American Gods season 3 premiere review: A promising new beginning

After another shakeup both in front of and behind the camera, American Gods’ season three premiere is full of enough potential to leave us excited for the upcoming season — even if a few key players are sorely missed.

Following a nearly two-year wait and a massive (and controversial) shakeup in talent, Starz’ sprawling fantasy realism series American Gods returns to our screens Sunday nights with the season three premiere, “A Winter’s Tale.” Although a few of our favorite players are noticeably absent, there’s enough potential in the season opener to get us suitably excited for what’s to come — and to give us the hope that the show might finally find its footing again.

Following Jesse Alexander’s removal as showrunner in the middle of season two, American Gods’ last outing left quite a bit to be desired, but things began to look up after Charles Eglee (Dexter, The Walking Dead) was brought on as showrunner. Then, things dipped yet again after Orlando Jones’ (Mr. Nancy) controversial and headline-making departure, in addition to Mousa Kraish (The Jinn) and Crispin Glover (Mr. World) leaving the series, though presumably in circumstances unrelated to Jones’ tumultuous farewell. Pablo Schreiber’s Mad Sweeney is also notably absent, but that’s because he was killed at the end of last season — something that Laura Moon (Emily Browning) is setting out to make right.

When we first return to the world of American Gods, Wednesday is doing what he does best:  preparing for war. This time, he’s growing his numbers at a heavy metal concert/ritual worship featuring the vocal stylings of the eloquently named “Blood Death,” fronted by none other than Marilyn Manson. Admittedly, it’s a fun scene — there’s a fakeout opening with a quartert of ballerinas who suddenly begin feasting on flesh — but it doesn’t feel particularly necessary other than to bank a few aesthetically pleasing shots for a sizzle reel. We’re not quite sure how large of a role Manson will have in the upcoming season, but other than providing the opening scene with some striking visuals and sound design, his character didn’t seem to serve much purpose plot-wise, as Wednesday just saunters off after the concert to find his son(?), Shadow.

The man in question has spent the last few months under a false identity hoping to develop some semblance of a normal life after the events of last season, but Shadow should know by now that once you get yourself mixed up with the Gods (or Wednesday in particular), there’s no way out other than being buried six feet under — though he seems to be fairly well adjusted (and dare we say thriving) in his new life, until Wednesday and his new fiancée, Cordelia (Ashley Reyes), convince him via magical means to end up in the town of Lakeside to do Gods know what.

The introduction of Lakeside has been a longtime coming — it’s a location that’s been hinted at and teased for a while now, and is also a major setting in the books — and after the, let’s be honest, hot mess that was last season, it’s good to see American Gods finally making traction plot-wise again. As with much of Shadow’s storylines over the course of the series, why exactly he’s heading to Lakeside is shrouded in mystery, but we do get some clarity as to why Wednesday seemingly wants him there: to make amends with his family, and as a soldier in the ever-looming war against the new gods.

Speaking of the new gods, it’s out with the old yet again as we got another major roster change-up: this time with the depature of Crispin Glover as Mr. World, now replaced by the stiletto-wearing but no less sinsiter Ms. World (Dominique Jackson). Her introduction is incredibly brutal but felt a little forced. All of her lackies are supposedly up to date with techno-speak, but their dialogue feels stiff and a little behind the times — very “how do you do, fellow kids”-esque. (Didn’t anyone tell the writers room that cat videos aren’t really a thing anymore?)

As with Orlando Jones and Pablo Schreiber, Crispin Glover brought an amazing energy to American Gods that will be sorely missed with his absence, but still sticking around is the ever-charming Bruce Lagnley as Techno Boy, who is in cahoots with the newly minted Ms. World to take down Wednesday once and for all. He’s tasked with sealing the deal and recruiting the ever-elusive Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) to join the New Gods in the war against Wednesday and the Old Gods, but she seems determined to remain a neutral party.

Though Badaki has a mesmrizing onscreen presence, Bilquis seems to be a perpetually underused character — there when the show needs an explicit sex scene or some dazzling visuals, but never quite properly ingratiated with the narrative itself. We’re hoping that one of the upsides of Mr. Nancy’s departure is that it will make room for Bilquis to take center stage. After all, a goddess of her status doesn’t deserve anything less.

Last and certainly not least, there’s everyone’s favorite dead-but-not-dead wife, Laura Moon, played by the eternally likable Emily Browning. Laura is still reeling from the death of Mad Sweeney last season, and she’s been spending her time in New Orleans trying to figure out a way to bring him back from his premature demise. She claims she only wants him back so that he can work a little magic for her and aid her in her quest to kill Wednesday (which, get in line, Laura), but we’ve got a feeling she cares a little more about Sweeney than she’s letting on.

So desperate is Laura to bring him back that she makes the ultimate sacrifice. After retriving his corpse, she leaves a Sharpie message written on his forehead for when he wakes up and promptly cuts herself open, removing Sweeney’s lucky coin that has been keeping her alive all this time, and giving it to him in the hopes that it’ll bring him back. Unfortunatley for our heroes, it (seemingy) does neither. The coin falls from Sweeney’s hand and he remains a corpse, and without the coin to keep her alive, Laura crumples into ashes.

Of course, Laura isn’t gone forever (and fingers crossed, neither is Sweeney) and our money is betting that Salim (Omid Abtahi, the only series regular absent from the premiere) will be the one to find the coin and set things right. The season three trailer features the two of them road-tripping across the country together. Other than a brief appearance in the “previously on…” opener, Salim was very noticably gone from the season opener, which is strange considering a few scenes with Shadow didn’t feel all too necessary to the story. Surely a few minutes could’ve been cut so we could check in with our favorite cab driver/salesman/worshiper.

Still, even with Salim and Sweeney absent (for now) and the season three cast missing some major juice in the form of Nancy and Mr. World, we still have hope that American Gods season three could course-correct and fix where season two went wrong. “A Winter’s Tale” was a well-paced episode that, although it sometimes left a little to be desired in terms of dialogue, delivered the show’s signature brand of bizzarre aesthetics, and gave us just enough of a taste for what’s to come to bring us back next week.

Have you seen the American Gods season premiere? Who’s your favorite character? Sound off in the comments below.