‘American Gods’ Pushes All The Buttons (TV REVIEW)

[rating=9.00] “A Murder of Gods”

“Which came first, the gods or the people that believe in them?”

For a show that’s entire premise is about a coming conflict between old, forgotten gods of the past and the new, revered gods of our culture’s present, it was inevitable that Jesus would be making an appearance. Considering he takes many forms in the source material, it was certain to come up, despite the show’s (welcome) diversions from Gaiman’s text. But having him appear as a Mexican to a group of immigrants while they’re being fired upon by a group of border vigilantes — and being gunned down in the process — was more than a little bit shocking, even in light of the point it was making.

Back in the main storyline, Shadow (Ricky Whittle) is still wrapping his head around what happened last week, when the new gods showed up and made their pitch to Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane): a rebranding of his deification, better suited to the modern world. A chance to join the new gods at their side, avoid war and find new life as a weapon of mass destruction.

Enter Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen), the one-time god of fire and forge, who now finds himself the ringleader of a small, gun-centric town, whose sole industry is making firearms. After a factory worker leans against a railing and falls to his death in a pit of molten metal, Wednesday and Shadow descend upon a parade held in his honor — complete with a hail of bullets fired into the air.

Wednesday greets his old friend, who seems willing to join him by his side in the coming war. He even invites them back to his home, adorned with taxidermy and weapons in every nook and cranny, and offers his old friend a drink. But, consciously denies offering one to Shadow, making no effort to hide his racist motivations for doing so.

Despite his selective welcoming, Wednesday asks Vulcan to make him a weapon, a blade to have at his side when the war comes. Despite Vulcan’s obvious preference for bullets, he does as he’s asked, forging a large, ornate sword in the heart of his factory. It’s only after he hands the blade to Wednesday that he reveals his double-cross. It’s the new gods that have made him who he is today, rebranded the god of fire into the god of firepower, and replaced volcanic sacrifices with purposefully faulty railings. All capped off with his own name adorned on every bullet that leaves the factory — including the one that pierced the heart of Jesus in the episode’s opening segment.

It’s the first real surprise of the show’s narrative, now in its sixth episode, one that also lets us see the practicality of the new gods’ sales pitch. No longer at risk of being forgotten, he’s re-deified with a new purpose in today’s modern, gun-obsessed culture. “I was a story people forgot to remember to tell,” Vulcan explains, rationalizing what he calls his neutral stance on the coming war. “Every bullet fired in a crowded movie theater is a prayer in my name,” he goes on as the show continues its fearless critique of modern-day America.

“And that’s how you franchised your faith,” says Wednesday, who keeps the surprises coming when he abruptly beheads his one-time friend, who then falls into his own molten pits like so many mortals had before him. Wednesday doesn’t stop there, of course, as he curses “the whole fucking thing” by urinating into the same molten pit, while we see a repeat of the same bullet-producing montage shown earlier in the episode. Just with a bit more foreboding this time around.

Elsewhere, Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schrieber) and Laura (Emily Browning) agree to hit the road together in an unlikely alliance in the event of overlapping goals. While trying to steal a taxi, they’re stopped by Salim (Omid Abtahi), who ends up joining their mini-crusade.

It’s with the three of them that the episode ends, on a peaceful, tranquil road at sunrise, with Salim praying. It was an abrupt about-face from the heavy-handed violence that dominated the episode before it, a conscious reminder that at its core, religion is a source of peace for the majority of those who practice it.

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