The sacred and profane collide in American Gods Episode 1: 'The Bone Orchard'

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May 1, 2017

Warning: Lo, here there be spoilers for American Gods Episode 1: "The Bone Orchard."

Liz: Epic and extremely rare is the TV or movie adaptation that will make a hardcore bibliophile like me believe (hang on to that — "believe" is going to be an important word in this series) that it did the book justice. Bryan Fuller and Michael Green have somehow managed to transform Neil Gaiman's gritty yet luminous neo-myth about the struggle for worship between old and new deities into something supernatural. Brooding ex-con Shadow Moon, unlikely leprechaun Mad Sweeney and slick con man Mr. Wednesday emerge from the pages like phantoms made flesh. American Gods is a paranormal experience, a trance-like state in itself. Fuller and Green breathe life into a dark, moody dreamscape you almost think you can't be seeing even as it flashes before your eyes.

Alyse: I have never read American Gods. I went into this show totally blind. I have very little Neil Gaiman experience, but I watch a disturbing amount of television and I am a huge fan of Bryan Fuller and Ian McShane. So I don't know how this compares to the novel, but boy, this was an engaging hour of television. Pilots are usually very tough, but American Gods got it right. It was well-paced and I didn't feel like I was getting a ton of information spoon-fed to me.

The one scene that I could have lived without was the Bilquis scene. It came out of nowhere, and went nowhere. Liz told me that it was a good way to introduce other gods, and it was a fine scene, but it seemed shoved into the episode. You don't get introduced to Bilquis via Wednesday or Shadow, nor did we revisit it before the end of the episode. If you lifted that scene out, it would not have changed the story one iota. I hope that in upcoming episodes, they find a more natural way to introduce gods. Start with a god-intro scene at the top of every episode, or something like that.

Liz: Blood blossoms in midair as a disembodied arm is flung toward the overcast sky. These are the sacrifices of the ancients. Gaiman catapults us thousands of years back in time as he (through the pen of Mr. Ibis) writes of the Vikings bringing old gods to the New World, and the scene is re-imagined with exquisite brutality. There is an unapologetic rawness about the survival struggle of Erik the Red and his men that stabs you like his searing knife after it has been baptized in fire. To not only praise Odin, but to embody Odin, to be Odin is to worship him. The closeups in this scene are also truly spectacular, and I don't just say this as a horror enthusiast. A fallen idol half-buried in the sand or the silent power of an ancient talisman will haunt you as much as any bloodstained blade.

Alyse: The fountains of blood shed in this scene were just gorgeous. It was color-corrected to a surreal shade of red, and there was So. Much. Blood. I'm a gore fan, but this went beyond gore. It was art. The blood splashed in a tidal wave; body parts were severed like they were run through with a hot machete through butter. It was almost cartoonish — in the best way possible — when one dude's arm, still clutching his sword, was hacked off, flew through the air and landed right through his opponent's throat.

Liz: Jack's Crocodile Bar is crawling with strange personas and magic that tricks you into thinking it's just a sleight of hand — or is it? Shadow's sketchy encounters with Wednesday and Mad Sweeney are frighteningly close to the scene that played out in Technicolor in my own imagination as Gaiman lit the place up with a bloody-nosed bar fight and washed it down with a swig of mead. The shameless remarks and crude humor spewing from Wednesday's unholy mouth (I worship Ian McShane) make him the greasiest god in the pantheon, someone you probably wouldn't want to run into even if the date was auspicious. Mad Sweeney just glitters with madness like the gold coins of questionable origin he plucks out of thin air. Shadow is a brooding stormcloud, gloomy and gray until something ignites it to explode with shockwaves of lightning.

Alyse: First, I want to live in the Crocodile Bar. How friggin' cool is that? Second, I enjoyed meeting Mad Sweeney. I loved the sleight of hand stuff, but I wonder how long it will be before Shadow realizes that it was no illusion; it was magic. I guess he doesn't have the benefit of knowing that the show is called 'American GODS.' I am not sure if there was a reason that Mad Sweeney wanted so badly to fight Shadow, or if it is just because he is, well, mad. But I instantly liked his character and can't wait to see more from him. I can't wait to see what kind of consequences come about after Sweeney's coin was sucked into Laura's grave.

Liz: Bizarre scenes dreamed up by Gaiman can be made even more spectacular with the right technology. The strange, spidery metallic object Shadow encounters in the night was originally a curious object by the curb that he just barely bent to pick up when he was swept into an ominous stretch limo. Now the mechanical spider is the limo in which Technical Boy takes Shadow hostage. Technical Boy has evolved from a basement dweller in a trench coat to a futuristic punk in Day-Glo colors that mess with your head almost as much as his megawatt attitude and digitally precise coif. He's worshiped and he knows it as he ruthlessly interrogates Shadow like some sort of electronically charged FBI agent. Something about this kid makes you want to slap him in his haughty face. Shrouded in the hallucinogenic smoke, this trippy encounter is a techno nightmare.

Alyse: This, to me, was the most surreal segment in the entire episode. Whenever I watch shows that I am writing about, I always take notes, and this scene went beyond notes. I just had to sit back and take it all in. From the facehugger tech to the digital goons, I wasn't entirely sure what was real and what wasn't. And I'm okay with that.

Liz: Shadow's dream visions are dark, obscure and as creepy as the crackle of bones beneath his feet until he is shocked back into a dazed sort of consciousness. The boundaries between the waking world and the dreamworld are as unsettlingly blurred here as they are throughout the novel. Shadow seems to find himself in a warped wonderland whether his eyes are open or closed. This is a place where the branches of bleeding Yggdrasil, rising from an endless field scattered with human skulls, extend toward unknown galaxies. Reminiscent of the Dreaming in Gaiman's iconic graphic novel series The Sandman, what being awake and even alive mean is easily distorted when you swear you can feel the fingers of ancient trees grasping at you or the scorching breath of a fire-breathing buffalo who could be an angel or a demon.

Alyse: I am starting to think that Bryan Fuller only takes on shows where he can utilize an enormous, evil mammal in a dream sequence. American Gods had this buffalo with fire coming out of its eyes; Hannibal had The Stag. In his new Star Trek show, I am expecting to see a space manatee swimming from one crew member's dream to the next.

Do you think American Gods is worthy of your absolute devotion? Borrow Mr. Ibis' fountain pen and let us know in the comments!