10:30 pm EDT, June 18, 2017

‘American Gods’ in conversation: ‘Come to Jesus’ 1×08

American Gods reaches its stormy season 1 finale with ‘Come to Jesus.’ Battle lines are drawn as the gods old and new come to a head on Easter Sunday.

Tensions boil over in the atmospheric conclusion of American Gods season 1. These eight episodes have brought faithful book lovers right to the brink of the iconic — and initially promised — turning point at the House on the Rock, but shake a few things up from Neil Gaiman’s novel, including the pacing of Wednesday’s big reveal. As fans of both Gaiman and Bryan Fuller, American Gods took our staff writers on plenty of unexpected detours from their well-known road map.

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American Gods the series and American Gods the novel are two roads that diverge in a metaphorical yellow wood of artistic license. But unlike Robert Frost’s narrator, we can take the road less traveled by and yet return to the more familiar path at any time. Departures from the novel allows us to consider how subtle shifts can open up worlds of opportunity, and force us to explore what the heart and soul and truth of the story actually is, and what’s actually most important about bring American Gods to life on screen.

If you’ll allow us to continue the heavy-handed literary metaphor, Fuller and Michael Green have succeeded in the truest sense of Frost’s poem: they “took the other, as just as fair.” It’s not necessarily about how correctly the events happen, in order. It’s about capturing the spirit of a character or a theme and creating new circumstances that ring true to Gaiman’s blueprints. The chasm between Frost’s options for a stroll isn’t actually that vast when he’s faced with it initially — like the creation of art, he admits that his initial choices are all equally viable. It’s only in retrospect, once he knows the outcome of his journey, that he declares that his decision “has made all the difference.”

Such is American Gods. What has been presented to us this season was a perfectly valid divergence to an original text, one that was able to show us different aspects of beloved characters and themes in an equally authentic way. Until now, most of Fuller and Green’s original threads have been easily woven into Gaiman’s tapestry: a new pattern, matching the texture and shade.

However, the season finale introduced the first truly gigantic plot twist, one that has the potential to really change the scope of this world. We’re as yet unable to see just how differently the end result of this American Gods may influence those who encounter it, but we’re very excited to find out.

Natalie: How to kick this off in a finale-appropriate way?

Brittany: When the episode began, you wouldn’t know you were heading into a finale.

Natalie: No — and I think that’s because it maybe initially wasn’t designed to be. But I’d be very curious about when and where that change in plan occurred, because it certainly ENDS like a finale.

Brittany: I was not aware that this was every anything other than an eight episode order. I’d be interested to know what changed in the arc of the season to accommodate.

Natalie: It was initially ten, and it was meant to go until the big reveal meeting at House on the Rock, and I believe they wrote it, and filmed more content that was discarded, and basically it was at some point restructured to get a different cliff-hanger.

Brittany: I don’t know if my lack of understanding will be interesting to the reader, BUT, it does create an interesting shift in the episode.

Natalie: For the record, the basic situation was: mid-production, they mashed up content from two already-shot episodes to create episode 3, because of some stuff not working out. Which gave them a total of 9 episodes from the 10 they’d planned. And then they chose to drop or push the content of their episode 9, formerly episode 10, to next season, and restructure the end of season reveal for episode 8. Who knows what could have happened differently! Regardless, the fact that I DID know this made me wonder what the hell was going to happen… I felt sure we would have the gang all convening in one place, which we did, and Shadow finding out about Odin, which we did. But there are some unexpected things too.

Brittany: Well in my ignorance, I thought it was interesting that a good chunk of the opening was spent with Bilquis. The Coming to America story blended the two plots we’ve been running alongside of all season — how the gods got here and where the lines between the New and Old gods are drawn. Bilquis’ story brought us back to Nancy, Shadow, Wednesday, and the New gods seamlessly after our romp with Mad Sweeney and Laura.

Natalie: Bilquis’ story has got to be around 15 or so minutes opening on her as Nancy tells her story, and it was actually the Coming to America story I understood the least. Or had the most questions about — like Shadow, I think I may have not grasped the moral of the story. But I think some of it is unclear on purpose – like Vulcan, she’s sort of a tool of the New gods now, or an old-to-new recycled god who may be used against Wednesday’s side.

Brittany: Definitely.

Natalie: However, it’s worth exploring what we did get, as she’s built up to be one of the major power players now – a queen on the board, in the chess sense, as well as in the actual sense.

