REVIEW: “American Gods” S03E10 – “Tears of the Wrath-Bearing Tree”

And with that, another season of American Gods comes to a close. Tonight’s episode caps off what’s been the most consistent season of American Gods so far—and what an episode it is. If last week’s episode felt more like a traditional season finale, then this week’s episode acts as a beautiful coda to the season, bringing many of the character arcs to a conclusion while throwing the narrative door wide open for the show to go in any number of directions. It raises more questions than it answers, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. It straddles a nice line between faithfulness to the book and faithfulness to what the TV adaptation has become and I feel it works very well—even if there are some developments I’m not entirely sold on just yet. (4.5 out of 5 wands.) 

NOTE: This review features spoilers for episode 3×10 of American Gods. Read at your own risk.

American Gods: Episode 3×10: “Tears of the Wrath-Bearing Tree”
Written by: Laura Pusey and Ryan Spencer
Directed by: Russell Lee Fine

Teetering on the edge of war and peace, the gods gather to mourn a loss. Bilquis’ divine journey brings her to an unexpected revelation, while Shadow finally embraces a destiny that could bring him either greatness or death.

The Motel at the Center of America

The geographic center of America is a place devoid of any power. It’s unimportant and largely forgotten, with only a motel sitting there marking its location. So, naturally, it’s the perfect place for Mr. World (Crispin Glover) and the New Gods to return Wednesday’s body to Shadow (Ricky Whittle), Cordelia (Ashley Reyes), Czernobog (Peter Stormare), and Ibis (Demore Barnes). The Old Gods arrive just as Mr. World tries to placate Laura (Emily Browning), who he’s hiding in a motel room until the Old Gods leave with Wednesday’s body and she can be safely released. Laura, of course, isn’t so fond of being locked in the room so, after Mr. World leaves, she sneaks out through the ventilation shaft and ultimately winds up in the room Wednesday’s corpse is being kept in. Meanwhile, Shadow and the Old Gods are discussing their situation. They have to honor the old Norse traditions when it comes to receiving Wednesday’s body at the given hour, avenging his death, and staging his vigil. As Wednesday’s son, it falls upon Shadow to avenge Wednesday’s death. And, as part of his initial deal with Wednesday, Shadow is also on the hook for performing his vigil. Czernobog and Ibis try to talk Shadow out of it, but it gets tabled.

After a restless evening, Shadow ends up in the room with Wednesday’s corpse (just after Laura arrives and hides under the table). There, he and Cordelia (Ashley Reyes) share one of my favorite scenes of the episode. Shadow acknowledges that Wednesday did seem to care for Cordelia, so even though he’s not all that sad about Wednesday’s death, he understands why Cordelia is. It’s a touching scene between these two, and I always enjoy seeing Whittle and Reyes acting opposite one another. As if by clockwork, though, Mr. World, Czernobog, and Ibis arrive to ruin the moment. Mr. World makes a big show of following the Norse traditions but giving the Old Gods Wednesday’s body and turning over Wednesday’s murderer to them for punishment. Laura doesn’t take so kindly to this betrayal, though, however predictable it may have been. So, she immediately points the finger at Mr. World for orchestrating Wednesday’s murder, using her as a way of killing him without starting a war. Mr. World doesn’t defend himself much, basically confirming Laura’s story and then leaving as quickly as he arrived.

As the Old Gods leave, Shadow takes charge of figuring out what to do with Laura. I love the drama of Shadow potentially having to kill Laura, though I wish they’d drawn it out a bit longer before he decided to let her go. I also feel like it’s a little weird that Shadow never defended Laura to Czernobog, Ibis, or Cordelia. I understand that Wednesday is Shadow’s father, but it’s not like Shadow doesn’t know that Wednesday orchestrated Laura’s death, giving her a pretty good reason to want to kill him. It just feels a little weird that he doesn’t defend her at all. But, perhaps it’s all feeding into how Wednesday-esque Shadow feels throughout this episode—a thread that becomes even more important as the episode goes on. All in all, these scenes at the hotel are an absolute treat to those who have read the book. Much of this feels accurate to the spirit of the novel, even if it’s not exactly what happens (Laura, for example, does not appear here at all because she’s not the one who kills Wednesday in the book). But large chunks of these scenes are lifted directly from the book—including Ibis’s speech about the history of the geographic center of the United States. For fans of the book who have been watching the series all these years, this return to the novel will be welcomed. It’s a nice balancing act between being faithful to both the novel and the show’s changes. After all that’s happened this season, these scenes feel immensely earned and they’re beautifully executed.

