American Gods‘ Season One Finale Emphasizes Its Cycle of Death and Rebirth
(Episode 1.08)Photo: Starz TV Reviews American Gods
In the season finale of American Gods, Wednesday (Ian McShane) turns nonbelievers into believers who are prepared to follow him to battle. He’s been clamoring for a war all season, and when he and Easter (Kristin Chenoweth) take the Spring, it’s enough to finally start one. Wednesday makes a move, but it’s the women of American Gods who can save or ruin Wednesday’s plan—because it’s the women who have the gift of death and rebirth. Resurrection is a big theme for American Gods, one that grounds the entire series. We already know that stories on American Gods go in circles, reborn with every telling. But death and rebirth are also what the gods are fighting over, and what the people in this world are struggling with.
That’s why Laura (Emily Browning) is such a great touchstone for American Gods, maybe more so than Shadow (Ricky Whittle). Though Whittle is still as charming as ever, Shadow as a character is not as interesting as those around him. All he really does in “Come to Jesus” is look googly eyed at the women in his life. (When the women in your life are as compelling as Chenoweth and Browning make their characters, that actually seems reasonable.) Shadow bears witness and is a good proxy for the viewers, who are finding their own way through this web of fantasies. But it’s Laura who dies and comes back and wants to become as alive as her former self—just like the gods. The episode is in fact full of gods that died and came back to life, thanks to all of the Jesuses hilariously wandering around Easter’s house.
Easter is a late-game get for Wednesday, but she is key in his plan to battle the new gods for followers and power. Chenoweth is great as Easter, portraying her as a charming host running around dealing with party guests and one crisis after another. Easter is the only one able to go between the new gods, the old gods, and Laura and Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), so she’s a good way to tie the episode together and connect the threads that American Gods has been weaving all season.
Also, does anyone know what highlighter Easter used? Because I’d like to get some. Her face glows with the promise of rebirth and renewal. Easter’s makeup helps tell her story: It’s youthful and beautiful, and her eyeshadow includes the colors of a springtime bouquet. Her makeup contrasts with Laura’s, who looks more and more like she’s decomposing in every episode. The makeup on these women contributes to the storytelling, rather than making them just a standard pretty face, and their respective makeup looks reiterate the theme of death and rebirth.
Like Easter at her party, “Come to Jesus” jumps between different story threads mostly successfully, even if I feel a bit like I was pulled from one guest to another before I was quite ready to move on. American Gods seems to operate on two tracks: One is dreamy and meandering, as it tells tales of those who come to America. One is an over-packed, action-filled story of the main players in Wednesday’s war. One storyline speeds things up so fast it’s hard to keep up; the other slows things down to explore and wander through. Which speed you like best may change your view on a given episode, or on the series entirely. My mind changes often: Sometimes, the explosion of insanity is fun, the way dancing at 2 a.m. under flashing lights can be fun, but the slower speed allows for more nuance and a bigger emotional punch. You need both speeds, lest you burn out, though the balance in American Gods has been inconsistent on the whole. “Come to Jesus” bridges both of these story tracks, providing a visual feast to slowly explore during Bilquis’ (Yetide Badaki) backstory and building speed and excitement into a truly smashing crescendo at Easter’s party.
It looks like it’s going to be Laura versus Wednesday versus the new gods next season. (My money is on Team Laura, decomposition be damned.) Wednesday seems to be able to bring death to whomever he wishes, in the form of a sacrifice or straight-up murder. Laura is one of those he killed, but she came back. If Laura ruined his plan once, she can do it again.
As Laura and Wednesday are finding, the lines between death and rebirth are sometimes difficult to define. According to Wednesday, a god is only really dead when he’s forgotten. Since all of the characters in American Gods have found new followers in those who are watching their stories unfold, maybe none of them will truly die after all.
Read Paste’s episodic reviews of American Gods Season One here.
Rae Nudson is Chicago-based writer and critic whose writing has appeared in Esquire, Bright Wall/Dark Room, and Real Life, among other publications. You can follow her on Twitter @rclnudson.