American Gods and Trickster upend the fantasy of magical families

[Ed. note: This article contains some spoilers for American Gods and Trickster.]

Fiction is filled with heroes whose journey starts when they find out that they’ve acquired power from moms and dads they never ever understood. From Arthur Curry discovering he’s the successor to Atlantis to Harry Potter going to study wizardry at his moms and dads’ university, “child of powerful parents” stories generally put their main characters on the course to fantastic experiences that may be unsafe, however mainly let them enhance their lives and the world.

Those stories produce a sort of wonderful eugenics, making power and the right to wield it a present of specific groups or households. While the concept that your uninteresting life might be shocked by discovering you have a secret family tree is an attractive escapist dream, it likewise presses firm off the lead characters’ choices and onto the options their moms and dads made, potentially even prior to the lead characters were born. Their journey needs them to accept the lives their moms and dads lived and follow in their courses.

2 current programs put a twist on that traditional archetype, however, by making supernatural inheritances more of a full-on curse than the normal blended true blessing. Starz’s American Gods and the CW’s just recently cancelled Canadian series Trickster both function manipulative, violent papas out to mess up or end their kids’ lives. They press the kids to come to terms with their complex tradition themselves, and argue they’d most likely be much better off without their papas and their presents.

Shadow and his father Odin in a car, with bright runic letters superimposed

Image: Starz

Neither American Gods’ Shadow Moon or Trickster’s Jared remain in great positions when their programs begin. Shadow will leave jail following a messed up gambling establishment break-in. Jared is perhaps even worse off, attempting to support his moms and dads by making and offering euphoria while likewise participating in high school and operating at a lunch counter. His household scenario is currently incredibly made complex. His mama, Maggie, is so in financial obligation to her drug dealership, Richie, that he’s begun threatening both of them. Jared’s father, Phil, is a recuperating oxycontin addict who simply discovered his sweetheart is pregnant.

Then things worsen. Shadow concurrently loses his spouse and his scheduled post-incarceration job working with his friend when a vehicle mishap eliminates them both. Finding the 2 were having an affair simply puts salt in the injury. In this state of desperation, he end up working for Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane), who he ultimately finds out is the Norse god Odin, the designer of his bad luck, and his dad.

Wednesday, it ends up, scheduled the auto accident to guarantee his child had absolutely nothing to lose, making him most likely to be a devoted bodyguard and soldier in the coming war in between the old gods of folklore and the brand-new ones representing abstract ideas like media and innovation. He’s a master manipulator, using the feelings of nearly everybody he fulfills to attempt to employ them to his cause. He deserted Shadow’s mom and didn’t assist his child when she passed away of cancer, and now that he requires Shadow, he won’t let him go.

Odin is a quite traditional charming abuser. The emphasize of season 2 of American Gods is an episode revealing Odin’s betrayal of his completely magnificent child Thor, aka Donar Odinson. Intending to gain from the praise his child might get from ending up being a well-known strongman, he pressed him to work with Nazis. When Donar attempted to escape with the lady he liked, another magnificent entertainer in Wednesday’s cabaret, Wednesday undermined their love and assaulted his own child. American Gods’ 3rd season begins on a comparable note, with Shadow having actually lastly discovered peace, just to have his life disrupted by Wednesday’s needs that he relocate to a little, freezing town, for factors Wednesday won’t even discuss.

Shadow’s godly heritage offers him prophetic visions. It likewise brings him a host of effective opponents, and cautions from practically everybody he fulfills that working with Wednesday won’t work out for him. If the program stays devoted to the plot of Gaiman’s book, things are most likely to get back at worse for Shadow. Regrettably, in season 3, the program is a winding mess, continuously diving into flashbacks and side plots that interfere with this main dispute.

Trickster, based on Eden Robinson’s Trickster book series, is more focused and nuanced in its themes about dealing with family baggage. Jared’s actual father turns out to be Phil’s old friend Wade, who cruises back into town with a sweet motorcycle, enormous swagger, and dangerous charisma. He offers to help Jared improve his life as it continues to spiral out of control, thanks to conflicts with Maggie and Richie.

