Tuesday, June 20, 2017

American Gods, Season 1, Episode 8: Come to Jesus

It is time for the dramatic finale of this very very dramatic series - and this show goes all in for the closing episode - and it just leaves us hungering desperately for more.

We open with Nancy making a suit for Wednesday and Shadow and telling them a story - the story of Belquis, the Queen of Sheba, the avatar of female power, life and rebirth. A great, amazing, powerful figure

A woman who was at the height of her power having huge orgies of people nommed by her vagina. And a woman who has seen a general decline of her power and influence, age after age men have hated this powerful woman and what she represented, they have undermined what she is, what she represented. From attacking and repressing women and female sexuality, from appropriating the feminine ideal of rebirth through to non-man-made but definitely exacerbated crisises like AIDS. Belquis is reduced from the goddess, to a broken homeless woman watching her temple be destroyed through the window a restaurant.

At this lowest point, this goddess, this queen was approached by the Technical Boy with dating apps and a way out of the hole

And Anansi harshly stomps on the idea that she should be judged for that - because you can’t build a society tt does everything it can to break a woman down to utter powerlessness and then judge her for what she does to survive (and thi is clearly, in the way of this show, an equal judgement on people attacking low income women, sex workers, etc).

To add to all this he says that Wednesday needs a Queen. Which is on Wednesday’s agenda

Also Anansi totally doesn’t buy Wednesday’s claim that the New Gods killed Vulcan for pledging allegiance. Shadow doesn’t even try to maintain the fiction. He’s stunned and angry over what he’s just seen - Wednesday basically being a murderous mob boss.

But Wednesday points out he isn’t pissed off - he’s confused. Utterly confused by what he’s seen. Though Nancy is aiming for pissed off - because angry gets things done.

Which is the next stop on the road trip - Kentucky and a party for Easter, run by Ostara herself, surrounded by eggs and chocolate and lots and lots of bunnies and a large collection of Jesuses. Many many Jesues, Jesi? And I have to love the imagery of this, the Easter party with all the sugar and sweets and chocolate and bunnies with Jesus thrown in, almost jarring with their presence, one of them even bleeding sweets from their stigmata. There’s Mary on one of the sofas suckling a baby Jesus.  It shows just how hodge podge and confused this holiday actually is. Wednesday helpfully explains to Shadow exactly who Ostara is - or was - and Shadow is completely enraptured by the Goddess of Spring. He’s also beginning to see the gods around him and beginning to believe. He even asks Wednesday who he is.

Side point - Sweeney and Laura also arrive at the party (And Easter isn’t thrilled to see a dead woman at her celebrations). Ostara, goddess of spring and rebirth has the power to resurrect Laura and is willing to do so because she owes Sweeney… but she can’t, because a god killed Laura. And she can’t undo god work.

Sweeney admits that he ran Laura off the road - he caused the car accident that killed her. He even caused the casino to foil her perfect plan to rob it. He completely ruined Shadow and Laura’s life so shadow would hit rock bottom and have nothing left to fight for. Laura is not happy

And who was responsible? Yes, of course Sweeney was acting under Wednesday’s orders. Also ominous he describes the death as a “sacrifice”

Back to Wednesday and he is savagely tearing down Ostara - calling her forgotten like the rest of them. She points out all of the power she still has because her holiday is super powerful. But he says she’s still forgotten, what she means is still forgotten, they say her name but have no idea what it means and if anyone does pray, it’s to the Jesuses who flock to her party, co-opting her holiday, her worship (one of the Jesus actually feels super guilty about this - which annoys Ostara because Wednesday has totally insulted one of her guests and he’s a really nice person). Even she seems confused when she talks about their day, her day, our day - even she doesn’t know who the holiday is about any more.

Alone he not only continues his claim that Vulcan was murdered, but he puts forth his plan to her: he wants to force people to Pray. The New Gods have forgotten that gods used to give something to their worshippers, it was a contract. Now, in the land of plenty, people don’t pray for things like food because they’ll take it for granted it will be there: he wants Ostara to make them pray for it.