Brittany: I think her story is one we’ve gotten glimpses of with Bilquis all season. The idea of misusing love, and making accommodations. Doing what you need to do. There is the line that Nancy says in the story — “There is no end to the cruelty of men threatened by strong women.” Which… whoa.

Natalie: The acting from Yetide Badaki in the restaurant window, with her seeing the menu artwork and then the temple destruction in quick succession, was some of the finest and most hard hitting of the season.

Brittany: There’s a lot to unpack in her story. Watching everything be taken away. Sex becoming taboo, to the point where there is no room left for intimacy in love. The HIV scene really drove that home. What do you think she feels going into her second meeting with Tech Boy? We’ve seen her in the museum longing for her old worship and she’s back again.

Natalie: There’s actually a lot I feel that I need to research — like what was actually going down in the nightclub in Iran? If it was tied to the revolution in 1979, which overthrew a monarchy that had instilled a somewhat Westernized culture — that club definitely wasn’t what I’d associate with a strict Muslim country – for a republic that was more dedicated to upholding their interpretation of Islam – pretty much a theocracy. That seems to fit what was going on in the scenes we saw.

Brittany: Absolutely. Every single detail matters. The show rewards as much in the unpacking as in the watching.

Natalie: Those kind of upheavals in one country could certainly displace a god. But we also see Bilquis literally choosing to take herself to America on an airplane, which is an interesting idea because I guess I’d been thinking that the aspects of the gods we see in America, like Sweeney and Odin… sort of just shimmered into existence being by believers remembering them. An aspect of them popped into being in America. But Bilquis outright immigrated by choice. Do you think she was following the woman that she liked? We didn’t get too much of that relationship – just the meeting and the illness.

Brittany: That is certainly one explanation and would make sense for her journey — following her worshipper in a sense. Looking for opportunity and not finding it. Their connection was truly that powerful.

Natalie: Though circumstances would imply that they never did the do. Which, again, may be part of Bilquis’s tragedy — if she really likes someone, she cannot be with them, or they won’t exist anymore — and she clearly cared for this woman to come and observe her in the hospital.

Brittany: It’s a failed immigration story. She is not able the reap the land and start a new life and it feels more tragic than the others slowly fading into nothingness.

Natalie: Yes — an example of the fact that some people just can’t get on their feet.

Brittany: We saw that with Salim, who had some divine intervention with deeper love attached to it. Here we are seeing someone get roped into a lifestyle they can’t afford to say no to. An all too common tragic story.

Natalie: Indeed, and we learn how she got her groove back. Like Vulcan, the concept of her was attached to something very new and very wanted, and Tech Boy is basically her boss. If he’s god of the internet, she’s now god of dating apps.

american gods 1x08 bilquis tech

Brittany: “Sheba.”

Natalie: Indeed, and they haven’t outright named a lot about who she is as no one has really had a conversation with her about her history and her power. She’s been pretty non-verbal, which I think is even significant to Nancy telling her story. Even as he talks about the oppression of powerful women, he’s speaking for her in the narrative and she has yet really to use her own voice… which makes me wonder what it will be like when she does.

Brittany: Angry gets shit done. And Bilquis is getting angry.

Natalie: The quote in Nancy’s story that stood out to me most was that “a moment can last forever when you can see how it should have been,” which makes me wonder she wishes she’d done in that moment with Tech.

Brittany: It also makes me wonder what would happen if she did not take the phone.

Natalie: That sort of ties into the last thing I was wondering about her — well, not the last thing, but the main thing. In her palace, with her worshippers and challengers, did they know what would happen to themselves? When she is replenished by her worshipers, does it have to be a sort of consensual sacrifice? And how easy would that be to wrangle in this day and age?

Brittany: Well they were giving themselves over to their queen in her palace. I think it was a honor to be taken into her presence. As for today, I agree I don’t think it would be easy at all. Think of all the missing person reports she already has on her list.

Natalie: It’s tricky to have such extreme dietary requirements.

Brittany: But now, she is being used as a weapon. And Tech Boy is calling her up to fight.

Natalie: Yes — do you think Shadow is the target? Seduce and eat him?

Brittany: I don’t know.

Natalie: Maybe not Shadow, maybe Wednesday — send her in as a traitor, an old god on his side. Anyway, apparently the moral of Bilquis’s story is that Wednesday needs to recruit a queen and truly respect her power. Shadow, once again, is like, what the actual fuck.