But Maggie is no victim, and Wade is even more dangerous than Wednesday. Maggie’s a witch who used her powers to kill Wade when he tried to steal their newborn baby. But Wade couldn’t be killed, because he’s a nearly immortal ancient shapeshifter who’s been dodging his responsibility to maintain balance among the world’s mystical powers — a duty that requires him to die at his son’s hands.

Adding to the oedipal theme is the fact that Wade’s powers literally wane as Jared’s grows. Once Jared begins manifesting his own shapeshifting powers and the ability to recover from almost any wound, Wade starts to weaken. This is supposed to be the natural process of a father passing on what he can to his son and then moving on, but Wade refuses to go gently, even after living many normal lifetimes.

Kalani Queypo looks smug as Wade in Trickster

Photo: Lindsay Sarazin / Sienna Films

Many narratives present family in fairly rosy terms, showing parents who would do anything to protect and care for their kids. Harry Potter’s parents sacrificed themselves to protect him and Aquaman’s mother left him on the surface to keep him a secret from those in Atlantis who would kill him. But Trickster is exceptional in its brutal honesty about parental abuse and neglect, and how sometimes children must take care of themselves, even if they’re all that’s keeping their parents afloat.

Maggie’s mom was an abusive alcoholic who abandoned her and Jared, and those scars affect her ability to be a good mom. She’ll do anything to protect Jared, but she also regularly ignores his wishes and leaves him to handle serious problems. Phil also loves Jared, but he’s basically the child in their relationship, depending on Jared’s money to survive. Wade makes himself seem like a better parent than either — he could sweep in and save Jared from his wretched situation. But he feels nothing but hostility for his offspring, because they’re a symbol of his own mortality.

One contrast to Jared: Sarah, a girl in foster care who’s been acting out so she can be moved from home to home, and use the moves to search for her real parents. When Jared has a panic attack in class, she suggests running off together and abandoning all of his responsibilities. But he declines, bound by practical and supernatural considerations. It’s a powerful commentary about how family may be a source of strength, but it can also hold us back from living better lives. That concept is directly opposed to the normal supernatural family narrative, where a powerful family is the seed that leads to everything you’ve ever wanted, including love, frends, riches, and power.

Wednesday and Wade both claim they need to hold onto their power for some greater good. In American Gods, it’s to stop the New Gods, who seem to want to mine humanity for more worship, in damaging ways. Wade’s claim in Trickster is more complicated — he contends he should be allowed to live because he’s a repository for knowledge that would otherwise be lost, because of the atrocities that have been committed against Canada’s indigenous peoples. Yet Wade doesn’t actually seem to care about sharing those traditions. His equally long-lived enemies seem to be more willing to pass on lost lore to those who would help put the Trickster in his place.

Father and son (Joel Oulette and Kalani Queypo) in Trickster

Photo: Lindsay Sarazin / Sienna Films

These sorts of father-son conflicts aren’t unique to Trickster or American Gods. Luke Skywalker inherited his father’s ability to use the Force and used that power to defeat Darth Vader in battle, though his greatest strength was actually the compassion and mercy that kept him from actually killing his father and falling to the Dark Side. Trickster walks a similar path. Jared knows Wade is a monster who certainly deserves to be killed, but he’s determined to find a way to help everyone without actually hurting Wade. It’s unfortunate that the program’s cancellation means we won’t see onscreen whether Jared can succeed. American Gods is still dragging behind. Shadow hates Wednesday, but the most he’s considered doing to stop him is ignoring his calls.

Magical inheritance narratives are problematic in that they tend to enforce a view of the world where genetics are destiny, and some families literally have a divine right to power. Stories like American Gods and Trickster provide a more critical look at the trope by acknowledging that parents aren’t always benevolent or even capable of redemption, and that children shouldn’t be forced to follow the paths that their parents have set for them.

Shadow and Jared both gain supernatural powers from their fathers, but those abilities don’t let them enhance their lives. They’re more of a burden, and a reminder of their terrible legacies of betrayal and violence. Both Wednesday and Wade may think they’ve blessed their sons by permitting them to exist as part of powerful bloodlines. And they both seem to think their sons owe them as a result.. However they refuse to give them the greatest power a moms and dad can offer: the firm to live their own lives.

American Gods season 3 is streaming on Starz. Seasons 1 and 2 are offered for digital leasing or purchase on different streaming platforms. Trickster is streaming on The CW site.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.