Season 1/ Episode 1/ Starz
**Spoilers coming at you like a barrage of raining arrows**
Starz’s American Gods makes it clear what kind of show it’s going to be right in the first few minutes. The opening scene starts with what will presumably be the first of many stories of a group of people coming to America and bringing their respective gods along with them. In the first episode, we’re introduced to a group of Vikings whose ship lands off the coast somewhere.
As the Vikings bring their ship in, they do as expected and attempt to explore the lush greenery of this new land they’ve discovered. However, as soon as one of them takes half of a step off of the beach, at least 50 blue-feathered arrows fly out of the woods and land straight in his chest. Not a single one hits the ground or anyone else. Dude’s basically a pin cushion.
After realizing they clearly aren’t meant to go any further, the Vikings decide to turn back home. Unfortunately, there’s not enough wind to set sail so they turn to their god – Odin. Their first attempt to get Odin’s attention involves going down the line and poking each other’s eyes out to honor him. No luck, sadly. [But it did help set a precedent of how violent the show can be just for the sake of shock value.] They soon realize that the best way to honor a god of war is to hold battle. With no one left to fight, the Vikings have the first-ever Shirts vs. Skins match on American soil.
It’s pure carnage, people. There’s actually a scene where a severed arm flies through the air with a sword still in hand that then plunges right into someone’s chest. As the wind picks up, the ship is seen casting off back across the sea with half of its original crew, all one-eyed.
The story jumps into the future where we meet out main character, Shadow Moon, and another inmate, telling him how “This country went to hell when they stopped hanging folks.” This is yet the first of many references to lynchings and, yes, there are plenty of other racially awkward moments throughout the series.
Anyway, Shadow’s been in prison for three years for assault and is a few days from being released. The entire time he’s been away, he’s been in constant communication with his wife, Laura. After talking to her on the phone that night, he has a dream where he sees her in his ceiling and wishes her a good night. As he goes deeper into his dream world, he finds himself walking through a dark, barren forest with a large, winding tree in the center. Then, out of nowhere, he gets straight up b*tch-slapped by a tree from The Wizard of Oz.
The next morning, a guard comes to get Shadow from his cell. If TV has taught me anything, it’s that there’s never a good reason for an inmate to meet with the warden right before they’re supposed to get out of prison. Damn my intuition. The warden breaks the news to Shadow that he’s being released a few days early because his wife died the night before in a car accident. But Shadow isn’t overcome with a sense of grief. As a matter of fact, he just turns stoic, goes back to his cell and puts on the tightest, freshly tailored black suit I’ve ever seen outside of a James Bond movie. [More on this magical suit later.]
At least seven prison guards escort Shadow out of the prison, which must have been a nod to how badass he is, maybe? Next, he’s at an airport trying to reschedule his flight to Eagle Point, Indiana to make it to his wife’s funeral. Unfortunately, the gate attendant isn’t really being that accommodating. Thanks to a flashback of the same creepy inmate warning Shadow to stay on the good side of airport employees, he keeps his cool and curls up on a couch until he can catch a later flight.
When he wakes up, he sees an old man at the gate telling the same attendant that he needs to get on first class to meet his family. After gathering that the old man is kind of helpless, the attendant let’s him board as planned. A few moments later, Shadow’s on the verge of becoming the next viral airline video victim after an attendant asks him to take a seat when there aren’t any. Luckily, there’s one in first class right across from the old man from earlier. But, instead of keeping up the pretense that he’s in the early stages of dementia, the old man is now smooth, cunning, and a little bit manipulative as he talks a flight attendant into letting him keep his drink and also getting one for Shadow.
