TV Recap and Review: American Gods S01E01 – The Bone Orchard

Title: The Bone Orchard
Show: American Gods
Season: 1
Episode: 1
Sidereel Rating (Average): 4.06
Sidereel Rating (Mine): 4

Based on: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Notes: Series Premiere

Cast:

  1. Ricky Whittle – Shadow Moon
  2. Ian McShane – Mr. Wednesday
  3. Emily Browning – Laura Moon
  4. Gillian Anderson – Media
  5. Pablo Schreiber – Mad Sweeney
  6. Bruce Langley – Tehnicolor Boy
  7. Jonathan Tucker – ‘Low Key’ Lyesmith

Series Description: Shadow Moon is released from prison only to find that his wife and best friend are both dead. Broke and alone, he accepts a job working for Mr. Wednesday, a man on a mysterious mission, and is unwillingly dragged into a war between the ancient and modern gods of America.

Plot Highlights: A band of Vikings reach America, only to figure that they were not going to be able to survive on this new continent. Lacking the wind they needed to sail back, they make a series of blood sacrifices to bring the Allfather’s attention to them. In the present day, Shadow speaks to Laura about how he’s going to be released in five days. The next day, he’s told that he’s being released early because Laura died that morning. On the plane, he meets Mr. Wednesday, an enigmatic hustler who offers him a job. After he accepts the job, they travel to Laura’s funeral, where Shadow finds out that Laura and Robbie had been having an affair. After the burial, Shadow meets Technicolor Boy, and is attacked and lynched by his goons.

It is, of course, a given that an HBO show would be replete with sensationalist and unnecessary scenes of violence and nudity. That, however, doesn’t prevent me from wishing that they’d opted for a different route with American Gods. The plot is intriguing and interesting – and filled with enough sex and violence – to grab eyeballs. It’s poor form to consistently drag a good fantasy story down based on a cheap formula. The same goes for Game of Thrones, but that show is so far beyond help that there’s no point talking about it.

The opening scenes detail the story of Odin reaching America – and then being left behind there as the Vikings hightail it for home. The scene then shifts to the prison where protagonist Shadow Moon has been incarcerated.

Shadow is due to be released in five days, but he can’t shake a sense of foreboding. His premonition proves true when he’s released three days ahead of schedule so he can attend his wife Laura’s funeral.

“I feel like there’s a fuckin’ axe hangin’ over my head.” – Shadow

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Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon

Shadow’s sorrow and isolation hangs over the entire episode. He’s sullen, brooding, very silent. Shadow is essentially a non violent person, which is ironic considering he was in prison for aggravated assault and battery. Mostly, he’s a small time hustler and thief. He’s also very much in love with Laura, and her death hits him deeply. We see him be emotional only twice in the episode – once when he stops his car in the middle of a deserted road in the middle of nowhere to just scream. And then again, after the funeral, when he talks to Laura at her grave. He’s hurt twice over – by her death, and by the news of her infidelity. He asks her why she didn’t just tell him. “I could have taken it.”

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Emily Browning as Laura Moon

 

Mr. Wednesday’s character is one I cannot like at all. He doesn’t do anything to convince us that we should be on his side. He’s an oily swindler, capable of switching from doddering old man to seasoned manipulator and then to fast asleep in minutes, as it were.

Ah, you got more talent than me. I got two. One is I can sleep anywhere any time. The other one is that I usually end up getting what I want…on average, over time. – Wednesday

He browbeats and stalks Shadow until he agrees to work for him, skilfully using Shadow’s grief and loneliness as weapons in his manipulation. I cannot like manipulators, and therefore I cannot like Wednesday.

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Shadow with Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane)

The leprechaun Mad Sweeney agrees with me. He doesn’t trust Wednesday, which gives him a lot in common with all of the gods Wednesday tries to recruit. But unlike those gods, who were only afraid of losing, I suspect that Mad Sweeney realizes that the victories Wednesday promises will only benefit Wednesday himself at the end of the day.

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Pablo Schrieber as Mad Sweeney

Mad Sweeney: Now that’s a coin trick for ya.
Shadow: How’d ya do it?
Mad Sweeney: With panache.

The humour is well distributed and keeps the episode from descending into dark, brooding boredom. One of my favourite lines was Mr. Wednesday’s reaction upon learning Shadow’s name.

“Oh, my boy, that is one outstandingly improbable name.” – Mr. Wednesday.

Unfortunately, the treatment of race so far has been remarkably tone deaf. Bilquis, the queen of Sheba is the only black woman (or WOC, for that matter) in the episode, and her portrayal had no depth, and indeed, seemed placed here only to fill the nudity quota.

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Yetide Badaki as Bilquis

And then of course, they managed to end the episode with Shadow being lynched (by Technicolor Boy, a personification of racist white trolls, among other things). They address this again in later episodes, but the only character on whom this seems to have made an unsettling impression is Shadow himself.

Technicolor Boy is also the first look we get at the apparent villains of this series – the New Gods. They represent the new forces that mankind believes in: television, the media, armament. Technicolor Boy is brash and rude, personified as a white teenager.

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Bruce Langley as Technicolor Boy

He’s a relatively young god, and dismisses Wednesday, the Old Gods and all their ways as irrelevant. And yet here he is, asking Shadow what Wednesday’s up to. Technicolor Boy’s motivations are rather confusing at this point, and really, the only reason he seems to be in this episode is to give the New Gods a face and show off what their world looks like.

American Gods starts off by being weird and grandiose and filled with unrelatable characters. In many cases, those characters are also profoundly unlikeable. The Bone Orchard also sticks close to the original story, without much room for further exploration. As a set up episode, it does a good job of hooking the viewer and building anticipation.

Next Review: The 39 Clues [The Clue Hunt] #1 – The Maze of Bones

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