SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s American Gods Season 2 finale.
“In American Gods, as you know, one of the things that’s always been important to me is the idea that it’s set in the real world,” professes Neil Gaiman of both his acclaimed 2001 novel and the Starz series upon which it is based. “It’s not set in the Marvel Universe and it’s not set in the DC Universe. It’s not set in a heightened reality place, it’s actually set in our world, where weird sh*t happens.”
Certainly there was an abundance of weirdness in tonight’s American Gods Season 2 finale “Moon Shadow.”
Following the death of the drunken and pugilistic supposed leprechaun Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) in the penultimate episode, the Old Gods are now turning against their shifty leader Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). As New Gods kingpin Mr. World (Crispin Glover) and New Media (Kahyun Kim) turn the people and forces of America against Wednesday, his often willfully naïve bodyguard Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) and the Jinn’s lover Salim (Omid Abtahi), fear takes over and sets up a series of choices and consequences.
Having seen more of the Gods backstage, Shadow finds himself on the run at the end of tonight’s episode penned by Aditi Brennan Kapil and Jim Danger Gray, and escaping a return to prison from a roadside racial profiling thanks to some truly divine intervention.
Full of flashbacks and intimate intensity, Sunday’s season-ender concludes a season that debuted nearly two years from the series premiere and in a partial fog of challenges, to put it mildly. Renewed on March 15 for a third season on Starz, as Deadline exclusively revealed on February 12, American Gods now has another new showrunner in The Walking Dead alum Charles “Chic” Eglee.
Working currently with Eglee on Season 3, EP Gaiman spoke with me about the end of this season and the “suicide mission” to get there, plans for Season 3 and blueprints for a possible Season 4. The Good Omens showrunner also revealed what he’s bringing now to Gods from making the Amazon limited series, how Season 3 will be different, and the value of having an “informed opinion.”
DEADLINE: As promised, American Gods the TV series is now taking Shadow to the Lakeside section of the book. Are we going to see a big shift in tone?
GAIMAN: Well, he’s got a new identity waiting for him, and he’s heading out, so things are going to change.
That is part of the fun right now for me is that I’ve spent the whole of South by Southwest working with Chic Eglee, our new showrunner, on breaking down what was going to happen to all of our characters of Season 3, and how Lakeside was going to work. Actually, I spent part of this week with him, and I’m going to be spending more time with him in the next few days not just working out Season 3 but also how that moves into Season 4, and what we’re doing in Season 4.
DEADLINE: Season 4? Has there been an official renewal from Starz I haven’t heard about?
GAIMAN: Not yet, but Chic and I are working right now on Season 4. He’s come out to the East Coast for a couple of days. We’re just breaking it down. Some of that is going over what we already planned for Season 3 and just figuring out how we’re doing Season 4, how many episodes it is, and what we’re delivering in the story by the end of Season 4.
DEADLINE: How is that different than the work you did to get a blueprint for Season 2?
GAIMAN: Well, what’s nice is making a calm, sensible, sane, very easy Season 3 and planning for the future with Season 4 right now. Which is the kind of thing we never got to do before because we didn’t have much direction. We had the book and that was what we always had, so it’s really nice to be able to plan sanely and quietly now.
DEADLINE: With the departure of Bryan (Fuller) and Michael (Green) and Jesse Alexander taking over as showrunner in Season 2, it was pretty rough ride for all concerned, wasn’t it? Where you worried that that might be the end of American Gods the series?
GAIMAN: Season 2 feels like it was made and delivered while being shot at and ducking explosions and such. I think that everybody involved in it deserves a medal; you know they brought it in under incredibly difficult circumstances. I wish I’d been able to be there and have been making Good Omens at the same time.
GAIMAN: Oh yes, I would love an alternate universe in which I actually got to be there for every script and be there for every episode and just make sure that it all ran smoothly. When I talk about people deserving medals, Jesse Alexander deserves a medal.
GAIMAN: He was on a suicide mission, and, as showrunner, he managed to get Season 2 to happen. It was a miracle that it happened at all, let alone that is was as good as it was. I’m so proud of what everybody managed to put together, even if there were places where I am looking at it slightly baffled.
DEADLINE: On that, Seasons 1 and 2 were mainly road movies, or perhaps road shows in motion, whereas the Lakeside section of the book is much more condensed, and I don’t mean in terms of its scope but in terms of its characterizations. You’ve spoken of a calm, which bringing the pace down seems indicative of, so is Season 3 going to be very close to that?
GAIMAN: Yes and maybe.
Like everything we’ve done with American Gods so far, if you know the book, there will be lovely, satisfying things that will be happening that will fit into the things that you read in the book. Yet, also if you know the book, there are things that we’re going to do that will surprise you, change things around, or change the way that something happened because this is television, and it’s not a book.
We’re up to 10 episodes next season, I’m delighted to say, so we’re doing things in slightly different sequences and doing things in slightly different ways. But, because this is a series drawing from the book, at the end of the day, we’ve still got a Shadow who is heading out to be on his own, trying to become somebody who has escaped the war of the gods, and trying to become a normal person, and we’ll see how well that works out for him.
