Note: Reminder that this recap of “American Gods” is from the point of view of someone who hasn’t read the book. Because I haven’t read the book. Please no spoilers or comparisons between the two in the comments. Thanks! Also note: This recap may contain adult language.
Previously on “American Gods”: The series took a short break from the action to delve into the backstory of Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), who ultimately chooses to keep Laura (Emily Browning) alive against Mr. Wednesday’s wishes. Prior to that, Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), the ex-con, met Mr. Wednesday (Ian MacShane), the con man. Mr. Wednesday recruited Shadow to work for him. Some of the other characters we met include: Salim (Omid Abtahi), now a cab driver searching for a Jinn (Mousa Kraish); Anubis (Chris Obi) and Mr. Ibis (Demore Barnes), underworld denizens who run a funeral home on Earth; Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), a goddess who swallows people whole through her vagina; Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen), god of the forge, who’s dead now; Mr. World (Crispin Glover), Media (Gillian Anderson), and the Technical Boy (Bruce Langley), all “new” gods; Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones), a trickster god; Czernobog (Peter Stomare), the god of death and evil, who really needs a shower; and the Zorya sisters (Cloris Leachman, Erika Kaar, and Martha Kelly), who are related to Czernobog but don’t share his sartorial unsplendor or his nasty attitude. All appear to be headed to Mr. Wednesday’s war in some fashion or other, not all of which has been revealed.
A lot happens in the season finale, so let’s get straight to the details! In “Come to Jesus”—an apt title, given who we meet in this episode and the epiphanies some characters have in it—we open with a lot of spiders on a loom and all over a room where someone is making clothes. It’s the return of Mr. Nancy, who is sewing on an old-fashioned machine while Mr. Wednesday and Shadow wait in their robes. Mr. Nancy says they need to start with a story—as many of the episodes of this show have done.
“Once upon a time—see, it sounds good already!” Mr. Nancy cheerily narrates. He’s resplendently lit in spotlight. He tells of a queen who was worshipped, and her place of worship was the place to be. “That was the goddamned shit!” Mr. Nancy exclaims.
The story starts at the Temple of Ba’ran; we see the queen walk in, where she’s lifted up by her half-naked followers. She anoints them with a dark liquid and we see it’s Bilquis. Kings came to Bilquis to try and destroy her, but they didn’t last long, Mr. Nancy says. While her faithful have a sensual orgy, she has sex with a supernatural king (his head grows its own crown), who is then turned to the same liquid she used to anoint her followers; they are also turned into the viscous liquid. Bilquis absorbs them all inside her.
The world glows with a halo; the image fades into Bilquis in 1979 with a big ‘70s afro. She’s in Tehran in a disco and hits on a woman. Mr. Nancy says the kings keep coming after her because her powers of rebirth make them angry—it’s the power of all women, he says. Men with guns take over the discotheque, forcing Bilquis to flee. On the plane out of Tehran, she seduces the man next to her for the mile-high club. Two go in, one comes out—Bilquis is heading to Hollywood.
“I still know what I am,” Mr. Nancy says before continuing Bilquis’ tale, and knowing who and what one is becomes important later in the episode. In Mr. Nancy’s tale, though, is a woman in the hospital with HIV; Mr. Nancy says women are punished for “daring to be.” He’s a trickster god, sure, but he’s also a feminist. Anyway, Bilquis is in the room with the woman, who looks like the woman she was dancing with in Tehran.
Jump to 2013: Bilquis is homeless and sick. She sees an Ethiopian restaurant and when she looks in the window, she sees a news report of a temple being destroyed in Yemen, which saddens her. Later that night, the Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) picks her up off the street, offering her a new temple: a cell phone. “Worship is a volume business; whosoever has the most followers wins the game,” he says. Boy, is he right, sadly. Her picture is already on the “Sheba” dating site, where she presumably met the fellow we first saw her with several episodes ago. Now you know the rest of the story.
Mr. Nancy asks Mr. Wednesday and Shadow if they get the moral of the story. Shadow asks if it’s “don’t trust treacherous motherfuckers?” No, the moral is that Mr. Wednesday needs a queen, an irritated Mr. Nancy tells them. Mr. Nancy says that Shadow is bound by the shared blood spilled when Mr. Wednesday killed Vulcan, but Shadow says that he’s not because he’s pissed off. Mr. Wednesday says Shadow has a lot of questions, but he doesn’t know how to ask them, and that Shadow is confused, not angry. “Angry gets shit done,” Mr. Nancy notes.