While he’s doing this Shadow is talking to a Jesus about Belief - he sees everything but doesn’t even know how to believe though. There’s a man sat on the pool and getting drunk on the water - I think that’s a good start

Time for the new gods to arrive - Media, an ever multiplying number of minions and the Technical Boy. Media, playing Scarlet O’Har, considers Easter a friend. She has offered Easter a franchise deal, she has made Easter the popular holiday she is today and she’s done well out of it. Easter hits back she doesn’t feel unfairly treated: but she does feel wrongly represented by the Media… oooooooooh shots fired

Media tries to belittle Easter, (oh and St Nick totally accepted the same deal) she lost to Christianity, it’s Darwinism, adapt and survive and be grateful that humanity believes anything not on a screen - yup, underscoring her own power and how essential she is.

This whole confrontation has so many amazing lines. Wednesday joins in to point out there’s more than enough belief for everyone IF it is better distributed: the New Gods are hording

Other awesome line: people create gods because they wonder why things happen. Because gods make things happen (unlike the New Gods who provide distractions), they bargain with people, give a little, get some back. Which is why Wednesday matters. Mr. World shows up to join in the dismissal of Wednesday (and wow he is creepy)  - who only matters in war - and it’s their missiles against his stone axes, They can be slaughtered in a bloodbath OR just fade into irrelevance. This whole scene is amazing and ominous with gathering storm clouds and is just perfect.

Of course, all these New Gods showing up to say how irrelevant is kind of makes Wednesday look pretty relevant as he points out. They claim they’re here for Easter Media’s “friend”.

And so is Wednesday. Who doesn’t have to fight, he has faith. And he dedicates these deaths to Ostara.

Those deaths would be the multiplying minions - faceless, perfectly synchronised minions,  all struck by lightning from a suddenly stormy sky. All now sacrificed in Ostara’s name

Shadow sees this and is stunned - pure divine power. Wednesday asks who he is and Shadow asks “what are you?”

Wednesday tells him - reciting all the names of Odin in perhaps the most perfect, glorious scenes of this entire show.

Odin turns and names Ostara of the Dawn: “Show them Who you are”

And with a glorious display of power she parts the clouds and is surrounded by flowers and petals and sunlight, Shadow is enraptured

Then all the plants die  for miles and miles around - perhaps all across North America. Grass, trees, crops. All dead.

Spring has denied her bounty. The New Gods are terrified. Mr. World declares they will have a war.

Odin: tell the believes and the non-believers they can have Spring back, when they pray for it.

He asks Shadow if he believes. He says yes. He asks what- and Shadow says “everything”

Which is when Laura Moon shows up and Shadow looks as enraptured by her as much as he was by golden Ostara.

We close with Bilquis on a bus - presumably heading somewhere on the Technical Boy’s bidding

Ye gods. Quite literally

And here is where we see the inherent flaw in Technical Boy and his toys and media and her screens. Odin, Ostara et al aren’t spears and swords to throw against their guns. They’re storms and seasons and spring and sun and things that, no matter what our technology, no matter how advanced we become, mankind has never truly conquered and can never really match.

This is the joy of this show - it invites - no, it demands - you go deeper and reader more into it, into all the glorious implications and hints and ramifications of Wednesday’s many nuanced speeches. Like Technical Boy talks about progress - well maybe one day we will reach a level of progress for that to mean something: but for now, for all our progress, mankind doesn’t walk out in the storm. For all our progress, our food need sun to shine and rain to fall. A hurricane can devastate our greatest creations, a volcano wipe any city off the map and an Earthquake bring disasters we can’t truly imagine. Technical Boy talks progress but to the primal forces  the Old Gods represent is still scary.

