Note: Spoilers to follow for “Come to Jesus”, the latest episode of American Gods. I have read the book, but I will not mention any spoilers from that.
When I look back at this first season of American Gods, I see a lot of experimentation and attempts at audacious storytelling. Some worked, some didn’t. One thing that didn’t really work is the slow buildup to Shadow’s acceptance of believing in the gods. Considering all of the craziness he’d already seen, why was it such as shock? Although I liked Wednesday’s dramatic crazy reveal of his true identity. Shadow’s lack of faith felt like treading water.
In the parts that also don’t work as well, the story of Bilquis, the Queen of Sheba has an extended opening segment that explains her entire twisty backstory. Although I like Mr. Nancy’s narration and I really liked his amusing take on the moral of the story, it’s emblematic of one of the issues of the show. That things aren’t explained, but assumed. Or assumed to be looked up online. Mr. Nancy was never introduced as such until this episode, as he was called Anansi in the show first.
So it’s a bit jarring, because at least in the book, it’s the other way around. His particular little morality play on “our queen”, about powerful women figures being subverted by men, had interesting parallels to other parts, as Ostara (Kristin Chenoweth) was told by Wednesday had happened to her. Yet it’s also arguable that Wednesday is a man subverting her power for his own purposes.
The tying into real life, like how ISIS has destroyed ancient temples, such as the Temple of Bel in Palmyra, added a nice note of authenticity to her tale. But Bilquis is also never shown to do anything particularly good for humanity, but instead she lives off the deaths of them. So why should we feel bad when she’s suffering homeless on the street in 2013? Odin certainly wasn’t a sunshine and candy god, but he was not wholly without a point. She’s called at some points a goddess of love or rebirth, but that ain’t shown.
So although the twist made sense; she had a deal with the New gods, sure, that doesn’t mean I should care about her. I feel like we got a bit of a better look at that whole perspective in this episode though, as Mad Sweeney tells Laura that it’s the modus operandi of gods to mess with humans. That isn’t really universally true for ancient gods, but I get the point.
This particular event of Easter is very divergent from the book, where Wednesday does convince Eostre (another name for the ancient Germanic goddess from the early part of the first millennium) to follow him. Now, it’s typical for Wednesday to lie, but Ostara is not a 12,000 year old deity, and in fact may be just an apocryphal story that was never worshipped, although I suppose if you just conflate her with worshipping spring goddesses, you could go back a ways.
This is one of the other problems with the show; the book had its way of stretching things, but the show goes even further. I’m not sure how intentionally confusing or mysterious the show is meant to be, but it’s a bit annoying. Sure, the wall of skulls and death tree in Shadow’s dream are intentionally confusing, but that’s only one piece of it.
On the positive side, I liked seeing the gaggle of Jesus figures of various types and ethnicities, including the “prime” one played by a serene Jeremy Davies. Kristin Chenoweth was great too, but in general everyone is great in terms of acting on the show, with the one exception this episode of Gillian Anderson, whose mangled Judy Garland impression sounded flat and robotic.
I also liked Wednesday’s full embrace of lies in front of Shadow, just flat out saying “they” killed Vulcan. Makes it clearer that he’s not just doing things for the “right” reason, whatever that may be. His little story of how Americans never have to work for food is pure pablum, but hopefully that’s intentional; that it’s manipulating Ostara into her actions. Because let’s be honest, there’s a lot of struggle for not starving in America’s history, and many people today still struggle.
The final moments were such a ridiculous cliffhanger and tease, it’d be unforgivable if we didn’t know that there was a second season coming. It’s the sort of thing I’m okay with a more mature, developed show pulling off, but this first season was sort of a mess. That said, I did quite enjoy it, impressive visuals, often well written dialog, and layered thematic episodes. Not everything worked, but I’m more than willing to keep going when the second season starts up.
What are your thoughts on the season finale of American Gods? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.