In the interest of full disclosure, we feel we must admit that it’s taken us the better part of a day to write this post. In the interest of accuracy, we must inform you that the reason it took so long is that there’s only so many ways you can say “GOD, that was so much fun. Wasn’t that fun, you guys? SO FUN.” But we might as well admit, in the interest of further full disclosure, that the rest of this review is just going to be a slightly more long-winded way of saying just that. It was fun – more fun than we had a right to expect, to be honest.
Because yes, American Gods‘ first season had a couple of issues with pacing. And it’s true that the story, such as it is, has spent roughly half the season on wheel-spinning or narrative detours (some of which worked far better than others). And like so many Bryan Fuller joints, there were times when the stylization threatened to cause the whole thing to capsize under the weight of too much slo-mo or extreme closeups of mundane items. But in the end – literally – when it came time for the show to make its case as to why you should wait out the hiatus before season 2 comes back, it did that thing that so many reviewers and recappers say shows are supposed to do (ourselves included), to the point that even pointing it out feels like an enormous cliche: American Gods stuck the landing.
Nailed it, even. CRUSHED it.
That was simply a super-fun, super-entertaining hour of television in which the stakes were high, the emotional payoffs were more than earned, the character introductions were enthralling, the confrontations were thrilling and the ending left you gasping for more. We couldn’t have asked for more. In fact, it was so satisfying that if this were a later season of American Gods, we’d have pegged an episode like this one as “fan service.”
From the reappearance of Mr. Nancy in high style and flair, to the utterly jaw-dropping imagery of Bilquis as a beautiful, dark-skinned goddess at the height of her power – imagery brilliantly designed to push the maximum number of buttons, by the way (Tom, when we saw this screener weeks ago: “Oh my GOD, I can’t WAIT until Black Twitter gets a load of that Bilquis scene.” Followup note: Black Twitter, you did not disappoint), to the thrilling showdown between old gods and new and finally, to the introduction of the most fun character of them all, Kristin Chenoweth as Ostara, the ancient goddess of the dawn (and the apparent new goddess of drag queens, judging by her wig and eyeshadow game), this season finale was literally everything we love about the show, thrown into the mix. The only thing missing was Cloris Leachman and a bottle of good vodka. And even then, we can’t say we missed her much in an episode where we we got DISCO BILQUIS, YOU GUYS.
(And also a really powerful metaphor about female power and how the history of humanity revolves around tearing it down, but also Disco Bilquis, tearing up Tehran dancefloors in the ’70s.)
But it wasn’t just the eye-popping imagery (although we’ve been rewinding the Bilquis scene non-stop and lightly arguing over whether Ostara’s decor is too over the top or not) that made this so much fun. It was the pleasure of watching everything come to a head and almost every character converge on the same spot. It was the delight of watching your protagonist finally state his name and claim his power. It was the sheer joy of watching the disenfranchised snatch power unexpectedly from the smugly powerful. Media’s panicked “What have you done?” was the ultimate payoff of the season.
We could complain about Shadow being so dim-witted that it took him this long to declare his belief. We could note that the final showdown came down to gods of the earth and wind – tactile gods, ancient gods of primal forces vs. gods of ideas and concepts, making the latter seem like nothing but a lot of talk and hot air. As Odin noted, the new gods offer only distraction instead of giving people something to believe, making their power somewhat illusory in the end. Or at least for now. We could talk about the somewhat hilarious way the story hand-waves away Jesus. Or that, in this telling, Jesus is something akin to the God of Believing. He’s less a symbol of Christianity as he is a metaphor for the power of belief. Or we could just talk about the fabulous butterfly shoes Miss Easter was wearing or the fact that Ricky Whittle looked ridiculously hot in that suit. But the only thing that truly matters is that American Gods stuck the landing, showed the audience what it can really do when it sets its mind to it, and gave us one of the most fun 60 minutes of TV we’ve experienced all year.
More, please. ASAP.