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For the whole of this first season of American Gods we’ve been waiting for a few things from the main characters.
We’ve been waiting for Mr. Wednesday to make clear just exactly who he is. Oh, not to us, the viewers, as anyone with a rudimentary knowledge on mythology knows the origins of the word Wednesday, and sees the one eyed god in the first scene of the series as the conman in the Cadillac, but for Shadow and for the story.
We’ve been waiting for Laura to catch up to Shadow and make her purpose plain to him, to have a visible hand in the chess game that he’s caught up in.
We’ve been waiting for a confrontation of the gods. And we’ve been waiting for Shadow to believe.
This week, we don’t have to wait anymore.
Come to Jesus (not the Chris Rice song) starts out with an almighty fist bump from American Gods fans. A spider crawls along a stylishly wallpapered room, some fine bespoke suits and a loom. HELL YES we are getting some more Mr. Nancy. To some wicked jazz riffs, we are treated to the fine detailing of Mr. Nancy’s tailoring shop. He spins the sewing wheel as Mr. Wednesday and Shadow wait be-robed in the next room. It’s time for another meeting of the gods, and they need to be in their Sunday best.
Before that, Nancy needs to do what HE does best … tell a story. It’s good one, and he lights up with a snap of his fingers to recite “Once upon a time … there was a fucking queen.” Shadow, who up to this point had been looking annoyed, reticent and even hostile, suddenly perks up at that last word. A queen’s story is a story he wants to hear.
We’re transported to the Temple of Bar’an 864 BCE, where Bilquis, the Queen of Sheba, is living her best life. Naked worshippers of every ilk writhe against her and each other. A king, jealous of her worship, comes to dethrone her, but as the drumbeats and the orgy go on … well “when the queen was done with you, you were gone.” As her little death becomes their literal one, every acolyte disappears into a black liquid that flows into Bilquis like the train of a wedding gown.
“This queen kept the party going” on into 1979’s Tehran, where we see an afro-bedecked Bilquis enjoying the freedom of disco and dancing. Nancy tells us the kings couldn’t handle the power of all women, the power of rebirth and creation. So they took it – as the disco ball shatters – by force. The queen relegated to the back seat.
She told herself the back seat’s got cushions to. She told herself she was still playing the game, by staying in it.
Bilquis tries to keep a hold on her power as she makes her way to America, by adapting, by consuming worship one believer at a time. But she finds America harsh, cutting her down with its even harsher realities … in 88, HIV, in 2013, poverty. She finds herself outside an Ethiopian restaurant, looking at an image of her former self on a menu as a temple to that same self is destroyed, unheeded by the patrons, on a TV in the background. No worship, no followers, no altar, no god.
… there’s no end to the cruelty of men, threatened by strong women.
In this gutter, she’s offered a bargain from the most unlikely of choices, Technical Boy. He arrives with an offering, a new altar, reminding the queen that worship is a numbers game. As she swipes her Tinder app, he opines, “whoever has the most followers, wins.” Now we’re caught up to where we were first introduced to Bilquis – devouring worship one swipe at a time.
SIDENOTE: Nancy’s dialogue, in a show of great dialogue adapted from a novel of great prose, is pure poetry.
Nancy wants to know if Shadow gets it. He doesn’t. Still upset at Wednesday’s decapitation of Vulcan, Shadow throws a bit of hissy fit. “Don’t make deals with treacherous mother-fuckers,” is NOT the moral of the queen’s story. It’s very simply: “Get yourself a queen.” Wednesday intends to.
But Shadow’s hissy fit isn’t over. He thinks his compact with Wednesday is done, because of the blood on his hands, and because of his lies. But is he really angry, or just confused? He’s not angry yet. But he needs to be. After all, “angry gets shit done. Try that one for size.” Nancy doesn’t just mean the shirt he throws Shadow’s way.
Cut to a celestial skull wall that Shadow breaks through to see his Buffalo Man with the fire eyes. They exchange no words as Shadow jump-wakes in the Cadillac as they drive into Kentucky, tailed by a whole host of bunnies.
A beautifully lush green landscape welcomes them into the presence of a queen. Easter imagery awaits, as Shadow is reminded what day it is. Wednesday corrects him that it is Sunday. And the 16th of April. And 7 days after the vernal equinox. But he seems to suggest that Easter is much more than “the rabbits or the resurrection.” Of course she is.
Enter Ostara, played by the incomparable Kristen Chenoweth. And several dozen incarnations of Christ. Shadow looks around confusedly as Wednesday explains that every nation, and denomination, sees a different face of Christ when they close their eyes to pray.
But Ostara … is the truly lush one. Festooned in floral crepe and impossibly holding up a head of heavy curls, Ostara is a vision. Shadow is charmed and entranced, and finds himself equally charming to her. Wednesday blithely tries to convert Easter to his cause, but she balks. She suddenly doesn’t sound like one of them, and tries to believe she isn’t. Wednesday reminds her that her day is not her own. The truth is, no one prays to Easter. Sure, they partake in all the spring time rituals that are thousands of years old, decorating eggs with signs of spring and paprika to exchange as gifts, hunting the hidden ones. “Same every Spring, you do all the work, he gets all the prayers.” Wednesday works to crush the alliance between Christ and Easter, letting them all know that he ruined her day, in the most shocking of terms. As a Jesus person, this scene made me uncomfortable. I’m ok with the ancient orgy but something about a pathetic Jesus being lambasted for crucifying a pagan day of worship hit me in the awkward bone. “Jesus is so sweet, why are you being mean to him?” might be a thing I thought.
