Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Review - 'American Gods', S01E08 - 'Come to Jesus'

Throughout its first season, one of the more interesting recurring themes has been the very real difference between the Old Gods and the New Gods, when it comes to issues of faith and belief. The Old Gods, for example, draw their power from a more deliberate form of belief, that relies on prayer and open worship – and, this is the primary reason why they are struggling in the modern world. The New Gods, on the other hand, have been able to grow out of our devotion to the trappings of the modern world. No one actually prays to Media or the Technical Boy, after all – but, the time we invest into what they represent still gives them power.

This whole idea became especially interesting when previous episodes began to delve into the possibility Old Gods reinventing themselves to survive in modern America. Vulcan, as we had learnt a few episodes ago, had managed to establish himself as the god of guns and firepower in America – something which had allowed him to thrive, despite the fact that no one actually prayed to him, anymore. The New Gods had even offered Wednesday the chance to do the same – though, he ultimately turned them down.

This idea is explored in much more detail in the first season's final episode, too – in a variety of unexpected ways. First, we have extended 'Coming to America' sequence for Bilquis (this time cast a story told by Anansi, rather than Mr. Ibis – and who is, as you might expect, a fantastic story-teller), in which we see her transition from an ancient figure of devotion to a homeless, and forgotten, woman in America. It was a fantastic, and genuinely tragic, opening sequence for the final episode – and, the fact that it ended with this ancient goddess entering into a somewhat reluctant partnership with the Technical Boy definitely adds some interesting complexities (also, the idea that the new altar he offered her turned out to be a dating app was both genuinely amusing, and oddly appropriate).

We also had another example of this as we meet Easter, or Ostara, (Kristin Chenoweth) – who has managed to thrive thanks to her association with both the Christian church (as represented by the multiple versions of Jesus who attend her celebration) and Media (who puts in another great performance, in the form of Judy Garland). There was quite a bit to like about this whole dynamic, too – as, despite her best efforts to hide the fact, it is almost immediately evident that this ancient pagan goddess clearly resents the way her celebration has been co-opted by another religion, as well as overly cute and harmless way that the holiday has often been portrayed.

Finally, we had a much more overt display of this central theme as the Old Gods and the New Gods came face-to-face once more – as Wednesday finally reveals both his true identity, and his true plan. While Wednesday's real identity has never been treated as a closely guarded secret (much like with the novel, anyone with a basic familiarity with Norse mythology would have been able to figure it out, well in advance), the actual moment of revelation was still suitably impressive. More importantly, the culmination of Wednesday's secret plan, as we see him finally convert Shadow into a true believer while also winning Ostara to his side, felt like a genuinely great moment to end the season on. Ostara's display of her true power, as she reverses the growth brought about by Spring, is another fantastic moment – one which, obviously, marks a significant turning-point for the series, as a whole, as the war between the Old and New Gods now seems to have truly begun.

There was actually quite a lot to enjoy about this final episode. For Shadow, we had what feels like the end of an occasionally frustrating character arc, as his odd inability to comprehend any of the strange things he has seen since the series began finally gave way to a new found belief in the supernatural world – and, particularly, in Odin. Wednesday, too, seems to have reached the end-point of a narrative arc, as his efforts to bring about a war between the Old and New Gods seems to have been successful. In both cases, this promises interesting developments for the second season – and, in both cases, Ricky Whittle and Ian McShane gave genuinely great performances. Similarly, Kristin Chenoweth was also fantastic in her role – mixing a very genuine charm with simmering layer of anger and resentment buried just beneath the surface.

It was also great to see Anansi again, after his single appearance earlier in the season – with Orlando Jones given another great performance. I believe that Anansi will have a much larger role to play in the second season than he had in this season. Based on what we have seen, so far, that is something I am genuinely looking forward to seeing.

Of course, even in his moment of apparent victory, the series is still up to add some last-minute complications for Wednesday in the form of Laura Moon – who, having finally discovered the details behind her death, is clearly set on revenge. This was also a pretty great final episode for Emily Browning and Pablo Shreiber – as the two seem to have finally found some unexpected common ground in their anger for the way they have been used, and abused, by Wednesday. I have to admit that the idea that these two might actually be working together, against Wednesday, is something that I am genuinely interested in seeing play out, throughout the next season.

While it may not have been the sort of large-scale, climactic, finale that some in the audience may have hoped for, this final episode still did a great job of bringing the first season of American Gods to a close. More importantly, though, it did so in a way that manages things up for what should, hopefully, be an even more impressive second season.

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