The first season of American Gods has been both fascinating and frustrating, a show filled with gorgeous imagery and enigmatic characters, juxtaposed by its poor pacing and habits of over indulgence. It’s been one of the more engaging watches in an overstuffed crowd of Important and Prestige shows in 2017 (holy shit, it’s only the middle of June?!!), the rare drama with a complete grasp of what it wants to be, and how it wants to present its identity from episode one, but one that suffers from translating that passion into something cohesive and truly meaningful, rather than just being a series of amazing performances and images garbled into some meandering hour-long exercises in cinematic masturbation. With “Come to Jesus”, however, American Gods finally stopped holding back, and unleashed a dynamic Kristin Chenoweth performance that not only gives purpose and depth to the entire season preceding it, but elevates the philosophic foundations of the show into thematic pillars from which to build on. FINALLY.
After last week’s emotional, yet slightly misguided Sweeney back story (I’m sure it saved money to use Browning again, but the overt nature of her casting kind of made the whole hour inert until the final two minutes), “Come to Jesus” majestically weaves three character histories into a single hour: Ostera, the god of Easter and rebirth, good old Jesus Christ, and Bilquis, who finally gets her back story as the forgotten god of free love and ecstasy, exiled from the holy lands and forgotten by the world as the evils of men take over the world. To a degree, having so many back stories to shove into a single hour works to American Gods‘ benefit; there’s no opportunity to drag feet, to spend too much time on slow motion shots of allusive imagery before inching the plot along. The speed at which this episode moves from story to story without stumbling is impressive; even more impressive is how it begins to really differentiate itself from the material of the books, shifting its focus from the Gods of Old and New, and rather the Goddesses of the world, and how the games and wars of male deities have stained the poetic, beautiful and essential pursuits of life.
Even Laura Moon, a non-God-undead, finds herself at the mercy of men’s games of power; her death was orchestrated by none other than Odin himself, as part of Wednesday’s quest to make Shadow Moon his confidant and assistant (*side note: if there’s one massive hanging thread this season, it’s that – why the fuck would fucking Odin waste so much time on a wet blanket in a nice suit like Shadow?). Her death was all part of his plan to get the world to worship him and the old gods once again, the everlasting gods of war, nature, and resurrection; but, seeing as how the last one was accidentally corrupted by Jesus, the poor series of carpenters forever trapped in the middle between man and god, it’s obvious Wednesday’s mission isn’t simple. And it’s in the developing war between Odin and Mr. World that American Gods shows its hand, and its true allegiance the feminine gods of the world.
Ostera, Bilquis, Laura Moon… even Media, Ostera’s friend who brought Ostera’s waning relevance into the new world on a wave of Christianity and sugar (*cough cough*), are women whose worlds and ideals have been corrupted by the men around them, and the wars they play in. Ostera’s one fucking day of the year was co-opted by a man (arguably the most #woke man in history, in the world’s ultimate misogynistic irony), Laura’s life was the plaything of a male god, Bilquis spent centuries fighting kings to stay relevant… all of these women are stuck fighting against the will of men, their abilities to adapt and maintain their timeless importance the real reason the world still has a fighting chance for hope. If we’re being honest, without agriculture and sexual expression, what is there to be had in life? War? Vaping with a multi-colored grill (ugh, fuck Technical Boy’s costuming a thousand times over)? Watching as the pure visual, creative expression of cinematic art gets used as a manipulative device to provide reason and purpose? Men may be explaining a lot of “Come to Jesus”, but it’s the strong, everlasting power of women forced to bargain, bend and compromise their values that provides the real moving, dramatic foundation of the finale.
There are plenty of revelations thrown into the 59 minute finale: Odin as a super snaky mother fucker (which is kind of a duh), Ostera’s power play to create fear in order to inspire worship, the interesting conversation that Laura and Shadow definitely aren’t going to have until halfway through episode two of next season… but for an episode packed to the brim with characters, locations, and time periods, “Come to Jesus” does a remarkable job of focusing those elements down to a single location (for the most part… Bilquis’s role in all this isn’t really revealed by the end of the hour, though I’m willing to bet Technical Boy wants her to turn someone into vagina Goop). However, strip away all the CGI and wonderfully bombastic performances, and the subtler, gendered war of birth and creation vs. death and destruction, and the toll both sides take on humanity as objects of their pleasure, anger, freedom, and ever-tenuous existence.
This isn’t to say “Come to Jesus” is a forgive-all for the shortcomings of early episodes; but goddamn if “Come to Jesus” isn’t a finely-delivered episode of television, forgoing the typical deaths and resolutions most season finales offer, rather digging in even further to its thematic roots, and finally revealing some of the depth and perspective lying dormant under the surface. For once, it felt like American Gods embraced the vigor of Mr. Nancy and the attention to detail of Mr. Ibis, and delivered something wholly unique and awesome. After stumbling to grasp and hold onto its potential through most of its first season, “Come to Jesus” is a an absolute delight, never bogged down by an impressively, hefty story, daft and fun and dramatic, with plenty of room left to spare for huge emotional arcs, undeniably satisfying moments (“ODIN!!”/Laura lifting Sweeney by his balls)… and, like any good show in Peak TV, a few cliffhangers to chew on in the months between seasons. As this episode so painstakingly observes, faith is often rewarded, even for those whose dedication may waiver; give yourself up to the gods, and your pain and pleasure will be your welcome rewards – I can’t think of a better metaphor for this enthralling, utterly maddening and enjoyable eight episodes of television.