Kristin Chenoweth dons her Easter bonnet in a divine season finale

By Devan Coggan
June 18, 2017 at 10:02 PM EDT
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American Gods is closing out its phenomenal first season as only American Gods can — by starting with a massive, ancient orgy and ending with a pastel Jesus party-turned-declaration of war.

There is a lot to unpack in this season finale, so let’s start with the orgy (which is not a sentence I expected to write when I first sat down to watch this episode). Shadow is still reeling from the recent decapitation of Vulcan, but Mr. Wednesday has already moved on to the next part of his plan. Apparently, that involves getting some super dope bespoke suits, custom made from spider silk by one Mr. Nancy. That’s right — we get our first modern-day look at everyone’s favorite spider trickster god, and you can’t have a Nancy scene without him trying to tell a story.

Nancy proceeds to tell the tale of the Queen of Sheba in the Temple of Bar’an, circa 864 B.C. We, of course, recognize her as Bilquis, and the goddess of love and devotion is in rare form, all golden and glowing and surrounded by an entire army of worshipers. She’s never been more powerful, and that, Nancy tells us, makes her a target. But Bilquis treats her lovers and haters equally, consuming them until they dissolve into a strange, glittery black liquid and disappear into her. “Kings didn’t like that,” Nancy recounts. “Kings came one after another to knock her off her throne. They didn’t last long.” From what we’ve seen of Bilquis so far, she’s clearly a powerful deity, but this is her at the height of her strength. She’s regal and terrifying, all at once.

Over the years, Bilquis proves to be fairly adaptable, moving from ancient temples to ‘70s discos, but eventually, she begins to face too much persecution. So, she decides to turn her attention elsewhere — to America. “But America, too, can take issue with a woman of power,” Nancy tells us, and before long, she’s losing friends and lovers to AIDS and spending her nights on the streets. By the time 2013 rolls around, she’s a barely recognizable shell of her former self, pushing a shopping cart and watching helplessly as ISIS militants on the other side of the globe destroy her ancient temples.

She finds an unexpected savior, however, in the form of Technical Boy, who approaches her on the street one night. “I hear they blew up your altar,” he tells her, smirking. “I have a new one to offer you.” And so he hands her a cell phone, introducing her to the world of online dating and sex on demand. He’s created a dating app in her name — Sheba, instead of Tinder — and now, every time someone swipes right, they’re directly worshiping her. If Wednesday is a holdout who refuses to partner with the New Gods, Bilquis is an example of what can happen when you do agree to what Media calls “a merger.” It’s clear that Bilquis isn’t eager to trust Technical Boy, but she doesn’t have much of a choice. She’s still a long way from moonlit orgies and scores of worshipers, but at least with the internet at her fingertips, she can survive.

When we see her next, she’s refreshed and rejuvenated, but she still finds herself wandering through old museums, revisiting her old relics and the fragments of her temples. Eventually, Technical Boy tracks her down, informing her that he’s here to cash in that favor she owes him. There’s a great, brief moment where she turns her charm in his direction, and as she leans in close to him, he recoils. It’s a few seconds in an action-packed episode, but it reveals a lot about who Technical Boy is: He may talk a big game, but he still can’t relate to — and is possibly even scared of — intimacy.

We don’t overhear the exact details of what Technical Boy’s favor is, but we can sort of piece it together. The last shot of Bilquis comes at the very, very end of the episode, as she’s shown taking a bus to Wisconsin. We know that Wisconsin — specifically the House on the Rock — is where Wednesday and a whole pantheon of gods are planning to gather, soon. If Bilquis is allied with Technical Boy and the New Gods (however reluctantly), that’s pretty bad news for Wednesday.

We’ll talk a little bit more about the House on the Rock later, but for now, let’s head to Kentucky…
(Recap continues on page 2)

Wednesday has one more powerful ally he’d like to recruit before heading to Wisconsin, so he and Shadow set out for Kentucky. So far, their road trip has mostly taken them to dingy Chicago apartments, crusty Midwestern motels, a terrifying small town in Virginia… but Kentucky is pure joy and magic, all flowers and bunnies and sunshine. When they finally reach their destination, a beautiful house overlooking a lake, Shadow and Wednesday walk into the most luxurious Easter party either of them has ever seen.

And so they meet Easter, a.k.a. Eostre, a.k.a. Ostara. She’s played by longtime Bryan Fuller favorite and Pushing Daisies alum Kristin Chenoweth, who brings a cheery radiance to the goddess of the spring. Long before Jesus rose from the dead, Easter was her holiday, as ancient Germanic people held a festival in her name to celebrate the end of winter and herald the arrival of spring. As Wednesday puts it: “When you see children dipping eggs in vinegar the colors of their favorite toys, or when you see the nation’s youth fleeing south for copulation, or when they spread their seed over the sinking mass that is the great state of Florida, they all, without realizing it, do it in her name: Ostara.”

