Saturday, September 2, 2017

The First Season Of American Gods Peaks At "Come To Jesus"

The Good: Well-paced, Plot ties the season together, Good performances, Decent character moments
The Bad: Could use more Shadow Moon
The Basics: "Come To Jesus" finishes the first season of American Gods well, though it is very much the culmination of the prior episodes, as opposed to being a story driven by the show's protagonist.

As the first season of American Gods ratcheted up toward its end, the basic purpose of the entire series became clear: Wednesday is an Old God, who is nearing the end of his relevance and power in the face of New Gods, some of whom want to extinguish the ancient divinities (and reinvent others). Given the apparent invincibility of the New God Mr. World, the stakes are both high for the series and for a compelling season finale. "Come To Jesus" is the first season finale of American Gods and it bears the burden of ending in a place that makes viewers want to tune back in for the second season and put the characters in a predicament that justifies the faith viewers have put in the first half of the oft-surreal, oft-obscure show.

"Come To Jesus" (largely) succeeds with both goals.

Picking up after the events of "A Prayer For Mad Sweeney" (reviewed here!) which found Mad Sweeney (in the main narrative) overcome with a sense of guilt strong enough to make him change his mind about killing Laura Moon a second time, "Come To Jesus" is the culmination of the journey Wednesday and Shadow Moon began back in the pilot. Now, with a clear purpose, Wednesday is attempting to recruit Old Gods and "Come To Jesus" has him attempting to bring the Old Goddess Ostara, Easter, into the fray on his side. "Come To Jesus" is the ultimate episode for the atheists and agnostics who have invested in American Gods as it explicitly argues that modern religions have co-opted old religious figures, symbols, and holidays and that a god is anyone (or thing) that is worshiped (hence the multiple Jesuses in the episode).

Opening with Wednesday and Shadow Moon at Mr. Nancy's shop where he works his loom to create oufits for the pair. Mr. Nancy (Anansi) tells the pair the story of Bilquis and how she would be worshiped at orgies and bring down rulers in ancient Egypt. Bilquis evolves through the ages, until 1979, Tehran, where she is forced out of the Middle East. She retreats to America, where she is soon forgotten and homeless. On the streets, she is approached by Techno Boy, who offers her worship in the form of followers on a dating site in her name (Sheba). Nancy concludes the story by making his point explicit; gods need queens to truly rule and remain relevant.

Wednesday and Shadow Moon arrive in Kentucky, en route to their meeting in Wisconsin. The goddess Ostara is holding court on her day, which has been co-opted by the Christians as Easter. Shadow Moon quickly recognizes that he is in the presence of many gods, including several Jesuses. Wednesday tries to make Ostara angry over the fact that no one prays in her name and that antagonism affords them the chance to meet privately. Techno Boy hunts down Bilquis and calls in her debt to him, charging her with using her seductive powers to bring down one of his enemies. Laura Moon and Mad Sweeney arrive at Ostara's home, with Laura suffering further decomposition, while Wednesday pitches to Ostara that they starve the Americans so they start to worship Ostara again. Ostara meets with Laura Moon and reveals that she was killed by a god and cannot be resurrected using her powers. Ostara is alarmed when Media and Mr. World arrived and that leads to an escalation in Wednesday's plan.

"Come To Jesus" reveals what has been alluded to throughout the first season of American Gods, that Wednesday is the god most commonly known as Odin, the Norse god. Odin is in a war for his survival and "Come To Jesus" continues to defer the war; Wednesday is looking for a powerful ally so he might survive the impending conflict.

The brilliance in "Come To Jesus" comes from the casting. Kristin Chenoweth is perfectly cast as Ostara. Ostara is a long-forgotten goddess, whom Wednesday riles up. Ostara has been co-opted as Easter and she has compromised. But Ostara is tremendously powerful (she has the ability to bring spring) and Chenoweth is perfectly cast to play a character who is hiding her power and the full range of her majesty. Her perky deliveries are contrasted with frustrated lines and Chenoweth plays the transitions perfectly. In a similar fashion, Jeremy Davies plays Jesus Christ in a delightfully serene manner and his sadness over realizing Christians have co-opted Ostara's day for him is well-executed.

The imagery from the early episodes - Shadow Moon's bone orchard vision and the white buffalo with the flaming eyes - returns, which continues to insinuate throughout the episode that Shadow Moon is someone other than the simple man he appears to be.

"Come To Jesus" gives Emily Browning something very real and different to perform. Browning plays Laura Moon as dead, but wanting to be alive. Browning's subtle and dark performance contrasts incredibly well with Chenoweth's more perky and expressive acting. Browning expresses longing exceptionally well in "Come To Jesus" and it allows her to show off more emotional range in the part of Laura Moon than she was able to present in her character in prior episodes.

It is hard not to watch "Come To Jesus" and be completely captivated by the final act. When Gillian Anderson's Media steps into the episode, the pace accelerates in exactly the way a writer, director, and executive producer hopes to make a story that is relenting to its climax. "Come To Jesus" does what a season finale needs to . . . but it is the culmination, largely, of the season's plot elements with a somewhat unsatisfying arc for the primary protagonist. For sure, Shadow Moon has a part in "Come To Jesus," but he is still a bystander and enabler in what started out as his story. American Gods is not moved to its logical powerful, logical, conclusion by Shadow Moon, which is a little disappointing.

The special effects - CG and make-up - in "Come To Jesus" are wonderful and enhance the story in the best possible way, like good special effects ought to.

Ultimately, "Come To Jesus" is an excellent pay-off to a season that has been occasionally erratic, sometimes entirely surreal and it does everything a good season finale ought to, setting up a very different and potent second season of American Gods.

For other season finale episodes, please check out my reviews of:
"The Defenders" - The Defenders
"Call To Arms"- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"The Parting Of The Ways" - Doctor Who
"Episode 7"- Twin Peaks

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into American Gods - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of the surreal series here!


For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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