On the eve of war, Mr. Wednesday attempts to recruit the old God Ostara but needs Mr. Nancy’s help in making a good impression and winning her over.
In the season finale of American Gods Shadow and Mr. Wednesday reach out to an old God with some new tricks. The episode opens with Mr. Nancy telling Shadow and Wednesday a story as he weaves them some new threads. During Mr. Nancy story we finally begin to piece together the significance of the character Bilquist. We learn that she is a goddess hailing back-to ancient Persia. However, as Islamic conservatism swept the Middle East a follower of hers was forced to leave and come to the Americas in the seventies. Finding no love in America Bilquist floundered and was left destitute. That is until she was approached by the Technical Boy who offered her a new solution. Dating apps and technology would-be her saving grace.
Back in present day, Shadow and Wednesday don their new Sunday threads to meet the old God Ostara, a goddess of spring and rebirth. However, she now goes by the name Easter and shares her day with the Christian Jesus. Ostara’s manor is a mash of Christian religious imagery and bright colorful Easter trinkets, jelly beans, and Bunny rabbits. It is only after looking around the strange, colorful place that Shadow begins to realize that everything that’s been happening to him may be real. It’s hard not to when you’re surrounded by glowing Jesus’s and Virgin Mary’s.
In private Wednesday asks Ostara to help him in his fight against the new gods. Although Ostara insists that she doing just fine, Wednesday hits at a sore spot when he points out that she is just as forgotten as all the other old gods. No one prays to her for the spring anymore. They say her name without knowing who she is and give thanks to Jesus. Before he can go much further in convincing her, Ostara is drawn away by the arrival of 2 new guests. Laura and Mad Sweeney have finally arrived.
Laura is anxious to be resurrected as she senses Shadow is near. However, when Ostara looks at her she reveals that she is unable to “re-life” her, because she has been killed by a God, and that is a kind of dead she can’t undue.
Elsewhere, Bilquist is doing much better for herself having utilized the technology given to her by the Technical Boy. Yet, when he tries to reach out to her she attempts to ignore him. This does not work for very long as he eventually shows up before her. She owes him, and he has come to collect.
Back at Ostara’s manor, Shadow is having a crisis of faith. How can any of this be real? Unsure where to turn, he turns to Jesus… well one of them anyway.
The peace is short lived as more unexpected guests show up at Ostara’s front door. Media and the Technical Boy’s goons arrive, channeling their best Judy Garland and Fred Astair a la Easter Parade. After all, Easter, as it exists today, is result of rebranding and is highly influenced by the media. Ostara is visibly shaken by their presence and attempts to assure them that Wednesday is no longer there. As she said, she’s doing just fine, though she does have a few grievances with the way she is being represented. Media blows her off, saying that she should be happy with what she has. She is only relevant because Easter is a Christian holiday. In this increasingly atheist world, they have the power to shape people’s beliefs. What then, she suggests, would happen if people stopped believing altogether? Before she can say much else Wednesday interjects.
What follows is a grand prelude to battle between the old gods and the new. Wednesday and Ostara vs. Media, Technical Boy, and Mr. World. The music swells, the faceless goons dance and pose theatrically behind them, and the sky grows dark as the two sides confront each other, neither willing to back down. Wednesday promises an end to their reign. Mr. World asserts their victory, either by waiting them out or by bloodshed. As the sky grows dark, Wednesday turns to his fellow goddess and says “I dedicate these deaths to Ostara.” Lighting strikes all of the Technical Boys faceless goons dead. The first official act of war.
Blown away, Shadow asks Wednesday who he really is; a question Wednesday has, until this point, completely dodged. But no longer. In an impressive display, Wednesday begins to list off his many names, as the wind howls and lighting strikes around them. He finishes by shouting “I am Odin!”
Media and Technical Boy look stunned as Ostara summons her power to take back
the spring, leaving all the once green fields, dead and desolate.
“If the human’s want spring, they’ll have to pray for it.” Wednesday says.
Shadow is completely overcome. He looks in awe at Wednesday and Ostara. His eyes open, Shadow professes to finally believe. He believes in everything.
That’s when a familiar voice is heard from up above. It’s Laura. And Wednesday looks none too thrilled to see her.
The episode ends on the road, as Bilquist rides a bus to the “House on the Rock” – the meeting place for the Old Gods and we know, she is up to no good.
Season 1 vs. The Novel
Season 1 of American Gods shines despite a few missteps. Visually, it is stunning. I daresay, nearly perfect. Beautiful and artistic, and bold, each episode makes a statement, each one feels unique, each one stands out in a way that can only exist in a visual medium. Yet, this was also a stumbling block for the show. Many times it felt too artistic, too dreamlike, too bold, at the expense of keeping a casual audience engaged. While watching, I was able to comprehend what was happening, and appreciate the moments that translated almost seamlessly from the novel. However, I also watched with complete newcomers to the series who were mainly intrigued by the creative team behind the project and of the idea of the show. Too often, I found my co-watchers struggling to comprehend what was happening and eventually loose interest.
This, in my opinion, was a big problem.
The novel, American Gods, is a far out premise full of spectacle and imagination, yet the story itself is a fairly straightforward road trip story. Yes, like all long road trips, it takes pit stops to introduce lore and Gods that have little to nothing to do with the main story, but at it’s core, the story is still easy to follow. The first season of American Gods is breathtaking to watch and has noticeably huge production value. It’s both meticulous and whimsical in it’s style, but if a casual viewer has to watch 4 episodes of an 8 episode season to understand what’s going on, that is a problem.
Yet despite this issue, what the show does right, it does very right. In order tofacilitate a longer story than the novel, characters introduced as one-off characters in the novel are expanded upon in the series, such as Laura Moon, Mad Sweeney, Salim, and especially Bilquist. They’ve also given supporting roles to gods and deities never mentioned or briefly mentioned in the novel, such as Jesus and Vulcan. This is a necessary change from the book, as the series needs a way to extend and expand this universe. It also gives the show runners freedom to tell their own stories within Neil Gaiman’s world. All of these expanded characters feel very much in place in this world but are undoubtably the brain child of Fuller, who is known for his artistic mind and morbid sense of humor.
American Gods is a successful adaptation of it’s source material. The show stands apart from the novel with it’s own unique brand of story-telling, yet even as it is forced to change and evolve beyond the novel, still remains faithful in spirit. Through use of vivid color and high spectacle, the show creates a dreamlike atmosphere; a place where anything can happen. As we the audience open our minds to this possibility, things become more clear to us and to Shadow. It becomes easier to comprehend.
I am told that the show will have to stop doing the “Coming to America” segments in the next seasons, which I hope isn’t true. There are quite a few more deities and stories from the book (as well as potential original stories) that I would love to see come to life. However, if the omission of these vignettes helps to move the story along, I guess I’ll manage.
Either way, I look forward to seeing how this series will progress.