One of the strangest TV shows currently on the air (perhaps not the strangest, but one of them at least), ‘American Gods’ ended its short first season on Starz this week. Befitting such an unconventional series, the last episode hardly feels like a stopping point at all, much less a finale. It’s a good thing Season 2 has been confirmed.
This is the type of show that’s very difficult to recap. The plot is largely kept obscure and features countless digressions away from the main narrative or characters. The season’s penultimate episode, rather than set up a big climax to follow, segued off into an extended flashback to one character’s ancestor, who was never mentioned before and may well never be seen again.
Even the finale episode opens with a lengthy aside in which our main protagonists, Shadow and Mr. Wednesday, are forced to sit and listen to a flamboyant tailor named Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones) tell the complete history of the goddess Bilquis, whose storyline until now had never intersected with anyone else’s. We learn that she thrived at the center of an ancient sex cult, and adapted through the centuries right up to the free love disco era, until the age of AIDS and moral conservatism brought an end to her reign. She then lived homeless on the streets, her power dwindling as she watched her ancient temple being destroyed on the news, until offered a lifeline by the new god known as Technical Boy, who introduced her to the dark magic of online dating apps. Although able to subsist now, she seems unsatisfied with the arrangement.
Shadow is confused about what the point of this story is, but Mr. Wednesday understands. He needs to get himself a queen if he’s going to war with the new gods.
Mr. Wednesday and Shadow then head off to Kentucky, to the estate of Ostara (a disturbingly over-bronzed Kristin Chenoweth), the pagan goddess of Easter. As Wednesday tries to recruit her for his war, she isn’t interested. She insists that she’s doing fine in the modern age. Her holiday continues to be celebrated every year. However, Wednesday gets under her skin when he points out that she’s just riding the coattails of Jesus, who took over her day and claimed it as his own. No one actually prays to her anymore. Gods gain power through worship and devotion, and as the world forgets about them, they fade. Wednesday suggests that they remind the world of who Ostara is.
Jesus is of course present at Ostara’s Easter party. In fact, multiple Jesuses are, one for every denomination or belief system. Shadow gets in a conversation with a flaky one played by Jeremy Davies.
Storylines converge when Laura Moon and the leprechaun Mad Sweeney arrive at the estate in their stolen ice cream truck. Laura’s zombie body is in pretty bad shape following a car wreck, with flies constantly buzzing around her. They try to keep out of sight of Shadow and Wednesday. Laura doesn’t want her husband to see her again until she’s resurrected back to life, which Sweeney believes Ostara will be able to do for her. Unfortunately, Ostara takes a good look at Laura and informs her that she did not have a natural death. She was killed by a god, and as such, Ostara can do nothing for her. This is big news to Laura, who thought her death was an accident. She demands that Mad Sweeney tell her what really happened. After she beats the truth out of him, he admits that Mr. Wednesday caused her death in order to set in motion the chain of events that would lead Shadow to becoming his assistant. He arranged the whole thing, prison and all.
Suddenly, the party is interrupted by the arrival of the new gods Technical Boy and Media (Gillian Anderson), the latter dressed as Judy Garland from ‘Easter Parade’ this time. They’ve heard that Mr. Wednesday was trying to woo Ostara, who is currently allied with them, and they’ve come to reinforce the exclusivity of her arrangement with them. Mr. World (Crispin Glover) also materializes after Wednesday reveals himself and faces off against them.
During their arguing, Wednesday causes a lightning bolt to strike and kill several of the new gods’ faceless drones. He declares this as a sacrifice to Ostara. This wins her over to his side. As a show of her strength, she causes an immediate blight to all the vegetation and plant life for miles around. If humans want their spring back, they’ll have to pray for it. At this attack, Mr. World officially declares war. The old gods and the new gods can no longer coexist.
Despite everything he’s seen since being introduced to Mr. Wednesday (which includes, not least of all, his wife returning from the dead), Shadow has somehow remained a non-believer in gods. Witnessing this showdown, he demands to know Wednesday’s real name. With much showmanship, Wednesday announces himself as Odin, the ancient Norse god of war.
Finally, Shadow believes, and with a new convert won over, Mr. Wednesday gains just a little more power.
I stopped recapping this show after the pilot episode because it was just too confusing and difficult to summarize. If you haven’t been watching all along, the above article likely makes no sense at all to you. If you have been watching, however, this episode clarifies a fair bit of information about the nature of the war between the gods. Much still remains elusive, for better or worse.
As I said at the beginning, this episode doesn’t feel like a finale. Not only are all the storylines left unresolved, they all feel like they’ve barely gotten started. Mr. Wednesday’s declaration of himself as Odin feels rather anticlimactic, given that viewers already gathered as much from the very first scene of the pilot episode.
An eight-episode season is way too short for a series this ambitious. It isn’t perfect, but it’s intriguing enough that I’ll be back for more.