TV Recap: American Gods — Come to Jesus (1.08)

25 June, 2017 TV Recap, TV Reviews 2 comments

TV Recap: American Gods — Come to Jesus (1.08)by Bekah Brunstetter, Michael Green, Bryan Fuller
Illustrator: Floria Sigismondi
on 18th June 2017
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
four-stars

It's almost time for the meeting of the gods. But first, Wednesday has one more ally to recruit: the goddess of spring herself, Easter. And it just so happens to be her big day.

However, attending her annual party is like to get complicated, as both the New Gods and Mrs. Moon are on their way over as well.

*

Well, here we are. The end. For now.

 

And you know what? It turned out to be a solid freshman season. In retrospect, I have some mixed feelings about how everything ended up playing out over the course of these past two months, but I’ll save those thoughts for the wrap-up at the end of this final (for a while) review.

 

 

For now, though, let’s talk about “Come to Jesus” and how it worked as a finale.

 

Um, it worked pretty well.

 

Boom. Done.

 

I kid, I kid. To elaborate, though: episode eight didn’t end how I expected it to, but I think it bookended this starting arc nicely and gave us a definite sense of progress. I’m under the impression that I’ll like it more in retrospect, though — specifically, once we have our second season under our belts.

 

 

But we’ll get to that.

 

To give you a general idea, though: I think that this week confirmed an idea that I’ve been chewing over for a while, and that idea is that our year one was ultimately, well, one big setup.

 

Despite what I was fully prepared for, “Come to Jesus” doesn’t end with the meeting at the House on the Rock, so it appears that we’re saving that particular scene for the start of next year. Because it’s a rather important moment in the context of the overall plot and the direction it takes afterwards, I suppose it could have worked equally well as a finale or premier, but the fact that they decided to push it back leads me to believe that Fuller and company really wanted to use this initial batch of episodes to craft what amounts to a very long prologue, devoting all of its time to setting up both book-based and show-exclusive storylines and ideas before moving forward.

 

 

Which is understandable, I suppose — it’s always good to have all of your cards before you start playing them. But we won’t know just how well this approach is going to work until we’re a good way into our sophomore season. For now, though, I see this final hour as a final piece of preparation. That’s also why it sort of irks me, though: it’s more preparation. That’s all this year has really been. On its own, it’s a very enjoyable hour and works well as a finale. In the context of the preceding seven, though, it really emphasizes how slow the pacing has been.

 

But, again, we’ll get to that.

 

Spoiler Warning

Below are spoilers for both the episode and the book, so continue at your own risk. Going forward, I’ll try to avoid too many mentions of later events, so as long as you’ve watched, you should be okay. Hopefully. No hard-and-fast promises, though.

 

*

Present Day

 

Shadow and Wednesday are visiting a friend: Mr. Nancy, who runs a very high-end tailor shop out of his home. There are a lot of spiders out and about, because he is the trickster god, and we aren’t about subtlety here.

 

Nancy decides to tell his guests a story, as that’s sort of his thing. He throws up a spotlight to heighten the mood (gods really like these things, apparently) and, rather unnervingly, makes direct eye contact with the viewer as he begins.

 

 

This is the story of a queen. She was once a mighty being, because she had a gift to offer, and it was something everybody wanted.

 

Can you guess what it was?

 

Hint: It wasn’t crocheting tips.

 

Yeah. Surprise.

 

*

864 B.C.E.

Temple of Bar’an

 

Well, they took their sweet time to get here, but we’re finally getting some backstory on Bilquis. She actually plays a relatively notable role in this episode, so I’m glad to see that we didn’t completely abandon her character after her few scenes oh-so-long ago.

 

 

Robed in splendor in her magnificent palace, Bilquis looks over a, well, orgy. This is an MA-rated show, people, and such shows are contractually obligated to feature at least one. Her subjects pick her up and carry her about in adulation, and there are a lot of genitals being (metaphorically) thrown around. Interestingly enough, there was a surprisingly high number of white people living in the Arabian Peninsula back then, it seems.

 

So that’s fun.

 

This is totally safe to post, right? You can’t actually see anything, but you still get the idea that there’s something tantalizing happening.

 

Nancy explains, however, that kings felt threatened by a woman having such power over so many people, and so they frequently came to her court in an attempt to bring her low. We see such a man, who, for some reason, grows a rather painful-looking crown out of the top of his head. I don’t know if it’s just meant to be symbolic, or if the royalty back then just had that ability, and we’ve lost the fine art since.

 

These men never lasted long, however. Crown Guy crawls his way across the hanky panky pile, disrobes, and begins to make love to Bilquis, because that’s… how he’s going to stop her? I don’t know. To nobody’s surprise, it doesn’t go super well.

 

Okay, is this secretly a safe sex campaign?

 

He and the rest of the subjects melt and get sucked up into Bilquis, in what is probably one of the weirdest things I’ve seen on television in a while. Thanks, American Gods! Don’t you ever change.

 

*

1979

Tehran

 

Time passed, and Bilquis changed with the times. At a disco (enjoy it now, folks — that piece of cool is about to die in a very dramatic way), she dances seductively with a woman, who appears to be her newest target.

 

 

But kings kept coming after her, fearful of her power: the power that all women have over rebirth and creation. So they came and took it, made it theirs, and sold it to other men. A raid bursts into the club and assaults the dancers, pulling girls away and brandishing guns.

 

(Point of note, writers: not all women can give birth, and not all want to. You don’t have to generalize feminine strength solely around the uterus and whether somebody has one or not.)