But although the holiday originated in her name, Easter has since evolved to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And as Shadow looks around this lovely spring brunch, he suddenly realizes that several of the guests seem familiar. There’s a beautiful woman, beatifically smiling down at a cherubic baby at her breast. There’s a tall man with bloody holes in his hand. And when a long-haired man wearing sandals and a robe greets him by name, he realizes: Practically every attendee at this party is a version of Jesus Christ. Suddenly, he gets it: They’re all gods.

And so, everything clicks into place. Shadow, like the average American, isn’t necessarily familiar with Czernobog or Odin or Anansi, but it’s hard for him to miss the telltale signs of Jesus. So far, he’s chalked up everything he’s seen so far to magic or dreams, but now, he realizes that everything he’s experienced has been not magical, but divine.

All things considered, Shadow takes this news rather well, although the blow is probably softened by the peaceful party atmosphere and the free-flowing champagne. When he and Wednesday finally greet their host, Easter is not exactly thrilled to see Wednesday, but she’s totally charmed with Shadow. “I deal in sugar, sugar, and you’re the sweetest damn thing I’ve ever seen,” she tells him, grinning. (Find someone who looks at you the way Ricky Whittle looks at Kristin Chenoweth in this scene — with pure joy and adoration.)

Party aside, Wednesday is there to talk business, and he’s eager to recruit Easter to his cause. She, of course, brushes him off, arguing that she’s not like him — people haven’t forgotten her. There’s a whole multimillion-dollar industry revolving around chocolate rabbits and egg dye, and unlike some of their less fortunate colleagues, people sure as hell know her name. Wednesday, however, reminds her that people may be celebrating her day, but they don’t do it in her name, and as he says this, he gestures at one of the many Jesuses surrounding them. “You’re as forgotten and unloved and as unremembered as any of us,” he tells her. (The Jesuses, for what it’s worth, tell Easter that they feel very guilty for co-opting her day. Jesuses are nothing if not polite and thoughtful.)

Jesus, plural or otherwise, doesn’t make an appearance in the final draft of Neil Gaiman’s novel, the assumption being that he’s got more important things to do than take a side in the squabble between the New Gods and the Old. But the Easter party, as dreamed up by showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, is kind of brilliant. Throughout the season, Wednesday has hinted at the existence of multiple Jesuses, and we’ve even met one of them, but here, we see every incarnation, all nibbling at jellybeans and chocolate bunnies. Wednesday dismisses the Jesuses as sons of gods, not actual gods, but even though they’re presumably some of the most powerful figures we’ve met so far, they don’t seem like they would be particularly interested in Wednesday’s war, anyway.

While Wednesday and Easter are arguing, Shadow comes upon a particular Jesus, perhaps the most stereotypical incarnation, who is played with beatific brilliance by Jeremy Davies. He’s sitting on Easter’s pool — yes, on — and there’s a great moment where he’s turning water into wine, and he drops his glass. It sinks to the bottom of the pool as he whispers, “God damn it.” As the light creates a subtle halo effect around his head, he and Shadow have a heart-to-heart about belief. Even with all of the things that Shadow has seen so far, he’s not sure he can believe in all of this — and Jesus tells him that that’s okay.

“Even if you don’t believe, you cannot travel in any other way than the road your senses show you,” Jesus tells him. “And you must walk that road to the end.” (It’s a line paraphrased from Gaiman’s novel.) If only we all had Jeremy Davies Jesus to offer us advice when we needed it most.

Meanwhile, a very sad and damaged ice cream truck pulls up to the Kentucky party, and Easter is not thrilled. (Multiple times in this episode, she leans in to listen to a white rabbit relaying information, before declaring, “Oh s—.” It’s glorious. Kristin Chenoweth is glorious.) Apparently, Easter doesn’t particularly like Mad Sweeney, and she’s not exactly thrilled to have an angry leprechaun and a dead girl crashing her party. Bryan Fuller sure loves to write Kristin Chenoweth characters who are annoyed by dead girls. But for whatever reason, Easter owes Sweeney a favor, and she agrees to bring Laura back. After all, who is more associated with resurrection than the goddess of spring, who brings the entire Earth back to life after every winter? But as she moves to examine Laura, she recoils, before apologizing and telling her that she can’t resurrect someone who was killed by a god. Which is when Laura turns to Sweeney and angrily asks, “Which f—ing god?”

