American Gods| Episode 101 | ‘The Bone Orchard’| Aired April 31st, 2017
Well, we’ve made it. After years of speculation and countless false starts, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods has finally made it to the screen. This week saw the premiere of the American Gods TV series on Starz, and it did not disappoint. The entire cast, under the supervision of Bryan Fuller, worked masterfully to compose the first chapter of the ongoing series. But particular attention must be given to Ian McShane, whose performance in this one hour of television has brought back all the majestic wonder of any episode of
The entire cast, under the supervision of Bryan Fuller, worked masterfully to compose the first chapter of the ongoing series. But particular attention must be given to Ian McShane, whose performance in this one hour of television has brought back all the majestic wonder of any episode of Deadwood.
Below is a mostly spoiler-free recap of the first episode, assuming little or no knowledge of Gaiman’s book. In future weeks we will provide a spoiler filled recap as well as a spoiler-free recap each week.
Coming to America
Each episode of the season will open with the story of one of the titular American Gods coming to America. In this episode’s prelude, we see the story of how Odin, the All-Father, arrived on the shores of North America.
A band of Vikings shows up on the rocky shores of North America after a rough trip across the ocean. While they were expecting a promised land that so many after them would come to expect, the Norsemen instead found land that was entirely inhospitable to them. Giant bugs and ruthless volleys of arrows characterize the country. But the wind will not return to their sails, and without it, they cannot go back out to sea. So they turn to their god: Odin.
First, the Vikings carve a statue of Odin that looks vaguely like Ian McShane, if you squint at it the right way. But the Vikings know that Odin will demand a tribute. To begin, each member of the crew burns out his eye, in deference to Odin’s characteristic eyes. But when that doesn’t work, the crew resort to killing their own. First, they burn a member of their party alive. A gentle breeze begins to pick up, but nothing that could bring their boat back to the homeland. Then it’s an all-out battle between members of the crew. More blood than has ever been shown on any TV show ever reigns down on the warriors, and a reliable wind begins to blow. Because that’s the kind of show American Gods is. The surviving members get onboard their ship, leaving Odin in America.
Shadow in Prison
The show opens in a prison where we meet our protagonist, a man whose improbable name is Shadow Moon. We learn that Shadow isn’t superstitious and that he believes in things when he has evidence to believe in them. But we also learn that Shadow feels like something is about to happen. He calls his wife because something feels mysterious to him. He says that the air feels constipated. But he looks forward to being home with his wife Laura in five days.
That night there’s a big thunderstorm, and Shadow can’t sleep. As the camera twists and turns, we see Shadow on his side looking down through the floor at his wife, Laura. Then he dreams forest where the ground covered in skeletons. He can see the stars and the galaxies. The trees have hands, and they reach out for Shadow, and strike him, drawing blood. A noose drops down from a tree, reminding us of an earlier conversation Shadow had with a fellow inmate about how we don’t hang people in America anymore.
The next morning, Shadow visits the Warden. He finds out that he’ll be getting out early for good behavior. But he’s also getting out a few extra days early because his wife died in a car crash. Shadow is devastated. The soundscape shifts out of focus, the background moves out of focus. Shadow can’t concentrate.
Shadow Out of Prison
Shadow tries to make his return to society as easy as possible. He gets dressed: buttons up his shirt pulls on his sports coat slips on his ring and is escorted out to the transfer bus by correctional officers. But when Shadow arrives at the airport, he finds out can’t get on the plane. Shadow remembers a conversation he had with a friend of his in prison once, and he does his best not to piss anyone at the airport off.
The show becomes increasingly mundane as we watch Shadow wait for his plane. The drudgery is bordering on the unbearable when suddenly, the fantastic happens. A man, who we will call Mr. Wednesday, cons his way into first class. And Shadow somehow ends up there too. Wednesday seems to know a lot about Shadow.
Wednesday and Shadow talk about cons and being in and out of prison. Wednesday has two talents. One says that he has two talents. One is that he can sleep anywhere. The second is he can get whatever he wants. The dialogue in this section is beautiful, especially with the phenomenal Mr. McShane delivering it. Because that’s the kind of show American Gods is.
Wednesday gives a monolog about science vs. faith, the theme that will come to underpin the entire show. He asks what keeps a plane in the air, “Faith or Newton?”.
Wednesday wants to hire Shadow for some mostly legal work. Shadow isn’t’ interested. Wednesday goes to sleep. Shadow dozes off as well and has another dream. He is back in the same forest, but it’s raining. A buffalo with eyes of fire waddles up to Shadow and tells him to believe. Then he wakes up. The plane made an emergency landing, so Shadow rents a car to drive the rest of the way. He stops off at Shakamak State Park, stands over the emptiness and screams.
Somewhere In America
In Hollywood, a man meets a woman for an online date at a bar. The date apparently goes pretty well because we soon see the couple walk into a red hotel room with candles. He lights a candle near some stone figures, and the two begin to undress. They roll around in bed for a few minutes. Like you do.