 

How symbolic.

 

Bilquis is forced to make do with this robbery, and resigns herself to the “back seat.” She convinces herself that, so long as she stays in “the game,” she’s winning. So on a plane to America, she flirts with a man and takes him to the restroom, where she, uh, eats him.

 

Now alone in her row, Bilquis is given a postcard by an attendant that proudly announces their destination: Hollywood. The stewardess is also remarkably calm about the fact that a passenger disappeared mid-flight. The ‘70s were a simpler time, I guess. Bilquis believes she will be just fine so long as she learns to adapt.

 

The New World, however, is not so kind to a woman’s power, either. Bilquis visits a hospital, where a woman with HIV lays dying. I can’t tell if it’s meant to be the same woman from the disco or not, but the message is clear: thanks to America’s fear of sex as (I assume) the AIDS crisis of the 1980s takes its toll, Bilquis is further cheated out of her domain.

 

*

2013

California

 

Another jump forward. Bilquis is homeless now and has all but forgotten her glory. She looks into an Ethiopian restaurant, whose logo of a stately woman brings a brief smile of nostalgia to her face. It’s promptly taken away when she sees the story being played out on the news inside — her old temple in Yemen being destroyed by ISIS, who have claimed it blasphemous.

 

 

What can she do? Nancy says it’s easy to look down on people when we aren’t in their shoes, to judge their choices, but those at the bottom will take whatever they can to survive. It’s not our place to judge these desperate decisions, because we would do the same. (This is important. Remember this.)

 

Bilquis’s way out comes in the form of the Technical Boy, who finds her sleeping on a stoop. He explains that he heard about her alter being destroyed, but can offer her a new one. He hands her a phone, which displays profiles on a dating website. Worship, he explains, is a volume business now, a game of surplus — it’s about numbers, and whoever has the highest wins. She stops on a profile of her. Does she want to play?

 

 

She does.

 

*

Present Day

 

What’s the moral to this story? Nancy asks. Shadow claims that it isn’t to compromise or make deals with “treacherous motherfuckers,” but Nancy promptly shoots him down. Life is all about compromises.

 

No, the moral is to find yourself a queen — which, Nancy points out, is what Wednesday needs now, since he’s gone and killed “one of theirs.” Vulcan hasn’t been of the Old Gods for a long time, and the New aren’t going to take his death lightly.

 

 

Nancy now wonders how Shadow feels about being bound to somebody like Wednesday for life, but Shadow claims that their deal is no longer valid. Wednesday violated it when he pissed him off, killing his friend and then acting like it wasn’t a big deal. He still doesn’t even know his employer’s real name, and is sick of all of the mystery.

 

Wednesday, however, claims that Shadow is not actually angry. He’s just confused. He will, however, have to start getting angry, because anger is what gets things done. And they have a queen to woo — hence the fancy suits they’re having Nancy make them.

 

Okay. Let’s break this all down.

 

 

Firstly, let’s think about Bilquis here. I’m happy to see her past explored, and this deal that she’s made with the Technical Boy raises some interesting questions. Her arc in the book was very truncated and strangely presented — she shows up twice and then gets murdered by the Boy, and her involvement doesn’t appear to do anything for the plot before or after. Granted, the snotty kid acts a bit strange whenever he encounters Shadow following his attack, but I honestly don’t know if his behavior was implied to have something to do with Bilquis (a curse?) or if he was just behaving oddly, as he tends to. Here, that seemingly pointless encounter and death has been turned into a secret partnership that gives a lot of possibility for further drama down the line. And it should keep her character around for a while. Not pointlessly killing off women is always a plus, and essentially giving her a personal dating site to use as her web is a clever way to update her power.

 

However. I brought this up in an earlier review, and I want to reiterate it now: I don’t know whether this equating of sex with power is a good way of portraying a ‘strong woman,’ especially when the cast has so few women in general. I could see it (and have seen it) argued either way, so let’s look at both sides of the coin here.

 

 

On the one hand, there’s the argument that this connection allows women to reclaim their sexuality (something stolen, as Nancy himself points out, by men) and use it against oppressive systems, turning it from something normally used to objectify and belittle them into something of a weapon. On the other hand, however, there’s the fact that this concept is still using sex as a means of framing and portraying a woman — it’s all about her physicality. And because this is, like in so many works of fiction, a character being largely written and filmed by men, it makes that latter interpretation a pretty difficult one to wave away. Granted, this episode is co-written and directed by women, but they are both white, and the experiences of women of color are not the same, so they cannot be considered in the same contexts.

 

And to really fuel that fire, there’s the fact that Bilquis’s plot apparently now hinges on her being under the thumb of a whiny white guy who frequently appropriates black culture. That’s gross.

 

There’s also the fact that Bilquis is not only one of the few women in this series, but also the only women of color that’s had more than five minutes of screen time. That fact adds the additional question of whether or not Bilquis is not only being objectified within a framework that’s trying to repackage sexism as empowerment, but also being portrayed in a racist light as well, with black femininity being linked and defined by themes frequently seen as wrong or ‘dirty’: lust and sex.

 

 

This is especially notable because of how the other (white) woman who plays a large role in this episode is portrayed, but we’ll get to her in a bit.

 

So I don’t know. I ultimately feel uncomfortable with how Bilquis is coming across here, but I’m not at liberty to state with any authority whether or not her portrayal is a good or bad one. That’s up to the women in the audience who see themselves being represented by her. Still, I think they’re important (potential) concerns to bring up.

