American Gods Season 1, Episode 8: 'Come to Jesus' breathes life into legend

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Liz: Gods are in the eye of the beholder. What is sacred to one is profane to the next. What one deems worthy of gilding an idol of or making a blood sacrifice to is roadside trash to another. For some, their altar is in a temple; for others, on a cell phone. Some deities are fueled by masses of worshippers; others, by the number of 'likes.'

Belief reaches beyond living (or dead) eyes. The pressing question of this episode is, what is this thing we call belief? Is it tangible as the many faces of Jesus Christ Shadow brushes against one bizarre Easter morning, or intangible? Does it take blind faith or seeing deities in the flesh? Does it take actually being a reanimated corpse yourself to swallow the existence of the supernatural? Some believe simply because they believe. Some have seen the proverbial light. Some know no other way.

Alyse: Holy cow, what a way to end a season! There is a lot to unpack here: old gods vs. new gods; female empowerment decimated by men; shocking revelations by the gods; and a near-miss musical number.

Liz: Glowing godlike through mid-afternoon shadows, Anansi is the immortal version of Prince (if this isn't a Prince homage I don't know what is). The electrifying spider-god has as much need of narrating a story by stealing the spotlight as Mr. Ibis did silently with his fountain pen and ancient pages. American Gods is a tapestry of such stories. When temples crumble and the devoted dwindle, it is I those same stories that keep the flame of life kindled in these dying deities.

Such is the legend of Bilquis. She is both ancient and hypermodern, thrumming with power and throbbing with energy. She is a queen who rules both the temple and the disco with the same power that men fear. It is the power to inspire orgiastic worship under a red moon, to conquer men who call themselves kings, to dissolve her subjects into an oil slick of black ooze that he consumes with a ruthlessness only a queen can have. She is both desired and challenged by celestial monarchs and earthly men alike. When the flame of her existence is nothing more than embers and ash, the shadow of the goddess queen is consumed by a desperation no one can judge until having been abandoned on a New York sidewalk. Desperate nights lead to desperate deals. You can either end up brainwashed by the temptation to plug in your image to a new era of worship—but if you really are a queen, you also know how to get what you want.

Alyse: Anansi doesn't just take on the form of a spider … he is also a tailor, and Wednesday and Shadow are with him to get beautiful new suits. But Anansi must tell them a story first: the story of Bilquis.

Bilquis' story is the classic tale of a woman's struggle. Starting in 864 BCE, Bilquis is a queen, a ruler who has kings come to worship her, and revelers engaging in orgies in her name. Of course, they all end up in her vagina. Interestingly, we don't see her again until 1979, at a disco in Tehran. Terrorists storm the club before she can get her dance partner to submit to her, thereby taking her power by causing fear and violence and forcing Bilquis out of people's minds. She makes up for it by joining the Mile High club as she leaves the country. Next she sees one of her worshippers dying of AIDS in a hospital bed, which Anansi blames on America for cutting down a woman daring to be who she is.

I don't think AIDS is America’s fault, but what comes next in 2013 is Bilquis is homeless. As she watches her ancient temple be destroyed on the nightly news, completely forgotten, Technical Boy shows up and makes her an offer she can't refuse: join the new gods.

The story seems to come in response to a surprising revelation by Wednesday: that one of the new gods killed Vulcan. Was Vulcan's murder a second-degree response that Wednesday thought would be advantageous to lie about, or was this the plan the whole time? Anansi informs Wednesday that the moral of the story is to get himself a queen. And that's just what he does.

Liz: The Easter that Shadow walks into is a tapestry of rabbits, Madonnas and the many faces of Christ mingling over jelly beans and chocolates and disturbing butter cookies with red jam centers that eerily echo wounds from being nailed to the cross. The Easter that Shadow encounters is an ebullient goddess of spring draped in floral chiffon. There is the Christian Easter and the Pagan Ostara. One calls its central phenomenon resurrection, the other calls it breathing life.

So what is Easter, really? Is it an orgy of candy and cellophane grass, plastic eggs and stuffed rabbits, or is it a celebration born of worship, and worship of whom?

