The Bone Orchard
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman is an intense read, filled with a litany of important characters, in depth symbolism, and a plot that suspensefully spirals towards a fantastic conclusion. In short, while it could easily lend itself to the television format, its depth meant that it could easily be done poorly, or just in a lackluster, ham-fisted manner, disrespecting the original book canon to create something palatable for a general audience.
I’m here to say, with the first episode at least, Bryan Fuller (show runner) has proven that once again he understands how to take a source and break it down to its very core. While some might have had qualms with his take on Hannibal (which never ran close to the books), no one could ever say his style and choice of writers/directors wasn’t top notch. He truly cares about the things he creates–and it shows. With American Gods, he seems to be sticking to the original source material more faithfully than I expected, and I’m excited to see my favorite scenes spread out on screen.
We have a cold opening, with an unseen man writing in a book titled, “Coming to America, 813”. He tells the viewer the story of a group of Vikings that came to America before Lief Erikson and how badly it goes for them. It’s shown visually, and right away it’s clear how deep Fuller’s hand is in this (the director David Slade also worked on Hannibal). The color pallet is deep, and there is a great amount of blood on screen at times, it is beautiful more than gorey. Right away we are introduced into the idea of belief: of trying to gain the Gods’ favor by any means possible. About the fickleness and all consuming needs of Gods, and how they play with humans. We see none in this flashback, but their presence is felt, just the same.
Once we arrive in modern day, we meet our protagonist, Shadow Moon, who is in prison for having committed one too many cons. He only has five days left in prison, and he has a conversation with his wife where she tries to reassure him that everything is fine, despite his fears that a strange storm is rolling in. There is imagery everywhere that something bad is coming, especially in his dreams. He sees storms, and a forest of bones–the bone orchard of the episode title. There is a living tree within the middle of it, that is bleeding, from which a noose hangs–remember this, for this image will appear again and again, and it is important. When he wakes, he finds that he is to be released early…on the account that his wife was killed in an accident. Well, shit. [Of note: Loki is in prison with him as well, as one of Moon’s good friends, but ah–he doesn’t know that, does he?]
Through a series of events, he ends up on a plane with a man who provides Moon with the name Mr. Wednesday. It’s clear that’s not his real name, and it’s clear to the audience that there is something very strange and off about him–but if it is supernatural or not, it’s difficult to say. But if you watch closely, who he truly is, is evident (one eye, sleeps anywhere, etc). There are many nods to book readers here, from small additions of book scenes, to entire parts of dialogue–it’s great. The writing itself in this scene is tight and quickly paced, really drawing the viewer into the situation. We also see here that Moon is excellent at coin tricks, which will be important for later episodes. Again, there is so much that needs to be paid attention to early on, I worry that non-book viewers will be lost later on. Mr. Wednesday offers Moon a job, which he refuses, and sleeps through the rest of the flight. He has bad dreams again, filled with his wife, the bone orchard (this time with burning eyed buffalo!), and lightning. When he wakes, he finds out that bad weather downed the plane early, and he is forced to drive the rest of the way to his home.
This storyline bleeds into “somewhere in America” and we see the Hollywood sign.
A woman meets a man in a bar, and quickly leads him back to a red bedroom. You see, this is Bilquis, Goddess of Love–an old God. Her power is waning–and there is one way to gain power for her…to consume men during sex. The scene is both graphic and erotic, and is one that will definitely leave men squirming. I loved it! It was a great introduction to one of the other Gods, who we might think would be good, but is just as complicated as the rest.
Back to Moon, who is in the coolest alligator-themed bar ever. The entire place is dripping with ambiance, with its gaping maw of a bar, to glowing teeth. Mr. Wednesday shows up, again asking Moon about taking the job. He knows that Moon’s wife died in the car with his best friend…which he claims he learned from the paper, but by now we should have already learned better. A coin flip is used to determine if Moon will work for him, and of course it falls in Wednesday’s favor. He will be getting what he wants, for a while, you’ll see.
When Mr. Wednesday goes off for a short while, a man comes around doing his own very magical coin tricks: it’s Mad Sweeney, a Leprechaun. He’s clearly interested in what Moon is doing with Mr. Wed, but he doesn’t get much of an answer. So instead, he picks a fight with Moon, and man, it’s so well shot and has a great backing track. Sweeney and Moon are evenly matched and it’s just really great physical work. We eventually cut to Mr. Wed in the car, with Moon in the back, waking up in the morning.
They make it to Eagle Point, the crossroads of America. Moon reaches the funeral for Laura; it isn’t the sad catharsis for him, as he finds out that Laura died giving Robbie road head. So…yeah. Oops. There is a haunting version of “Where did you sleep last night” that plays as Moon watches the cemetery. He throws Sweeney’s coin onto her fresh grave, which will be important later on. After a brief encounter with Robbie’s wife, he starts to head back to the motel where Mr. Wed is, and gets caught up by some weird technical box.
What is in the box? Well, it’s Technical Boy, one of the New Gods–our first meeting with one. He also wants to know what Mr. Wed is about, and when Moon refuses to explain (he doesn’t know anyways), he decides to start fighting him…and tries to kill him. It doesn’t work though, but the imagery from his dreams starts to come true in a sea of blood.
That is where we end our episode, with few answers but so many threads laid out.