Sometime later, Shadow has a vision of himself bursting out of and then climbing a mountain of skulls toward an imposing, gnarled tree under a blood-red night sky. The great white buffalo with the fiery eyes is there and breathes on him. A startled Shadow awakens in Betty with Mr. Wednesday. They’re in Kentucky to make a stop before Wisconsin. Ooh, bunnies! The bunnies follow the car, and Mr. Wednesday says they might not be welcomed at first as he runs over another group of rabbits. What a dick!
Inside the estate they visit, it’s Easter. Rabbits poop jelly beans on the floor, it appears. One of the bunnies growls at Mr. Wednesday. Ostara (Kristin Chenoweth), a.k.a. Easter, is outside. White Jesus—I mean, Jesus Prime (Jeremy Davies) is also there, with a halo around his head. He says hello to Shadow. Shadow thinks he knows him, but can’t place him, a sign of where Shadow’s faith or lack thereof lies. Mr. Wednesday says gods are real if you believe in them, and it finally sinks in. Shadow says that’s really Jesus and Mr. Wednesday says “A Jesus” and talks about the different Jesuses which have cropped up according to the particular believer’s faith. For her part, Ostara is taken by Shadow, who blushes when he meets her. Shadow has a crush on Easter—aww!
Mr. Wednesday says she’s one of his group (of old gods), but she says no, she’s there for Jesus. Mr. Wednesday tells her she’s been forgotten and no one prays to her; she does all the work and the Jesuses get all the praise. Jesus Prime apologizes to her for that and she demurs. She asks to speak Shadow and Mr. Wednesday in private and cusses them out. Mr. Wednesday says the Jesuses are sons of gods, not gods themselves. Ostara knows she’s not being worshipped for herself, but she makes do, she tells them. Mr. Wednesday shows her the blade Vulcan forged and says the new gods killed him for making it. He needs Spring to help in his fight against them. Mr. Wednesday says she will be worshipped if they (the old gods) make the people pray. Mr. Wednesday then asks Shadow to leave so he can speak with Ostara alone.
Meanwhile, Bilquis is in a museum looking at exhibits of ancient remains. On her cell phone, she receives a call from “The Man” (ha!), as she’s named The Technical Boy, but she ignores him, so he appears behind her. He says she’s been avoiding him and she says she’s been “occupied.” She tries to seduce him, but he resists. He doesn’t want to feed her his soul through “the vagina nebula,” after all; he’s just calling in what she owes him.
Back at Easter’s soirée, the dilapidated ice cream truck pulls up with Mad and Laura, who’s looking quite ashen. She can see Shadow’s light blazing in the house. She also sees all the different Jesuses. Inside, Shadow sees Jesus Prime in the pool floating on the water; J.P. sets his drink down on the surface and it sinks to the bottom, to which he utters “Goddammit.” Jesus Prime tells Shadow He is Belief. He doesn’t know how not to believe, while Shadow is the opposite. Shadow thinks maybe he’s having a vivid dream. Augh! Wake up, Shadow!
Back in the other room, Mr. Wednesday is appealing to Ostara to make the people pray to her, to remind them she’s a queen. “Prayer, reward—the ancient contract,” he tells her. A bunny hops over and lets her know they have two new guests.
In one of the bathrooms, Laura pukes up maggots while Mad watches. Ostara comes up and angrily whispers to Mad, “You brought me a dead girl?” While she has a house full of guests, too! Mad says he doesn’t want Laura to be dead and asks for a “professional courtesy, colleague to colleague,” but Ostara’s not having that because she outranks him on the mythical being scale, so he says she owes him a favor anyway. Ostara asks Laura if she’s in her body, and she says yes, she feels it. Ostara agrees to re-gift life to Laura, but needs first to know why Laura is dead; Laura doesn’t know. Ostara studies her to find out; she looks deep into Laura’s eyes and we see ravens and Mad, the last images Laura saw before she died. Ostara realizes what happened, and asks if Mad works for Mr. Wednesday. She tells him because Laura was killed by a god, Ostara cannot resurrect her. A bunny comes to give Ostara another message and she leaves. An angered Laura asks Mad “which fucking god” killed her. Outside, Ostara sees Media. Media says they built the holiday. Her “shape” (one of the faceless men) goes with them.
Laura holds Mad up the in the air by his balls and threatens to kill him unless he tells her who ordered her death. Damn, she strong! He admits it was Mr. Wednesday, who sacrificed her for Shadow. Mr. Wednesday was the one who foiled her casino robbery that sent Shadow to prison, too. Mad says the gods fuck with people, like they always have; it’s nothing personal. Mr. Wednesday needed Shadow, so he took him. Laura asks Mad what Mr. Wednesday has to lose.
