It’s Easter time on American Gods, but “Come to Jesus” isn’t the typical celebration. Sure, there are rabbits and eggs and jelly beans and a bunch of Jesus Christs, but this Easter party is a battleground for the Old and New Gods, whose conflict gets much more intense by episode’s end. Writers Bekah Brunstetter, Michael Green, and Bryan Fuller pack their script with major developments, and it’s an exciting end to a season that has suffered from some significant pacing issues. Like most rookie shows, it spent a lot of time on world building, but jumping away from the main plot to illuminate different aspects of the past and present of the gods and their followers took a toll on the show’s momentum, even when these detours were compelling stories.
Shadow and Mr. Wednesday are back at the forefront after last week’s exploration of Mad Sweeney, and they head to the Kentucky estate of Easter (Kristin Chenoweth) to recruit the pagan goddess of spring in their fight against the New Gods. The episode opens with the two men at Mr. Nancy’s tailor shop, where they are having bespoke suits made for the Easter gathering. Mr. Nancy stops his work so he can tell his guests the story of the goddess Bilquis, tracing her journey from the Temple of Bar’an in 864 B.C.E. to a disco club in 1979 Tehran to the streets of Hollywood in 2013. It’s a tale of unbridled feminine sexuality and the forces that try to destroy it, starting with a massive orgy in a gilded Babylonian temple that ends with everyone turning into black goo that gets absorbed into Bilquis’s vagina nebula.
The scene in the temple is primal and striking, with a strong undercurrent of dread as these bodies writhe in ecstasy, unaware of the fate waiting for them when they climax. Jump forward a few millennia and Bilquis is still working her magic, but on a smaller scale. While attempting to pick up a new lover on the dance floor of a Tehran discothèque, Bilquis is interrupted by armed men fighting for the revolution that turned Iran into an Islamic republic. The major message of this scene is that men will try to destroy sexually liberated women because they are threatened by them, and I can’t help but see parallels between the nightclub attack and the recent suicide bombing at Ariana Grande’s Manchester concert. The concert was a stop on Grande’s Dangerous Woman tour, and her celebration of sexuality and femininity is a danger to any ideology that wants women to bend to the will of men.
In the case of Bilquis, her sexuality actually is a threat to the people who are enthralled by it, but she’s nevertheless a metaphor for the struggle of women who want to live sexually liberated lives. It’s nice to see Bilquis gain more dimension in this episode, and Yetide Badaki does exceptional work bringing emotional depth to the character without any dialogue. Her performance is in her eyes and her body, and the triumphant queen in the temple is a stark contrast to the dejected homeless woman wandering around Hollywood. Bilquis gets the chance to reclaim her power when she’s approached by Technical Boy, who hands her a smartphone with a dating app that allows her to easily prey on people looking for sexual gratification. Like Vulcan, she seizes this opportunity and allies with the New Gods in order to return to her former glory, and after hearing this story, Wednesday realizes that he needs to find a queen of his own if he’s going to defeat his enemies. That’s where Easter comes into play.
Pushing Daisies is one of my all-time favorite TV shows, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting the reunion of Kristin Chenoweth and Bryan Fuller on American Gods. Chenoweth’s performance as Easter does not disappoint, and she brings a bubbly brightness to the show that is reinforced by the design of Easter’s estate. The road leading to her home is surrounded by lush greenery, and the grounds are filled with vibrant flowers. The interior design of her house features a pastel palette and even more natural imagery, and there’s an opulence to the setting that shows Easter has done very well for herself, even if her holiday has been co-opted by Christianity.
Media arrives at Easter’s home dressed as Judy Garland in Easter Parade to sway the goddess to the side of the New Gods, but Wednesday has already gotten his hooks in her by lying about Vulcan’s death and blaming it on his enemies. Easter has grown tired of her survival being dependent on another god, and while Media’s insists that religious Darwinism is the only way for Easter to keep her power, Wednesday gives Easter another option. The conflict between the Old and New Gods grows into a full-blown war when Wednesday reveals himself to be Odin, and Easter backs up her ally by unleashing her full devastating potential, sucking the life from the surrounding area and turning the verdant landscape into a barren wasteland. This is a stunning sequence, and Chenoweth’s gleeful performance gains a sinister edge as Easter literally lets her hair down to disrupt the local ecosystem. If people want food, they’ll have to pray to the goddess of the harvest to get it, and there’s an undeniable sense of joy as Easter realizes she just took a huge step to separating herself from the religion that snatched away her name.
Neil Gaiman’s novel doesn’t engage much with Christianity, but the TV series realizes that if you’re going to talk about gods in the United States, you can’t ignore the religion that dominates the country. The Easter celebration is filled with various iterations of Jesus because every sect of Christianity has one (as do different ethnic groups), but the one that gets the most attention is a white Jesus played by Jeremy Davies, who is one of those actors that I’m always excited to see. These scenes are filled with Christian iconography, and the show has a sense of humor about Jesus and Easter’s relationship. Jesus is the latest person to talk to Shadow about belief, and after their conversation, Shadow is given the proof he needs to admit to himself that what he’s seeing is actually real.
I wrote last week that it’s starting to feel like Laura Moon is a bigger character on this series than her husband, and “Come to Jesus” reinforces that idea. Shadow has more screen time, but he doesn’t make much of an impression when he’s surrounded by big personalities like Mr. Wednesday, Mr. Nancy, and Easter. He’s the dullest person on the show, which is a problem when he’s supposed to be the main character. Shadow is still struggling to believe in all the fantastic things that are happening around him, and you can see that distance in Ricky Whittle’s performance as Shadow tries to keep himself from being fully engaged with his new circumstances.
Shadow is bland, but he’s also pretty dumb considering he hasn’t put together that Mr. Wednesday is Odin, even after sitting through the New Gods’ pitch to offer Wednesday the Odin missile guiding satellite to restore his power. It’s possible that Shadow isn’t willing to believe that Wednesday is Odin until he sees a display of power fit for a god of war, but there’s no excuse for him acting like he has no idea who Wednesday is when he’s already had it spelled out for him. It makes Shadow look like a fool, and the reveal of Wednesday’s identity is anticlimactic because the show has already given this viewer the information in explicit terms.
Meanwhile, Laura becomes more intriguing with each episode, and the stakes for her character are much higher given her rapid degeneration. The makeup for Laura accentuates the rot that is consuming her body, and it’s clear that she is in a very bad place from the very first shot of her in this episode. It only gets worse when she coughs up maggots in what is easily one of this show’s most disturbing moments yet, and when she tries to have Easter resurrect her, she finally discovers the role Mad Sweeney and Wednesday had in her death.
Laura isn’t happy about this, and after the gods finish their fight outside, she appears to demand a word with her husband, who is currently the right-hand man of her killer. From there, the action jumps back to Bilquis, who is currently on a bus to the House on the Rock in Wisconsin, ending the season by teasing the next big location where these gods will congregate. The war drums have been sounded, and the strength of “Come to Jesus” has me optimistic that next season will be an exhilarating ride as the fight between the Old and New Gods heats up.