What’s Going on With Bilquis?

As the season began, Bilquis’ (Yetide Badaki) arc was one of the ones I was most interested in. But as the season went on, her arc became harder and harder to follow. I love the idea of her being more than the stories men have told about her, and her having a greater role to play in her own destiny and the future of humanity. But everything else has been a little too vague to follow. I never followed what her relationship with the Orishas was—is the implication that she’s one of them or are they simply guiding her along her journey? I assume it’s the latter, but it’s remained a bit unclear. In the wake of this revelation, though, Bilquis seems to have found a new purpose. But, frustratingly, it seems to be in the service of a man’s storyline—specifically Shadow’s.

When we find Bilquis at the beginning of the episode, Eugenia tasks her with finding Shadow and Laura and keeping them together. She suggests that the two are soulmates and if they don’t unite, then Shadow will never fulfill his destiny of uniting the people. Or something. It’s all kind of vague and feels a bit too “chosen one”-esque for me. I’ve no idea why Bilquis is at all connected to this other than the show needed some God to follow this storyline. It just feels lousy that Bilquis’s whole journey of self-discovery didn’t lead to anything particularly useful for her, but instead has led to her chasing down Laura and Shadow. Bilquis doesn’t appear much in the episode, but she does eventually find Laura at the Hotel in the center of America after Shadow and the other Old Gods have left. I’m not totally against this plotline, but the show definitely hasn’t sold me on it yet. I don’t like the idea of Shadow and Laura having to be soulmates that must reunite—it feels antithetical to both of their character arcs, as much of the past few seasons have focused on their incompatibility and their need to distance themselves from one another. But maybe they’ll do something less romantic with this and more “one grounds the other.” The jury is out on this, but I really wish this wasn’t where Bilquis’s storyline ended up, but maybe whatever happens in season four will pleasantly surprise me.

What’s Going on With Technical Boy?

On the other hand, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Technical Boy’s (Bruce Langley) arc over the season. We’ve seen him glitching out from whatever Bilquis did to him in the season premiere, we’ve seen him reckoning with new powers and emotions, and here, we finally see him locate this mysterious artifact 1 that’s supposed to help reboot him. Artifact 1 is the rock we saw in episode 6, and Mr. World explains to Technical Boy that it’s Technical Boy’s token—a source of power because it’s the very first man-made tool, the very first instance of man-made technology. He implies that a Technical Boy has existed since the first time man used a rock as a piece of technology. And the ramifications of that are nuts. That would potentially make Technical Boy older than many, if not most, of the Old Gods.

As such, Technical Boy is important to whatever it is Mr. World has planned and Mr. World imprisons him in the same room he had been holding Artifact 1 in. But Technical Boy is starting to doubt Mr. World—what his game plan is and even who he actually is. Book readers will immediately pick up on the hints Mr. World gives Tech Boy—that his specialty is manipulation and trickery. Book readers will know exactly what this means, and I think it’s interesting that the show seems to be setting up Technical Boy as a potential inverse of Shadow. Both characters are doubtful of their respective side’s leaders, and both characters may be in a unique position where they can stop them. I’m hoping this is the direction the show goes in the future, but even if it’s not, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Tech Boy’s arc this season and I continue to enjoy seeing Langley spar against all of the actors who’ve played Mr. World this season.

Wednesday’s Vigil

As Czernobog, Ibis, Shadow, and Cordelia arrive at the World Tree (Yggdrasil), it becomes clear that Shadow has started swallowing some of Wednesday’s Kool-Aid. He is determined to go through with holding Wednesday’s vigil, though it increasingly sounds as though Shadow isn’t doing it to honor Wednesday but in search of some kind of power or purpose. Sounds a lot like Odin’s reasons for hanging on Yggdrasil in Norse Mythology. The vigil itself is a little vague—it’s unclear what, exactly, Shadow has to do or how long he has to do it. Book readers won’t be particularly confused as it follows the events of the novel even closer than the motel scenes did, but I think a lot of viewers who are only familiar with the show won’t entirely know what’s going on. But they’ll get the gist of it: Shadow has to hang on Yggdrasil for nine days, mirroring Odin’s initial hanging on the tree in search of wisdom. If Shadow survives, he’ll gain insight and wisdom. But he’s far more likely to die, which is exactly what the Old Gods and Cordelia expect to happen. But, he insists on going through with it and ends up tied to the tree.

