A cab driver, a leprechaun, and a dead girl walk into a bar… as Jesus walks on water
Earlier in the season, when Mr. Wednesday was giving Shadow a crash course on how to make it snow, he made an offhand comment about the many, many different Jesus currently wandering around America. “You’ve got your white, Jesuit-style Jesus, your black African Jesus, your Mexican Jesus, and your swarthy Greek Jesus,” he explained. When Shadow replied that that is a lot of Jesus, Wednesday added, “There’s a lot of need for Jesus, so there’s a lot of Jesus.”
“A Murder of Gods” kicks off by introducing us to just a little Jesus — not a lot. This week’s Coming to America vignette brings us back to the present, where a group of Mexican men and women are attempting to cross the U.S. border in the dead of night. When one man tries to cross a river but finds himself slipping under the water, someone grabs his hand and pulls him out… someone who can walk on water.
That’s right: The first Jesus we meet is Mexican Jesus, who, sadly, doesn’t last long. Shortly after he pulls the man to shore, the group is found by a bunch of white Americans, who immediately open fire. They’re Christian, too, with rosaries wrapped around their hands and prayers engraved on their guns, but the Jesus they follow isn’t one of tolerance and compassion. Soon, Mexican Jesus is bleeding out on the river bank, with bullet holes in his hands and his arms outstretched, and when a tumbleweed blows across his face, it leaves behind a wispy crown of thorns.
And so American Gods comes to Jesus, beginning what might be the series’ most controversial episode yet. (Although if we’re being honest, anyone who might be outraged over this episode probably stopped watching sometime during episode 1, when Bilquis first showed off her unique, um, power.) Jesus isn’t a major player in Neil Gaiman’s book, but Bryan Fuller and Michael Green have teased that the show will introduce multiple versions of Jesus. It’s a powerful idea, exploring how we each approach belief and religion in a different way and, more often than not, use worship to justify our own preexisting ideas. It’s a theme the show explores even further with the later introduction of Vulcan. (Note that the bullets in this scene are clearly labeled “Vulcan.”)
Still, this Coming to America fell a little flat for me. We know that these are stories written by the mysterious Mr. Ibis, so they’re not necessarily supposed to be taken literally, and Green and Fuller are far more interested in exploring the moral and allegorical implications of these vignettes than treating them as fact. But this one felt a little heavy handed and not quite as powerful for me as some of the past Coming to America stories.
As far as Shadow and Wednesday go, Shadow is, justifiably, kind of freaked out and angry after his candy-colored confrontation with Mr. World, Technical Boy, and Media in the previous episode. As he so succinctly puts it: “What the hell was that in there? Marilyn Monroe just floats into a f—ing room! They massacred a station full of cops and just left us in the middle of it! And then I get stabbed by Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree!” Shoutout to Shadow for being able to think of such great pop culture references while experiencing massive blood loss.
But Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree apparently has one more sinister trick up its sleeve, and as Wednesday and Shadow hurry away from the police station, Shadow begins to feel his stab wound moving. A vicious splinter has been left behind, and as Wednesday tries to extract it, we get a gory, glorious bit of body horror — essentially a cross between Baby Groot and a Xenomorph. After all, Michael Green did help write Alien: Covenant.
Wednesday explains that the creature is a manifestation of someone called Mr. Wood. Essentially, Wednesday says, Mr. Wood was the god of the forests and trees, but when he felt the rising tide of industry, he sacrificed his forests to the sawmills. He’s yet another example of an old god who’s found new relevance in modern society, and he’s now clearly teamed up with the New Gods.
It’s then that Shadow spills the beans and tells his employer that he was recently visited by the dead Laura. Notably, Wednesday is surprised. Snow and tree monsters and floating Marilyn Monroe haven’t fazed Wednesday in the slightest, so whatever magic in Mad Sweeney’s coin is bringing Laura back to life, it’s something Wednesday isn’t familiar with — or at least something he wasn’t expecting. Rather than stick around, waiting to find Laura, Wednesday’s eager to get back on the road, and as they’re leaving the motel, he spots Laura in the rearview mirror, only to keep driving. For whatever reason, he’s not eager to reunite his employee and his dearly departed.