Easter is livid. She is affronted that Wednesday would come to her home and “uncork” all over the Jesuses on “his day – my day – OUR day.” She’s terrified that if the Jesuses jump ship, she will lose it all. But Wednesday wants it to be her day. Knows it should be, and appeals to Ostara’s vanity, to get that queen on his side. Wednesday has a new plan for Ostara’s personal worship – if she makes the world hungry, takes away the harvest, they will have to return to her, pray for her to rescue them.
Our Queen of Sheba, meanwhile, is museum reminiscing again, ignoring calls from Tech Boy. But he arrives to promise to do well by her since she’s made a such a good impression. And although he has no plans to spend the rest of eternity in her vagina nebula, he has no problem with her offering that particular end to someone else. In fact, he insists on it. It’s time for her to make good on her bargain.
The Sweet Serve pulls up to Easter’s cottage with a frozen leprechaun and stinking dead wife who doesn’t seem to have been helped by the fridge on wheels. Easter is none too happy that Mad Sweeney has brought a dead girl into her home on her day. But as the goddess of rebirth, the hope is that she will be able to raise Laura to new life, real life, this time.
Life has always been my gift to re-gift.
Avoiding Shadow and Wednesday is important, so Easter quickly assesses Laura’s dead self, who tells Easter that she feels her body, the absence of things, the hurt, the thirst, the cold. Laura makes a plea, and Easter looks into her eyes to see the photographic negative of her death moment. What she sees is what we already know – Mad Sweeney was the why. Without giving her the info, Easter tells Laura she was killed by a god, so she cannot regift her life.
Sweeney admits he killed her while she has him by the balls, but is forced to admit Wednesday ordered it before she shucks his testes like peas. Laura was just a human sacrifice because Shadow happens to “the guy.” The whole thing, the robbery and Shadow’s incarceration was just divine intervention. The gods interfering in the affairs of mortals because that’s what they do best. Because Wednesday needed Shadow to have nothing left to lose.
Jesus and Shadow enjoy a tete-a-tete about belief in the pool room. Shadow doesn’t know if he believes or if he can. Jesus replies that he IS belief. Although he forgot that he can’t make a glass walk on water. Jesus tells Shadow that even if he doesn’t believe, he has to walk his road to the end.
Media appears in the perfect guise as Judy Garland in Easter Parade, for her “standing appointment” with Easter to celebrate their cellophane, plastic invention that is modern Easter Sunday. Desperate to keep the new gods away from the old ones in her home, Ostara appropriately leads Media to the sheep.
But Media knows that Wednesday is there. Despite Easter’s assurances that she dismissed him because she’s doing just peachy, Media’s Fred Astaires begin to multiply and align behind her as she rallies an impressive new god speech.
You’re an old god, new again. That’s what we offer.
What comes next is one of the best dialogues in the show so far. Easter finds a backbone to tell Media that she’s being misrepresented. And Media, tells her to shove it. Take the same deal that St Nick did, and adapt instead of die. What they’ve achieved together, keeping an old god alive through modern religion, is no small feat; the world is more and more atheist. The only reason Easter is alive is because it’s a Christian holiday. After all, what happens if they all decide that God doesn’t exist?
Faceless Fred Astaires dance a drum beat around the queens as Wednesday enters the fray. What if they decide god DOES exist? Plenty of worship to go around. Tech boy blips in to remind Wednesday that he doesn’t matter, old af in a world that’s never going back to the medieval remembrances he desperately tries to embrace. But Wednesday must matter or they wouldn’t be there. Wednesday believes that if you want good things fro your god, be good to it. The divine back and forth between believers and their gods is a simple bargain that has worked since time immemorial. And it’s why the old gods will always matter. Mr World/Max Headstrom glitches a proverb:
You only matter in matters of war. And there isn’t going to be a war.
The divine posturing ensues: Mr World asserting his dominance of being the gods of firepower to their gods of stone. They can wait them out, and still win. Fight and still win. But Wednesday is cooking up a storm in the sky. “I don’t have to fight; I have faith.” His lightning kills the assembled Fred Astaires in a moment, and he finally reveals himself to Shadow with all his names and titles and familiars and a shaking of the thundering sky. He is Odin. And he beckons Ostara to show herself as well. She obliges, parting his clouds with spring wind that brings all the color in her landscape to herself, all of spring withering to nothing as she fills herself up with it.
In the wake of the desolation, Mr World promises the war. Shadow believes. And Laura, still parched, clears her dead throat.
In the final scene, Bilquis uses an old trick to power up before she shows us where the first battle of season two will be: in Wisconsin, at The House on the Rock.