The Coming to America segments have been my personal favorites thus far in the first season of American Gods, so much so that they often steal the show. But what a disappointment this week’s opening turned out to be.
Maybe it was the slow-mo action scene that lacked any palpable tension as a group of immigrants crossed the Rio Grande. Beforehand, there was a bit of praying, a quick shot of hand holding, and some grave instructions but little else. When one man who can’t swim begins to drown, Jesus is already there to lift him up, and then we see Christ walk across the water.
Just then, a “border patrol” shows up with semi-automatic rifles, shooting down the people who are looking for a better life. Mexican Jesus intercepts and takes a bullet to save a fleeing woman. And he dies again, crucifix style, for the “sins” of his people.
While we spent a lot of airtime this episode with Shadow, Wednesday, Laura, Mad Sweeney, and Salim, the opener didn’t give enough time for us to invest in these people’s lives. Maybe it was for those of us who know the story of Christ so well by now, or maybe it was the formulaic representation of Mexican Jesus that made it feel overplayed. The other opening gods—like Anansi, Nunyunnini, and Mr. Jacquel—left us wanting more narrative and to learn more about their legends. But here, Jesus becomes a washout, making us wonder why anyone would believe in him.
The ever hilarious Mad Sweeney teams up with Laura Moon to follow Wednesday and Shadow. Promising rewards better than the gold coin inside of her, Sweeney tells Laura that her man isn’t interested in an undead wife.
He also claims he can introduce her to someone who can give her full resurrection so she’ll no longer be in this in-between state. His argument is persuasive, and she wants a full return, but since her car has been confiscated by the police following her second “death,” Sweeney has to hotwire a cab.
Turns out that cab belongs to none other than Salim, who’s been on the road looking for his jinn. With reluctance, Sweeney agrees to help him since the duck’s already out of the bag that he’s a leprechaun, and off they go down the yellow brick road to Kentucky—only they make a side trip to the crocodile bar where Mad first lost his lucky coin.
The mismatched trio is a joy to watch, especially the sulking Sweeney who just wants his “fucking coin.” It’s nice to see Laura bonding with someone—anyone—and despite her indifference in life and coldness in death, she seems to have found a warm spot for the spiritual Salim.
Wednesday proves his god status by healing Shadow from the tree that pierced him in the police station and was trying to take root in his gut. In the luminescence of the car’s headlights along the darkened roadside, Shadow extracts the creeping tendrils while dropping a memorable line: “Religion inspires in those who fear nothing, fear of the gods, and using that fear requires a certain element of fucked up.”
They continue their trek to Vulcan, Virginia, where Wednesday meets an old friend, Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen). Based on the Roman god of fire (volcanoes) and forge (metalworking), they appropriately find him in his modern-world role as the head of a factory that produces weapons and bullets for a country that gets a hard-on for such items.
This character was not in the book, and in Entertainment Weekly, co-showrunner Michael Green explains the evolution:
“He’s a brand-new addition who came from an experience Neil had. He was going through a small town in Alabama where he saw a statue of Vulcan. It was a steel town and, as he told the story, there was a factory that had a series of accidents where people were killed on the job and they kept happening because an actuarial had done the numbers and realized that it was cheaper to pay out the damages to the families of people who lost people, rather than to shut down the factory long enough to repair, and that occurred to him as modern a definition of sacrifice as there might be.”
It’s brilliant how Gaiman can take a small slice of human idiosyncrasy as inspiration and create an intricately twined storyline with the end result being magic. If only it translated as well to screen. Once again, like the Mexican Jesus shortcoming, there was a fakeness to the shiny, happy people—complete with plastered smiles on their faces—bopping along at the bullet factory to the tune of “Come on Get Happy” by The Partridge Family. I would guess that most blue-collar workers don’t exude that much enthusiasm when the workday begins, even if they are caricatures of a paranoid, antagonistic, closed-off culture misguided in their worship of the gun who just happen to work at a bullet factory. Just didn’t work for me.
Wednesday asks Vulcan to come and fight with him, and Vulcan is all onboard. He even agrees to forge a sword worthy of a god at Wednesday’s request—though Vulcan would prefer to give him a gun because it can kill a lot more people in a much shorter time.
But the meat of the meeting with Vulcan comes down to alliances, and Vulcan has placed his squarely in the corner of the new gods. He’s got it all—praise, devotion, and even blood sacrifice—because the new gods placed fire in his hands and he can disperse it to everyone in the form of firearms. Wednesday wastes no time in bloodying the sword made for him as he slices off Vulcan’s head upon learning that the fire god had ratted him out. There’s no surprise here, and we lose another character who had potential—his poignant line lingers, “Every bullet fired in a crowded movie theater is a prayer in my name.”
As in the previous two episodes, Laura Moon is the reason to keep watching. Will she catch up and be reunited with Shadow? Her plight, which was given time to percolate, now has us engaged. The rest, with its super slow buildup, not so much.
David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.