 

If nothing else, though, Yetide Badaki kills her scenes. She sells Bilquis’s rise, fall, and all of the emotions attached to such turbulent life with no more than a handful of lines and a lot of facial expressions. The whole flashback is gorgeously shot, as well. Am I including all of the nudity in that assessment? I’ll never tell.

 

(I’m not.)

 

 

Secondly, it’s good to see more of Nancy, and I’m still liking his portrayal now that we’re getting more than him beyond a brief ‘Coming to America’ piece. Making him a tailor makes a lot of sense, as does the general change in his manner from a rather quiet (but still affable) old man to a more charismatic, fiery personality. It’s a good fit for a god of stories and tricks, though it sort of taints the impression of him as a supposedly out-and-down Old God. Given the look of his home and choice of suits, he seems to be doing pretty well for himself. Also, he’s supposed to live in Florida, so I’m wondering if Wednesday really took that long of a detour just to get a change of duds. 

 

However, I do wonder if his loud, boisterous performance could also be read as racist — the sort of over-the-top, minstrel-esque persona that has an unfortunate cinematic history. Again, it’s not my place to claim that this is a ‘bad’ way to characterize a black man; but given that this is another somebody dreamt up and written by white men, the possibility of it is there.

 

Do let me know your thoughts on this, if you so choose. I definitely want to better inform myself of these topics, especially since they’ll continue on through subsequent seasons.

 

Also, the moral of his story is kind of shaky to me. I see the whole trade-off — one killed, one recruited — mentioned, but referring to Vulcan as a queen doesn’t make sense when the whole story was specifically about women being robbed of power. He’s precisely the kind of person who would take it, so giving him that distinction is way off. It’s like they needed an excuse to give Bilquis more focus and awkwardly tried to force her backstory into a relevant lead-in for the main plot.

 

Plus, this whole speech about queens and strong woman is a good topic to bring up, but ending it with Wednesday stating that he “needs to get one” sort of ruins the whole idea. You’re expressing the importance of women having control, then tie it into the fact that a couple of men (the Technical Boy, Wednesday) are approaching them as acquisitions to add to their collections.

 

Really, this sequence drives home one issue that this show has been struggling with from the beginning, and that’s the fact that it’s attempting to explore diversity — in culture, gender, sexuality, religion — while being decidedly not diverse behind the scenes. It’s going to be really hard for American Gods to champion empowerment of so many marginalized and/or misrepresented groups when it’s being handled and spearheaded by nobody within those groups. Which isn’t to say that they shouldn’t try, I suppose. I think it’s good that Fuller and the others are taking the opportunity they have to make this story about more than just themselves, but it would be better if they used first-hand experience to inform their dialogue and characters rather than their own, (hopefully) well-meaning but ultimately uninformed perspectives.

 

 

Thirdly: Shadow. Shadow, my man. My guy. My friend.

 

Really? Really. Really.

 

I say this with nothing but love: How dense are you?

 

One: How did you completely miss the point of Nancy’s story? He straight-up told you how Bilquis needed to adapt to survive, and your takeaway was that… she shouldn’t have done that? Good on Nancy for calling you out, because that was a blatant swing and miss.

 

Two: “I don’t even know your name.” Shadow, do we have to spell it out for you? Write it on a piece of paper and glue it to your forehead? Oh, wait, we have spelled it out for you, because Mr. World gave an entire presentation about sending an ‘ODIN missile’ to a foreign country to get people praising Wednesday’s name again. Odin? Does this not ring any bells? Have you never heard of that particular figure before? Do you know how to do a Google search?

 

This is one thing that has rubbed me the wrong way all season, and it just comes to a head here at the end. I appreciate the writer’s making Shadow more willing to emote his confusion and struggle to accept what’s happening, as it makes him a lot more believable/relatable than his rather passive book incarnation was, but I think that them stretching out this particular bit of character development all the way through to the finale was a mistake. Shadow is not an ignorant man. He’s quiet and apathetic at times, but he’s also observant. He can make connections and draw conclusions even while he’s playing the part of the big, dumb muscle. Having him struggle for explanations and truth for a few episodes was understandable, but at this point, it’s just ludicrous to believe that he’s this clueless and unwilling to accept what’s happening.

 

They’re clearly angling for a big, grand reveal to use as a conclusion to wrap the year’s focus up, but even eight episodes is just too long to wait for that. We’ve all figured it out by this point, as has everybody else in the show.

 

Anyway, let’s move on.

 

Shadow bursts his way out of an enormous mountain of skulls. In the middle of a night sky filled with stars, he climbs his way to the top, where he finds again the skeletal tree and buffalo with fire in its eyes. He falls to his knees in front of it, then wakes up in Wednesday’s car.

 

 

Well, it’s a nice bookend to that initial dream sequence in the pilot, but it doesn’t really do anything here. No dialogue or additional imagery, so all it seems to do is remind us that the writers haven’t forgotten about it. I get the concept, though: Shadow’s journey to understanding is wrapping up this week (I pray), and the buffalo commanded him to believe at its start. Callbacks to tie everything together are good. But, again, I think this would have worked better had it come at least two episodes ago.

 

Also, I’m surprised we haven’t had more of these dream sequences this season. They’re perfect opportunities for Fuller to do his thing with cinematography and maybe throw some more foreshadowing our way, and he hasn’t really bothered. Which is especially odd seeing as there a lot of them built into the novel already, and a few of those have already been skipped over despite how early in the text we still are.

 

“I gave you one job, Shadow, and you’ve still managed to blow it.”

