REVIEW: American Gods, S1 Ep1 – The Bone Orchard

American Gods, S1 Ep1 - The Bone Orchard

The series premiere of American Gods is an exciting and captivating introduction into a world that is not at all what it seems. We join the protagonist, Shadow Moon, as he embarks on a journey that will test everything he has ever known to be true.

American Gods begins with a story of Viking warriors who arrived on America’s shores many years ago, and who were eventually driven away, leaving behind one of their gods.

American Gods, S1 Ep1 - The Bone OrchardThen the focus shifts to a prison where a convict named Shadow Moon is about to be released. He’s a quiet, intelligent man who seems determined to get back on the straight path as soon as he is out of prison. He wants to keep out of trouble but it seems that trouble keeps on finding him.

First, the tragic death of his wife leads him to be released early. He later learns that she was cheating on him with his best friend. As he struggles to make his way home to attend the funeral, he meets a charismatic stranger calling himself Mr. Wednesday, who offers him a job. He refuses at first but when he finds himself in dire straits, Shadow eventually accepts.

What follows is an intense bar fight with a leprechaun (way taller than what we expect) in exchange for a mysterious gold coin, and the beginning of a road trip into the unknown. In between, Shadow gets strange, elaborate visions of forests and a buffalo with flaming eyes, telling him to “believe.”

American Gods, S1 Ep1 - The Bone OrchardSurely the most talked about scene in the premiere is the one featuring Bilquis, Goddess of Love. Only two vignettes were shown in this first episode, which focused on the arrival of the ancient deities from other lands. First was the opening scene with the Vikings and then, somewhere in the middle, the scene in a dimly-lit bedroom, all in red, with Bilquis asking a stranger to worship her. It seems like she draws her power from her believers having sex with her to the point that she literally absorbs them whole.

It’s one of the weirdest sex scenes ever shown in television, though it should not really shock anyone who has read the book. But more than shock value, the scene was very artistically done, and showcased a very compelling performance by Yetide Badaki. While I’m not necessarily keen on seeing something like this happen again in American Gods, I’m hoping that this is not the last we see of Bilquis. But as the show progresses, we’ll be seeing more and more short clips featuring the different members of this new and diverse pantheon of gods.

American Gods has gotten off to a very promising start, which is just what we expect of a collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Bryan Fuller. The story moves at an even pace, setting everything up but keeping us all as curious and as fascinated by everything as Shadow is. There is real chemistry between the leads Ricky Whittle and Ian McShane, helping us relate more to them and making us interested in the journey they are about to take.

American Gods, S1 Ep1 - The Bone Orchard

Technical Boy, one of the new gods Shadow meets.

The show is a visual marvel, from the fusion of neon lights and mythological and religious imagery in the opening credits, the ethereal quality of Shadow’s dreams, and even the seemingly ordinary scenes which make the most of the surroundings. I can’t help but compare American Gods with Fuller’s previous show, Hannibal, but this is by no means a bad thing. Both shows benefit from having very unique and creative visuals, as well as intriguing music (both by Brian Reitzell.) One reviewer compared Shadow’s dreams to Will Graham’s own visions of the Stag and I agree.

There is no harm in seeing these similarities. On the contrary, this is yet another indication that American Gods is going to be a very enjoyable series, despite the difference in subject matter with Hannibal. There is so much to like about the first episode alone, so expectations are high for the rest of the season.