This is where the fissures between normal and paranormal in Shadow's psyche really begin to crack. Pain threw him into believing the brutal things that he endured at the hands of someone — or something — not of this world, from being lynched in an empty lot and attacked by something not quite flesh but not quite digital. This is the pivotal point where a spark of belief kindles into a flame, which manifests itself in a dream mountain of skulls and a buffalo head with flaming nostrils, a flame Wednesday is all too eager to feed with strings of insults concerning his opinions on false and usurping gods. The tension between Shadow and who he only knows as the god of liquor and con schemes is almost palpable.

Alyse: In their fancy suits, Wednesday and Shadow spend Easter with, well, Easter. This goddess has lost her relevance in the traditional, Pagan sense, but since the Christians took the holiday for themselves, she has convinced herself that she is still loved and worshipped — even though, as Wednesday delights in pointing out, she is just riding Jesus' coattails. It is an interesting argument: Easter is an old god, and while she hasn't quite joined the new gods, she has certainly adapted her lifestyle to fit a changing society. I guess that makes Easter a middle god? Or a newer old god?

Liz: Dead girls shouldn't crash swanky Easter soirees. This would probably be the conventional thinking, but Laura Moon is frantic as she descends into a further state of decomposition and coughs up maggots into the sink. It seems that as the formaldehyde wears off, her lips turn grayer and her eyes glaze over, the regrets from when she was Laura Moon and not just the body of Laura Moon seem to pile up like the bones in Shadow’s dream visions. She needs the breath of life that a certain mad leprechaun promised her she would get if they drove a stolen ice-cream truck for miles on the highway.

What Ostara sees in the depths of those dead, vacant eyes is a screenshot of the very moment of death, and in that freeze-fame she sees something shocking. The ghost of a face haunts the scene. Laura's existence hangs in the balance. She has realized too late that she has an entire universe beyond gambling tables and shady rendezvous to live for, but she may have crossed a threshold that makes her return to the coffin inevitable. Living death is still death, and cuts that don't bleed but instead breed fly larvae are a sign that something is seriously wrong and cannot be cured with medical intervention. Medicine, after all, is for the living.

I have to take a moment to give Pablo Schreiber props for playing the gangly drunken jerk otherwise known as Mad Sweeney to perfection. He makes you want to smack your screen upside the head until you realize it has no head.

Alyse: Laura and Mad Sweeney finally make it to Easter's house. She is the one who Mad Sweeney believes can resurrect Laura. Easter can, but only under very specific circumstances. Easter looks into Laura's eye to see who killed her. She sees only Mad Sweeney. This caused some confusion for me: which killer did Easter see? Which killing did Easter see? It seems obvious that Mad Sweeney caused the crash with him and Laura, but I don't understand why that would be the death Easter is looking for. If Laura is to be resurrected, and returned to her fully-human form, wouldn't Easter need to look at the death that separated her from her human form?

Liz: The confrontation between old gods and new plays out like Easter Parade on acid, including a warped musical theatre number of faceless men in top hats twirling their canes. Those backup dancers could pass for clones of Slender Man. It is a battle between the otherworld and the digital world, between thunder and lightning and that strike from the sky or a TV screen. This is where the raw power of both sides is revealed through a glimpse of their ultimate weapons. Those who are of this earth can only watch from the porch or balcony, transfixed by the phenomena crashing down or exploding before them in flowers, and have their beliefs tested as unbelievable things bloom before their eyes. There is a glimpse of the raging warrior or computerized phantom that lurks beneath the human skin of immortals.

The storm that was on the horizon has broken free of its thunderclouds, and all you can question is who has the more powerful army. Is it from a chorus of prayers reaching the heavens from a temple or legions of followers on Twitter? The ancient have deep roots that electrical sparks could burn. The new have media presence whose wires can be severed by a sword. There are still gods to recruit and highways to drive on, all towards an inevitable showdown between programmed worship and primal power.

Someone please give Ian McShane his Golden Globe. Now.

Alyse: The final scenes of this episode have the new gods facing off with old gods. The old gods are greatly outnumbered: it is Wednesday versus Media, Techno Boy and Mr. World. Frankly, I thought they were all going to launch into a big musical number. After all, Kristin Chenoweth is a Broadway diva and Gillian Anderson appears as Judy Garland from Easter Parade. Easter is caught between the two factions, trying to decide which group she will join. By the episode's end, we (and Shadow) learn Wednesday's true identity, and Easter chooses sides with an insane show of power. Even for someone who never read the book, neither reveal comes as a surprise.

And that's a wrap for American Gods Season 1!

Do you think this season of American Gods is worth deifying? Tell us in the comments!