Follow the white rabbit…

American Gods Episode 8 – Come to Jesus – Review

The season 1 finale has come and gone, and I’m afraid my feelings are mixed.  There were so many things to love in this episode, and overall a brilliant piece of television.  Yet, I found myself somehow unsatisfied.  The reveal at the end of the episode was not a shocker for book readers and all of the off-book threads were left dangling.  I needed more closure.

This episode follows on the themes introduced last week about how the church proliferated its message.  Pagans were converted by allowing them to keep their beliefs and rituals but twisting the meaning to re-route the devotion.  It was a pragmatic method of conversion.  “Mother Church”, or organized religion was an early form of media, spreading her message through missionaries; re-branding.  Katy Perry’s got nothing on this level of cultural appropriation.

Mad Sweeney and Easter are prime examples.  First the church demoted them, then commercialism took over and made their images what they are today.  All Media’s doing.

Mr. Nancy

This scene borrows loosely from a scene in the book.  The spiders crawling across the loom at the beginning went on way too long, and talking straight into the camera was so corny.  I get that they were going for a TV evangelist vibe, but I did not care for it.

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I liked the narration throughout Bilquis’ story.  The live telling of this particular story has to be significant.  It kicks off the girl-power theme that runs throughout the episode.

The story tells of a queen, a goddess who people worshiped freely.  How over time, Kings (men) came to steal her power and she resisted for as long as she could.  In the end she bows to Tech Boy.  Defeated by “The Man”.

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Mr. Nancy ends with Bilquis selling out and saying anyone would have done that in her shoes.  However, the moral of Mr. Nancy’s story is to “get yourself a f*cking queen”.

This confused me.  I didn’t take it well initially.  I hope he isn’t saying that queens need to be saved by kings.  I’m also hoping he isn’t saying that behind every great king is a queen as his number 2.  I’m sure the intention was to say that the goddess represents creation and fertility, powers that should not be underestimated and now that the new gods have Bilquis, Wednesday needs his own.

Nancy seems to be clearly referring to Easter as the queen that Wednesday ought to get himself.  At least on one level.  Nancy could also be referring to Bilquis.  There are parallels in her Coming to America story and what we know of Shadow’s mom.  The implication could be that Shadow has some divinity in him and dangling him in front of Bilquis will get her back on their side.  Or it could just be a coincidence.

 

Bilquis

This went way beyond Bilquis’ story in the book.  I think it was added in to further illustrate how religions can be re-packaged to create new gods and muscle out the old ones.  It was another very long vignette.  From crowd surfing to King Groot to the black human sludge, it was beautiful, but could really have been condensed.

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Her story tells of decline through imposition of moral codes that contradicted those of her people.  Over time, particular actions were condemned.  People were labeled as sinners and when they still did not convert, a plague was sent down.  Fear.

We did get lots of insight into Bilquis that will hopefully tie together some of the other plot deviations.  It also had some cool ways of displaying the year of each piece of the story.

Here is the timeline:

864 BCE – Temple of Bar’an

  • Temple of the moon in Persia, current day Yemen
  • Bilquis married King Solomon and bore a son, Menelek, who is credited with bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia and spreading the laws of Moses. His dynasty ruled in Ethiopia until 1974 (225 generations)
  • The red moon represents the lunar eclipse, when the moon is in the shadow of the sun; a shadow moon.

1979 – Tehran

  • The setting shows the club being raided by religious extremists. In 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini established the Islamic Republic of Iran, overthrowing the last Persian Shah, in a revolt against what they called “Westernized” values.  In fact, they were squeezing out the old gods and replacing them with conservative Islamic doctrines.  The clerics equated liberation of women to promiscuity and imposed a moral code to oppress and create a patriarchal society and remove women’s rights swiftly over the next decade.