Shadow finds Mr. Wednesday looking outside; he sees Media with Ostara. Media’s shape starts to multiply and sort of dance along as Media and Ostara walk. Media tells Ostara that St. Nick took the same deal Ostara did, and she needs to adapt like he did. The shapes dance-march around Media and Ostara, and Mr. Wednesday comes outside and interferes. The Technical Boy appears, too, telling Mr. Wednesday he’s “old as fuck and the times are changing.” Media says they’re there for Ostara and that Mr. Wednesday doesn’t matter anymore. “People create gods when they wonder why things happen. You know why things happened? Because gods make them happen,” Mr. Wednesday says.
Mr. Wednesday insists he still matters. One of the shapes is taken over by Mr. World, who appears as a technical, albeit glitchy, picture. A storm brews above them. Mr. World says the new gods will win because they have the right weapons. Mr. Wednesday says he doesn’t have to fight because he has faith. Lightning comes down and strikes all the shapes at Mr. Wednesday’s command, shocking (no pun intended) Media and the Technical Boy. Mr. Wednesday asks if Shadow has faith, and Shadow again asks Mr. Wednesday who he is. As the camera swirls around him, Mr. Wednesday says all his nicknames—Grimnir, All Father, One Eye, etc., then booms, “I AM ODIN!” Odin asks “Ostara of the Dawn” to show the new gods who she really is. She brightens the sky and causes wind to blow flower petals everywhere. Her hair comes down and she grows more youthful looking as she exerts her power. The storm clouds part. Suddenly, all the greenery turns brown for miles and miles. Seedlings go back inside the soil. Ostara is briefly covered in petals and then turns back into the goddess she is as Media declares, “What have you done?” A fallen Mr. World says Odin has his war and it will be the war he dies in.
Odin says they’ve taken the Spring and the people can have it back when they pray for it. “Do you believe?” he asks Shadow. Shadow, clearly awestruck, says he believes everything. Just then, Laura, standing behind them on the balcony, clears her throat and asks to have a word with Shadow.
We check in one more time with Bilquis, who is traveling to Wisconsin on a bus. She seduces another man into following her to the bathroom. Is this the sea-level club? Anyway, as we see her beautiful but terrifying smile as she follows the man, it’s revealed the bus they’re on is heading to the House on the Rock. End Season One.
As written by Bekah Brunstetter and Michael Green & Bryan Fuller and directed by Floria Sigismondi, “Come to Jesus” ends the first season on an ominous but exciting note. Many of our main players are either at the House on the Rock or close to it. Mr. Wednesday has finally revealed his true identity, Odin, to Shadow, whose crisis of faith in what is real and what isn’t resolves as he’s awed by the power and beauty he’s witnessed. He’s even happier when Laura reveals she’s at Ostara’s house. Odin has won an important ally to his side: Ostara, goddess of the Dawn and of Spring, whose mighty display of power floors everyone, possibly even the Jesuses (who are all polite about encroaching on her holiday, lending a great deal of comedy to the episode).
Thanks to Ostara’s penetrating gaze, Laura now knows that Odin sent Mad to kill her on purpose so he could have Shadow to himself. Shadow is an important player in the upcoming war, although we still don’t know his true purpose. He has visions frequently, and he has the power to see people who aren’t anywhere nearby, plus the glow we saw behind him through Laura’s eyes turns out to be present even when she’s not there to see it.
Mr. Nancy, the most flamboyant god, fills us in on Bilquis’ past—she’s an ancient goddess of love who feeds on the souls of those who worship her, which makes Odin’s insistence on making the world pray to him and his fellows a scary prospect. We’ve also seen that some of the old gods have forgotten who they truly are through Bilquis’ story; when The Technical Boy finds her, she’s homeless and sick, and has forgotten she can cure herself via “the vagina nebula.” Vulcan and Ostara both have subsumed their own faiths into that which Mr. World can provide, allowing their own religions to be co-opted by newer stories (guns/ammo and the Jesuses, respectively). Odin tries to shake them out of their complacency; Vulcan resists and pays with his life, while Ostara accepts and revels in her true self.
A lot can happen before we get to the actual war, and I can’t wait to see it. Bryan Fuller has always been one of my favorite creators, and his work here on Neil Gaiman’s source material doesn’t disappoint. Along with his co-creator Michael Green and several talented directors and writers, he presents a rich-hued world full of fantastical imagery, treacherous, vain gods, and a couple so in love that death can’t separate them—yet. While not everything worked for me, I’m still in love with this series and can’t wait to see what happens next. In the interim, there’s a very good chance I’ll read the book before Season 2, so my naïveté will be erased and my approach to these recaps will change. I hope you’ll still come along for the journey with me. See you then!
All photos courtesy of Starz