Brittany: He’s not pleased at the start of this episode and his patience is wearing thin. But he gets a fine suit out of the deal.

american gods 1x08 shadow wednesday

Natalie: Again, the dynamic here is just on fire. Wednesday is so petulant, glossing over Shadow’s very real concerns.

Brittany: It always feels counterproductive to make him question everything and feel like a fool. But it pays off in a big way at the end of the episode. There’s still plenty for Shadow to be confused about, even with this answer from Wednesday. The point of the suits, though, is that it is Easter. And we meet another god who has also taken what she can from not only the media’s portrayal of Easter, but from Christianity. How kind of her to invite all the Jesuses to her humble home.

Natalie: This is such an interesting person. Because she’s ultimately pretty genuine about not begrudging Jesus. She flourishes due to the Christian adaption of Easter, and she is happy to lean into that, but when Wednesday challenges that, she admits she knows the score perfectly well and isn’t delusional about it. Some people in that circumstance would have resentment of Jesuses go hand in hand, but she doesn’t.

Brittany: She’s incredible. She found her niche and flourishes in it. But she is also very aware of what she is worth and what she is missing. Do not cross her.

Natalie: It adds layers of complexity, the fact that she doesn’t pettily hate Jesus – that her hospitality was real, not merely a self-centered performance. That scene in the green and pink room where she yells at Wednesday was one of my favorites.

Brittany: And that scene and the one with her and Media really drove home just how wonderful she is at playing the game. But you still felt that instinctive pull towards Wednesday. She knows where her allegiance should lie, but she’s not willing to… shall we say… put all her eggs in one basket.

Natalie: Ohhhhhhhhhhhh you went there. Yes, the friendship with Media makes all the sense in the world, but you feel them both harden up.

Brittany: It’s a marriage of convenience. Unlike Tech Boy and Bilquis, these two can part ways at any moment.

Natalie: “I feel misrepresented in the media!” So fantastic.

Brittany: “So much fucking sugar.” Wednesday’s distain against Shadow’s awe was great scene work.

Natalie: It really was a quote factory, this episode. But Shadow was in a great mood! He was so childishly charmed the whole way through. And he has a crush, which, well.

Brittany: How could you not? She’s radiant and has bunnies pooping jelly beans!

Natalie: Speaking of jellybeans, that older Jesus with the stigmata of candy… that sure is an image that now exists. Prime Fuller.

Brittany: Jesus putting the water cup on the pool and it sinking is one the funniest moments in this show.

Natalie: “Oh, goddammit.” But yes, once they arrive at Easter’s, Shadow’s much lighter in than he has been all season, perhaps just because of the charming influence, or perhaps because he truly starts to realize and accept what is going on.

american gods 1x08 astora

Brittany: Shadow certainly does seem to lean into the world here, and he finally gets his answers — but not before we get the answer of who Mad Sweeney wants to perform the resurrection, and why he was in a rush to get to Kentucky. Laura also gets answers she doesn’t exactly want. A god took her life. What a blow. (Pun not intended!)

Natalie: Indeed – it’s Easter herself who can re-life, especially on her most powered-up day. Another amazing comedic moment was that ice cream truck pulling up and them tumbling out, a total hot mess. I want to cosplay that Laura look.

Brittany: Make sure you have a butterfly pin holding together your stitches!

Natalie: I loved that Easter called her on her manners, harking back to that stuff with her mother — posh family, but you can’t polish a turd, and Laura is just – or was just – awful, personality wise.

Brittany: She freaks out on Sweeney but ultimately realizes the web that he is caught up in. His life isn’t just fueled by anger for no reason. Now she can channel her rage where it belongs — at Wednesday.

Natalie: I loved that this didn’t break their bond. There’s a lot of looks, once again. They kind of know that they’re in this together.

Brittany: Absolutely. He loves her — maggots and all. It’s an interesting cliffhanger – she and Shadow will be another battle in the larger war that Wednesday just declared.

Natalie: I think her line about how she knows she has the capacity for more and wants the potential to start feeling that fully was one of the best lines for her this season. It looks like it breaks Sweeney’s heart, a bit. (We’re so ridiculous about them, but we’re allowed to be, Bryan and Pablo agree.) And of course it didn’t change his thoughts on her, but I liked that learning he killed her didn’t change her thoughts on him – that she knows he’s just as fucked over as she is – and their last Look very much implied that okay, we’re a team and we’re gonna take this back for ourselves.

