AMERICAN GODS closed out its first season with an epic confrontation between Mr. Wednesday (finally explicitly revealed to be Odin, among his many other names) and the New Gods. To say that “Come to Jesus” was solely his story, however, would be to do what men have done throughout history: silence women. From the very first moments of this season finale, when Anansi began to tell a story — what he does best — it became clear that, as has been refreshingly true for the entirety of the series’ first season, the AMERICAN GODS finale was going to make sure those marginalized amongst us had a chance to be heard. Even better, “Come to Jesus” made it painfully obvious that the only way to win this war between the Old Gods and the New would be to enlist the help of women, a concept often met with plenty of skepticism. But not on AMERICAN GODS — not here at all.
“Let’s start with a story.” Bilquis comes to America
After a humorous opening, complete with Mr. Wednesday and Shadow Moon sporting some not-quite-fitting bathrobes all while Shadow threw his now infamous side-eye Mr. Nancy’s way, viewers learned the tragic and all-too-familiar tale of the goddess Bilquis. Certainly, not all women are formerly powerful goddesses, prone to worship in the form of massive orgies, but the story’s message was one to which far too many women can relate. Bilquis had all of the power, and “kings didn’t like that. Kings came one after another to knock her off her throne. They didn’t last long.”
That was in the old days, though — 864 B.C.E. to be exact — in the Temple of Bar’an. As time passed, those men became more capable of taking Bilquis’ power. She tried to continue, to “keep the party going,” as Mr. Nancy put it. She thought that, as long as she could remember who she was, she could adapt. She’d stay in power, one way or another. “But America, too, could take issue with a woman of power. It finds ways of cutting her down. Of punishing her for her daring to be.”
In the modern world, right around the time of the sexual revolution if Bilquis’ chosen attire was anything to go by, men stole everything. They “forced” the queen to the backseat, with knives and guns. In one scene, as Bilquis and other women fled a disco, one man forced a woman to the ground and had his way with her. And with that, Bilquis’ agency, her power as she knew it, was lost once and for all. “They laundered it and gave it to men.”
The implications, particularly with the one nameless woman being pinned to the ground, were obvious: Women’s sexual power has, all too often, been ripped away by jealous, angry men. It has a name. It’s called sexual assault; it often manifests as rape. Even in 2017 America, 50 women can accuse a man, only for him to walk free on a technicality. “And there is no end to the cruelty of men threatened by strong women.” The cases are endless; they’re horrifying. They’re often covered up for decades. Such is the life of a woman — such became the life of Bilquis.
So, what did Bilquis do? As the HIV epidemic spread across America in the ’80s, she, too, suffered from illness. Because of the threat of disease and the resurgence of American “traditional values,” nobody wanted to worship her in the traditional way. Those “values” also had a damaging rebirth a world away. Bilquis’ temple was destroyed by those who didn’t want to see evidence of a time when sexuality was worshipped, not judged as dirty or sinful.
In one particularly heartbreaking scene, Yetide Badaki’s character stared into an Ethiopian restaurant with such hope, such awe, all because she saw her own face reflected back to her on the cover of a menu. She saw her temple on a television screen. The former queen and goddess had the briefest of moments to remember who she’d been. But just as easily as her spirits were lifted, they were utterly crushed as she saw the destruction of her temple broadcast live. (Hi, Media.)
“So, what’s a queen to do? She gets on her knees. She takes what she don’t want to. And we watch in easy fucking judgment and pretend we’d do a single thing different in her shoes.” In a dual message, Anansi talked about the way men and women alike do whatever awful thing must be done in order to get by. Homeless? Try begging — or worse: prostitution. A once-powerful goddess, cast aside by society? Try joining up with the bad guys. In Bilquis’ case, it was probably some mixture of the two. Certainly, AMERICAN GODS viewers saw evidence of her joining up with the New Gods. Technical Boy offered her a lifeline: online dating. Through this, she was able, as we’ve seen in scenes scattered throughout AMERICAN GODS’ first season’s run, to begin to regain some of her power.