The vigil itself is very beautiful. Ricky Whittle’s performance, the music, and the VFX all combine to create a sequence that’s genuinely emotional and breathtaking. There are some trippy time lapses that help show the passage of time, Shadow slips in and out of consciousness at times, resulting in visions that presumably bear some connection to his destiny to either unite the people or oppress them—though it’s never fully explained what, exactly that means. Book readers will notice how much of the vigil has already been used by the show, though. In the novel, Shadow doesn’t learn he’s Wednesday’s son until he performs the vigil. But the show covered that plotline in season two. With that in mind, I’d long assumed that the big reveal Shadow would learn during the vigil would be related to Wednesday’s larger plan. And I was right, though the show has tweaked that reveal somewhat. Here, we learn that Wednesday has been planning for Shadow to be a sacrificial martyr since before he was born. The power of Wednesday’s son sacrificing himself would result in Wednesday being restored to his full powers. To be clear, I’m not against this change. It makes perfect sense in the world of the show and it acts as a nice bit of karma for Shadow’s impulsion to seek power. If he’d just listened to the advice of the other Old Gods, he might not have fallen for Wednesday’s con here. Still, I wonder what this change means for the future of the show. Will the show continue heading towards the book’s conclusion, or will it branch off in its own direction? I would be okay with either decision as long as it’s executed as well as this episode was.

And then, of course, there’s that killer cliffhanger. As the vigil comes to an end, Shadow appears to be absorbed by Yggdrasil. At the same moment, Wednesday’s corpse (which had been lying at the foot of the tree) disappears, and a dark cloud rolls across the sky. After a moment, there’s a golden light that shines above a nearby hill—but it’s unclear what, exactly, this means. Does Shadow getting absorbed into Yggdrasil mean that Wednesday has been reborn, as Wednesday hoped? I’m not sure, but the whole thing has an ominous tone that is felt by the characters and the audience alike. It’s potentially a radical departure from the book, but I love the way it throws the narrative wide open. This is the kind of cliffhanger that makes you desperate for more. It feels like the show could go in so many different directions from here and I cannot wait to see how it plays out. The episode, and the season as a whole, built up perfectly to this cliffhanger. The push and pull between Shadow and Wednesday all season, with Shadow trying to separate himself from Wednesday, Wednesday allowing him some freedom, and Shadow ultimately continuing to keep returning to Wednesday resulting in Shadow flying a bit too close to the sun. I love it and it’s got me chomping at the bits for a fourth season.

Final Thoughts

All in all, the season finale of American Gods isn’t as explosive an episode as last week’s was, but it acts as a beautiful coda for the season. Within the context of the show’s gradual departure from the book, it is surprisingly accurate to what happens. It’s not a word-for-word adaptation, of course, but it feels truthful to the spirit of this part of the novel. While I felt that much of last week’s episode hadn’t been properly set up, resulting in much of it lacking the weight it deserved, that’s the exact opposite with this week’s episode. The entirety of the episode acts as the payoff for numerous character arcs. We see Shadow coming into his own as the son of a God, and a potential demigod in his own right. It’s a delight seeing Shadow’s journey continue to evolve, seeing the ways he mirrors his father while trying to remain his own person. 

As much as I don’t love the show’s desire to give Shadow what feels like a “chosen one” narrative, I am excited for the future of the show. I remain hopeful that a fourth season can convince me that this plotline is a good idea, as well as bring me on board with whatever it’s trying to do with Bilquis. I suspect a fourth season would be the final season of the show, as there’s not much of the book left to adapt. But there are so many avenues the show’s narrative could go down as it careens toward its conclusion that I remain immensely excited to see the journey it takes to its climax. I hope it’s given a chance to bring all of these threads to a satisfying conclusion and I’m already itching to see how some of these plotlines will evolve. All in all, this episode does exactly what a season finale should do—it’s brought the season to a coherent and satisfying conclusion while blowing the door open for future storytelling avenues. And to that, I say: bring it on.

4.5 out of 5 wands.

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