It was a long time in coming, but we finally got ourselves the season premiere for American Gods. Based on the award-winning 2001 book from celebrated author Neil Gaiman (probably best known for the comic The Sandman or writing Coraline), American Gods follows the protagonist Shadow Moon-- fresh out of jail and having taken a job that leads him down an ever-more-mysterious rabbit hole. Featuring the likes of Ian McShane, Orlando Jones, Emily Browning, Gillian Anderson, Peter Stromare, Corbin Bernsen, Crispin Glover, and Cloris Leachman, American Gods appears to have all the makings of an all-time classic show.
Based on the first episode-- co-written by show creators Bryan Fuller and Michael Green-- alone, we can speculate on where American Gods will go from here. We will not dive too deep into the book on which the show is based in order to avoid too much speculation and too many spoilers. Whether or not you’ve read the book, you are safe in this article. Whether you’re unsure you want to watch the series or not, you are safe in this article. And so, without further ado, we present 15 Things We Learned From The American Gods Premiere.
15 A Bloody Good Time
There’s no real other way to describe it-- this show looks like it will be a bloody mess. Within the first few moments of the show, in a little side story, we are shown exactly how the show will handle violence and gore. Like Starz channel-mate Ash vs Evil Dead, blood and guts are played for humor at times, and shock at other. And let’s just say there’s no lack of dark humor in this show.
When vikings are shown to land for the first time in America, we are treated to one of the Norsemen dying from a cartoonish flurry of arrows. The blood does not let up from that sequence after that. Whenever blood is spilled in the show so far (a surprising amount of times given how much exposition also went on in the premiere), there are splashes, puddles, and showers of crimson. Between the blood, the extended sex scenes (more on that later), and the swearing, it’s safe to say this show isn’t meant for the kiddies.
14 The Men Behind The Curtain
After having watched the premiere episode, it should not be too difficult to understand the two creative minds responsible for adapting Gaiman’s work. The show is being co-written and developed by Michael Green and Bryan Fuller. For those of you not familiar with Michael Green by name, he was one of the writers for the film Logan-- another piece of fiction that used excessive violence for multiple ends, including humor and emotional heft. Green also had a hand in writing the upcoming sci-fi flicks Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner 2049.
Bryan Fuller is a name probably more folks are familiar with. Fuller is the man behind several dark shows with an irreverent sense of humor. Fuller created and wrote both Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies. Both of those shows were comedies dealing heavily in death and the afterlife. Fuller also created Hannibal, which was both dark and bloody itself.
Green and Fullers’ fingerprints were all over this series premiere, and it looks as though that will be the case moving forward.
13 A Faithful Adaptation
As we mentioned in the introduction, we will not get too in-depth with the source material for the purposes of this article. Let us begin this little discussion with an endorsement: read the book! Entertaining and fascinating and unexpected and funny and touching, the book really is worthy of all the praise heaped upon it. We are not advocating reading the book before or after the show, though-- that is merely a personal preference.
The show does seem to be a very faithful adaptation of the novel. There was only two large or noteworthy departurse to speak of from the first episode. The viking preamble we discussed earlier shows up later in the book (also as a semi-related aside). The first chapter of the book follows Shadow from prison up until his first meeting with Mr. Wednesday. Chapter two covered all the rest of the events, largely as they appear in the show (save some minor details here and there). The biggest difference is that there was nobody attempting to beat and lynch Shadow in this part of the book (as opposed to what happened in the show, but more on that later). Additionally, the interaction between Shadow and his best friend's widow, Abby, is much shorter and less intimate in the book.
12 Dark and Stylish
One of the great things about these auteurs running amok in the Golden Age of Television (think Noah Hawley, Ryan Murphy, Matthew Weiner, Damon Lindelof, and J.J. Abrams for other examples) is that risks can be taken with the filming of a show. And they usually are. American Gods wields its cinematography and set design as another storytelling weapon in its arsenal.
We are allowed into the world of American Gods through Shadow Moon-- an intelligent man, but also a skeptic who is slow to accept the world around him for lack of evidence.
Shadow’s world is turned upside down, and it is evidenced in the way the camera works in the show. For every conventional shot in the show, there is seemingly another shot that is done in slow-motion or a tilt shift or an extreme closeup. The combination of the camera work and the interesting soundtrack add a dimension to the proceedings that makes American Gods feel that much more surreal and fantastical.
11 Oh, The Places You'll See
One of the most interesting facets of the novel American Gods was the bevy of unique and personality-laden locations peppered throughout the book. Just as much as the interesting events that happen throughout the story, readers of the book will be able to remember some of the spots that the story uses as a setting.