It’s been a slow and painful process, but Bilquis is just about back to full strength. Now, she’ll have to repay the New Gods somehow. The full consequences of Bilquis’ decision, though, will have to wait for AMERICAN GODS’ second season. As “Come ot Jesus” closed out, she was seen approaching The House on the Rock, the gods’ gathering place for war. Whether she’ll summon all of her new power in defiance of Technical Boy and the others or, however regretfully, stick to repaying her debt, is yet to be seen.
What is painfully obvious from this oral history, though, is that even goddesses are not exempt from suffering at the hands of angry, jealous men’s cruelty. That no matter how celestial a being may be, if the body is female, its very agency can and will be stripped away. A woman’s body, in America and in much of the rest of the world, is nothing more than a pawn in men’s games.
And that, I suppose, brings us to Easter
After one of their usual bickering sessions, Shadow Moon and Mr. Wednesday — still not named, unless you’ve actually been paying attention — set off for Kentucky. Donning shiny, new suits created by Mr. Nancy, the two men were in just the right attire to attend an Easter celebration, complete with a crowd of Jesuses and all the pastel trappings of the commercialized version of the holiday. The moral of Mr. Nancy’s story was that he should get himself a queen, so the two men were in search of the most powerful such queen they could find.
Again, a woman being used as a pawn in men’s games.
The goddess Ostara was more able to adapt than Bilquis had been, but they shared the sin of turning to the New Gods for help when their traditional sources of worship were no longer available. Although her feast day of rebirth had been stolen by Christianity in an attempt to wipe out pagan holidays, she happily shared the day of chocolate bunnies and jelly beans with Jesus himself. It kept her relevant; maybe it kept her in a sense of denial, too. Ostara, now Easter, was reveling in the benefits of one of those rebranding schemes offered by the New Gods. She even had a standing date to celebrate the holiday with Media herself. When Media (literally) waltzed in, planning to spend the day with her friend as usual, though, she was met with resistance.
Ostara, swayed by Mr. Wednesday, was now tired of being “misrepresented in the media.” (Oh, and so many women are. Ostara, you’re not alone.)
Once Ostara told Media she was done playing along, the stand-off between two of the most powerful women on the series (maybe the most powerful characters, period) became one of the best scenes in AMERICAN GODS’ entire eight-episode run. Then, after that tense moment brought the rest of the major players into the moment, all hell broke loose.
It was Media versus Wednesday, with Ostara caught in the middle. Media even held onto some hope that she would keep Ostara’s loyalty. But all the marketing in the world simply couldn’t fix the rift that was created the second Easter was reminded that she wasn’t actually Easter at all, that Jesus “crucified” her holiday. With that, Odin dedicated the deaths of the New Gods’ thugs to Ostara. (Really, if it had just been those three in the scene, without all of the background noise of Technical Boy and, eventually, Mr. World, that would have been quite all right.)
With a flash of lightning, everyone but the gods — both Old and New — remained. The extras were decimated. Finally, Odin revealed his true identity to Shadow Moon, reciting all of his own names and feeling his power grow as Shadow finally admitted to believing. It was a great display of miracles and a big moment for Odin, who had hidden his true nature for so long.
It was Ostara, though, who owned the day. In a display of power that was second to none, she wiped out all the vegetation for miles before restoring her own home to its bright and beautiful Easter best. With that, Odin had his war. But again, he didn’t get it without Ostara’s power. Without her help, without swaying this woman to his side, he might have stayed in limbo, forever doomed to posing as “Mr. Wednesday.”
Women have power on AMERICAN GODS. With Ostara and Bilquis, two women with the power of rebirth in their arsenal, currently operating on opposite sides of the divide, the series’ second season is sure to be nothing if not a lesson in the dangers of pitting strong female characters against one another.
Or, at least, that’s what this viewer is hoping for. Don’t let me down, Fuller and Green. Don’t. Let. Me. Down.
