Shelf to Screen

American Gods Episode Eight: “Come to Jesus”

Welcome to our recap of the STARZ television series American Gods, starring Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle.  I’m going to try to do this every week, so we’ll see how that goes.  I plan on doing a general recap first, and then commentary and whatever I happen to notice in the episode that piques my interest.  Needless to say, there will be spoilers for both the novel and the TV show.  So, without further ado, let’s dive in!

The episode opens with Mr. Nancy sewing new suits for Shadow and Wednesday and insisting on telling them a story while he does so.  In his tale, we learn the backstory of Bilquis, the love goddess from the first episode of the season.  We see her as a powerful priestess in 864 BCE before jumping forward to Tehran in 1979.  Bilquis spends time at a disco, but soldiers of the Ayatollah crash in and disrupt the gathering.  Fleeing to America, Bilquis finds herself coming face to face with the AIDS epidemic before we see her in 2013, homeless.  She’s found by Technical Boy, who does her a favor by showing her a dating app called Sheba, which allows her to find victims.

Wednesday and Shadow go to Kentucky to visit Ostara, also known as Easter.  They arrive in the middle of her Easter Sunday party, complete with multiple versions of Jesus.  Wednesday makes a pitch to her to join them, and she initially refuses, but Wednesday’s lie about the New Gods killing Vulcan gets her to listening more closely.

Laura and Mad Sweeney show up next, and although Sweeney asks Easter to resurrect Laura, Easter can’t.  She tells Laura that a god killed her, and that’s not something that can be interfered with.  Enraged, Laura forces Sweeney to admit that Wednesday is the one who had her sacrificed so that Shadow would have nothing left when Wednesday made his offer.

The New Gods finally arrive, led by Media dressed as Judy Garland in Easter Parade.  She also offers Easter a partnership, which Easter declines, but Media reminds her that it was she who kept Easter alive in people’s minds as a commercial holiday.  Wednesday steps in to question why the New Gods are there if he, Wednesday, no longer matters.  Both Technical Boy and Mr. World arrive to assert that Wednesday is old news, and that the New Gods only need to wait until the Old Gods fade away.  Don’t start a war, Mr. World advises.  But Wednesday strikes at them with a lightning bolt that kills all of Mr. World’s minions.

Turning to Shadow, Wednesday asks if he has faith.  When Shadow asks who he really is, Wednesday finally reveals his true identity: Odin, the Allfather of Norse mythology.  Then he demands that Easter–Ostara–show her true powers.  Ostara responds by taking back Spring, and Wednesday says that humans can have it back when they pray for it.  Mr. World reluctantly acknowledges that they are at war.  And Laura and Shadow are finally reunited.

Meanwhile, Bilquis is heading to Wisconsin, to the House on the Rock, at the behest of the New Gods, who want to use her as a weapon against Wednesday and Shadow.

Commentary:

Although ostensibly the main thrust of this episode is the start of the war and Odin’s revealing his real nature, this hour was mostly about the power of the women.  Not only that, but it’s about the way men take power away from women when they feel threatened by it.  Mr. Nancy sums it up when he says “And there’s no end to the cruelty of men threatened by a powerful woman”.  Bilquis is forced to flee a regime that relegates women to second-class citizens, and she ends up in one that is fearful of all sexuality because of AIDS.  Easter has had to cede her day to Jesus, and she has to pretend that the skewed versions of her old rituals are enough to sustain her.  Even Laura is merely a pawn that Wednesday removes from the board to get what he wants.

The chess analogy is actually a good one.  In chess, the queen is the most powerful piece in the game, moving the most freely and potentially doing the most damage.  For all three women, their power to move freely and control the game being played around them has been hampered, but we’ve seen them coming back into their own, to the point that Mr. Nancy and Wednesday both acknowledge that both sides will need a queen.

Let’s turn now to the Jesuses, or Jesi, as the showrunners call them.  According to them, there are fourteen different versions of Jesus wandering around Easter’s party.  The characters have mentioned a time or two that there can be multiple versions of a god in existence at the same time, but this is the first time that we’ve really seen it.  Of course, this makes me wonder about the other gods we’ve seen so far.  Is there a different version of Media wandering around, or Vulcan (which would mean he’s not dead after all)?  This opens up quite the can of worms.  But back to Jesus.  It’s the one called (in the credits) Jesus Prime who talks to Shadow about faith, and maybe it’s his words that get Shadow to the place where he can finally believe.  I wonder if this is because, of all the gods we’ve seen, Jesus is the most compassionate and provides a stark contrast to the violent tactics he’s seen from Wednesday and Sweeney and their ilk.

But also, it’s hard not to see Odin’s big reveal and not believe.  That was a heck of a sequence, and it also underscores the “multiple versions of gods” idea–Odin says that he has “as many titles as there are ways to die”.  That makes me wonder if you can create a “new version” of a god by naming it something else.  The fact that Odin kept his name so close to his chest for so long, and the fact that he called Easter “Ostara” when she unleashed her power, suggests that names are extremely powerful.  And that has some interesting implications for our man Shadow, doesn’t it?  He’s still dreaming of the bone orchard and the buffalo, and we have no clue what that means yet.

And speaking of Shadow, the showrunners really need to give him more occasions to smile.  Thinking back, we’ve only seen him smile in early flashbacks of him and Laura in “Git Gone”.  That smile is too adorable to hide!  And how cute is it that Shadow loves Easter (the holiday), and turns into a blushing boy when Easter the goddess pays attention to him?

So now we’re left with questions about next season.  What is Bilquis’s goal at the House on the Rock?  What other gods will be drawn into this conflict?  Will we continue to see more backstory for characters such as Laura and Sweeney?  What portions of the book will be included?  The showrunners found a good stopping point here, but we all know there’s more to explore.

And that’s it for season one!  Thanks for reading, and I’ll see about doing this again for season two.  All pics, as usual, screencapped by me.

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