The first episode merely scratched the surface, but we were already treated to a terrifying old fortress-style prison. Additionally, and more interestingly, a great scene between Shadow Moon, Mr. Wednesday, and Mad Sweeney took place in Jack’s Crocodile Bar. A roadside bar, dimly lit and full of crocodile-themed kitsch, the place was incredibly memorable in the book.
The show did the bar a great deal of justice (early promotional photos published by Entertainment Weekly showed a distinctly different, distinctly lesser Crocodile Bar). It is just one in a number of fascinating locales, natural and otherwise, that we are likely to see. We have a hunch, in fact, that many of the bizarre items in the show’s opening credits belong to a future location that we’ll likely see soon.
10 The Bone Orchard
Shadow had a dream that reappeared through the episode. The first time he dreamt, fading to the image of his soon-to-be-dead wife, Shadow finds himself walking in the middle of a dead orchard littered with human bones to dense that they covered the ground. Looking unsure and afraid, Shadow walks through the bones. He comes to a magnificent (but dead-looking) tree that clearly stands out from the rest. He is attacked by branches and cut along his face. He sees a barbed noose, and then he is awakened to receive news about his wife.
Shadow later dreams of the tree in the bone orchard. Then, on the plane he dreams that he is emerging from a cave. The cave opens up onto that same lone and gnarled tree. From behind the tree saunters a white buffalo whose eyes are two pillars of flame. The buffalo instructs Shadow to “Believe”, and then Shadow is woken to find his plane has landed.
What is the story with these dreams? Will they mirror the book? Are they actually dreams, or is Shadow traveling somewhere else?
9 The Story of Shadow Moon
Shadow Moon (it turns out his mom was a hippie and that’s why he has an unusual name) is our entry point into the world of American Gods. He is a recently released convict-- let out a few days before his scheduled release due to the untimely death of his wife, Laura. Despite us meeting him in prison, Shadow has shown himself to be a largely good and honorable man. He appears to want nothing more than to just keep his head down and live his life, despite the horrible circumstances of his release.
He is familiar with the terminology and methodology of the con artist. He has taught himself a number of coin tricks, and used his time in prison to work on himself, body and mind (he read 813 books in 3 years and worked out by lifting weights). On his way to bury his wife, he is confronted by Mr. Wednesday and reluctantly accepts a job offer from the mysterious older man.
8 The Dead and the Grieving
As mentioned in the Shadow Moon entry, Shadow’s wife died just prior to his release from prison. His wife, Laura, died in an automobile accident alongside his closest friend (and supposed employer on release), Robbie. On arriving at Laura’s funeral, he was informed by the clearly not-sober widow of Robbie that Laura and Robbie had been cheating with one another at the time of their death while in a moving car.
Audrey (who is more sympathetic of a character in the show than in the book) comes staggering back, at night, from her husband’s gravesite while pulling up her tights to find Shadow still talking to Laura at her gravesite. Audrey attempts to seduce Shadow in retribution for them having been cheated on, but is rebuffed by Shadow. It appears as though, despite Laura’s infidelity, Shadow chooses to honor and respect the memory of his wife. Meanwhile, a coin mysteriously sinks into the dirt above Laura's coffin, implying that she is not at rest.
7 Worship Bilquis
During the show, there was what appeared to be a completely unrelated segment in which we are introduced to Bilquis (also known as the Queen of Sheba in Biblical lore). She is on an internet date with a much older man (played by Joel Murray, who you might know as Freddy Rumsen from Mad Men). The date presumably went well, as they wind up in Bilquis’ bedroom, where she leads her man with a quiet confidence.
The proceed to have intercourse until she, in mid act, commands him to worship her. The scene takes an interesting and bizarre turn that is not likely to be forgotten anytime soon by anybody who’s seen it. While we don’t yet know what, if any, relation she has to the rest of the characters in the show, her introduction in the first episode was a very bold move.
Green and Fuller included a scene (which also plays very early in the book) that will surely make American Gods the subject of water cooler talk for at least one full internet cycle.
6 More to Mad Sweeney
As Shadow Moon and Mr. Wednesday are hashing out the terms of Shadow’s employment with Wednesday, in walks Mad Sweeney. Sweeney has a swagger and bravado that preclude him from typical manners and he immediately horns in on Shadow’s personal space-- talking to him as if they were longtime friends instead of just barely having met. Sweeney introduces himself as a fellow employee of Mr. Wednesday (who he appears to have a healthy distrust of). Sweeney then matter-of-factly states that he is a leprechaun, and proceeds to inform Shadow that it is only a stereotype that leprechauns are small.
