American Gods – S1 E8: Come To Jesus – Reviewed

This is the weirdest X-Files/Critters
crossover I could possibly imagine...
And just like that, seemingly as quickly as it arrived, the first season of American Gods is finished. Yet at the same time, it is clearly just getting started. It was announced just a couple episodes into the season that Bryan Fuller and Michael Green's Neil Gaiman adaptation had already been renewed for a second one – and this is a very good thing indeed, as this first season clearly has no intention of standing on its own. If it hadn't been renewed already the suspense would be unbearable following this finale. Please understand that I do not mean it as any sort of criticism or complaint to say that season one has no intention of standing on its own; far from it. There is no way that a first season of this show could have possibly stood on its own and still done justice to Gaiman's novel, which is so huge in the scope of its journey that eight episodes could barely scratch the surface, and an artificial climax shoehorned into the middle of the journey would have done the source material a great disservice indeed. Instead of falling prey to either of those things, Fuller and Green made a bold decision to tell the story in the best possible way it could be told, which is a very unconventional method for a television series: rather than treating this like a typical TV season, they treated it like the first act of a book. As this weekend's Come to Jesus proved, this was absolutely the right decision. Perhaps they won't have ended the season the way viewers may have expected, but they ended it in the right way: with satisfying revelations, some show-stopping set-pieces, and a perfect lead-in to the next section of this epic novel in a visual medium.

In a sense, this whole first season has been an exercise in slow and deliberate world-building: the construction of a huge mythical universe that coexists right alongside our everyday reality. Along the way it has only very gradually introduced the plot, almost to the point that it is only in this season finale that it truly becomes apparent what the central conflict and premise of the show even is. But again, this is not any kind of an insult; quite the contrary. For starters, it comes back to the idea of this season being just the first act of a multi-season arc structured more like a novel than a typical TV show: in that context, it makes perfect sense that the first act would be spent slowly building up the premise, and only truly sparking the central conflict as the first act is about to transition into the second. But perhaps more to the point, American Gods had better things to do than rush headlong into a conventional plot: its world is too big, its mythology too wonderfully strange, and its characters too complex and deserving of deep development. It is in these areas that the first season was most concerned; as it had to be, or else the plot could never work with the power that it needs. Not only do we need time to understand the depth of Shadow and Laura's complex personalities and their even more complex (to say the least) relationship, we also need to get to know a cast of literal gods. These are characters who have existed for so much longer than our typical TV protagonists; indeed, ever since myths were told. This is more backstory than can be crammed into mere exposition. Before the show's story can be told, the stories of these characters needed to be told in their own time. That is why, following the template of Gaiman's novel, almost every episode began with a “Coming to America” segment telling one of the gods' origin stories, which sometimes took up nearly a quarter of the episode itself. But all along, this approach has been the key to what makes this such a compelling series, and one that lets us understand the scope of the world we are witnessing and the lives of those who inhabit it, even before we really know what is going on in that world.

You know someone has great fashion sense when they coordinate their suit
with the accent details on their sewing machine. And their wallpaper.

I can't actually think of a single other show that has ever done this: spent most of the entire first season focused largely on world-building and character development, to only just set the gears of the larger plot in motion as it reaches its end. It's no surprise; in concept, that doesn't seem like something that would ever work. But with American Gods, it works absolutely brilliantly, and has given us eight of the most memorable, unique, unmissable hours of television that we have gotten all year. Gaiman's world is simply so full of tantalizing mysteries and fascinating characters that exploring it for eight hours has been beyond a pleasure. And the show certainly has never been stalling or not giving us plot details to move forward with; it has simply kept us in the same position as Shadow, of being caught up in a huge mystery and being fascinated and horrified by it, but being too deeply in among the trees to see the forest. But finally, in this episode, we get enough of an aerial view that while not everything becomes clear, enough does that we – and Shadow – at last understand.

Come to Jesus is an episode about revelations: revelations that Shadow and Laura have about the insane situation they are in, revelations that they, we, and even the show's villains have about just what Mr. Wednesday is up to, and revelations about what tragic motivations could possibly lead an old god to sign a devil's bargain with Mr. World, Media, and The Technical Boy. It exposes these revelations through a combination of our present-day storyline and an especially timely and relevant Coming to America subplot, and with a combination of old and new faces. From the opening moments and through his entire narration of the Coming to America segment, Orlando Jones once again steals the show as Anansi (or Nancy, as Wednesday affectionately calls him), only to have it stolen again by the brilliantly over-the-top Gillian Anderson as Media. But some of the new faces deliver some spectacular moments as well, and our four main leads – Wednesday, Shadow, Laura, and Mad Sweeney – all get some excellent moments to shine as their plot threads converge. Ian McShane in particular reminds us with a powerful, bravado performance why he's the old god bringing everyone together. It all adds up into a truly excellent episode: one that even has some very funny, very snarky humor about the nature of religion in America, with a surprising group of guest-stars.

"We're going to the season 2 preproduction
meeting, I hope?"
However, while it is an excellent episode, I suspect the biggest complaint about it will be that it doesn't feel like a season finale; and it's true, it doesn't. It brings a few of this season's major threads together to a point of convergence, but not a point of resolution. And it certainly doesn't bring all of the season's threads together; it leaves more than a few hanging until next year. Truth be told, this is not the point in the story where I thought the season would end; as a fan of the book I had a pretty solid theory about what the season finale would be, and it appears that they are holding that for the beginning of season two instead. But going back to the metaphor of sections or acts in a book, I think that may be exactly the point: this episode brings enough together to satisfy us, but it makes a deliberate point of leaving us hanging in many other ways. It isn't a conclusion, but an act break, or possibly even a set-up for the episodes to come. It leaves us wanting more, and that is exactly what it wants to do.

The biggest thing that it does is change the game: never before can we or our characters return to the state of bewildered not knowing in which we (and they) spent most of this season. Things are getting pretty intense, and this episode's revelations just make them even more so. On the one hand, I think it is absolutely perfect that this season left us on such a crazy, unexpected note. On the other hand, it made me incredibly sad that next Sunday we won't get to see what happens next. It is going to feel like a very, very long wait until season two comes around to give us the next chapter. But at least we know it is coming, and that Starz is clearly in a hurry to continue this saga. American Gods has turned out to be one of this year's best new shows, and a very welcome addition to the pantheon of truly great cable television. If you know anyone who still doesn't believe, get them worshiping: Wednesday and company are clearly going to need it.


Score for the season:

- Christopher S. Jordan

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