
This week's episode of American Gods reminds me of He-Man -- and no, not because there's an erotic subtext about a frightened pussycat turning butch after he gets zapped by a magic phallus.
But let me back up. The centerpiece of this episode comes after Wednesday and Shadow get hauled in for police questioning about their little bank robbing stunt. Wednesday confuses the cops by telling them the truth -- that he's trying to rally the old gods in a war against the new -- and Shadow refuses to do anything except ask for a lawyer. Thanks to some bad writing, the cops then decide to put the two in a room together and let them "talk about whatever they need to talk about." Sure. That's how criminal co-conspirators are treated. Perhaps they can share a tandem bike!
I can let that slide, though, because Shadow and Wednesday need to be in the same room when the New God Squad arrives. It's much more interesting that way.
Who's in the Squad, you ask? Why, we not only get return visits from Media and Technical Boy, but also our first look at the big bad, Mr. World. The troika lays out an offer to Wednesday: they should join forces! The modern gods will use their control of technology and information to create Odin-themed rockets that will bomb the fuck out of countries all over the world. That'll get people reverently whispering the old dude's name again! Just look at how excited Media is by the possibilities!
Wednesday refuses, though, on the grounds that unlike the new gods, who just take and destroy, the old gods gave things back to their worshippers -- things like meaning and purpose and the occasional demigod baby. (That last part goes unsaid, but you know we're all thinking it.) Mr. World is annoyed, but out of respect for Odin's legacy, he and his posse leave to let Wednesday think it over, popping Shadow out of his handcuffs along the way. (Wednesday has already freed himself with some light magic.) As the sprung captives haul ass, they see that the New God Squad has murdered everyone else in the station -- a display of their power to add some urgency to their merger offer.
On its own, this plot information is pretty interesting. But what makes it memorably entertaining is the interplay of the three baddies. They're a classic combination of the Boss, the Enforcer, and the Jackass.
Mr. World is the Boss, of course, which means he's the one who upholds social niceties and occasionally reveals himself to be cold-blooded. Both come into play around Technical Boy, a classic Jackass whose psychotic immaturity makes him both a valuable weapon and a liability who must be punished and kept in check. This week, for instance, he's forced to apologize, grudgingly, for lynching Shadow in that tree, and if we're being honest, he should also be forced to apologize for this hairstyle.
Later, though, Technical Boy acts out AGAIN when he openly chides Mr. World for letting Wednesday consider the offer instead of demanding acquiescence on the spot. Such insubordination cannot be allowed, and that's where Media comes in. She's the Enforcer, showing up to spread the Boss's message (remember that she approached Shadow before anyone else) and to uphold his rules. And so she does this to Technical Boy:
Don't be surprised if, somewhere down the line, Media eventually gets pissed at Mr. World for taking her for granted. That's inevitably what happens in these relationships: the Enforcer starts wanting more respect and power, since the Boss relies so much on the Enforcer's enforcement.
I'm predicting these plot beats and capitalizing all these archetypal category names because American Gods is hewing so closely to a classic formula. I mentioned He-Man before, since Media is making me think of Evil-Lyn to Mr. World's Skeletor and Technical Boy's Beast Man. The X-Men movies work too, with Magneto, Mystique, and Toad forming the troika. And on and on and on. Fill in your own comparisons at will!
But I'm not mad at the familiarity of this design, since the show executes it so well. The New God Squad's wicked plan is clever, for one thing, and I like how all three of them get turned on by the prospect of what they're doing. Plus, all three of the actors are great. Is there anyone else in the world but Crispin Glover who could play Mr. World with this much sick glee? If you're gonna show me something I've seen before, you should always make it this fun to look at.
And speaking of looking: as Wednesday and Show flee the police station, we get one last touch of madness. Observe what happens to this chair:
Who is this eye working for? No matter what, it adds a touch of unpredictability to the mix, a touch of chaos. And that's important in these stories, too. In some ways, the most exciting developments come from outside the clearly defined hero/villain sets. As the He-Man posse who had to deal with those meddling humans in the live-action film could tell you, it's watching those groups react to wild, OTHER forces that can really make a story like this.