 

Wednesday and Shadow, dressed to the nines, are off to meet their next potential ally in Kentucky before they finally head for Wisconsin. As Wednesday warns Shadow to treat their host with respect (“Be nice, but not too nice.”), they pass a great many rabbits along the side of the road, who follow their car. A great many more line up in front of it, but Wednesday takes a good deal of pleasure running them over. Sad.

 

They come to a beautiful lakeside manor brimming with flowers. Inside is a whole lot of food and a great many oddly dressed people. There are more rabbits, and one of them appears to poop jelly beans. Which is weird.

 

As it turns out, they’ve arrived at an Easter get-together. Shadow admits that he loves the holiday, and Wednesday tells him that most people do — but more for the food and appearance of the date, not for the true meaning behind it. It used to be a pagan ritual celebrating the start of spring, but that has since been forgotten.

 

But even today, the parties and the painting of eggs still celebrate one woman, albeit in a more roundabout way, and that woman is their host: Ostara (Kristin Chenoweth), who glows as she shows up on the patio. Shadow is rather smitten.

 

No, really. She glows.

 

Ostara calls for a toast and thanks everyone for coming over for ‘her day.’ As she gives her speech, a bearded man says hello to Shadow. Shadow thinks he seems familiar, and the man admits that they do know one another. He leaves before our hero can learn anything more, and Ostara spots Wednesday. She loses a bit of her cheer, but encourages her guests to remember what the day is truly about. “Praise the Lords!” and all that.

 

Shadow asks if she is the Easter, which Wednesday confirms. “Gods are real if you believe in them,he explains. Looking around, Shadow notices some strange things. A man has jelly beans falling through holes in his palms. A woman and the child at her breast have literal halos of light about their heads.

 

As it turns out, Jesus Christ is at this shindig, too. A lot of them, in fact.

 

Now it’s a party.

 

Well, this is fun. I like that they’re making good on the idea that Wednesday introduced weeks back of there being multiple versions of gods, and here we see concrete proof: a whole gaggle (parliament? herd? flock?) of Jesuses and saints of many different ethnicities and offshoot religions. It’s a clever way to tie Easter’s involvement in, as well. Given the different interpretations of what the holiday is about, you have to wonder how the different gods who are celebrated on the day would treat it, and here’s a great answer — Easter throws the bash, the figureheads come over and have a good time.

 

And to get it out of the way now: I’m very pleased with how Easter is portrayed here. While it is a shame that they passed up the chance to cast a larger actress — she’s specifically described as being ‘curvaceous,’ and Chenoweth may be the most petite person in Hollywood — I think she was a good choice. She doesn’t really have to do much to capture the character’s sunny charm and sweetness, as she more or less has this exact attitude both in real life and in every other role she’s ever played. She sort of exudes what you would think of as ‘spring’ already, and she really does have the best laugh.

 

(I also unashamedly love her, and have ever since Pushing Daisies. But that’s neither here nor there.)

 

Look at this ray of sunshine. If they don’t let her sing at some point, I will revolt.

 

And though they’ve changed much of her introduction (she isn’t encountered until quite a bit later in the novel, and said scene is a great deal shorter and less fancy), most of the following dialogue is straight from the source.

 

Ostara/Easter finds the tongue-tied Shadow adorable, so they go for a walk. When Wednesday brings up his reason for visiting, she promptly shoots him down, and instead asks Shadow where he got his name. He explains that it came from him constantly following his mother around as a child (a very abbreviated version of the book’s explanation), and Ostara is surprised that he’s the one “everybody” is so upset about.

 

She warns him of the many forces out there (Wednesday included) that might want to use him, and Wednesday notes she isn’t really speaking like one of the Old Gods. It’s because she isn’t one, she claims. She’s doing just fine.

 

Wednesday, however, calls her out on this, noting that the worship she receives is mere tokenism. People may still do the rituals of old every year, but it’s all commercialized and done in the name of Jesus and his resurrection, if anyone at all. It’s enough to keep her afloat, sure, but it’s a fraction of what she once had. Ostara is upset about this, as are the Jesuses, who feel like they’ve stolen her glory. How very noble of them.

 

 

Ostara marches them into a private room. She’s angry at Wednesday for calling out Jesus on His/their/her day, but Wednesday assures her that he’s concerned only for her and what she is rightfully entitled to.

 

(Props to Chenoweth for being able to play the darling belle so well, then abruptly turning ferocious at the drop of a pin. She never loses a shred of that charisma throughout.)

 

As a ploy for her sympathy, Wednesday claims that the New Gods killed Vulcan. Good job for following through on that, writers. He pulls out the sword he made for him (how did he hide that in his coat?) to show her, and Ostara is suitably impressed. He promises that the people will worship her once again if she helps them, and sends Shadow away.

 

 

Let’s jump over to something else. Once again at a museum, Bilquis encounters the Technical Boy, who is wearing an absolutely horrendous outfit, complete with a sparkling vest (ugh), grill (double ugh), and medieval page boy haircut. I hope we weren’t supposed to take him seriously, because he looks… awful. Just awful.

 

Look, I know nothing about fashion, but… what is this? What is happening here? Why does everything hurt?

 

He’s here to call in a favor. She’s done well with him — another satisfied customer of Mr. World’s rebranding campaign — and now she owes something in return. He isn’t interested in sex, but wants her to point her unique charms “in the right direction.”

