Pray For It
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
In the times before Christianity had arguably become the primary modality of Germanic religious paradigms, there were a plethora of Pagan religious cultures, beliefs, and traditions that were deeply entrenched within the region. With the advent of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, however, this new monotheistic religion became an official religious extension of the Roman Empire and the inevitability of clashes was set. To ease that clash, certain Pagan traditions were adopted within the paradigms of Christianity, including, for example, the cherished American Christmas tree. Another tradition, one whose origins have caused a number of historical debates, is Easter. In modern Christian tradition, the central tenant of Easter rests upon it being the day where Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead. Easter, however, has a much longer history in its relation to the Saxon goddess of spring: Ostara (also known as Ēostre in certain translations), who indeed gives the holiday its name.
In the world of American Gods, Ostara was an old goddess who survived on the strength of the beliefs of people and was brought over to American shores with immigrants whose heritage included stories of this goddess of spring and the hares that arrived in her accompaniment. Yet unlike many of the old gods, however, Ostara avoided the fate that troubles Mr. Wednesday and his ilk, the fate of being forgotten and left to crumble apart in the dust. Ostara did what Mr. Wednesday was unable to do, on account of those very traditions that were molded together in the name of stately stability. She was able to transform herself into Easter, a goddess of not just spring but also of resurrection, followed by those aforementioned bunnies and a treasure trove of jelly beans. Easter, as she note so sharply to Mr. Wednesday, was doing just fine. She was in a sickeningly springy dress, smiling brightly and surrounding herself with a plethora of Jesuses roaming about her stunningly charming Kentucky manor. The faith that was keeping Ostara alive was altering and she had a choice to make. The choice she made was to adapt to the altering landscape and in doing so ensure that in some form or another, she was worshipped. There are caveats and compromises, but her position of strength in the America of today is undeniable.
American Gods’s first season finale asks a critical question of the old gods: should you adapt to the evolving landscape and when does that adaptation cross that invisible line into becoming someone you don’t want to be? For the new gods, the episode asks the critical question of what the consequences are of believing in your strength and power in a new world to such a degree that you become blind to how the world you see came about in the first place. It is an episode that, while lacking the proper panache and narrative oomph to act as a proper season finale, uses those questions to construct a core thematic struggle every character is facing, whether it happens to be on a divine scale or otherwise. It provides this episode with a backbone, even if doing so also reveals a few weaknesses Bryan Fuller and Michael Green would be wise to take note of for the future.
Shadow Moon is ostensibly the protagonist of American Gods but he is arguably much more of a passive protagonist. While that problem is certainly more pronounced in the novel, the series simply does not give enough narrative connectivity for Shadow’s realization that he believes to land the proper punch. On paper, the character arc of Shadow makes complete sense but in the first season, his arc is a bit too scattered for it to coalesce towards that revelation in a way that feels germane and revelatory. Perhaps Shadow would have benefitted from an episode or two focused largely on him, even providing a window into his perspective on what his relationship with Laura looked like, how those events shaped his worldview that was transformed so sharply. Shadow’s adaptation to his strange and otherworldly surroundings was necessary for his character and the story to progress forward, but that progression did not always espouse the narrative focus that it required.
The transformation of Laura Moon, on the other hand, feels germane and revelatory, in part because it is a much more gradual process than Shadow’s and because those two fantastic showcase episodes for Emily Browning added shades complexities to the character that the writing for Shadow simply has not been able to match. When she arrives at Easter’s manor, it is with the promise from Mad Sweeney that Easter would be able to resurrect her properly. Those hopes are dashed, however, as soon as Easter signifies that as she was murdered by a god, she would be unable to resurrect her properly upon her request. Laura’s rage is priceless and the pain she inflicts upon Mad Sweeney is thoroughly justified, leading to a standoff where she might drive an immediate wedge between Sweeney and his new boss in Odin. Laura’s greatest internal conflict when she was alive was her wanting to simply feel something, but in spite of all her various attempts, she was simply unable to do so. Here Laura feels, she is furious, and Odin might be wise to take into account the unforeseen consequences of what he unleashed.
The most successful narrative arc of the episode belongs to Bilquis, a mighty goddess of old who commanded an empire in the ancient ages. She was, however, brought down like many of her compatriots, reeling to survive and wallowing in shock as the monuments built to her worship were systematically destroyed. A new god gave her a new lease on life, but Bilquis knew that it was a lease that came attached with a considerable amount of strings, not least of all because that lease came from the hands of an entitled white man. Time and time again, men have torn Bilquis down, be it the ancient ages, Tehran in 1979, or modern-day America. America, as Anansi notes quetly, consistently found ways of punishing her for daring to be. Bilquis is aware of this imbalance and in a powerful moment confronts Techno Boy when his audacity crosses a line as he often tends to do. She knows that some balance of power must be maintained for her survival, her independence. Ostara embraced her powers of old, throwing down her gauntlet for the old gods and destroying spring. As Bilquis travels towards the meeting of gods, perhaps she can reclaim her true power and throw down her declaration of power in her own right.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Once upon a time, there was a fucking queen.”
+“When the queen was done with you, you were gone. There are worse ways to go.”
+“Then men did what they do. They took that power from her.”
+“America finds ways of punishing her for daring to be.”
+“I feel terrible about this.”
+“St. Nick made the same deal.”
+“What happens if they all decide that God doesn’t exist?”
+“They can have it back when they pray for it.”
Episode Title: Come to Jesus
Teleplay by: Bekah Brunstetter and Michael Green & Bryan Fuller
Directed by: Floria Sigismondi
Image Courtesy: EW
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