The old man introduces himself as Wednesday and offers Shadow a job to essentially be his assistant. Given that Shadow doesn’t know him from a hole in the wall and already has a job waiting for him at home, he blows it off and Wednesday falls asleep in .5 seconds. But only after reading Shadow’s entire life and asking him if his late mother had a big afro and was a dancing queen back in the day. Yeah…
Shadow drifts off to sleep again and finds himself looking at the same large, winding tree as before. Only, this time, a massive buffalo comes out from behind it with fire shooting out of its eyes. When he wakes up, the plane is empty. It was apparently forced to land due to a storm. Instead of waiting yet another day for a flight, he uses a credit card to rent a car and drive the rest of the way. On the way, Shadow pulls over at a nature reserve, walks to the edge of a cliff and shouts to the sky. This is his first time showing any real emotion since finding out Laura died.
In the next scene, we’re in a completely different city with a woman sitting at a bar. She’s wearing a red dress and doesn’t even have to speak to send the message that she’s the most regal person in any room she walk into. She locks eyes with a man from across the room. You know, the “I’m here to help finalize a corporate merger” type. The two hit it off and she takes him back to what’s presumably her room. This is where the red flags start to pile up into a mountain.
Every single inch of the room is covered in red. Do you know who has all-red rooms? MURDERERS! It makes it harder to find the blood splatters. If dude had a black light who knows what he would’ve found. But he’s the kind of guy who actually says “You’re the sexiest goddamn thing I’ve ever gotten to touch for free.” So he’s a lost cause.
As he and Bilquis start to get hot and heavy, the episode has one of its best moments. After reading the book the series is based off of, one of my first thoughts was, “How the hell are they going to do that?” “That” refers to a scene where the woman, Bilquis, literally absorbs the man through her vagina as he worships her at the alter of her bedroom. This scene was shot so deceptively that I didn’t even realize the process had started until my mans was shoulder deep in. After Bilquis pushes him the rest of the way, she looks at her reflection and appears to get younger. Yeah, that just happened. Soak it in.
Let’s catch back up with our main characters. Shadow ends up at a bar that looks like it was ripped straight off of a Louisiana backroad. He walks in to see the bar itself is built to look like the head of an alligator and bar stools are made out of – you guessed it – alligator skulls. After spending an uncomfortable amount of time talking about “stiff tips” and chili with the horny bartender, he heads to the bathroom.
Because Neil Gaiman doesn’t believe in coincidences, Wednesday bursts out of a bathroom stall as Shadow’s peeing. Shadow’s reaction offers out first glimpse into how this uber-polite man could have been in prison for assault. Wednesday extends the same job offer but with the added bonus of telling him that his job back home just fell through. His best friend, Robbie, died in the same car accident as his wife. Wednesday hands Shadow the obituary and walks back to his table.
[Side note: Fam is grieving the loss of his wife and best friend while some genius jackass at the bar plays “Iko, Iko” by The Dixie Cups on the jukebox. Totally mixed signals, but I loved it.]
Shadow’s understandably warmed up to the idea of working for Wednesday. Especially after he finds out that it pays $2,000 a week. But before he accepts the offer, he makes some things clear. First, he’ll only hurt people he needs to. Second, he’s done as soon as he’s fed up with Wednesday’s narcissism. Third and last, he asks Wednesday to flip a coin for it because he can’t be attached to anyone who has worse luck than him. Wednesday flips the coin, but Shadow stops him from revealing it because he peeped that Wednesday rigged the toss. [Oh! Shadow’s picked up a habit for coin tricks, by the way.]
Wednesday leaves the table and Shadow flips the coin himself to see what the answer would’ve been. As he does so a second time, a fist catches it in mid-air, a fist that belongs to a man by the name of Mad Sweeney. Did I say man? I meant to say 6-foot leprechaun.
Sweeney is apparently also friends with Wednesday and spends the next few minutes playing darts and offering Shadow warnings about Wednesday being a manipulative hustler, which Wednesday doesn’t even try to deny when he comes back to the table with drinks. While Wednesday and Sweeney have your normal cocktails, Shadow has to take three shots of mead to finalize the deal he’s made with Wednesday.