1979 also happens to be the date on Shadow’s lucky coin. (thank you to @leticiadelp on twitter for highlighting this)

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  • The opening shot of Bilquis at the disco gave me an instant flashback to Wednesday talking to Shadow in Episode 1 about his mother

     

1988 – Aids Epidemic

  • Yet another way that promiscuity and sexual freedom were labelled as dangerous, life threatening. Aids was packaged with all manner of stigma.  The label on the hospital bracelet basically says “BE WEARY.  This patient is HIV+”
  • I thought of Shadow’s mama having 86 sexual partners in her life, but his mom died of cancer (as we know from the Zorya’s coffee grinds). We also know from the book that Shadow and his mother lived in California when they first came to America.

2013 – Destruction of the temple

  • The temple of Bar’an in Yemen was indeed attacked by Islamic extremists. However, this actually happened in 2016.  However, many temples have been damaged over the course of the years due to religious disputes and civil unrest.  So, 2 ways to look at this.  One is just that they changed the dates for the show.  Otherwise, it could be seen as Tech Boy and Media conspiring against Bilquis to make her feel the desperation needed to join them.
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    Altar Stone, Temple of Bar’an, Yemen

     

  • But, we do get confirmation of the fact that using the “Sheba” app to find conquests was her selling out to Tech Boy.

2017 – Tech Boy

  • Bilquis owes Tech Boy and he has come to collect. I guess he is suggesting that Shadow is deserving of Bilquis’ unique form of love.
  • The bus scene at the end shows her going back to the old-fashioned ways of finding her conquests… not quite Temple of Bar’an old, but 1979 Coming to America old. Just a subtle clue that she is rejecting Tech Boy’s request. She has gotten what she needed out of the relationship and is now ready to take control again.

 

Wednesday and Shadow

Wednesday mows down a cute little pack of bunnies on his way to ask Ostara (Easter) for a favour at her home in Kentucky.  Not really the way to get on her good side.  It did show how duplicitous he is, a point that is made again when he blames the new gods for Vulcan’s death.

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RIP bunnies

I just have to say, Shadow had the goofiest look on this face from the moment he stepped out of the car in Kentucky.  It was very hard to take it seriously, especially if it was meant to convey divine bliss.

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These scenes offered a nice bit of exposition to make it clear that Easter was a pagan festival that had been taken over by Mother Church.  In this story, we see Media herself taking all the credit for this.  There were some great lines that showed what Easter and spring in general have come to symbolize, but how there is still a tiny kernel of the original meaning in the new rituals.

“…when you see the nation’s youth fleeing south for copulation or when they spread their seed all over that sinking mass that is the great state of Florida”.

Wednesday’s subtle manipulation of Ostara is impressive.  He plays on her insecurities and most importantly, shows that he is on her side.  He frames the new gods for Vulcan’s death, just to stir the pot a bit more.  He succeeds.  The devastation that is caused by “taking back the spring” will cause mass chaos, but Wednesday doesn’t care about the people.  He cares that the people need him and fear him, make sacrifices in his name to gain his favour.  In fact, he gets everything he wants for the time being.  Easter on his side and Shadow’s belief.  Then Laura has to show up.  A fly in the ointment?

Oh, and in case you were sleeping through the first seven episodes, Wednesday is Odin.  No shit.

Ostara (Easter)

I really loved all of Easter’s scenes, but those with Wednesday and Laura were standouts.  She came across as a woman making the best of her situation.  The desperate housewife.  She is not treated as the goddess of creation and fertility that she once was, but she is praised for her lovely soirées.

I don’t really have much to say about the Jesus parade with their Sims-style plumbob halos.  It was a bit of fun.  There seemed to be a challenge to fit in as many jokes about taking Christ’s name in vain as possible.  The first one was funny.vlcsnap-2017-06-20-00h48m49s60

Wednesday reminds Ostara that no one prays to her anymore.  They say her name, but the devotion is to Jesus.  She adapted to survive and is happy that some of her symbols have endured, but ultimately she is enslaved to Media.

Ostara and Sweeney have an interesting relationship.  He says that she owes him a favour.  I’m not sure exactly why or how, but they do come from the same original belief system and have suffered the same fate at the hands of church and media.