Like how they already touched on how the new gods don’t offer anything but distraction. While all the old gods, with their sacrifices and deals, offer something back. We saw them praying, to Odin and Anansi, to Anubis as they cross the threshold, to Jesus across the river. The gods demand a lot but offer a lot. Do people pray to the Technical boy to remember their Iphone code? Do people pray to Media for something on TV that isn’t another freaking reality tv show? The new gods have followers, control the message - but what substance do they have?

From there I have to run down what the New Gods are actually looking at the franchising we see with Vulcan and Ostara and Bilquis and the offered deal to Wednesday not to get them onside but to try to make them as hollow as they are. To turn the Goddess of spring into bunnies and chocolate eggs and prayers for an entirely different god. Franchising is defanging these gods because, no matter what the New Gods say, they are SCARY

Still running with my random extrapolation - and then we have Laura, who really represents humanity. I think especially because she’s a zombie - she is the very definition of a mortal, mortality in the rotting flesh. Even her a persona - because let’s be clear, Laura is never a good person, she’s petty, she’s pretty selfish and her goals and wishes are all kind of small next to the epic world-changing-god-world. Even her origin story - it’s of a woman whose life was so utterly banal, so completely dull, so lacking in any kind of wonder and so stuck in a rut that she flirted with suicide out of pure tedium. Her death came at a time when she was actively rejecting the right of the gods to judge her or have any say in her life. As Shadow plunges further into the world of gods and declaring he believes “in everything” Laura speaks up - humanity’s rather smelly and gross avatar of mundanity, pettiness and going for what you want in a very personal fashion. She is humanity that rejects all these divine games and conflicts who has had her very dull life ripped apart by Wednesday’s shenanigans. She is going to be the grounding that tries to pull Shadow out of this realm of fantasy

This has been the core of this series - awesome hints and subtexts and amazing rambly speeches from Wednesday covering so much, plunging every more depth, raising massive points about belief and faith and reality in so many awesome ways.

That same imagery and depth and examination has been used excellently throughout the series to examine some major issues as well. On race we’ve had the overt from Shadow’s lynching, the shallowness of Technical Boy’s dismissing that as just “bad optics” to Anansi’s awesome, terrible speech in the slave ship. But we’ve also had the subtle - from the clear racist undertones of Vulcan’s religion of American gun culture and how it merges so much to White supremacy. Even the choice of including Bilquis’s story here - another goddess who was about life and rebirth just like Ostara. But while Ostara kept on as Easter, doing very well for herself, the Black and more sexual Bilquis is homeless and desperate. Even the story of Essie was both the story of poverty, sexism and desperation using whatever tools a very desperate and vulnerable person can - while also showing her escaping indenture twice, showing that indenture as a temporary state and starkly contrasting with Anansi’s slave ships and the slave workers of the same time (a not-so-subtle-stab at the whole “Irish were slaves too” meme).

We’ve also had the utterly stark depiction of Mexican immigrants helped across the Rio Grande by Latino Jesus only to have Jesus shot by Christians, wielding crosses and bible verses as they murder the immigrants - that’s some vicious social commentary right there about faith rising up and being used for utter depravity. Salim brings his own insight on the immigrant experience and the loneliness it can bring.

While the gay and bisexual characters were very small cameos and so far pretty irrelevant to the story  (and Bilquis using sex as food isn’t an ideal bisexual depiction) or really examine any LGBTQ issues like the others, it does come with one of the very very very rare explicit sex scenes between two men - no fade to black (Well, ok here was but it didn’t de-explicit it), it was very real, very passionate and sexual and I don’t think I’ve seen much like it on television.

Throw in Laura, a character who manages to be very real, very human and unapologetically a terrible person with still a determination to live her own life. All spiced with little moments like

And all of this has been done with some of the most beautiful, incredible visuals we’ve seen on any of our shows. This is beautiful. It’s incredible. It looks amazing, incredibly acted, wonderfully displayed, and just perfect. Utterly perfectly shown every single scene was an utter work of art. No show we’ve covered has such awesome visuals as this.

Especially that closing scene. Odin and Ostara - oh my gods that was too perfect.