 

Okay, this is interesting. I like the idea of Bilquis becoming an ‘inside man’ for the New Gods, especially since it isn’t clear whether or not the Technical Boy’s helping her is something they all agreed to, or if this is some kind of deal he’s doing on the sly. It will give her a chance to show up more frequently, and could lead to some interesting shenanigans if she interferes with Wednesday’s plan. Via seduction, though? Is she going to try to ‘eat’ Shadow? That’s going to be an uncomfortable thing to witness, if so. Still, this is also another good step in making the New Gods seem less passive, seeing as how they now appear to be putting forth effort to keep tabs on the con man rather than letting him run about and do his own thing. One of them is on the ball, at least.

 

(Granted, that passiveness is actually an important element at the story’s end, and is properly explained, so the writers have to be careful here. With that in mind, I’m going to guess that this deal is something the Boy is trying to do on his own and will probably screw up. How he could get away with this without Mr. World knowing is beyond me, so he’s probably not nearly as sneaky as he thinks he is.)

 

 

Now that we’ve met Easter, though, this seems like a good time to bring up my issue with Bilquis’s portrayal again. Consider this contrast between the two, which the episode itself encourages with Nancy’s whole speech: one ‘queen’ is played by a black woman, and her storyline revolves around her being brought low, degraded, and being forced to help a sniveling white guy who tried to lynch a black man in his first appearance. The other is a white woman who is more or less successful and happy, almost childlike in her wholesomeness as she flinches at swears and surrounds herself with nothing but cheer and pastels.

 

Do you see the problem here? It’s not that having one woman embrace sex and another completely avoid it makes half of the pair inherently ‘stronger’ or more respectable than the other. It’s that we’ve created a very clear whore/virgin dichotomy, and we stuck the black woman on the side that’s most frequently shamed in our culture. It’s especially noticeable because you’d think that the goddess of new life would inherently have some element of sexuality to her as well; but no, she’s been scrubbed as clean as a Saturday morning cartoon. On it’s own, this kind of comparison wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing: the topic is one of women of different pasts and backgrounds making their own way through a demanding world in their own way. But media doesn’t exist in a bubble, and our fiction has a long and troubled history of making this kind of comparison: white woman are clean and respectable and pure, black woman are not.

 

Bilquis is all of us at this point.

 

Food for thought. If there were more women involved in this show, this might not be such a big problem. But there isn’t, and that’s the issue with having a ‘token’ cast member of some kind — if you only have one person of X descent or Y sexuality or Z gender (or some combination of the three), they automatically become a lightning rod for representation and how the writers are expressing their world views. There’s no room for variety and the celebration of it.

 

Moving on. Outside, Sweeney and Laura pull up in their remarkably sturdy ice cream truck. I guess Easter was indeed the one that Sweeney had in mind for a resurrection. He may want to ask her why her rabbits tried to kill him. Laura realizes that Shadow is here and notes that all of the guests are, in fact, Jesus (including the one who died in the ‘Coming to America’ sequence a few weeks ago). This will be a fun new realization for her to wrap her head around.

 

Meanwhile, the Jesus that Shadow met earlier is floating on top of a pool, because sure, why wouldn’t he be? Shadow approaches and asks him if he “always believed.” In what, exactly, Shadow? Himself? He’s the son of God. Why wouldn’t he?

 

 

“I am belief,” Jesus says. Shadow wonders if he knows how to believe in anything, half convinced that everything that’s happened thus far has been some kind of dream. Jesus tells him that he has to walk the road that his senses lead him down regardless.

 

I was sort of expecting this bit to adapt a scene that was cut from the book, where Shadow does in fact meet this particular deity, but no dice. Granted, that scene was supposed to occur during a rather important sequence much later in the plot, so perhaps we’ll still get it.

 

Anyway, let’s revisit the fact that I want to smack Shadow at this point. Your wife, who was an incredibly self-assured atheist, has managed to accept the existence of otherworldly forces quite quickly, and you’re still trying to act like it’s all potentially a dream? Granted, she has the one-up on you for having died and seen the afterlife firsthand, so she doesn’t have quite as many opportunities in which to play the uncertainty card. Still, you yourself have seen so many impossibilities these last few weeks that you’ve run out of excuses.

 

The guy is floating on water and has an ethereal crown of light. That’s hard to write off, you know?

 

I think that’s the point, though — Shadow stubbornly refuses to accept what he’s seen, despite his claims that he believes in what his senses show him. (Either that, or it’s just bad characterization.) Plenty of people can be obstinate to the point of hypocrisy, I suppose. It would make for a good interpretation of his character if it didn’t contradict his book self so much.

 

Meanwhile, Wednesday is laying out a plan for Easter: starve them. And by ‘them,’ I mean ‘America.’ People used to fast out of necessity while they waited for her season to bring new growth, and so their hunger became a form of prayer to her. These days, everything is instant and readily accessible. If she takes away their bounty, she can make them remember her again.

 

Interesting idea. This could work as a good reason to keep Chenoweth involved as a regular cast member, which I would be all for.

 

Easter is interrupted by one of her rabbits, who whispers something to her in what sounds like tinkling bells. How cute. She leaves to meet another guest.

 

Laura, in one of the house bathrooms, vomits up a batch of maggots. She’s not looking particularly great. Easter storms in, demanding to know why Sweeney has brought her a dead girl, and dismisses Laura when she tries to make small talk. (Nice. Call her out.)

 

 

Easter wants to know why Sweeney wants to bring Laura back, and he only tells her that he has a selfish reason. I’m hoping he’s referring to feeling guilty over killing her, and not the possibility of him falling in love with her. Easter tells him that she doesn’t owe him any professional courtesies, as they are certainly not on the same level, but Sweeney retorts by calling it a personal favor, which she does owe him.