The woman soon tells the man that wants to be worshiped. She rolls on top and repeats that she wants to be prayed to. It takes the man a few tries, but he finally gets it right. The woman who, like Mr. Wednesday, seems to have more about her than we realize, appreciates his efforts. The two become more passionate, and the prayers become more earnest. And slowly, the man is swallowed whole into the woman’s vagina. Because that’s the kind of show American Gods is.
Jack’s Crocodile Bar
Meanwhile, in a bar with a giant crocodile head in the middle, Shadow meets a very friendly waitress and orders a burger and chili. While he waits for his food, he goes to the bathroom, where he runs into Mr. Wednesday. Wednesday continues the conversation just where they left off on the plane. Wednesday wants to be asked about the job, but Shadow doesn’t want to know about it. Shadow says he has a job back home, working for his friend Robbie. But Wednesday shows him a newspaper article that says Robbie died in the same car crash that killed Shadow’s wife, Laura. It seems like Wednesday might be Shadow’s only friend.
With little left to turn to, Shadow decides they will flip a coin to see if Shadow will work for Wednesday. Wednesday calls heads, but Shadow rigs the toss for tails. Somehow it still comes up heads. While Shadow’s trying to figure out how Wednesday did what he did, a very tall man claiming to be a leprechaun shows up. Because that’s the kind of show American Gods is.
He wants to know if Shadow knows who Wednesday is. Wednesday returns to the table with a Sothern Comfort and Coke for the leprechaun and some shots of Mede for Shadow. Wednesday needs some muscle to help with his hustling. Shadow wants to go to his wife’s funeral, and he wants to get paid. He says he’ll hurt people who try to hurt Wednesday, but he quits when Wednesday becomes a pain in the ass. They drink to seal the deal. The leprechaun seems displeased.
The leprechaun shows off some coin tricks. Shadow seems to have pretty much had enough of magic for the day. Shadow asks the leprechaun how he did the trick and the leprechaun replies “With panache.” Shadow doesn’t want to fight. But when the leprechaun starts talking shit about Laura, the fight is on. Shadow and the
Shadow doesn’t want to fight. But when the leprechaun starts bad mouthing about, the fight is on. Shadow and the leprechaun get into a bar fight. The show has some excellent fight choreography. Shadow unleashes on the leprechaun, and the leprechaun asks Shadow if he can feel the joy of the fight. The friendly waitress is disappointed. They keep fighting.
Shadow wakes up in Wednesday’s car heading towards Eagle Point. Shadow drops Wednesday off at a motel, and Wednesday tells him to “Take all the time you need.” Shadow goes to the funeral. The soundscape shifts back to what it was like when he found out she died. Very echoey and hollow. He walks into the church. He walks up to the front and sees his wife lying in her coffin. Shadow stands with Robbie’s wife at the funeral. That’s where he finds out that Laura died blowing Robbie on the road, and that’s why they had the car accident that killed them both.
Shadow walks up to the front and sees his wife lying in her coffin. Shadow stands with Robbie’s wife at the funeral. That’s where he finds out that Laura died while giving Robbie oral sex on the road, and that’s why they had the car accident that killed them both.
Shadow pushes the button to lower the coffin into the ground. We see people come and go; the hole gets filled in, day turns to night. Shadow doesn’t move. He is grappling with everything that’s happened over the last few days. He’s upset about Laura and Robbie. Shadow tells his wife’s grave about how he spent his time in prison trying to better himself. He is bitter that she spent her time while he was in jail becoming worse. He throws the leprechaun’s gold coin onto Laura’s grave.
He’s upset about Laura and Robbie. Shadow tells his wife’s grave about how he spent his time in prison trying to better himself. He is bitter that she spent her time while he was in jail becoming worse. He throws the leprechaun’s gold coin onto Laura’s grave.
The Hanged God
An apparently drunk, clearly distraught Audrey wanders over to Shadow, having just finished pissing on dead husbands grave. She vents about how there is no closure. Then she tries to have sex with Shadow to make herself feel better. But Shadow’s not into it and Audrey just ends up crying. They embrace in their mutual betrayal and loss. The coin sinks into the dirt.
As Shadow walks down the center of a road, all the street lights turn off. Then, in the distance, some lights buzz around a small orb. When Shadow goes to investiagate the lights disappear and the orb opens up, enveloping Shadow’s face. He is sucked into a virtual reality. Technology Boy is pissed that Shadow works for Wednesday. And he smokes synthetic toad skins? Tech Boy wants Odin to move on with his life. He’s the past and Tech is the present and the future. Tech doesn’t want to kill Shadow, he wants to delete him. And un-delete isn’t an option.
Shadow is sucked into a virtual reality. There, Shadow meets a young man who is furious that Shadow works for Wednesday. He is using an electronic vaporizer to smokes synthetic toad skins because that’s the kind of show this is. The young man wants Wednesday to move on with his life. He says that Wednesday is the past. When it becomes clear that Shadow doesn’t know enough to help the young man, the young man orders his thugs to “delete him”.
Shadow comes out of the VR world in the rain, being beaten to hell by the thugs. They string him up in a noose and hang him from a tree. The rain turns to blood. The rope breaks. The thugs are split down the middle like quarts of firewood, blood and organs and body parts spilling everywhere. Shadow stands up, covered in human remains.