Brittany: He owes a battle, she wants her life back. Could his battle be to get her life back?

Natalie: He wants her to not be dead. For totally selfish reasons. I wonder if he’s going to go against Wednesday now.

Brittany: There is definitely going to be a pull to ditch him, and that applies to Shadow too.

Natalie: Yeah, they’re going to lay some cards on the table for Shadow, I think.

american gods 1x08 feature

Brittany: Just when Wednesday wins, he loses.

Natalie: It also makes me wonder how all this divine currency works. So many favors owed, and people bound to doing things because of that. Like the compact, and Shadow at the start saying “yeah you’re pissing me off so now, nah.” If he got up and tried to leave – could he? Literally, physically, could he? How binding are all these handshake agreements and favors?

Brittany: There is a power behind it. Otherwise I think Mad Sweeney would be long gone. It might not act like a shock collar, but I feel it is more of a mental weight. Like the way guilt would work.

Natalie: So if Laura does try to sway Shadow… just how hard would it be for him to say no? They did look pretty happy to see each other, in quite a pure way.

Brittany: On the surface it seems easy. But there is a lot going on underneath it. Sure, Wednesday found his guy long ago and set a lot in motion, but at the same time she was dead inside way long before that.

Natalie: We already saw that when Shadow found her again, he had those very human priorities in mind. Not, “Omg I’m so happy you’re not full dead,” but “excuse me wtf?” This was a little happier — but maybe it’s just all the sugar in the air. However, I found it interesting that with all that talk of queens, Laura comes out on that balcony, overlooking them all, and that they give her the orchestral theme that they used earlier for Easter… Symbolically, they showed her in a pretty powerful light there at the end.

Brittany: Wow, yes. Never underestimate the women. No matter how dead or decaying they may appear. Easter seems light and fun but we see her power full force.

Natalie: Yes — which is the big twist. What the gods giveth, they can taketh away, and Wednesday wants Easter to use her power as Ostara, Goddess of Spring, to suck the life from the land in order to get worship – begging to bring it back. Ultimately, she does it, and Wednesday’s identity as Odin was revealed to Shadow too – as well his ability to strike gods – or god creatures – down by lightening. It’s a brilliant moment because you’ve got World and Tech going on about how they have all the guns and the new things and Wednesday’s crew are old-school extinct species, with not as much firepower. And then it’s like bam, the actual destructive power of the elements is gonna trump that.

Brittany: You can search all you want on your smart phone, it’s not going to give you an answer for why spring disappeared.

american gods 1x08 tech boy

Natalie: Seriously. Now, a couple of questions here. First, how will the people know who to turn to? Is that assumption of Wednesday’s delusional? Or are the new gods meant to spread it around — Wednesday seems to be telling them to.

Brittany: I think the new gods are going to spread the word. It’s what they’re good for, transmitting information. I think once the gods catch wind of what is going on, the more oppressed and forgotten will see a kinship with Wednesday and want to battle. Or at the very least will be like Bilquis and see the revolution on the other side that she wants to join.

Natalie: Secondly — Wednesday wreaking the weather down on their heads. You’ve called Shadow the ultimate test of belief.

Brittany: I have.

Natalie: And in this episode, he has a heart to heart with a Jesus and comes to terms with some stuff about himself… and ultimately (another visit from his buffalo friend probably helped) he declares that he believes everything. Was it Shadow’s changing belief that powered up Wednesday? Or did he always have those guns – bolts – up his sleeve.

Brittany: It certainly helped, but I think he had some power on reserve. It wasn’t worth pulling out the big guns until he felt that shift. It wasn’t needed. Now that he felt Shadow on the cusp, it is time to drive the point home, and boy did he ever.

Natalie: How did you feel about his actual reveal?

Brittany: It felt a bit… big? I don’t think it was bad by any means, very in your face, and declarative. But also disjointed? The whole showing off of power felt very high fantasy for a show that, for all the dead girls and magic coins and tech henchmen, felt very grounded until now.