“Some believe you can develop a last image off their retinas.  Like a photograph.”

When she sees the moment of Laura’s death, you can see a cave painting of a raven and then you see Mad Sweeney’s reflection in the broken glass.

 

So the promise of resurrection goes to hell when Ostara realizes that Odin and Sweeney were responsible for Laura’s death.

Easter’s interaction with Media is interesting, ultimately leading to her “taking back the spring”, and subjecting the audience to 2 full minutes of the destructive power of nature, complete with PBS-style time-lapse germination footage played in reverse.

Did you happen to notice the fly buzzing around Easter as she gets more and more aggravated with Media?vlcsnap-2017-06-19-10h00m19s203

Laura and Sweeney

The big reveal here is that it has been Wednesday messing with Laura and Shadow from the start.

  • She gets the idea to kill herself the night before she meets Shadow, but has second thoughts. Or just got lucky.
  • She gets another crazy idea to rob the casino and that’s what puts Shadow in lockdown with Low-Key for 3 years. To be clear, Sweeney doesn’t specifically say this was Wednesday.  He simply says it was divine intervention.
  • She gets sacrificed to sever all of Shadow’s ties, but through some other divine intervention, she manages to keep going
  • Sacrifice number 2 also fails thanks to Sweeney, who clearly fancies Laura and is starting to get a little jealous of Shadow

Again, this was confirmation, not some big reveal.

Mad Sweeney definitely feels something for Laura.  Too bad about the resurrection, cause Laura isn’t looking that good.  If we lose Laura and/or Sweeney in season 2, I may not make it to the third.

Media and the new gods

Judy Garland and Fred Astaire make an appearance in the form of the new gods.

 

Media is self-congratulatory with Easter, making sure that she knows who to thank for her day.  Well, that backfired.

Wednesday smites the children as an offering to Ostara.  He treats her as the goddess she is and she gets a turbo boost from the sacrifice.  Convenient that the children multiplied a bit earlier, or it might not have provided Easter enough battery power to take back the spring.  The pink bunny in the garden was a nice touch.

 

I love the idea of causing a famine.  It reinforces the power of creation and fertility.  The strength of the goddess.

I was not a fan of Media as Judy Garland.  It just didn’t feel natural.  I also do not understand Tech Boy’s style choices.  Kids.

Now, if Tech Boy was able to manifest himself completely, why was Mr. World just sort of half there?  It was like he couldn’t get a proper signal or something.vlcsnap-2017-06-20-00h35m03s187

A decent episode overall, but not something I felt was really finale quality.  The inconsistencies in style and pacing continued.  With only eight episodes in the first season, I found myself annoyed with long stylistic scenes with no added value to the plot, character development, or even socio-political statement.

The “big” reveal about Odin would not have come as a surprise to any book readers.  With the ravens, the Viking story, and the Odin missile, I doubt it was a surprise to many.  We were treated to a significant deviation from the book and the show introduced a number of connections that were not present in the book.

There seem to have been breadcrumbs scattered along the way for a number of plot points, but not much was given to move these points towards a resolution:

  • What will come of Wednesday peeing in the bullet soup?
  • What about Laura’s father and brother with whom she was dipping Easter eggs?
  • Why does Easter owe Sweeney a favour?
  • Why did Wednesday clearly put cell phones on Shadow’s shopping list but act surprised when he bought some?
  • What is with the Jinn’s driver’s license and taxi registration dates?
  • What is the deal with the fly?

Find out more about the points in this list in my post about Easter eggs.

I am left with a long list of cliffhangers and very little in terms of closure, except for the one thing I already knew for sure: Wednesday=Odin.

I don’t want to leave you thinking I hated this episode, because it had its moments.  I had very high expectations to begin with.  Hopefully there will be some lessons learned for the showrunners and the quality will steadily improve.

I’m excited to hear what you all have to say.  Please leave me a comment here or come find me on twitter @jezzie_bell

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