The lightning has struck, the dust has settled, the cookies have been consumed, and American Gods season 1 is officially in the books. After last week’s lull, we got another episode filled to the brim with godly mischief and showmanship…not to mention about a dozen Jesuses. Considering the episode’s title was “Come to Jesus,” that makes sense: it was, finally, Shadow’s come to Jesus moment, and he had plenty of Saviors to choose from.
The episode opened with spiders. Like way too many spiders creeping and crawling and being all spider-y. They’re assisting Mr. Nancy as he sews suits for Wednesday and Shadow, and now it makes me wonder if that mischief-maker didn’t have something to do with Arachne’s troubles.
Sorry, I digress. Nancy gets up to tell them a story, despite Wednesday’s many protests, and it’s about Bilquis. We flash back to her days as a living goddess in her temple. Nancy calls her a queen, and explains that kings would come from all over to try to take her down. They didn’t like a woman having so much power. She always won these confrontations…until she didn’t anymore, in 1979 Tehran, Iran.
She immigrates to America, collecting worshipers along the way, but eventually her power is broken and she “forgets the queen inside.” She’s living on the street, sick and desperate, and sees a news report of ISIS militants destroying her old temple. Her altar is destroyed, and she falls even lower as her power ebbs further.
One night Technical Boy approaches her with an offer: online dating, a place where she can collect followers and worshipers by the thousands. He gives her a phone and access to a dating website called Sheba. The implication is that he created it solely for her. It’s basically her hunting ground.
In the present (in a later scene not part of Nancy’s story) we see her once again in the museum exhibit dedicated to her old cult. TB appears to call in his chips: he gave her what she needed when she was at her lowest point, and now she needs to repay his favor. She attempts (briefly) to seduce him, but he’s not interested. Realizing she has no choice, she sets off for Wisconsin on the side of the new gods.
When the story’s over Nancy asks the moral, and Shadow says you shouldn’t compromise. Nancy laughs at him. Of course that’s not it! What’s life without compromise? Nooo. The moral, he says, is that you need a queen.
Wednesday says that they’re going to get a queen, but Nancy is skeptical. Shadow is still upset about Wednesday killing Vulcan, but Wednesday just shrugs it off. Shadow demands, again, to know who Wednesday is, but he still won’t tell him. Soon they’re off to Kentucky in their new finery for an appointment with a queen.
It never occurred to me that Sweeney’s resurrection guy in Kentucky might be Easter, but shows what I know. In the book they met her in San Francisco, without Sweeney but WITH flowers in her hair. This time Shadow and Wednesday go to a sprawling estate in the hills where Easter is throwing an Easter party. Because it’s Easter. In attendance are several versions of Mary and quite a few versions of Jesus, as well as bunnies and lots and lots of food.
She takes an instant liking to Shadow, and we get the show’s first hint that Shadow isn’t his real name. That’s nice, because I was wondering.
While Easter (or Ostara, as they’re calling her for the show) insists that she’s doing great, Wednesday begs to differ. She claims Easter is her day, but he points out that it’s actually really kinda Jesus’s day, because while people still go through all the motions of worshiping her, they don’t actually worship her. They don’t pray to her or offer sacrifices in her name.
Jeremy Davies!Jesus is upset, and Easter gets mad at Wednesday for being vulgar in front of her guests. She drags him away so they can talk privately, and he offers her an idea. In the old days, harvest was withheld until the offerings were made. These days people don’t believe in the gods and don’t give them their proper due. Wednesday suggests that Easter withhold spring until she gets paid in prayer and sacrifice. She’s intrigued by it, but overall she’s not buying what Wednesday is selling.
Meanwhile Laura and Sweeney show up in their busted ass ice cream truck. Easter is furious at Sweeney for bringing a dead girl to her house in the middle of a Jesus party, and after studying Laura for a time she says she can’t help her. Laura was killed by a god, Easter explains, and it’s beyond her power to fix it.
(As an aside: there’s an entire house full of Jesuses here. Are none of them still in the resurrection game? It worked for Lazarus.)
Laura is furious. She hoists Sweeney up by the gonads and demands to know who killed her. He admits he ran them off the road, but as she points out, he’s not a god. Finally he spills Wednesday’s name. She wants to know why. Why her? He explains that it was all about Shadow: Wednesday ruined Laura’s plan for robbing the casino so that Shadow would get arrested, then he arranged for Laura’s death so that Shadow would have nothing left to lose because he’d already lost everything. He says that Shadow isn’t anyone important. Just some guy. Some guy Wednesday was apparently all-fired desperate to have on his side, but ya know nbd.