 

Hm. I wonder if we’ll get some backstory with these two. How do they know each other, and why does she have a debt to repay? There’s a fun dynamic here that I would enjoy exploring.

 

Realizing that the “dead girl” is Shadow’s wife, Sweeney warns Easter not to tell Wednesday that they’re nearby. Laura asks if she was the one who gave Jesus his resurrection, but Easter claims that he was dreamed back on her day, and she’s just had to deal with that unfortunate coincidence ever since. She confirms that she can “relife” Mrs. Moon, and Laura is excited, as she now understands that she has a lot to live for and wants to feel properly again.

 

Nice job to Browning for really nailing the delivery of this scene, by the way. She sells the earnestness: that mixture of hope for a second chance and the dread that she may not get it, and I can’t help but feel bad for her. I’m not sure I would quite believe her if those ‘things’ she wants from life again include Shadow, though, as we’ve only really seen her miss living in general, not him.

 

To start the process, Easter needs to know exactly why she died, so she peers into her eyes, where afterimages of her death lay stored. I doubt there’s scientific fact behind this, but we’ll roll with it. She just talked to a rabbit, so anything goes at this point. Inside those milky corneas, she sees shadowy remnants of a raven and Sweeney’s face.

 

 

Whoops.

 

Easter demands to know if Sweeney is still working for Wednesday, which he answers non-committedly. She explains that she can’t resurrect Laura after all, because her death came at the hands of a god, and she cannot interfere with another deity’s handiwork. She’s visited by another rabbit, who announces a third unexpected guest. She leaves, and a furious Laura demands to know which god killed her.

 

Double whoops.

 

I sort of thought this reveal would have been put off longer for the sake of drama, but I suppose the whole ‘resurrection of Laura Moon’ arc wouldn’t have really let that go on for too many weeks. This storyline was clearly going to last only a few episodes at most, and it would have been difficult to keep that twist hidden from her while resolving it. More on that in a bit.

 

There is so much leprechaun-directed anger in this shot.

 

And, let’s be real, we all knew that Laura wasn’t going to get to come back. If you’ve read the book, you would have considered it a foregone conclusion; but even if you haven’t, I think it still appeared pretty unlikely, given that her whole character sort of revolves around her being not alive. Still, I like this new angle of her being in the know. It’ll give Laura some additional motivation to keep up with her husband now that she knows what kind of man he’s working for. Though she’s falling apart so quickly that she’s either going to need to become a regular customer of Jacquel and Ibis, or she’s going to need some other divine intervention to keep her from melting into a puddle.

 

Easter’s new guest, meanwhile, appears to be Judy Garland’s Hannah Brown character from the 1948 musical film Easter Parade (ha). It’s Media in another of her guises, and she’s dancing on the patio with one of the Technical Boy’s Children.

 

 

As it turns out, Easter has been in cahoots with the New Gods as part of a repackaging deal, too. In her case, she’s been working with Ms. Ricardo/Bowie/Monroe/Brown, who’s helped her reap the benefits of commercialized candy and nationwide advertising. This is a fairly notable jump from Easter’s character in the book, but it definitely makes sense, and would have made for a perfectly understandable reveal in the novel had we been given more of her. She was never shown to be truly against the New Gods, anyway, and how else could she have done so well for herself, adapting to the times as she has, without their cooperation?

 

A nervous Easter steers Media away from the house while Laura literally holds Sweeney by the balls, asking again which god did her in. He reveals that he’s the one who ran her off the road, but Laura sees straight through that distraction and wants to know who had him do it. She knows full well who it is, but wants Sweeney to say it aloud. “Wednesday,” he admits.

 

Well, there it is. It was already blatantly obvious, but now we have it laid bare. This is a curious direction to take, though, because I figured that they would hold off on having Laura figure out the whole truth for at least a while. Most of the book’s plot — especially the ending — relies on Shadow not knowing the details, and now his wife, who in the novel has the free will to more or less visit him whenever she wants, is in a prime position to spill the beans at the nearest opportunity. He’s fifty feet away at this very moment. Where are they going to go with this? I’d say it’s a bad idea, but since we have yet to see how they handle the direction, I’ll hold off on taking too much issue with the change just yet.

 

 

Sweeney explains that she was a sacrifice to get Shadow. He isn’t special, mind you; he’s just “the guy.” Laura figures out that Wednesday must have been the one who ruined their casino robbery (called it), and the Irishman tells her that Wednesday needed Shadow in a position where he had nothing left to lose so that he could take him for himself. In response, Laura wants to know what the con man himself stands to misplace.

 

Nice. I’m all for Laura’s arc turning into a vengeance quest. But, again, considering that she’s (mostly) invincible and can track Shadow wherever he goes, the writers are either going to have to significantly change how and when she shows up later in the plot to give some kind of plausible reason as to why she doesn’t just confront Wednesday right away, or they’re going to have to fall back on increasingly wild suspensions of disbelief to convince us that she has to wait. Or, she’s just going to have to blow the lid off of everything ASAP, which would completely throw off the direction of the characters and plot to such a degree that I don’t think they’d be able to follow the book much at all going forward.

 

It’s a lose/lose situation to me. I don’t see how they could handle this in a way that’s faithful to the book going forward while also believably seeing this twist through to a logical conclusion. I trust Fuller a lot, but I really don’t know if he’s going to be able to spin something convincing enough for this.