After the deal is made, Mad Sweeney steals the scene as he walks around Shadow’s table doing coin tricks that could only be explained by magic. Shadow’s noticeably intrigued. In a move that was probably planned by Wednesday, Sweeney starts to instigate a fight with Shadow. At first he says he’ll teach him a coin trick if he fights him. Shadow refuses, so Sweeney starts to talk about Laura. That pushes Shadow over the edge as he punches Sweeney straight in the nose from across the table IN SLOW MO, THOUGH.
The fight that follows is pretty wonderful. It’s got everything from head-butts to beer chugs and gut punches. Pablo Schreiber/Nick Sobotka done got swole on us. Shadow and Sweeney two go flying across the room, over tables and onto the floor as they exchange blows. THIS is probably the reason Shadow had to serve three years. Without declaring a winner, the fight ends with a Rocky III freeze-frame ending.
The next morning, Shadow wakes up in the back of a car Wednesday is driving down a back road with no memory of what happened the rest of the night. When they make it to Eagle Point, Wednesday stays behind at the America Motel that has a buffalo in its logo (foreshadowing?). Shadow goes off to Laura’s funeral at a mostly empty church.
He goes to see Laura’s body and sees a woman named Audrey in the front row. The two start to talk and it becomes clear that she was Robbie’s wife. Audrey connects the dots and realizes Shadow has no idea what’s happened and drops the most memorable line of the show. Which is saying a lot. “Your wife died with my husband’s c*ck in her mouth.”
WOAH. Yeah. Shadow’s life sucks. The wife who he thought was holding him down was screwing around with his best friend for who knows how long.
Now, quick sidebar, this scene was handled far better in the book. Instead of Audrey inexplicably attending the funeral for the woman who was knocking boots with her husband, she actually kind of crashes the funeral. And spits in Laura’s face. Then tells a confused Shadow exactly why.
Anyway, Laura’s burial comes in the next scene as her casket has a little difficulty going into the ground. After she’s buried, Shadow stays behind and says all of the things he’s been keeping to himself since he got out of prison. He asks her why she cheated? With Robbie? Was it the last time before life went back to normal or was this going to be a consistent thing? After getting everything out, he finds the coin he won from Mad Sweeney in their fight and flips it onto her grave.
Just then, a drunken Audrey walks up behind him readjusting her clothes after pissing on her husband’s grave. Grieving and embittered by sitting with the truth longer than he has, she tries to convince Shadow to have sex with her in the cemetery so that both of their cheating spouses can see it from the afterlife. Shadow does the right thing here, though, and walks away. Because he’s not a creep.
Thank BAST that Neil Gaiman stood his ground with this scene. Showrunners actually wanted to let Shadow take her up on her offer in a moment that would’ve lead to so many bad “headstone” puns. Luckily, Gaiman told them that’s the last thing Shadow would do in this scenario and that he’d walk in front of a bus and blame his suicide on them if they went on with the plan.
The next scene shows Shadow walking down the middle of a road. Yo, any black man with some sense knows you don’t walk down highways alone at night. Especially in rural areas. ESPECIALLY in small town Indiana. Oh no, Shadow, what is you doing???
Anyway, the streetlights suddenly go out and he turns around to see a box of light on the shoulder. As he walks up to it, he crouches over and pokes it with a stick – because that’s been proven to be the ultimate safety test, right? After standing up, the box opens up and basically becomes a facehugger from Alien.
Shadow wakes up in a well-lit, all-white room sitting across from a teenager with half a head of cornrows. The kid lets Shadow know that he’s an enemy of Wednesday’s and wants him to provide some intel. Out of loyalty and the fact that he has nothing to tell, Shadow doesn’t offer any. As a result, the teenager orders his faceless, pixelated henchmen to kill him.
Suddenly, Shadow is outside of the car being stomped out by the henchmen, who are now wearing berets? They pull a rope out of nowhere and drag him over to a tree where they’re clearly planning to lynch him. While hanging for his life, Shadow’s eyes open just in time to see the henchmen get cut in half by some mysterious figure. He gets cut down and is left alone in the rain with half a dozen mutilated bodies around him.
In the next episode, we’ll hopefully find out how the hell Shadow survived and get to meet even more of the powerful gods hidden among us.