Easter, meanwhile, is occupied with a new guest. Media has arrived with a Putty companion. She asserts that this is their day, because it’s with Media’s help that Easter has become important in modern life: Peeps and Cadbury Cream Eggs and plastic Easter grass. As they talk her Putty replicates itself into many Putties and eventually they’re doing this fun march in a circle around Easter and Media and it’s all very Easter Parade.
Wednesday makes his entrance and Technical Boy appears and it’s a general face off between old and new, with Easter in the middle looking dismayed. Mr. World sort-of shows up and makes a speech about how there’s not gonna be a war blah-blah but honestly has he MET Wednesday? Wednesday wants a war, so there’s gonna be a fuckin’ war.
The sky is turning dark and things are going all ominous. We get a glimpse of the dandelion fluff Wednesday blew into the sky in episode 2. He says, “I dedicate these deaths to Ostara.” Media’s barely done saying “what deaths?” when a huge bolt of lightning obliterates the Putty Patrol.
That’s when Wednesday really pulls out all the stops. Shadow demands to know his name, and he goes full-on Galadriel-tempted-by-the-one-ring and there’s weather effects (that were echoed by the actual storm happening outside my house while I watched) and spinning and FINALLY we get The Reveal.
Whew. It’s all out now. As if it weren’t all out like 5 episodes ago, but whatev.
Wednesday tells Easter (“Ostara, Goddess of the Dawn”) to show them who she is, and she…takes back spring. Everything turns brown and dead. Fields wither. Trees lose their leaves. It’s like she dialed the clock back 2 months and everything’s stuck in winter doldrums.
“What have you done?” Media says.
Basically she took America’s toys, and they can have them back when they start behaving and showing her proper worship. She’s a queen, after all. She deserves it.
Wednesday asks Shadow if he believes now, and Shadow tells him yes. He believes in “everything.”
Laura, entirely unimpressed by the turn of events, stands on the balcony with her leprechaun escort and asks to see her husband. Though she looks terrible and dead by anyone’s standards, Shadow still gives her the biggest heart-eyes you’ve ever seen, while Wednesday tries to re-murder her with a look.
Just when you think it’s over we get a scene that echoes Bilquis’s trip to America earlier in the episode. This time she’s on a bus, and the bus is heading for the House on the Rock. The road leading to it is jam packed with cars, trucks, and SUVs. It’s a regular convoy of gods, all headed to one place.
Hmm, okay, I guess I’ll start with my biggest issue of not only this episode, but the entire back half of season 1.
Just how stupid are we supposed to think Shadow is?
I get that he doesn’t believe. I get that it’s a huge part of his character, and if we were confused on that point, this week Shadow has a conversation with a SITTING ON WATER Jeremy Davies!Jesus where he’s like “yeah I don’t know how to believe in anything so I guess that’s a problem.” From the buffalo in episode 1 telling him to believe all the way through that conversation in the season finale, we’re told over and over that Shadow doesn’t believe in anything (except love), and he sure as hell doesn’t believe in a bunch of gods walking around on earth causing mischief and bullshit.
But at this point he’s seen the whole Vulcan thing. He’s met Mr. World, TB, and Media. He got STABBED by a TREE. Wednesday healed said stab wound with a touch and some minor groping. His wife has come back to life. Zorya Sleepy Face gave him the moon. He’s heard Wednesday called Grimnir, Woten, and Glad of War, among other names and epithets.
Yet we’re supposed to buy his “I have NO IDEA what’s going on or WHO YOU ARE” act this late in the game? I mean, yes, duh, of course he’s confused and of course he’s questioning reality, but for him to be so completely oblivious to Wednesday’s true identity is a little hard to swallow. The “big reveal” was fun, and it gave me chills, but it was a huge chunk of the special effects budget for something everyone and their cousin Joe Bob (including Shadow) should know by now.
Having said all that…man it was a cool moment. Even in the book we never really get to see Wednesday flex his full-on god muscles. It’s mostly just two-bit cons and bullshit. To see him have an enormous, thunderous (literally and real-life actually) ODIN REVEAL with all the titles and trappings was very cool. Also Ian McShane really sold it, so A+ for that.
Easter was a delight, of course, though I’m still upset about the casting. Yeah yeah I love Kristin Chenoweth and she played the roll perfectly but she’s just so TINY. All the women on this show are tiny! Emily Browning is 5’1″, Kristin Chenoweth is 4’11”, and Gillian Anderson is 5’3″. Larger women exist, Bryan Fuller! Tall women, fat women, BIG WOMEN! They don’t all have to be itty bitty. (I don’t know how tall Yetide Badaki is, and I haven’t seen her next to enough of the main cast to tell; but obviously she isn’t a very large woman either.)