As for Laura, she’s ticked off: The police towed her car, thinking she was dead. Before long, Mad Sweeney pops up again, having reluctantly resigned himself to following Laura around until he can get his coin back. And so, he makes her an offer: He can bring her to someone who can resurrect her for good — none of this half-dead nonsense. She reluctantly agrees, but before they can hit the road in a stolen cab, they’re stopped by the guy whose car they’re trying to steal.
Turns out that we haven’t seen the last of our beloved Salim! In Gaiman’s novel, the story of Salim and the Jinn is really only limited to one chapter, but here, Salim has been empowered by his brush with the divine, and now, freed from his old life, he’s setting out to find the Jinn once more. Mad Sweeney reluctantly tells Salim he knows where he can find the Jinn, but he’s not going to reveal anything until they get to Kentucky and get Laura resurrected. And so begins the quirkiest road trip saga this side of the Mississippi.
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Meanwhile, Shadow and Mr. Wednesday have made their way to their next destination: Vulcan, Virginia. It’s a small, picturesque town, all little shops and American flags, but as Shadow and Wednesday pull in, it seems to be empty. Before long, they happen upon a funeral honoring an employee at the nearby gun factory, who leaned on a faulty railing and tumbled into a fiery vat of flaming metal. It isn’t the first time something like this has happened, but the town is so grateful for the reliability of the local factory and so devoted to their guns that they’re more than happy to turn a blind eye to the occasional “accidental” human sacrifice.
The leader of the town is a man named Vulcan, who immediately embraces Wednesday like a brother. They’re longtime friends, and Wednesday is eager to recruit Vulcan, one of the oldest and most powerful gods, to his cause. But Vulcan is unsure as to why he should align with Wednesday. After all, he’s not struggling. The ancient Roman god of fire and forge has found a new lease on life, tapping into Americans’ overwhelming love of guns. After all, what is a gun but a portable, handheld volcano?
“It’s filled with prayers in my name,” Vulcan muses. “The power of fire is firepower. Not God, but godlike. And they believe. It fills their spirits every time they pull the trigger. They feel my heat on their hip, and it keeps them warm at night.”
It’s easy to dismiss Vulcan, Virginia, as an exaggeration or a parody, especially with all the shots of babies and grandmas desperately clutching their guns. But there’s something especially timely and eerily familiar about this small town, especially in an age where America feels more politically divided than ever. Vulcan, Virginia, is a small, insular, and fiercely devoted community, and the glares they give Wednesday and Shadow make it clear that they are not particularly hospitable to outsiders.
Wednesday sums it up succinctly, declaring, “There aren’t just two Americas. Everyone looks at Lady Liberty and sees a different face, even if it crumbles under question. People will defend the warm, safe feeling their America gives them.”
One person who isn’t feeling warm and safe is Shadow, who is not only freaked out by the number of guns but very, very aware of how overwhelmingly white the town is. Vulcan assures Shadow that no harm will come to him, but he also takes the time to point out the old hanging tree in his front yard. Not only does the tree allude to the town’s thirst for violence and, presumably, racism, but it reminds Shadow of the mysterious tree in his dreams — as well as his own recent hanging.
Wednesday once again asks Vulcan to stand with him against the New Gods, and Vulcan agrees, even promising to forge Wednesday a powerful blade for the coming war. Vulcan prefers the firepower of guns, now, but Wednesday has his heart set on a sword. But as soon as he’s completed the blade, he reveals that he sold them out to the New Gods and has no intention of joining the war. After all, he reminds them, he’s not struggling. He’s found new relevance and vigor in the modern age, and gun hysteria has only made him stronger.
“Every bullet fired in a crowded movie theater is a prayer in my name,” he says. “And that prayer makes them want to pray even harder.”
Luckily for Wednesday, he’s got a plan of his own. After all, Vulcan has already forged him a blade, a pretty blatant declaration of allegiance to Wednesday and the Old Gods. One swing of the sword and one push into the vat makes it look like the New Gods killed him for siding with Wednesday — turning Vulcan into just the kind of martyr Wednesday needs to jumpstart his cause and earn added sympathy from other Old Gods. And, just as an added insult, he urinates into the vat, laying a curse down on all of Vulcan’s factory.
The New Gods may have won the most recent battle, but Wednesday is more than ready for war.