After showing Shadow a curious coin trick involving gold coins, he persists in challenging Shadow to a fight for fun. Turned down, Sweeney preys on Shadow’s raw nerves about his wife’s death in provoking a bar brawl. Sweeney indeed appears to be a fun character, and his gold coins seem to have powers of some sort.
5 Mr. Wednesday
Mr. Wednesday is played by Ian McShane (Deadwood, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Michael Green's previous show, Kings) in a born-to-play-it type of role. We first see Wednesday as he pretends to be a doddering old man in order to bilk the worker at an airline counter out of a first class seat.
Once Shadow is seated next to him, Wednesday shows himself to be quite sharp and shrewd. It rapidly becomes clear that Wednesday has knowledge above and beyond what a normal person ought to know. For some reason, this does not confuse or intrigue Shadow-- only make Shadow more frustrated and unwilling to do business with Wednesday.
Wednesday finally is able to convince Shadow to come work for him, by calling a seemingly rigged coin toss (despite the result being the opposite of what Shadow had rigged it to be). Based on the nature of his relationship with Shadow and the name power of McShane, it is safe to assume he’ll have a large part in the rest of this season.
4 Know Thy Enemy?
On walking back from the cemetery, Shadow comes across an odd metal box in the middle of a field. Curious, he goes over to it and it winds up unfurling into some sort robotic creature/possessed VR headset. Appearing as some sort of mechanical hybrid of a scorpion and a facehugger from Alien, it attacks Shadow. Next we know, we see Shadow watch as what looks to be the unfurling digital facsimile of the back of a limo. An odd, pixelated version of an obnoxious young man appears before Shadow and begins to interrogate him. The young man is unafraid to threaten and have his faceless digitized goons inflict damage on Shadow in order to get some answers. Shadow, unfortunately, has no idea what the young man’s talking about.
Based solely on the conversation in the back of the limousine, it appears that Shadow has unwittingly stumbled into some sort of power struggle between the young man (and implied others) and Wednesday. While the talks of paradigm shifts and Wednesday being too old and having seen his day are fairly telling in conjunction with one another, the full truth has yet to appear.
3 Slow pacing
As is typical in prestige shows these days, especially premieres, it somehow feels like we saw quite a bit and saw very little at the same time. We’ve been introduced to a handful of characters already; some of whom are seemingly unrelated. We had a little introduction about vikings bringing their god to America ahead of Leif Erikson’s voyage. We’ve had a death and a funeral and some wacky dreams. We’ve had danger and we’ve had some laughs.
All told, however, we are still only just about two chapters into an eighteen chapter book (we still have six more chapters before we get to the second part of the book). What this adds up to, in addition to the news that Gaiman is introducing at least one new god into the show (Bernsen’s Vulcan), is that we are likely not going to finish the season past charted territory. We are unlikely to come anywhere past the end of the novel by the end of season one. At this pace, the novel itself might wind up being broken into 3 or 5 seasons. While we’d be interested to see the show map new ground, perhaps this is the smarter tactic.
2 A History Lesson
One of the most interesting side effects of the book American Gods was that it was very educational about a number of under-discussed facets of life. The show appears to do a good job of mimicking the book in this regard. As we watch the mayhem and carnage and spilling blood all around us, we are liable to learn something.
By the time the show is over, we can expect to learn more about mythology than we’d ever thought we would. How much of the information will be factual and how much will be made up? We don’t know for sure. But what we do know is that for many people, this show will likely springboard their interest in, at the very least, a little Wikipedia journey through the various pantheons we encounter. The same will likely be true of future spots and tidbits we encounter along the way. Just the first Viking story by itself was notable in that it mentioned the Viking discovery of the American continent (which, unbeknownst to many, predates the Christopher Columbus voyage by hundreds of years).
1 Leaving us hanging
As we mentioned earlier, the biggest difference between the season premiere and the book was the attempted lynching, and subsequent rescue, of Shadow. The addition of the lynching of a black man by faceless men dressed in white is a decidedly political addition to a series titled American Gods.
Hanging is a predominent theme in the show, as the skinheads in prison twice were shown alluding to Shadow hanging. When Shadow dreamt of the tree in the bone orchard, a noose appeared. So with Shadow being hanged being a bit of a talking point throughout the episode, it should come as no surprise that the episode ends with an effort to string the man up.
We do not know who saved Shadow. We have our guesses here at Screen Rant, but don’t want to spoil anything if we’re right. Regardless of who (or what) it is that saves Shadow, it is possible they are more dangerous than the faceless monster men that beat Shadow to a pulp. It will have to wait until episode 2 to see who eviscerated the henchmen and saved Shadow in the process.
What were some of the things that stood out to you about the American Gods premiere? Are you excited for the next episode? Let us know in the comments!