Natalie: Yeah, it was a bit extra. I think because that speech to me was a lot less tornado-y. It happens, in the book, when they enter the behind the scenes place via the World’s Largest Carousel in House on the Rock. It’s sort of more matter of fact, and it’s a big awakening moment for Shadow, a big innocence to experience moment. As a TV show, objectively, the scene was fine. Subjectively, I would have liked this one to match the book.

Brittany: Do you think this was one of the areas they had to compromise due to time?

Natalie: I mean, a lot of time and money had to go into making that scene with all those effects, but if they initially planned to go to House on the Rock in the finale, I assume that identity reveal was meant to take place there and was moved to here to keep it within season 1. I’d really like to puzzle out the pacing with some of the writers at some point. Not that I dislike it, for the most part, but for example, there was some dialogue in this episode that happens originally in a speech within the last … 40 pages of the book. So they’re chopping and changing a lot more than expected.

Brittany: You can really tell here that 10 episodes would have made a difference.

Natalie: Fuller did that with Hannibal too though — he just used random speeches and references and incidents from all over the Thomas Harris canon – mixed up the ingredients to make a new meal.

Brittany: Which, at least for me, made it all the more enjoyable. It’s not straightforward and as a book reader you get little shocks to the system. It rewarding for us as well as new viewers. But I think as a book reader I would have liked the alternate Odin reveal from the novel. That text, and scene in the novel, fits better with the landscape of the show Green and Fuller are creating.

Natalie: Yeah — I mean, one day, I would love to see a perfect book-to-screen adaptation, like canonically as faithful as possible in a way that didn’t kill it — and I think Neil may do that with showrunning Good Omens — but the usual protocol is adapt to survive, which is very News Gods-y. This has just been a bit more scattered than I was expecting.

american gods 1x08 media

Brittany: However, I’m not unhappy and certainly can’t wait to watch the season again.

Natalie: I love the new elements introduced that mean that all parts of the story can be used, expanded in different ways, like connecting Essie to Laura to Sweeney. Which is only a tweak, on paper, but allows a whole new world.

Brittany: I appreciate the scatteredness of it. Because it very clearly draws the line of “this is not the book, but it’s still going to please you.”

Natalie: The final shot is Bilquis on her way to House on the Rock – which may be an indication that she, as you mentioned, may be joining the revolution, or, on the flip side, she may be working for Tech, infiltrating Wednesday’s plan and getting in with the old gods.

Brittany: I’d like to think that she is headed to House on the Rock with the intention to betray the new gods. But I don’t think that’s going to happen straight away. After all, we need to get everyone else there. How long do you think it will take the crew to get there, and who out of the crew, will make it there?

Natalie: It depends how off-book we’re going. That meeting is historically where all the old gods come together to hear Wednesday’s pitch and sign up and make a battle plan, so in theory we’d see plenty of folk we haven’t met before. I assume Easter might be coming along for the ride.

Brittany: I’m kind of hoping it takes a while. There’s so much conflict set at the end of this finale that I want to play out slowly. Plus, more Coming to America stories, and maybe one episode of just Salim and the Jinn sweater shopping — a girl can dream, right?

Natalie: I’m unsure how long it will take. Given that it was meant to happen this season, it might be the first thing we get, because there’s still a lot of ground to cover. It was the book’s first big turning point and we haven’t reached it yet. The period directly following that, without giving too much away, sees Shadow working with some characters I want to see a ton more of, but also features a death I really don’t want to see… So I’m actually starting to wonder if things like who lives and who dies – or when they meet their end — may change.

Brittany: If they do die I’m sure it will be beautifully shot. At least we have that going for us.

Natalie: Oh wow, what a comfort. Fuller has already mentioned on Twitter that Bilquis, for example, will fortunately have a different fate to the book, so perhaps others will too?

Brittany: I’m really curious about where we are going and where the road map of Gaiman’s will intersect with Fuller and Green. The detours have all been scenic this far and I’m not disappointed.

Natalie: The mix and match timing of some of the books most famous quotes, interactions and references means we could get anything, used in new ways. Plus, all the casting fun… Some more important female characters to come, including Sam Black Crow and another Egyptian god, who, if the timing is right, should appear in season 2. And all the potential in the universe for new dynamics.

Brittany: That leaves us with one finale question — do you have faith? I do.

Natalie: It’s been nothing like I expected, and everything I needed. I believe!

American Gods will return for season 2 on Starz.

Watch season 1 of ‘American Gods’ on the Starz app or Amazon Prime now

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