***Spoiler Warning: Spoilers for American Gods follow.
R.I.P. Man swallowed by a vagina.
Swallowed by a vagina. Readers of Neil Gaiman’s novel knew it was coming, but probably never thought they’d see that Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) scene so graphically played out. On the other hand, anyone who’s ever watched Bryan Fuller and Michael Green’s take on Hannibal weren’t in the least surprised. Actually, by these particular showrunners’ standards, vagina-swallowing is rather tame. For future middle-aged, techno-challenged, new-to-the-scene dating men, here’s a helpful hint: If you see a bedroom that looks like this,
and your date seriously wants you to “worship” her and say her name (not in that fun, Beyoncé kind of way), you probably want to get the hell out of dodge. Else, well, you know …
Anyhoo, now that we’ve gotten the elephant out of the womb room, we should probably pop back to American Gods‘ über-cool opening, featuring those by now (thanks, The Last Kingdom, Vikings) familiar shields, and a wondrous story narrated by Denmore Barnes’ Mr. Ibis. The warriors quickly find out that discovering new lands isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be;
and in the blink of an (the one remaining) eye, Old Gods (*coughOdincough*) are set loose in the New World.
With that, we’re shifted to a modern day prison where we meet up with our hero (and new crush) Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), an incredibly charming, resolute, about-to-be ex-con, hanging out in the yard with none other than Low Key (sounds like … ) Lyesmith (Jonathan Tucker). Shadow’s plans to return to his life and wife outside are shaken to the core when a terrible accident (“one of those good news/bad news jokes”) grants him a slightly early release. As he struggles with the news, navigates the hell on earth known as a modern day (“Do not piss off those bitches at the …”) airport, we’re gifted with an introduction to Ian McShane’s delightfully verbose Mr. Wednesday, who’s running a little scam that gets him firmly planted in a first class seat.
Thank the Gods, Shadow finds himself just as (relatively) fortuitous; in a pairing as perfect as Dancy and Mikkelsen, an unusually knowledgable future employer — “drive and take care of things, generally, on my behalf” — chats up his reluctant applicant, sitting in the adjacent seat. Shadow dreams/has visions of the titular Bone Orchard, full of skulls and creepy trees, fiery-eyed buffalo and (thanks, Low Key) a hanging.
After his journey, Shadow heads to Jack’s Crocodile Bar for sustenance, instead finds the oddly insistent Mr. Wednesday and trickster leprechaun, Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), who pushes Shadow until Sweeney gets what he wants — a fight. “Can you feel the joy rising in your veins like the sapping springtime?” In return, Shadow gets a peculiar coin that he tosses onto his wife, Laura’s grave … more on that another day.
Speaking of graves, Shadow barely has a second to mourn his wife before his best friend, Robbie’s wife, Audrey (Betty Gilpin) informs Shadow of the accident particulars — “She died with my husband’s cock in her mouth” — and she in her grief, runs the gamut of wild (“An eye for an eye, a blowjob for a blowjob”) to broken-hearted despair.
In the hour’s second gloriously surrealistic and horrific sequence, a dazed and reeling Shadow leaves the funeral, and coming upon some strange device on the ground, stops to inspect it, only to be facehugged by an alien VR (virtual reality) device. The immersive experience whisks Shadow into Technical Boy’s (Bruce Langley) limo, where in a cloud of smoke, every line of reality finally goes up in smoke-circled puffs and TV snow (remember that?). Technical Boy warns Shadow he knows about the Wednesday alliance, and utters his ominous warning: “The dominant paradigm, that’s all that fucking matters. We’re not just going to kill you, Shadow, we’re going to delete you.”
As Shadow struggles to comprehend his increasingly bizarre circumstances, he’s ejected from the limo, and in an all-too-realistic historical reenactment by faceless revolutionaries, he’s kicked, beaten, lynched and hung, only to be just as confusingly, violently avenged, and freed from his rope. In a bloody, Hannibalistic feast of flying body parts that turn into a river of guts, Shadow falls to the ground, recovers panting …
… and that, my friends, is his and our introduction to the new American Gods.
The opening and closing scenes were such a cool bookend of Old gods and New. From the Viking era to Technological, and I love how the VR experience incorporated the supernatural scene — Shadow can’t quite tell what’s real or vision, and theoretically, neither can the audience.
McShane and Whittle are a match made in heaven, and we simply cannot thank the casting gods enough for these two fine actors being brought together. In reading Gaiman’s novel, I truly never had anyone in particular in my mind’s eye, but now I can’t imagine (or want) anyone else in these roles.
McShane is eating up his every line with glee, and in turn, we’re clapping at every run of dialogue he utters.
Likewise, Whittle’s wordless wonder comes through with every new encounter or piece of information he receives. His reactionary expressions; the scene where he had to deal with Audrey’s raging was so realistic — perfection.
What fun the Croc Bar design is; ditto Mad Sweeney, with all the coin-dropping and tricks he pulled. Schreiber delivered his lines deliciously: “Now, that’s a coin trick for you.” (Shadow: “How’d you do it?”) “With panache.”
Foreboding Mr. Wednesday to Shadow: “Take all the time you need [at the funeral]. I’ll tell you this once, and one time only, ever.”
Songs (Brian Reitzell, series composer) this hour: