You didn’t really think we’d seen the last of Wednesday (Ian McShane), did you? The lord of the Norse gods may have ended the previous episode of American Gods skewered on his own spear, but in this week’s season finale ‘Tears of the Wrath-Bearing Tree’ he reveals it was all part of his grand plan.
It started so promisingly. In the pre-credits sequence, Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) is tasked with helping Shadow (Ricky Whittle) find his soulmate, in order to convince him he “ain’t no solo act”. In a vision, she sees Shadow together with his oft-resurrected wife Laura (Emily Browning), and sets off to the middle of America to find them.
— American Gods US (@americangodsus) March 19, 2021
We really do mean the ‘middle of America’. The Center of America Motel, at the country’s exact geographic centre, has been selected as the location for a meeting between old gods and new, at which Wednesday’s corpse will be passed over to Shadow and the always mallet-ready Czernobog (Peter Stormare). Mortician Mr Ibis (Demore Barnes) explains the significance of this particular motel: at this “godless” locale, the gods are powerless against each other – making it “the perfect place to conduct negotiations between beings of a divine persuasion”.
It’s only after arriving that Shadow learns from Cordelia (Ashley Reyes) that it was Laura who killed Wednesday. As Wednesday’s heir, and according to Norse tradition, it is up to Shadow to mete out vengeance. Mr World (Crispin Glover) has been keeping Laura at the motel under lock and key, but she escapes through a spacious air duct. That’s how she comes to be in the room when Shadow, Czernobog and Mr World meet over Wednesday’s body. Laura takes the opportunity to turn in Mr World for his part in Wednesday’s assassination, but when Czernobog attempts to attack him the motel’s special powers mean his hammer just clangs away uselessly. Undeterred, Mr World finally spells out the threat written into his new tech platform SHARD: he’ll use it to simply delete all traces of the old gods, wiping them from existence in the process.
Shadow spares Laura, much to Czernobog’s frustration, but his mind is already fixed on loftier ideals. He’s thinking of the vision he’s just had of Wednesday, on horseback wearing armoured finery and bathed in golden light, and the promise he made to sit vigil for his father – even if that vigil does involve being lashed to the mystical World Tree for nine days and nine nights.
Shadow’s not the only one having visions. In a dream, Laura sees her former husband stuck through with Wednesday’s spear just as his father was, then a vision of herself making out with Bilquis. She’s woken by a knock at the door – it’s Bilquis, who tells her: “Thank gods I found you.”
Meanwhile, back at Mr World’s HQ, Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) finally gets his hands on ‘Artefact 1’, the mysterious totem he’s been searching for. When he grips it, he sees flashes of human ingenuity going all the way back to the first flint that started the first man-made fire. It’s time for Mr World to reveal who Technical Boy really is: The embodiment not just of modern tech, but of human innovation itself – except he forgets that fact every time he takes a new form. As for who Mr World really is? All he’ll reveal is that this isn’t the era of technology, but “the age of manipulation… and trickery is what I do best.”
Back at the World Tree, Shadow is dying of thirst. He uses his gift for changing the weather to make it snow, but by then his hallucinations are getting serious. The blizzard of snow becomes cotton, and Shadow sees himself in a plantation field much like the one where we first met African deities The Orishas. He then sees the celestial buffalo that’s been following him around, before eventually winding up back on a plane with Wednesday much like the one they met on in the show’s very first episode. They’re not flying over America this time however, instead they’re journeying to the afterlife. Or at least Shadow is. Wednesday lays out his dastardly plan in full: He needed a martyr, and only a blood sacrifice by his own son would be enough to return him to his former glory. With that, Wednesday pops open a cabin door and drops out into the void. We flash back to the World Tree tightening its grip on Shadow as with his dying breath he mouths the word: “Father”. “Is this the death of the old gods?” asks Czernobog, as a gust of wind blows away a sheet to reveal that Wednesday’s body has vanished. The final word goes to Mr Ibis: “Or something much worse?”
Hits and myths
- We’ll start with the good news for fans of American Gods: This finale certainly didn’t deliver the neat, satisfying ending of a show that knows it’s not coming back. The cliffhanger ending, along with Mr Ibis’ pregnant final line, suggests the writers are expecting to come back for a fourth season. For now, that decision remains in the hands of the gods – or at least executives at US network Starz.
- As for this season, well, it ends on a bleak note. The moment that Shadow realises he’s been had once more by his scheming old dad is heartbreaking, and although he’s clearly started to arrogantly believe his own hype as the demigod son of Odin, we still sympathise with a man who thought he’d found purpose, meaning and direction in his life only to learn he’s the victim of a long con. In the end, a young Black man dies just so that an old white guy can still feel powerful – which certainly sounds like something that might happen in America.
- What happened to Bilquis’ rescue party? She finds Laura as instructed but they don’t come anywhere close to saving Shadow – another sign that American Gods is planning for another season – and a promising-looking team up between Bilquis and Laura.
- Laura is delightfully unimpressed by Mr World’s transformation from Danny Trejo to Crispin Glover. “You can put lipstick on a weasel,” she observes, “But it is what it is”
- The idea that Technical Boy is naive to his true powers because every new iteration of human innovation forgets its past is a neat one – reminiscent of how every so often an eager Silicon Valley tech company claims they’re about to revolutionise public transport and then it turns out they’ve just invented buses.
- Most McShane moment of the week: McShane is at his best when Wednesday’s mask of conviviality slips, like when revealing his betrayal to Shadow: “A blood sacrifice by a son? Wow. That’s powerful enough to restore me to all my former glory. Odin the all-father, all-powerful once again.” The final drop out of the plane door is a nice touch, but don’t they have stewards on transit flights between life and death?
- The Devil has the best music: The song that plays as Shadow has his vision of Wednesday in his full glory astride a mighty steed is ‘Life Song’ by Austin psychedelic rock band The Black Angels. Perhaps Shadow would’ve guessed Wednesday’s plan if he’d listened a bit closer to the lyrics: “I love you anyway,” intones singer Alex Maas. “Even though you sent me off to die…”