Additional thoughts on AMERICAN GODS’ “Come to Jesus” moment
- Laura Moon finally learned exactly what — or who, rather — was responsible for her death. Yet another woman used as a pawn in a man’s (Odin’s) game. Methinks there are going to be consequences. And big ones.
- “I got a good one. Real good. Once upon a time…See? It sounds good already. You’re hooked.” Mr. Nancy really wanted to tell his story. To say that the final section AMERICAN GODS recap is nothing more than gushing over a talented cast and crew would probably be accurate: For starters, Orlando Jones brings all that trickster fun — mixed up with all the deep, dark storytelling — to the screen in a way that nobody else could. He strikes just the right balance between hysterical and dead serious; and there’s something divine about the amount of sass he adds to every word and every movement.
- Though not the central character by any means, Gillian Anderson’s Media has a way of commanding the scene whenever she’s a part of it. To see her shock and hurt, whether genuine or not, when she found out that her friend was switching sides is to see yet more evidence to a never-ending, highly-detailed list of such evidence that Anderson’s talent is second to none. As she stared down Odin, she was exhibiting so much strength…but it was easy, to those who looked, to see the cracks in the surface. Brilliant work. Regardless of who portrays her, though, Media remains a complex, intriguing mystery. Stay tuned for some thoughts on that.
- “We’re here for her. We’re here for my friend. And you don’t matter. Not really. Not anymore. You could have…but…” Obviously, Odin doesn’t matter. Women run the world. The end.
- Whether it ended tragically or not, I anticipate plenty of AMERICAN GODS fans shipping Media and Ostara. There’s something there between Kristin Chenoweth and Gillian Anderson when they share a scene. Hopefully, they’ll get to face off again when AMERICAN GODS continues.
- Meanwhile, the way Ricky Whittle’s Shadow Moon just lit up around Ostara is going to create some interesting fan reactions, too. Chemistry? Or true love? You decide. Regardless, Whittle’s character grew by leaps and bounds in the AMERICAN GODS finale. His trademark side-eye, his predictable anger and confusion…Those were present, as usual. But when Shadow had his crisis of faith, admitting to one of the many Jesuses that he wasn’t sure if he knew how to believe, that was some amazing work from Whittle, the likes of which we have yet to see on AMERICAN GODS. And at the end? When he finally managed to believe enough to let himself really be awed by the gods’ works? The way Whittle portrayed Shadow’s complete sense of being overcome was an award-worthy performance from a man tasked with standing out in a scene filled with legends.
- The writing on AMERICAN GODS is strong for so many reasons, but all of the wordplay in the dialogue, particularly in “Come to Jesus,” makes it that much more remarkable. Even the episode’s title has a double meaning: In going to Easter’s party, Shadow and Odin quite literally came to Jesus(es). But at the same time, Easter definitely had her “come to Jesus” moment. Or what about Wednesday’s “I’m not here for Christ’s sake. I’m here for all our sakes,” the constant “goddamns” amongst gods, and so many other brilliant little…well, Easter eggs.
- Another one: “Jesus Christ! Are they all…Jesuses? Right. Of course. Because…Jesus is real.”
- “What do you think gods do? They do what they’ve always done: They fuck with us. They fuck with all of us. Don’t take it personally. I don’t.” Mad Sweeney spilling truth tea.
- “It’s religious Darwinism: Adapt and survive.” Ok, so how has Media adapted? AMERICAN GODS, please tell me more.
- “A god has to be exotic. She has to be…a peach. And Wednesday…I suppose he’s a lemon.” That’s the second time Media has referenced lemons when it comes to Odin. Remember that “brand new, lemon-scented you?”
- Scenery porn: If you like it dark, AMERICAN GODS has Shadow Moon’s gnarly boneyard dreams for you, complete with massive amounts of skulls creating a mountain for him to climb. If you like it bright, welcome to Easter’s floppy, hoppy bunnies.
Stay tuned for news on AMERICAN GODS’s second season.