Sweeney admits to running her off the road, but Laura knows he’s not a true god, just a leprechaun. Laura was killed by a god, a real god, and if Sweeney doesn’t tell her which one, she vows to kill him. “I swear to Jesus,” she hisses. “He’s right outside.” Which is when Sweeney tells her the truth: It was Wednesday.

The last episode hinted at Wednesday’s involvement, but here, Sweeney spells it out a little clearer. Turns out that Wednesday set everything up, going back years  — from Shadow going to jail to Laura’s death. “You weren’t murdered,” Sweeney tells Laura. “You were sacrificed.” For whatever reason, Shadow was the man Wednesday wanted at his side, and in order to get Shadow to sign on, he needed him in a place of desperation.

“He needed your man,” Sweeney continues. “He needed him to be in a place where he had nothing left in the world, nothing to lose because he’d already lost everything.”

To which Laura replies: “What does Wednesday have to lose?”
(Recap continues on page 3)

As if things weren’t complicated enough, guess who else has an invitation to this Easter party: Judy Garland in full Easter Parade regalia, as played by Gillian Anderson. (And accompanied by a bunch of the New Gods’ faceless goons, dressed like Fred Astaire.) After all, who is more responsible for the popularity of Easter than Media? “We popularized the pagan,” Media-slash-Judy says cheerily. “We practically invented brunch!”

But before Media can dig into the Easter ham, Wednesday walks outside to confront her. Soon, Technical Boy and Mr. World show up, too, and so begins an epic showdown. The clouds start to roll in, as Wednesday and the New Gods each compete to sway Easter to their side. Media starts by telling Easter that without them, she’d be as forgotten as Wednesday. “Saint Nick took the same deal you did,” she tells Easter. “The only reason you’re still relevant today is because Easter is a Christian holiday. It’s religious Darwinism… Adapt and survive.”

But Wednesday reminds Easter that it doesn’t have to be that way. People used to pray to her for the return of spring, so why can’t they do that once more? “People create gods when they wonder why things happen,” he explains. “You know why things happen? Because gods make them happen. You wanna know how to make good things happen? Be good to your god. You give a little, you get a little. The simplicity of that bargain has always been appealing.”

And with one fell swoop, Wednesday strikes down all of the goons in a flash of thunder and lightning, dedicating their deaths to Easter. It’s the first time Shadow sees Wednesday as he really is, and as the storm begins swirling around him, Wednesday confesses his true nature on screen for the first time. “I have as many names as there are winds, as many titles as there are ways to die,” he says. This entire season, we’ve watched Ian McShane play Wednesday as a con artist, as a clueless old man, as a flirt, but here, McShane imbues Wednesday with a power that truly feels godlike. Eventually, he names himself as Odin, and he urges Easter to accept her true nature and do the same.

She steps forward, and for the first time in a long time, she fully embraces her power and makes it spring. It’s beautiful at first, all color and greenery and wind and flowers, and as she lets her hair down and revels in the warm weather, the clouds part and the flower petals swirl around her. And then, she exhales, and across the country, crops wither, plants die on the vine, sprouts sink back into the earth… Kristin Chenoweth gives it her all, making Easter seem beautiful and terrible all at once, and Mr. World, Media, and Technical Boy can do nothing but watch with open mouths, retreating and vowing revenge. The war is officially on.

“Tell the believers and the nonbelievers, tell them we’ve taken the spring,” Wednesday says, smiling. “They can have it back when they pray for it.”

But before Wednesday can fully celebrate his victory, he’s interrupted by Laura, who politely tells him, “I’d like to have a word with my husband.”

And so ends American Gods’ first season. It’s been a wild, occasionally slow ride at times, but in this finale, Fuller and Green lay it all out on the table. The war is on. Shadow is starting to understand this strange world of gods. Wednesday has revealed his true nature. And Laura (like the audience) knows that Wednesday is responsible for her death. In Gaiman’s novel, the reveal that Wednesday orchestrated Laura’s car crash comes much, much later in the story, so I’m extremely intrigued as to how the story will play out over the next season. Perhaps most importantly, this first season has done a phenomenal job of bringing Gaiman’s strange world to the screen, breathing new life into some characters (like Laura and Mad Sweeney) and introducing others who will play a very, very big role going forward (like Mr. Nancy, Czernobog, and Easter).

As we know from that last shot of Bilquis, the next stop is the House on the Rock in Wisconsin. Book readers know that the scenes set here are some of the most memorable of the entire novel, and non-book readers, a quick Google search will give you an idea of just how trippy and weird this real-life roadside attraction is. (So get excited.) Season 1 has been a strange, gorgeous, sexy, hilarious, and terrifying meditation on belief, and if you need me, I’ll be praying to Media to bring season 2 as quickly as possible.

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