Sunday, June 18, 2017

American Gods 1x08 Review: "Come to Jesus" (A Storm Breaks) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]

"Come to Jesus"
Original Airdate: June 18, 2017

[Warning: The following review contains spoilers.]

It’s finale time for American Gods! I usually judge finales by how well they tie up all the loose ends, but I went into this show knowing that the first season was only going to cover roughly the first hundred pages of the book so I suspected the finale would just be littered with cliffhangers. To my pleasant surprise, American Gods manages to structure its first season finale in a way that provides closure on some key ideas and character arcs, even as it clears the storytelling path for future seasons.


We didn’t see how they arrived since last week’s episode was all about Mad Sweeney and Laura Moon, but “Come to Jesus” opens with Wednesday and Shadow sitting in a house while Mr. Nancy sews them some fancy suits. Old Anansi is more than just a tailor, though — his primary role is as a weaver of tales, not of cloth. Mr. Nancy entertains the impatient Wednesday and angry, confused Shadow with the story of a queen in ancient times, who was worshipped by many and was slowly forgotten.

It’s the story of Bilquis, the goddess of love who has spent this season longingly gazing at museum artifacts even though she seems to be getting all the prayers she should need from the people she takes to her bed. Bilquis’s arc — her journey from real belief when she was a queen, to the empty connections she makes through meeting up with people via dating apps — shows us a goddess’s fall from power and rise to a different, less satisfying power. Bilquis is worshipped, but not in the same way she was worshipped before. She has power, but it’s a parasitic power; it relies on the aid of the New Gods, which means the belief of her followers is siphoned off by another deity and she faces starvation despite constant consumption.

There’s an interesting thread of the fall of female power in Bilquis’s story, representative of the ancient worship of the feminine that was transformed into worship of the masculine over time. Bilquis wasn’t forgotten because people stopped knowing her, but because people were stopped from knowing her, stopped from worshipping queens like Bilquis and turned toward worshipping kings. She was a goddess of love, reduced and laid low by gods of war and conquest. And with femininity being such a crucial part of Bilquis’s existence, it’s really no wonder that the male Technical Boy providing her “lifeline” results in unfulfilling, empty worship that leaves her still wandering museums and thinking back on what used to be.

Mr. Nancy wraps up his story in a little bow for Shadow, who still doesn’t get it, by telling the two men to go get themselves a queen. The New Gods recruited a forgotten queen to their side, so it’s time for the Old Gods to do the same.


In his Bilquis story Mr. Nancy says, from the perspective of Bilquis, “So long as I’m still alive, I can adapt. I still know what I am.” The declaration is a core idea within all the Old Gods, who struggle to find the balance between adapting (which means survival) and changing (which means self-destruction). Vulcan adapted then changed, and was beheaded for it. Bilquis adapted then changed, and was forgotten for it. And then there is Easter, the goddess Ostara of springtime, rebirth, renewal, and the dawn, who seems to have brightly adapted to the fact that she now shares her day with Jesus in the modern era. It’s kinda easy for her, though, since Jesus — all the Jesuses, of which there are at least a dozen walking around Easter’s mansion in Kentucky — is a super nice guy. He even feels a little bad about stealing some of Easter’s thunder.

The suits Mr. Nancy made for Shadow and Wednesday are because the two of them needed to be adequately dressed for Easter’s stellar Easter celebration. Just when I don’t think I can love Shadow any more than I already do, he meets Easter and is instantly smitten with the effervescent Ostara (played by the effervescent Kristin Chenoweth) to the point where he’s all smiles and blushes whenever he talks to her. Easter and I both agree that it’s darling and Shadow is the actual best.

Wednesday’s goal is to recruit Easter to the side of the Old Gods, because even though she’s not exactly on the side of the New Gods (since her existence relies more on Christianity adopting her day than anything the New Gods have done for her, regardless of what Media says about it) she still denies needing anything more than what she already has. To get Easter on their side, Wednesday claims that Vulcan was killed by the New Gods after pledging his allegiance and forging a sword for him. She’s troubled, but she still isn’t ready to sign up for a war. Furthermore, she has a party to host and people keep showing up uninvited — people like Media and Technical Boy, and Laura and Mad Sweeney.