This episode and last week’s both felt sort of…piecemeal. I understand they had to get Bilquis from LA to Wisconsin and show what side she’s on. And of course it was nice to get her backstory! But overall the Bilquis stuff just didn’t fit with the Easter stuff at all. They tried to connect it with Nancy’s “you need a queen” line, but…
These last two episodes have suffered a little from the decision to cut from 10 episodes to 8 and end on the way to the House on the Rock. While I’m glad they made that choice rather than have a bunch of weird, stretchy, filler-y episodes (take notes, Walking Dead!!), instead we get these oddly patched together stories that don’t quite fit.
I wish the Wednesday reveal had been in the middle of the season. Yeah, okay, that would’ve ruined their season-long denouement, but it would’ve made more sense from a storytelling point of view. We wouldn’t, 8 hours later, be wondering if our protagonist is as clueless as a bag of hammers and if we’re actually supposed to be surprised by Wednesday’s true identity. Sure, I’m a book reader, but I don’t think I know a single show-only who didn’t know before this week that Wednesday = the god Odin.
I guess there’s something to be said for a longer season in some ways. It would’ve been awkward to have a 1A and 1B, with the Wednesday reveal rounding out 1A, if each were only 4 episodes. American Gods, we barely knew ye and now you’re on mid-season hiatus! Instead we’re stuck with a year-long wait till the House on the Rock and Laura’s conversation with Shadow.
“But America, too, can take issue with a woman of power. It finds ways of cutting her down. Of punishing her for her daring to be. And our girl, after a while, even she forgot there’s a queen inside. And there is no end to the cruelty of men threatened by strong women.”
Bilquis, Bilquis, Bilquis! I loved diving into Bilquis’s history, from her time as a Queen Goddess in Ethiopia, where she had an entire temple of worshipers whom she devoured all at once, through Tehran at the cusp of the Iranian Revolution, and into the 80s and the AIDS epidemic.
To Bilquis, love and sex are gifts. They’re empowering, freeing, and in Tehran we see her in a disco full of people (the same as the worshipers from the temple, actually) all dressed to party. Militants storm in to ruin the fun, and an age of oppression for women begins. America’s heavy-handed policies and influence are often (at least partially) blamed for the revolution, even going so far as to claim the US government was directly responsible for ousting the Shah, and honestly what’s a revolution without America sticking its nose in where it doesn’t belong?
When Bilquis sees the HIV+ woman in the bed, a worshipper, she realizes that her gift has been turned to poison. What does she have now? What can she offer her worshippers, and what can they offer her? Once again, the American government played a huge part in the AIDS crisis, willfully turning a blind eye as it ravaged its way through gay communities around the country.
Western institutions—kings back in the day, democratically elected governments now—are fundamentally designed to strip women of their power, and as Mr. Nancy said, “There is no end to the cruelty of men threatened by strong women.” Especially a woman whose power comes from sex! Bilquis was free, and powerful, and she didn’t need a man to get there. Then she came to America and everything changed, and now she relies on Technical Boy’s demesne as her source of worship. He wants to use her as a weapon against Wednesday, use her power as a weapon.
The idea is anathema to Bilquis, but after everything she’s been through, when in many ways her gift was weaponized, and became a source of shame, she doesn’t see any way to fight back. She’s like an abuse survivor who has reclaimed her life…but then her abuser reappears and everything starts all over again. So she goes to Wisconsin to be TB’s “gun,” but I have a feeling she has tricks up her sleeve that TB hasn’t thought of. I guess we’ll see.
I liked this episode, and I enjoyed season 1 immensely. The original material fit the spirit of the book and the characters. Laura, Sweeney, and Bilquis’s expanded roles were welcome additions. I want more Salim, and I hope this isn’t the end of the World’s Most Unpleasant Traveling Companions, aka Unlucky the Leprechaun and Stinky Fly Queen Laura.
The show has a lot going for it, and with the network giving them the freedom they need to explore and grow, I think it’s only going to get better. Here’s to season 2, and many more to follow!
It’s been a fun season, dear readers. I’m not sure what I’m on to next, but look for me in September with Outlander reviews!
Episode Grade: B. It was good, not great.
Season Grade: A. The show’s strengths (performances/casting, storytelling in general, cinematography, etc) overcame its weaknesses (slow-ass pacing, opacity, a few piecemeal episodes) to produce a great season of television.