Quote of the Week- “Do not piss off those bi**hes in airports.”
Spoiler warning – This review contains some light spoilers if you have not read the book or seen the first episode of American Gods.
Let’s start with the important question: does American Gods deliver? Yes, and then some. The series engages you from the title sequence, which combines mythological and religious symbols with modern technology, to the entire cast.
American Gods is a show based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman. It is a story of the passing of the old gods to make way for the new gods. The problem is that some of the old gods do not plan to go quietly. By way of introduction here is a list of a few of the characters who will play major roles in the story:
- Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle)
- Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane)
- Laura Moon (Emily Browning)
- Bilquis (Yetide Badaki)
- Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schrieber)
- Technical Boy (Bruce Langley)
- Mr. World (Crispin Glover)
- Media (Gillian Anderson)
- Czernobog (Peter Stormare)
- Zorya Vechernyaya (Cloris Leachman)
- Low Key Lyesmith (Jonathan Tucker)
During this first episode, we are introduced to Shadow Moon, Ricky Whittle, an everyman who has been betrayed by society and those he loves. He is physically powerful which overshadows his remarkable intellect and physical restraint. He knows a con when he sees one.
We also meet Mr. Wednesday, Ian McShane, a devilish charmer and possible con-man, who always seems to know more than everyone else in the room. Mr. Wednesday has chosen his assistant wisely. In this episode, we also introduced to Low Key Lyesmith, Mad Sweeney, Bilquis, and Technical Boy.
SPOILER ALERT – For those who have read the book, we know that there is a war brewing between the old gods and the new gods. In this episode, Technical Boy gives a hint of the strain between the new gods and the old gods. One might think that a pending war scenario would not necessarily lend itself to the absurd. This is not the case. One of the beginning scenes has what we assume to be the first Viking ship landing in the Americas. As the Vikings attempt to step off the beach, a barrage of arrows makes one of them a human pincushion. It is reminiscent of a Looney Tune cartoon. Is this necessary? No, it isn’t, but there is a macabre humor to it. It sets the stage for how the Vikings’ god made it to the new land and why his followers left. Yet before they were permitted to leave, their god demanded a steep price to allow them to return home. He wanted brutal sacrifices, such as self-mutilation and the death of crew mates, before he gave them the wind to sail home.
With the prologue completed, we move into the first act where we meet Shadow Moon in prison lifting weights with his cellmate, Low Key Lyesmith. Just think Loki. Later, when Shadow is speaking to his wife on the telephone, he tells her that he has a premonition about the weather and the future. He feels that something major is waiting to happen. In a dream, that night Shadow is in a forest of misshapen trees that is full of human skeletal remains. One of the trees viciously slaps him before Shadow sees a single beautiful tree in the middle of this macabre forest.
The next day Shadow is told that he will get out of prison a few days early because his wife has been killed in an auto accident. This starts an entire chain of events which leads him to the employ of Mr. Wednesday. One of the key events is an episode at the airport where he needs to change his reservation. The woman at the counter tells him that he has to pay a penalty to do this. As he is about to explode, he remembers something Low Key told him,” do not piss off those b**ches in airports.” He agrees to pay the higher price for the next flight, which is also the flight taken by Mr. Wednesday.
On the flight, Shadow is upgraded to first class where he meets Mr. Wednesday. In an off-the-cuff remark, Mr. Wednesday refers to the fact that Shadow is a convict. He tells Shadow that he knows this because he has “one eye which can see these things, but just the one.” This very small comment refers to his true identity. The clues are there. We have the Vikings from the prologue bringing their god to the Americas, someone called Low Key, and a mysterious stranger referring to his ‘one eye which can see many hidden things’.
But we are not just concerned with the Viking pantheon. Elsewhere, in a sultry bar in Los Angeles, we are introduced to Bilquis. For those who have read the book, we know that she is one of the old gods and she is considered to be one of the sexual deities. She proves this as she demands worship from a poor schlep who thinks he has hit the jackpot when he meets her for a date. As they are having sex, Bilquis demands that he worship her. As he worships her, she literally consumes him the way a boa constrictor consumes its prey but she does not use her mouth (you have to see this scene for yourself). It is not clear at the end of the episode how she is related to Shadow’s journey but time will tell.
As Shadow Moon continues his journey home, he encounters many things. In a strange bar which appears to have a dragon’s head full of teeth, he meets a 7-foot-tall “leprechaun” called Mad Sweeney, who throws darts with an uncanny precision. Mad Sweeney also enjoys fighting, which Shadow learns the hard way.
And, of course, Shadow runs into Mr. Wednesday at the same bar. Mr. Wednesday eventually hires Shadow to work for him. At this point, Shadow begins to suspect that there may be forces at work that he does not understand.
After the deal with Mr. Wednesday is sealed with a handshake and three glasses of mead, Mad Sweeney returns to annoy Shadow. He starts pulling gold coins out of the air. This really bothers Shadow because he is sure it is a trick but he cannot figure out how it works. Mad Sweeney makes a bet with Shadow for one of the gold coins. If Shadow fights him, win or lose, he gets the gold coin, which will play a part in a later episode, but he must fight Sweeney first. Their fight is a battle of titans.
Shadow’s journey ends when he finally arrives at his wife’s funeral. There, he learns that his wife died in an automobile accident while she was engaging in oral sex with his best friend. Obviously, the universe is trying to tell Shadow something. It is just not clear yet what the message is.
Later that night, as Shadow walks back to his motel along a deserted road, he sees a strange object in the field. It is a VR device which attaches itself to his head. It transports him to the car of a strange man, Technical Boy. Technical Boy wants answers and he has VR bodyguards to help get those answers. He wants to know what Wednesday’s plans are. In Technical Boy’s rant, we get the first hint of the issue: it is time to get rid of the old (gods) for the new (gods). Unfortunately for Shadow, he is caught in the middle. Technical Boy decides to delete Shadow. His electronic bodyguards start beating Shadow and hang him from a tree to die. But some mysterious force cuts the rope and destroys Technical Boy’s minions in a bloody montage.
We are left with many questions including: Where will Shadow go from here? What force destroyed Technical Boy’s minions? What role will Shadow play in a war among the gods?
The first episode American Gods has set a high bar. Let’s see if they can maintain it.
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