American Gods is based off the novel, of the same name, by Neil Gaiman. Though I’ve read the book and covered it on our Premium Podcast on Patreon, these reviews will be book spoiler free. If you’re a Premium subscriber, we will not include book spoilers in our main discussion of the episodes, but will add a spoiler section at the end of each show, and it will be preceded by a warning so you have time to stop the podcast.
Since this is setting up not just the series, but an entire universe of information, the first episode review will be more detailed, and probably longer, than the reviews going forward.
“The air feels constipated; like it if could just push out a storm it’d be okay.”
Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) receives the shittiest of good news/bad news: the good news is he’s being released from prison a few days early (after serving three years), but the bad news is they’re letting him go because his wife, Laura Moon (Emily Browning), died in a car accident the night before.
Though clearly upset, the news only serves to prove that his recent feelings and dreams of foreboding bore fruit. He makes his way to the airport in a daze, and remembering the advice of his ex-cellmate Low Key Lyesmith (Jonathan Tucker) to “not piss off those bitches in airports,” he doesn’t completely lose it when he’s not allowed to get an earlier flight home. He spends the night in the airport, and thanks to a seat mixup (or maybe divine intervention), he’s bumped to first class for his troubles. United, take note.
Seated across the aisle is the old man, suffering from dementia, who Shadow noticed speaking with an gate agent earlier. Taking pity on the man, she bumped him to first class, too, but now he’s knocking back cocktails and behaving very un-dementia like.
Game recognize game so the two briefly bond over their various hustles; Shadow’s now behind him. As such, he kindly turns down Mr. Wednesday’s (Ian McShane) offer of a job, saying he has one waiting for him at home.
“If I was inclined, what might I call you?”
“Today is my day. Let’s go with that.”
Shadow falls asleep on the flight and has another of several bizarre dreams: a dark cave, ground covered in human bones, a massive tree with serpentine branches that seems to be alive. This time, the dream includes a buffalo with flames coming out of its eyes and with Mr. Wednesday’s voice. Believe. When he awakens the entire plane is empty after an emergency landing due to weather.
“You drive where needs driving to. You take care of things generally on my behalf. And in an emergency, and in an emergency only, you kick the asses of those who require kicking. And in the unlikely event of my death, you will hold my vigil.”
Shadow decides to drive the rest of the way home, stopping once to yell his grief into a canyon in a national park, and then stopping again for a bite to eat in a roadside bar. He’s not nearly surprised as he should be when he encounters Mr. Wednesday in the men’s room. Not only does he know about Laura’s death, but he informs Shadow that the job his friend Robbie (Dane Cook) had for him is no longer available since Robbie also died in the same car crash.
Shadow doesn’t like or trust Mr. Wednesday, and he certainly doesn’t like Wednesday’s friend, Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) who claims to be a leprechaun and has the ability to pluck gold coins out of thin air, but now Shadow doesn’t have anything waiting for him and nothing to lose. After conditions are set and three shots of mead are consumed, Shadow agrees to work for Mr. Wednesday. He celebrates by getting into a vicious bar brawl with Mad Sweeney. Call it new employee orientation.
Shadow awakens in the backseat of Mr. Wednesday’s car, hung over and with little memory of how the night ended. His new employer has delivered him to Laura’s funeral. At the services, he learns from Robbie’s widow, Audrey (Betty Gilpin), that Laura and Robbie were having an affair and were actually engaging in oral sex when the car crashed. Despite Audrey’s demand that they “leave it where they found it,” the coroner did not bury Robbie’s penis inside Laura’s mouth.
Alone at Laura’s grave, Shadow seeks answers about the affair, but of course Laura can’t answer. Audrey appears and offers up some revenge sex, but Shadow sees through her anger and knows she’s also grieving. The two share a hug, no sex, and Shadow leaves after dropping one of Mad Sweeney’s gold coins on Laura’s grave.
Leaving the cemetery, the streetlights shut off one by one. Shadow approaches a mechanical device on the side of the road and when he gets close, it attaches to his face. He awakens in what appears to be a virtual reality, except he feels pain when faceless men, who appear first formed out of pixels, punch him in the back of a limo at their boss’ behest. Their boss is a teenage boy, Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) smoking on synthetic frog skin, and he wants to know what Mr. Wednesday has planned. Even if Shadow knows (he doesn’t), he wouldn’t tell this guy so Tech Boy orders his men to kill Shadow. They string him up in a tree (more imagery from his dreams), but when it begins to rain, the men are violently torn to pieces and Shadow finds himself on the ground, covered in blood, and surrounded by bones.
Somewhere in America…
“Somewhere in America” are short stories about different forms of worship. They’re interspersed through the premiere, and presumably will be included in every episode. They’re narrated by Mr. Ibis (Demore Barnes) who pens the accounts into a book.
A ship of Vikings reach the shore of the New World and find not the riches and opportunities they sought, but indigenous folks who weren’t about that life.
They want nothing more than to return home, but the winds are not in their favor. They pray to the All Father, but carving an idol in his image and sacrificing their right eyes don’t work, and neither does sacrificing one of their own. Only one thing will satisfy their god: war. They engage in a brutal game of shirts vs. skins, and only when there’s been massive amounts of blood spilled and body parts littering the beach does the wind pick up. They waste no time sailing away, and never speak of their time there again. When Leif the Fortunate finds himself on the same shores more than 100 years later, the wooden idol and war awaits him.
A middle-aged man goes on a first date with a woman, Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), he met online. He’s out of touch with dating and she looks like she’s seen better days. They go back to her place where they begin to have sex. She asks him to worship her, and he does; he vows his everything to her and slowly loses himself inside of her… literally.
After she pushes the last of him into her vagina, she lies back on the bed. She’s satisfied. She’s younger. She’s radiant.
There was so much to love, but I’ll try to narrow it down to the moments and details that most stood out for me.
This series is beautifully shot and each location has its own life So, even though the majority of it takes place in Could Be Anywhere, USA, it still feels like American Gods is building an entirely new world – or, at least, a new way of looking at the old one.
The “Somewhere in America” stories were among my favorite parts of the book, and I look forward to these little snippets of religious lore.
So far, everyone has been well cast. I was apprehensive of Technical Boy being cast so thin when the book character is overweight, but Bruce Langley very much reminded me of a tech startup founder who believes he’s the key to the future.
The graveyard scene with Audrey was much better than I expected. Betty Gilpin completely sold the self-destructive anger that held hands with her grief. And I’m grateful Neil Gaiman talked the show’s producers out of having Shadow accept the blow job. It would have been completely out of character and would taint some of the more powerful encounters Shadow has ahead of him.
Speaking of producers, this is most definitely a Bryan Fuller production. Fans of Hannibal will recognize his dark and hypnotic style. The final scene was bloody, dreamlike, and kind of beautiful.
Ian McShane: Yaaaaassss!
You can find more information on where some of the characters are derived below. They may be a bit spoilery, so if you don’t want to know who these characters represent in religion and literature, stay away.
The Devil’s Work
This would be where I talk about the elements of the episode that didn’t work for me, but I have no complaints with this premiere; I’m very much looking forward to next week’s episode.
American Gods S1E1
"The Bone Orchard"
Starring: Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane, Emily Browning, Yetide Badaki, Bruce Langley, Pablo Schreiber, Crispin Glover, Gillian Anderson, Demore Barnes, Cloris Leachman, Peter Stormare, Christin Chenoweth, Orlando Jones