Spoilers to follow for “The Bone Orchard,” the premiere episode of American Gods. I have read the book, but I will not mention any spoilers from that.
I have been reading about plans for adapting American Gods literally for years. Five years ago HBO and Tom Hanks were going to produce a version, but that fell through. The fancasting ideas thrown out were hilariously wrong. I’m not sure what this would be like to a newcomer, and although the show made a few tweaks here and there, it’s easy to follow if you’ve read the book a few times like I have.
The show begins with the first clue to what’s going on, although it’s more or less opaque. I found the entire Vikings segment to be beautifully artful in a sort of Tarantino-esque shower of near-cartoonish violence. But the show seems to be hiding a magic trick, and I’m not sure it’s the same one as in the book.
We are introduced to our protagonist, the oddly named Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), a convict for as of yet unknown crimes. Shadow was overwhelmingly taciturn and quiet in the book, with a rich, evocative inner monologue. That doesn’t really work for the screen, so that was a necessary change to his character. Other than that, he strikes me much as I’d expect; decent and damaged, in a bad place to be taken advantage of.
Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday is fantastic, and I am hard pressed to think of anyone better that isn’t Daniel Day Lewis or Gary Oldman if they were willing to “slum” on TV. Trying to portray the magical, weird things Shadow sees in the book is perhaps an impossible task, but I appreciate how the show is trying so far. I didn’t particularly care for Hannibal, which seemed often gory for no reason, but I am digging the AG aesthetic so far.
The titular “Bone Orchard” Shadow walks through in a dream was wonderfully creepy, and the Believe Buffalo wasn’t how I pictured it, but I liked it. The show has already planted the key pieces of faith and belief, and with a show called American Gods, what else would you expect? I also loved the cursive text used as the story within a story about the Vikings and Bilquis, the obscure love goddess referenced in the Bible as the Queen of Sheba.
Her scene was not as good as in the book, but I found it very unsettling and well done; the music was insidious and off-putting, like a horror movie, and the cinematography gorgeous and bizarre. Now, I have heard that Bilquis’ role is expanded in the show, but time will tell on that. I feel like it’s not quite enough for someone new to really get what she’s doing with just this scene, although as a “book reader”, I got it.
It was great to see Pablo Schrieber of The Wire and Orange is the New Black fame back on prestige TV, this time playing Mad Sweeney the leprechaun. The entire scene was nearly note perfect, with only a few small changes that didn’t really make things worse, just different. But it was a moment of interesting levity, and along with a few laugh out loud lines from Wednesday, the sole brightness in a sea of darkness.
The show brought us forward into the tragedy of Shadow and his wife, who had been cheating on him with his best friend. I think Ricky Whittle is doing a great job so far in one of the modern classic “silent guy” roles, and Ian McShane is just next level. This puts the nonsense he was given on Game of Thrones to shame.
The “digital guy” is a change from the original, but that makes sense, as it was written 16 years ago and the Internet was quite different back then. This new take fits the new Internet, and he’s just as smarmy and awful as I’d imagine the modern Internet to be. I really thought I had guessed the ending, and was surprised that it ended before the moment I thought we’d see.
Overall, I highly enjoyed this episode, and although I don’t know if a newcomer will have the patience for this odd show, I think it’ll be worth it to stick around.
Did you catch the premiere of American Gods? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.