I have ruminated. I have let it sit and ferment inside of me, passed from organ to organ until I could be reasonably sure that my assessment would be un-tinted by my feverish case of raving Fullermania (no cure, however much cowbell you may hope to apply). And so, dear friends, I can say to you with some degree of genuine certainty that “Come to Jesus” was a really amazing, totally batshit crazy season finale to season one of American Gods.
I don’t want to lean too heavily on a rule established by only two episodes and my arbitrary opinion, but an episode that opens with Mr. Nancy is bound to be a classic. With comparatively little screen time, Orlando Jones has made the character iconic, a voice you can rely on to manipulate you in all the right ways. Wednesday and Nancy feel like friends; like two people who have shared the same experience, and well they might. They’re both old, trickster gods being rendered obsolete. Nancy, in an astonishing suit, about which I could never say enough let alone too much, tailors Shadow and Wednesday (in matching bathrobes, an image which is, somehow, forever hilarious) and tells them the story of Bilquis – how she, the goddess of love, devoured and bloomed, but how, inevitably, men threatened by a strong woman strove to take her power from her. We see her transported to America and reduced to living on the street, until no one’s favorite douche canoe finds her. Technical Boy offers her a new access to worship – Tinder. Wednesday takes Nancy’s meaning – find yourself a queen – and heads off with Shadow to the technicolor land of milk and bunnies.
Ostara’s home is a pastel confection, full of rabbits, macaroons and Jesuses (Jesusi? I’m not sure on the pluralization here…). When Shadow and Wednesday arrive, she is hosting brunch for the Jesus delegation on a day that, Wednesday is keen to point out, bears her name. Ostara is resistant to Wednesday (though charmed by Shadow), until he mentions that the new gods have killed Vulcan (which of course, we know they didn’t, but we won’t tell). Ostara is visibly moved by this information, but before she can commit to Wednesday’s crusade, a bunny (literal, not figurative) whispers in her ear. Ostara rushes out to meet the newest arrivals – a dead girl and her vulgar leprechaun. Laura is looking worse for wear and hacking up maggots. Sweeney asks Ostara for a little good ol’ fashioned divine intervention, but when Ostara looks to the moment of Laura’s death, she sees something she cannot contend with: Laura was killed by a god.
When Ostara rushes off to greet the next onslaught of people ruining her party (new gods, but more on that in a minute), Laura interrogates Sweeney (“interrogates” here means “squeezes by the balls until he spills”); he is quick to own his part in her death, but Laura points out that he is not a god. Eventually Sweeney names Wednesday as the reason for her death.
Media and Technical Boy show up as Judy Garland and some douche in tails respectively, to point out a variation of what Wednesday already did; no one is celebrating Easter in Ostara’s name anymore. Media points out that Ostara is doing fine living off the residuals of a well-marketed holiday, but it is apparent that Wednesday has opened a wound. The man himself shows up and strikes down Media’s henchmen, dedicating their deaths to Ostara. She is clearly delighted, and in turn, does him a solid; to whit, releases wide famine by pulling the spring from the earth. Guys. Major. Canon. Divergence. But more on that later. So it is war, then. Before Shadow can fully process this, Laura shows up to have a little chat with her husband. The season ends.
One of the unique thrills about this inaugural season has been my genuine inability to second guess when Bryan Fuller and Michael Green were going to zag from the canon. I’ve read American Gods about seven hundred times, and still this series feels new. And every risk that it has taken has serviced the story in a perfect way.
Additionally, the storytelling has been so beautifully wrought, that I didn’t notice until the general release of the madness that was this episode how much of the first season has been place setting and world building. This is inevitable in any freshman season, but especially for a world that is as vast as that of American Gods. And yet, even within that framework, we have seen a great deal of evolution for Shadow Moon. The episode is called “Come to Jesus”, ostensibly because of the murder of Jesuses at Ostara’s brunch, but also, Shadow has a legitimate “come to Jesus” moment. He is there when Wednesday lies to Ostara, and he has the option of calling him on his bullshit. He remains silent. And in this particular case, it is not a passive silence. He was railing earlier in the episode about being pissed off at Wednesday and wanting to dissolve their partnership. But remaining silent in Ostara’s parlor is making a choice. It’s picking Wednesday and whatever this insane life actually is. Ricky Whittles has played Shadow with a brilliant, flummoxed but passive edge. We are starting to see the dawn of a new Shadow Moon.
It is also commendable that Fuller and Green chose to reveal to Laura as early as this the role our favorite leprechaun played in her demise. It is apparent that whatever direction the show ends up going in, that relationship is going to be fundamental to it, and many lesser storytellers would sit on it for that very reason. Bryan has always known better than to overplay a secret (remember how Will figured out Hannibal was a cannibal by the end of season one?) and has never just leaned into the “he’s trying to keep it from her! She doesn’t know!” aspects for creating dramatic tension.
So what is the state of our American Gods union? We are leaving the season with the onset of an unexpected winter and inevitable famine. This was not even a little bit in the book, and it opens a lot of intriguing and challenging narrative potential. It bodes extremely well that, at this juncture, I am more excited to see the canon divergence than the areas where the narrative adheres to the book.
That said, if there was one challenge to the cohesive wholeness of the season, it was in the pure scope of the characters. In introducing so many different personalities from so many pantheons, the show occasionally took on the quality of an anthology. This was not to its detriment, necessarily, it just slowed the forward propulsion. This too could be a result of an abbreviated first season. But now that we have established a reliable bench of characters, I would love to see more given the Laura Moon treatment and fleshed out more fully. An entire episode of the domestic squabblings of Ibis and Jacquel, mortician husbands, LLC? I’ll sign up and bring a covered dish. The story of the time that Bilquis beats the shit out of Technical Boy? A two-parter, please. But having too many narrative options is a gift; I am so excited to see where Bryan takes this story.
Join me next season as we continue to worry about Shadow, ship Laura and Sweeney, and Tucker watch continues.