Synopsis of 1×01: The good news is Shadow Moon was let out of jail early, the bad news is his wife is dead. Welcome to the world of American Gods. Whatever you do, don’t piss off those bitches in airports!
The long-awaited television adaptation of American Gods is finally here! Not only does it manage to update and maintain the spirit of the original novel, but it’s clear that the show is intent on expanding the source material in ways we as the audience didn’t know we needed.
In an unsettlingly violent and brutal opener, Mr. Ibis sits at a desk, recounting the harrowing tale of stranded Vikings bringing Odin to America for the first time. Once they realize they must appease their gods for a favorable return home, they set about performing increasingly bloody rituals that culminate in an all out slaughterfest. It is probably the worst game of shirts versus skins ever played, but they are ultimately smiled upon by Odin.
Cut to a disquieted Shadow Moon, who is explaining to Low Key Lyesmith, his prison cellmate, that he can’t shake an impending feeling of unease. Later, after speaking to his wife on the phone, Shadow dreams of a surreal Bone Orchard and wakes up to a classic goods news/bad news situation. Good news, he’s getting out of jail early. Bad news, Laura, his wife, is dead.
He’d had a ticket home already booked, but in light of recent events, Shadow attempts to move up his flight. “Don’t piss off those bitches in airports,” was the advice from Low Key that comes back to him when he has to compromise with an earlier (but not the earliest) flight. As he waits in the airport, he witnesses a feeble, confused old man approach the same ticketing agent and somehow stumble his way into first class.
Through another mix-up, Shadow finds himself sitting next to the elderly gentleman, now completely aware and already imbibing. His name is Mr. Wednesday and after some amazing back and forth dialogue, as well as a few sly winks towards his true identity, he offers Shadow a job as his body guard. Ian McShane fantastically vacillates between the friendly and coy, with a hint of menace, and delivers one of my favorite lines of the episode in this scene, “Now what’s keeping us aloft, faith or Newton?”
Naturally, Shadow reacts how we all would to a random stranger, by declining the job. He sleeps through the rest of the flight, dreaming of a flaming buffalo. It urges him to believe before he’s woken up by an emergency landing. Opting to drive the rest of his journey, Shadow stumbles upon Jack’s Crocodile Bar and finds Mr. Wednesday there with his job offer again.
After learning that his best friend, who was also going to be his employer, died in the same car crash as his wife, Shadow is forced to reconsider Mr. Wednesday’s offer. He opts to flip a coin, heads he works for Wednesday and tails he doesn’t. With all of the coin tricks he learned in prison, Shadow rigs the flip, but it still comes up heads somehow.
They seal the deal with mead even as Mad Sweeney the Leprechaun disrupts their drinking by trying to warn Shadow away from Mr. Wednesday. Sweeney shows Shadow some coin tricks of his own and offers to fight him for the knowledge of how to perform them. Naturally, they fight.
Shadow wakes up with no knowledge of how he ended up in the backseat of a car driven by Mr. Wednesday, only to be told that he was taught the coin trick and has no memory of it now. At least he finds he has one of Sweeney’s coins and Mr. Wednesday has delivered him in time for Laura’s funeral.
Making his way into the church, he finds his wife’s best friend Audrey already there and caustic. She was also the wife of his now-dead best friend and breaks the news to him that Laura and Robbie died together. Not only that, but Laura bit off Robbie’s junk in the crash and this is how Shadow learns his wife was cheating on him while he was in prison.
Once buried, Shadow leaves the coin from Mad Sweeney on Laura’s grave after Audrey drunkenly confronts him. She wants to sleep with him to “get back at” the two of them, but Shadow manages to successfully talk her down. Betty Gilpin does manic, emotionally destroyed, and full of righteous anger well.
As he walks away, Shadow finds a mysterious glowing box in his path. It transforms itself into something that attaches to Shadow’s face and transports him to a high tech limousin where Technical Boy awaits. His lackeys made of pixels keep Shadow at bay while he’s questioned about Mr. Wednesday.
When Shadow has nothing but smart-ass responses, he’s dismissed from the trippy experience, but not before more pixel bodyguards beat the shit out of him and leave Shadow hanging from a tree. Visually, the rain he was in turns to blood and the outlook is bleak. It’s then that an unseen force cuts him down and dispatches of the pixel henchmen.
You’ll notice I didn’t talk about the ‘Somewhere in America’ segment that cuts through the middle of the episode, but it absolutely happened and it was just as amazing as promised. Bilquis is one of the old gods, doing what needs to be done in order to stay alive and that’s all I’ll say about that. Come back and let us know your thoughts.
Visually, American Gods is stunning and I expect nothing else from Bryan Fuller and the team that finally brought this show to television screens. Tonally, it’s in line with the books and the updates for the times (the book came out in 2001) work perfectly. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the new gods and the old.