I originally thought that one of the Jesuses walking around the mansion was going to be the one Mad Sweeney wanted to resurrect Laura, but it turns out that Easter was the target all along. Unfortunately for Laura, Easter says that she can’t do anything to bring her back to life because she was killed by a god. After some severe intimidation from Laura, Mad Sweeney confirms that it was Wednesday who had Laura killed because Wednesday needed Shadow. Why did Wednesday need Shadow? No one seems to know except Wednesday, and I have a feeling he isn’t going to be upfront about that motivation any time soon.

An interesting aspect of American Gods is the lack of a clear-cut line between the “good” and “bad” gods. We’re introduced to the story on the side of the Old Gods and, even though most of us viewers are more likely to worship our smartphones than we are to worship Odin, we see the New Gods as the villains. Of course, it doesn’t help that Technical Boy is hideously unlikable and Mr. World is just odd — but Wednesday isn’t exactly the most upstanding or endearing individual either, since he recruits Easter under false pretenses and manipulates her from the second he sees her.

Wednesday is using Easter, just as he’s using Shadow, just as he used Mad Sweeney and he used Laura Moon. The New Gods stole their queen and Wednesday is stealing his, but the show uses Wednesday to add a veneer of custom, tradition, and glory to the Old Gods that makes them seem more genuine than the flashy New Gods. Wednesday is manipulating us, the viewers, the same as he’s manipulating the characters around him: by presenting us with a narrative that makes us rather believe in him over them. If anything, Wednesday’s recruitment of Shadow is just a way for him to further this long con because Shadow is, more than anyone else in this brewing battle, good. By aligning Shadow with himself, Wednesday reinforces the illusion of being on the honorable side of the fight, and we believe it.

On this show, ancient gods are as mercurial and shifting as they need to be to survive and keep their power, and this episode underlines their need to adapt without destroying themselves. If the Old Gods don’t want to adapt to the world, like Bilquis and Vulcan and Easter have tried to do, they must follow Wednesday’s path and force the world to adapt to them. Things happen, as Wednesday says, because gods make them happen — and gods happen because people want to know why things happen. The Old Gods just need to give humanity questions to ask and inspire wonder, then they can return humanity to the simpler worship they followed before, when Old Gods thrived.

The episode ends with Wednesday telling Shadow who he actually is: “I am called Glad-of-War, Grim, Raider, and Third. I am One-Eyed, I am also called Highest and True-Guesser. I am Grimnir and the Hooded One. I am All-Father, Gondlir, Wand-bearer. I have as many names as there are winds, as many titles as there are ways to die. My ravens are Huginn and Muninn, Thought and Memory, my wolves are Freki and Geri. My horse is the gallows. I am Odin.”

Wednesday — Odin — kills some faceless New God henchmen in the name of Ostara and, bolstered by the dramatic speech and the deaths in her name, Easter shows her own power by going old-school and taking Spring from the world around her. The people can have it back, says Wednesday, when they pray for it. After such a fantastic show of ability, Wednesday asks Shadow if he finally believes. Shadow says that he does. He believes everything.

The war between the gods has officially begun.

  • “More Mr. Nancy” is at the top of my list of things I want next season. “More Ricky Whittle being the best Shadow Moon that could ever be” is in second place, only because it’s pretty much a given.
  • Wednesday’s utter inability to understand the human perspective is still one of my favorite things about the character. Shadow is angry that he watched the guy cut off Vulcan’s head then dragged him off to get a suit and Wednesday’s response is “You’re getting one too!”
  • The Believe Buffalo returns to Shadow in this episode! Fitting, since this is the episode in which Shadow finally learns to believe.
  • For a second I thought a song and dance number was about to start when the faceless henchmen began marching around Easter. I wouldn’t put it past this show.


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