 

 

Back to the action. Media demands to know if Wednesday is in Easter’s home and what he’s trying to get her involved in. Her one Child splits into more, and they have some snazzy choreography to go with their fancy canes and top hats. (This detail seems a lot less random now that I know her persona is from a Fred Astaire musical.)

 

Easter claims that she dismissed him, because she’s doing just fine. She’s an “old god made new again,” as Media promised to make her, but the New God notices that she seems unsatisfied with her services. Easter complains that she’s being misrepresented to the ppublic, but Media tells her to suck it up. Santa took the same deal, and she should consider herself lucky that she’s had it as good as she has. Easter is intrinsically a Christian holiday now, and people as a whole have turned increasingly atheist; it’s only thanks to her and her colleagues that people believe in anything that isn’t a television screen anymore.

 

Can you imagine watching this scene without any context? I know what’s happening, and it’s still surreal.

 

Some good details here. This one conversation does a lot to solidify our understanding of the New Gods and their goals. They pity the older deities and pacify these second-stringers by reproducing them en masse under their own brand. It’s a business to them, not something they do because they genuinely care about their fallen brethren. And we’ve now had several examples of how they do just that — something that I was afraid would be passed over through telling, not showing.

 

Wednesday steps in, claiming there’s plenty of worship to still go around, but Media points out that they control the delivery and distribution of that praise now. They control the story. (Note: That’s a point they made earlier after slaughtering that station of cops, and nothing has come of that yet. Are they just going to turn Wednesday and Shadow into outlaws next season?) Two of the Children part to reveal the Technical Boy (who is still wearing that grill, and I am going to tear it out of his insipid mouth myself if he keeps it in), who claims that he has nothing anymore. Things will never return to the old ways, no matter how insincere the New Gods’ form of worship is.

 

 

Media bluntly tells Wednesday that he no longer matters; she came for Easter, not him (ooooh), and he had his chance to take their offer. Mr. World telegraphs himself through one of the Children and adds that Wednesday is only important in matters of war, and war isn’t something that’s going to come to pass, since they have all of the weapons and will win either way. There’s no point in them fighting.

 

Oh, wait.

 

Storm clouds start to gather, and Wednesday dedicates “these deaths” to Ostara before promptly striking the Children down with a lightning bolt. I didn’t know he could do that. Nice.

 

Wednesday asks Shadow if he has faith, and Shadow demands to know who he is. Finally, in a ridiculously overblown reveal that involves a lot flashing lights and spinning, Wednesday lists his many names, ending with his ace: Odin.

 

Okay, that was very over-the-top and spectacular and all, but, gods, it just drives home how obtuse Shadow has been this whole time. Of course he’s Odin. Everybody and their mothers know that he’s Odin. That title and several of his other ones have been liberally thrown out by other characters for weeks. Still, I suppose it theoretically works nicely in tying everything together at the end here, which is something a good finale should do. It’s really just a courtesy at this point, though.

 

But we would have missed out on this needlessly dramatic special effect, otherwise.

 

Wednesday beseeches Easter to show people who she really is as well. So she marches out to the lawn and makes the clouds part; as the sun reappears, flowers swirl through the air. She, however, isn’t done. From the base of her home, all of the plant life for miles around begins to whither and die. The epidemic spread across the country, fields and trees and forests shrinking back into the earth.

 

I guess she took Wednesday up on his plan, then. This is going to be a pretty hefty storyline to follow through with next season. I like it, but the writers are going to have to devote a good deal of time to properly demonstrate the depth and breadth of the consequences to this. America is promptly being plunged into a famine, after all, and the scale of that concept is just so big that I’m not sure a television show is going to be able to pull it off.

 

 

 

Still, go big or go home, I guess.

 

A disappointed World tells Wednesday that he will get his war, who in turn warns the New Gods that the people will have their harvests back once they’ve prayed for them. Wednesday asks a stunned Shadow if he believes. He, by the grace of all the gods in the earth and sea and sky, does. Thank the heavens. We can finally move past this.

 

Laura and Sweeney show up on the balcony, and the former asks if she can speak with her husband. The two smile at one another.

 

Our closing sequence: On a bus on its way to the House on the Rock, Bilquis asks a nearby passenger if he knows where the bathroom is. The two head for the back. Let’s hope these transportation agencies haven’t become more astute at keeping track of their customers in the last thirty years.

 

*

Wrap-Up

 

Let’s think about this.

 

So, technically, I guess this episode struck the requisite balance that a good finale needs: a rather even mixture of cliffhangers and resolutions. Shadow’s coming to terms is at a close, we know Wednesday’s identity, and we’re finally poised to get to Wisconsin. Meanwhile, we still have to contend with Easter’s tempering, Bilquis as a mole, Laura’s position to reveal everything to Shadow, and more.

 

A lot more, apparently.

 

So, in theory, it’s all good. I just… I don’t know how to feel. My attitude towards our closing chapter really will depend on how the second season handles things, I think.

 

Is there a believable way to keep Laura from telling Shadow the truth about Wednesday? Considering that they’re literally face to face at present, I don’t know how the writers are going to be able to do so without the delay being a completely forced cop-out. But if she does tell him, how the hell are they going to keep Shadow and Wednesday’s partnership — vital to the rest of the plot — intact?

 

 

How will Easter’s actions impact the rest of the story? How will the New Gods respond? Again, there’s a whole lot of potential to this vein, but I feel like there isn’t going to be enough time to explore this idea to the fullest extent while still tackling all of the other characters and arcs.

