After weeks of gushing over this show like a couple of fanbois, now comes the part where we get all bored and bitchy about it, as fanbois are wont to do.
Look, we’ll just say it and risk sounding cranky: We didn’t like this episode. We were originally going to write we “didn’t love” this episode, but that implies more vestigial good feelings about it than we actually possess. We’ve watched it three times now and we like it less each time. And strangely, after the third watch, we were forced to conclude that everything we’ve always loved about the show was there – scathing social commentary, eye-popping visuals, and whip-smart dialogue – but that none of it was quite hitting the mark the way it should. Some of the problems came down to the story spinning its wheels a bit and some of it came down to a somewhat irritating lack of subtlety.
Granted, “subtle” is not a word we’d have chosen to describe this series up until this point. If anything, it’s been in-your-face and over-the-top, which have been two of our reasons for loving it most. We’re not entirely sure how the show should have depicted an American Jesus or how it should tie America’s worship of guns into the themes of the story, but what they came up with struck us as facile, overly literal, and shallow.
Let’s start with Jesus. This was a “Coming to America” story, in the vein of Odin’s and Anansi’s tales. And while each of those prior interludes dealt with such weighty topics as xenophobia, religious mania, and the country’s shameful history regarding African-Americans, both strove to present these issues in a witty, visually compelling style. It seems they couldn’t extend that same sense of wit to the tale of Mexican Jesus. We found the entire opening scene to be far too reverent and po-faced for our liking. The only part of it that felt like American Gods was the moment when the headlights from the trucks gave Jesus a halo. Unfortunately, this was followed almost immediately by rolling tumbleweed bestowing upon him a crown of thorns, a visual pun that wound up inducing eyerolls in us. And to be honest, after three viewings, we’re not entirely sure what the point of this opening scene was. The Odin and Anansi scenes were thought-provoking while the Mexican Jesus scene came off more didactic. We suppose that sense was somewhat inevitable, given how timely the question of illegal immigration is right now in American politics (not to mention how controversial). This doesn’t even get into how confusing the Mexican Jesus scene is, since unlike the scenes of Odin and Anansi, which literally describe how both gods first manifested in America, this scene is set in the present day. Unlike the previous scenes, there was no sense of trying to tie gods, history and a specific culture together. It was just a random Jesus moment injected into a scene depicting Mexican-Americans in the most stereotypical way possible.
To be fair, there are many ways you can interpret the Jesus scene to make it fit into the themes a little better. We imagine – although the show does nothing to really illustrate this – that this is one of countless Mexican Jesuses who have appeared in similar circumstances over the centuries. This doesn’t necessarily work under the “Coming to America” banner like previous interludes, but we guess the point is that Jesus is constantly coming to America … ? Like we said, this one just doesn’t feel thought-out or thematically sound. It really just felt like the creators pushing buttons as hard as they could.
We might have shrugged over the clunky beginning and moved on, except it turned out to be indicative of the rest of the episode. If the show’s creators seemed to have seized up a bit at the prospect of skewering Jesus, they completely dropped the ball on examining America’s worship of firearms. Everything about the stop in Vulcan Virginia felt like the show going right off the rails, both in its message and in the way it conveys it. Look at the shot at the top of this post. The magical realism that has defined the show inexplicably morphed into some form of heavy-handed Tim Burton-esque social satire. It doesn’t reflect America, it reflects a cartoon version of it. They took a very complex social and political issue, stuck a god-figure in front of it (one that only partially fit), and then stood back and acted like it was saying something profound. Tying firearms and fascism together with a big bow of patriotism is not a new idea. If you’re going there, have something to say, please. “Everyone looks at Lady Liberty and sees a different face” is a fairly good line. Too bad they essentially followed that up with, “And rural people who like guns are evil and scary.” And we say this as two people who are very much not gun nuts. Or necessarily big Jesus-believers. These scenes didn’t offend us; they annoyed us for saying nothing.
If these were the only issues we had with this episode, we’d probably be a lot less cranky about it. But most of the other scenes didn’t do much to help. Watching Odin’s plan start to come together – especially the part about him decapitating gods who get in his way – was the one saving grace. Everything else – from Shadow’s increasingly annoying lack of faith (YOU MADE OUT WITH YOUR DEAD WIFE, DUDE. SNAP OUT OF IT) to Laura’s self-centered fatalism (and mostly pointless side-trip to see her family), just felt like the show repeating itself. It was fun to see Salim, Mad Sweeney and Laura team up, but that was about it. Sorry, American Gods fans, but we just can bring ourselves to like this one.