DEADLINE: Speaking of how well that works out for someone, this season saw the death of Mad Sweeney in the penultimate episode last week as the Pablo Schreiber portrayed character finally learned his true royal past and his true role in Wednesday’s war. To me, with the apparent loss of such a pivotal character as the boozy Sweeney and a powerful actor like Pablo, that was an episode that played out more like a traditional season finale than the look back and push forward of “Moon Shadow”…
GAIMAN: I thought, in the end, that one of the strengths of Season 2 was that we got to spend so much more time with characters that we love and the one episode that I really felt like I had input into, was Episode 7, the Mad Sweeney one. It’s definitely one of my three favorite American Gods episodes, possibly my favorite.
DEADLINE: I totally get that, but why is it one of your favorites, if not your absolute favorite?
GAIMAN: I think I loved the looking into Mad Sweeney’s head. I loved the layering of it.
DEADLINE: How do you mean?
GAIMAN: The feeling that it’s Mad Sweeney as an onion. That you’re actually trying to deal with something where novel readers have a better idea than non-book readers where we might be going with this, although we go there a slightly different way. I also love the way that Pablo gets to shine, I think. There is this sort of pure fury in his performance, which is an absolute delight to watch.
DEADLINE: I thought it was a very powerful episode and one in which we really got a sense for the first time, I think, in American Gods of the consequence of this war and the role that it plays internally, for the old Gods…
GAIMAN: The finale of a show used to be the big, exciting one, and instead, Episode 7 is really the big, exciting one, and the finale is much quieter, much more content. I think, it takes us along, and it’s definitely one of those things, which is fascinating.
DEADLINE: I agree on a number of levels but what do you mean specifically?
GAIMAN: There were a number of different finale scripts written, and actually, I wound up being really pleased that they went with that one, as Chic and I sat down and started figuring out Season 3. Some of the other versions of the finale would’ve done more violence to people, as opposed to this one, which eventually, takes us into the Lakeside story, which is where need to be.
DEADLINE: You’ve made it pretty clear that Season 3 is centering on the Lakeside story, going to see the Lakeside story, what will happen to the other characters like Orlando Jones’ Mr. Nancy, Mr. Wednesday, Yetide Badaki’s Bilquis and Mousa Kraish’s the Jinn? Even though Pablo has been cast in Showtime’s Halo extravaganza, is Mad Sweeney really dead, because we see Emily Browning’s Laura carrying off at the end of the finale?
GAIMAN: What happens to Laura and Mad Sweeney? Well, that is part of the fun of Season 3. What happens to Wednesday now is also part of the fun of Season 3. You know he has a lot of trust to try and win back. He is not, at this point, particularly credible. There’s also a number of things brewing so he has a lot of stuff to say. What the New Gods are doing, I’m really looking forward to finding out, and of course, there are new characters as well, who we’re going to meet. I’m looking very much forward to meeting Shadow’s neighbor Marguerite at Lakeside when he gets there.
DEADLINE: You mentioned all the different versions of this finale that were on paper, and the one that made it to screen finding the right path to future seasons. But from the overheated media, the rush to judgement, technological and cultural, and the targeting of people of color as the cause of America’s ills, this finale had some potential fatal real-world consequences. What balance there were you looking for?
GAIMAN: In American Gods, as you know, one of things that’s always been important to me is the idea that it’s set in the real world. It’s not set in the Marvel Universe and it’s not set in the DC Universe, it’s not set in a heightened reality place. It’s actually set in our world, where weird sh*t happens.
The people in the world of American Gods, who are larger than life and stranger than life, are anomalies rather than usual. So, I think that this episode and the last one actually feel like they’re getting set more and more in our world. I’m very, very much looking forward to seeing more of that in Season 3. I want gods to be strange people in a normal world rather than strange people in a strange world.
DEADLINE: Speaking of a strange world, this past year or so has seen American Gods getting back on its feet and you getting Good Omens to Amazon Prime. With that Michael Sheen and David Tennant limited series about to debut on Amazon next month, what did you find from that experience that you want to bring to Season 3 of American Gods?
GAIMAN: (laughs) I learned so much making Good Omens, and I learned so much just about the mechanics of how you make things, that’s a big change. I went into Good Omens, genuinely, I think looking back, having absolutely no idea what I was doing. In fact, it was probably a really good idea that I had no idea what I was doing because if I’d known what was going to happen, I never would’ve done it. Now I know that.
There are skillsets that I’m very much looking forward now to retiring and I’ve become a writer again. On the way, I found I’m an awful lot more useful to American Gods than I would’ve been before Good Omens because I had informed opinion.
DEADLINE: As opposed to what?
GAIMAN: Everybody has an opinion, as 30 seconds on Twitter will get you, but informed opinions are rare, and they are valuable, and they’re incredibly useful. There is an enormous difference in the universe when you have an informed opinion, believe me.