 

Ultimately, my feelings about this episode (along with the last several) will hinge on this: How will our sophomore year adapt the book?

 

*

Seasonal Overview

 

Here’s where we get into my thoughts about how things worked as a whole. Personally, I think it was a mistake for the writers to take the approach they did: stick to the novel very closely for the first three episodes to get the core details out of the way, then put off the next chronological scene for a full year and fill the rest of the season with entirely new content.

 

 

Look, I get why they would want to save Wisconsin until our second go. It will make for a very good framework for the next arc and its direction, which should have a decidedly different flavor than this one as the stakes are heightened and the action picks up — something that your first return season should definitely do. The problem is that I, as a reader, don’t know what to prepare for. While the show hasn’t completely thrown off the course of the book, it’s certainly changed a lot already, introducing a lot of elements much earlier and doing away with pretty much any trace of subtlety. Plenty of the alterations haven’t inherently taken anything away from the text and have simply filled in some of its holes (Laura and Sweeney’s backstories, for instance), but doing away with a lot of the mystique means that the back half of the storyline suddenly feels sort of empty. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that; this is a visual medium, after all, and it’s going to require a lot more time (and money) to get to everything in due time while also ensuring that we’re getting an enjoyable television show. What makes for compelling storytelling on the page doesn’t necessarily work the same on a screen. There’s no reason why the show cannot still follow the rest of the source material fairly closely; I just don’t know if they will or not.

 

It’s like a bait and switch. The writers used the first few episodes to convince us that this was going to be a very faithful adaptation by using so many word-for-word details, only for them the suddenly cop out and go the exact opposite direction for the final two-thirds of the season.

 

So I’m in the lurch until we see what next year brings. There’s a lot of ground left to cover in the book, so much so that I don’t think they’ll be able to adequately include everything unless they really bump up the rate at which they’re adapting things, assuming that we only get another two seasons.

 

 

That’s the weird thing about comparing the show to the novel, and best explains why I’m wrestling with my reaction to everything now. When you make that correlation between the two, it seems like this season has done nothing but drag its feet with endless filler since episode three, as everything past the bank heist has just been putting off the Wisconsin gathering. If you look at it on its own merits, however, none of this has really been padding at all, because every episode has had important developments for the plot and the cast, whether it’s in introducing new storylines, expanding current ones, or better characterizing the major roles.

 

Which is why this last review and rating feels a bit off to me. If I hadn’t read the book, I don’t think that I would have a lot of these criticisms. And when I really stop and think about it, most of them seem silly or unneeded on my part — it’s not as though the writers have completely ruined our chances of seeing the rest of book realized properly on screen. And even if these new directions did manage to ‘spoil’ that possibility, what we’ve gotten in return has certainly made for fun, creative, visually stunning television regardless.

 

But, as always, there’s an unkillable part buried deep down that is filtering everything through the lens of ‘source authenticity,’ and it’s preventing me from really embracing the direction that’s being taken, no matter how much I like it in theory.

 

 

To wrap up, then, let’s revisit my introduction. As I mentioned earlier, I’m hoping that this first year was more or less meant to be a long prologue of sorts, dedicated to getting all of the big characters and plots arranged neatly around the source material while also expanding on it. Now that that’s all done (and we’ve finally gotten over the whole ‘Shadow doesn’t know what to think about everything’ bit), the writers will, with any luck, get things rolling in earnest.

 

I still have a lot of faith in Fuller and company, especially since Gaiman is still on board so far as I know. And, really, this has been a good run. Many of these recent episodes were mixed bags for me only because I wasn’t expecting so much new stuff, and they’ve all grown on me since I got over that knee-jerk ‘it’s different so it must be bad’ reaction that’s annoyingly hard to rid oneself of as a reader. I didn’t rate a single episode lower than four stars, after all, so I’m clearly enjoying things no matter how much I may complain.

 

Now watch as they somehow manage to put this off for another six episodes.

 

So. There we go. Our first season of American Gods has come and gone. Thanks for sticking around, and I will see you (assumedly) next year!

 

Rating

“Come to Jesus” hits all of the right notes required of a finale, striking a solid balance between cliffhangers and resolutions, but is slightly undone by the desire for emotional and narrative bookends making obvious the season’s painstakingly deliberate pacing.

B+

Monteverdi
A reader who doesn't pick up his books nearly as often as he should, but who would like to offer the occasional review when he can nonetheless. Find me on Goodreads here.
Monteverdi
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2 Responses to “TV Recap: American Gods — Come to Jesus (1.08)”

  1. Lisa @ NatureImmerse
    Twitter:

    It’s a leap of faith, and it’s more than daring. It’s dizzying, as dizzying as the frolics of the bunnies who chase after Wednesday and Shadow as they drive through Kentucky. As dizzying as the shot that pulls back to show vivid floral borders swirling around a stately house, as dizzying as food stylist Janice Poon’s dazzling buffet of multicolored macarons, hoops of roasted rabbits adorned with corn-husk ears, deviled eggs tinted pastel, and rainbows of cocktails in gold-rimmed stemware. As dizzying as Shadow’s realization that all the men around him at the Easter brunch don’t just look like Jesus Christ; they are Jesus Christ, every last one of them.
    Lisa @ NatureImmerse recently posted…Best Kayak Cart Reviews 2017My Profile

  2. Carina Olsen
    Twitter:

    Only read parts of this review, as I don’t want the ending spoiled just yet, haha 😉 But so glad you liked this first season a lot Monteverdi 😀 Stunning review, as always. Yay for ending mostly being great 😉

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