‘American Gods’ sticks to its guns and promises more.
The first season of American Gods has come to a fitting end. “Come to Jesus” has a few revelations, and it finally acknowledges its ever-building sense of war. But it doesn’t give up on its tradition of disorienting its audience and taking its time.
The episode opens on Mr. Nancy, who we’ve seen before. But then it expands to include Shadow and Wednesday, who have apparently been talking to him for a while. Nancy’s making them suits, which is perfectly sensible—the man’s a spider, after all. What’s not quite sensible is the explanation of how these three came together or why.
There have been hints, of course—two episodes ago Wednesday mentioned Nancy by name and was helped out his handcuffs by a spider. But Nancy’s sudden appearance reinforces the already-established fact that the show is giving preference to audience members who’ve read the book. We knew Nancy was showing up, but within the context of the show, it’s something of a jolt to see him already on very close terms with our protagonists.
We can’t help but wonder if at least one intervening cut scene might have helped out.
Or maybe we should stop focusing on legibility and just go with it.
That’s clearly what the show wants us to do. Although it’s drifting further from the book, it’s still remaining remarkably true to the source material, even if it’s at the cost of alienating a few uninitiated viewers. And whether it’s the “right” choice or not, it’s very clearly a deliberate one. American Gods isn’t confusing due to ineptitude or laziness—it’s taken a bold stance and stuck by it, and it should be commended for that.
That being said, the path the episode takes, in the beginning, is a strange one. A character we barely know has met up with our protagonists while we weren’t looking. He tells them a story about another character who we haven’t seen interact with any of them. But then it turns out that the story isn’t actually about her, but about a different character who we’ve never seen.
It’s an unusual amount of layering, and it’s hard to come up with a real reason behind it. It demonstrates that Bilquis and Easter are following the same route, accepting the New Gods’ rebranding help, but we already know they’re not the only ones to do so. It’s a parallel that doesn’t particularly need to be drawn and drawing it only serves to muddy the waters.
It feels as though the time constraints of an 8 episode season are beginning to take their toll. The final Coming to America sequence has to serve triple-duty as backstory for one character, introduction for another, and story for a third.
To top it all off, we now have two characters who omnisciently narrate the lives of other characters within their universe. This makes for tricky levels of understanding.
But at the same time, the show seems to know exactly what it’s doing. After all the very first line, delivered by Nancy as he looks straight into the camera, is “This is all too big. Too much goin’ on at once.”
And of course, his remedy is a story, the very thing that adds to the “too much.” But then he’s countered by Wednesday, who insists that they “haven’t got time for a story.” To its infinite credit, American Gods seems very aware that its pacing is strange and some people might not like it.
It just doesn’t care.
And while there are some issues, there are innumerable things the episode does right.
One of those things is Kristin Chenoweth’s casting as Easter. In the books, she’s a big, shapely goddess of fertility who I’ve seen fan-cast more than once as Christina Hendricks. While Chenoweth is anything but big (she’s 4’ 11”), she fits the climate of the show so much better. She’s beautiful, but not quite as young as she used to be. She’s gracious and brimming with southern hospitality, but she’s foul-mouthed and one slip-up away from biting your head off.
And while she is doing well for herself, she knows deep down that it’s based on a lie, and it shows in her demeanor. She may not be quite what Easter is in the book, but she’s exactly what she should be in the show.
There are also hints to a depth of character that demonstrates a real attention to detail and promises big developments in the seasons to come. An obvious one is the implication that it was her rabbit that ran Laura and Mad Sweeney off the road, despite her claim not to know Laura or her story. Easter has been playing at least two sides, but it looks like it may be more.
Another thing that’s much less obvious is the state of Easter’s grounds. As Shadow and Wednesday drive up to her house, we get a good look at the estate. It is, as Wednesday tells us, the sixteenth of April, and everything is in the lush purples and greens of spring.
Except for one orange tree.
Could it be a coincidence? Possibly. But in a show as exuberantly edited and color-corrected as this one, I doubt it.
So is it a clue to a deep secret? It’s probably not that, either. What it almost certainly is is the physical manifestation of Easter’s barely intact facade. As much as she embraces the vibrancy of worship, she’s aging and being forgotten just like rest of the Old Gods. This early slip into autumn is a crack beginning to show. It pairs nicely with her joining Wednesday in the end by accelerating the death of the landscape. She accepts that she’s an Old God and gives up the forced illusion of youth and, in the process, actually appears younger.
It’s a lovely touch.
Another fantastic element is the gathering of the Jesuses. Easter’s party has a vibe that’s not completely unlike one of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Bunny get-togethers. But instead of splashing in the pool, the Jesuses mill around smiling meekly and chatting quietly. As it’s Easter Sunday, the implication seems to be that they’d rather be here, having a nice quiet celebration of someone else, than reveling at their own church services.
They would, wouldn’t they?
Of course, there’s one Jesus who does draw attention, played fantastically by Jeremy Davies. Is this the infamous White Jesus, or is this the particular Jesus Shadow sees when he closes his eyes? It’s not clear, but his resigned, slightly drunk “God dammit” as his glass sinks to the bottom of the pool he’s floating on is perfect. As is his very genuine “I feel terrible about this” when Wednesday accuses him of co-opting Easter’s holiday.
He would feel terrible, wouldn’t he?
“Come to Jesus” is a very solid end to American Gods‘ first season. It brings the major players together and it forces, if not conflict, at least promise of conflict to come.
It also marks the end of a season that has been, if not perfect, at least consistent in its inconsistency. Skipping through time and around the world, it’s maintained a steady air of disorientation while remaining true to the book and its own logic. It’s shown an astonishing attention to detail and a literary fluency that runs deep. And it’s already been renewed for a second season, so there’s so much more to look forward to.
Let the war begin.