Mr. Ibis (Demore Barnes) is narrating a book about the first Vikings in 813 CE landing in America. It doesn’t go well for them. When they get off the boat, a swarm of bugs bites them, and a swarm of arrows hits one of the Vikings. The bugs don’t seem as bad now. They want to leave but there isn’t any wind for their sails so they are stuck. To get the attention of their all-father Odin, they carve a statue of him. When that doesn’t work, they start making sacrifices. They begin with poking eyes out with a hot poker; they burn one of their shipmates alive. When that doesn’t work, the captain divides them up in teams and they fight each other. Blood gushes everywhere and limbs fly, one still holding a sword and striking someone. That gets Odin’s attention and the Vikings get enough wind to leave this accursed land. When another group of Vikings come back a hundred years later, Odin and war is waiting for them.
“The only good thing about being in prison, you don’t worry if they are going to get you because they already got you. Tomorrow can’t do anything that today hadn’t done.”
The next scene is a prison in present time. Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is lifting weights in the prison yard. He is a big dude; don’t mess with him. His cellmate Low Key Lyesmith (Jonathan Tucker) is talking to him about the gallows. He is a big fan. Shadow in a voiceover says, “The only good thing about being in prison, you don’t worry if they are going to get you because they already got you. Tomorrow can’t do anything that today hadn’t done.” Later he is on a prison phone talking to his wife, Laura Moon (Emily Browning). Shadow has five days before his release and Laura can’t wait to see him. She tells him about his surprise welcome home party that she and his best friend Robbie are planning. He’s to keep it a secret. Shadow tells her he is worried about a storm coming. Laura calls him by his pet name, puppy, and he’s happy. Back in his cell, he dreams about his wife lying in bed. He is now in a forest, skulls and bones cover the ground and a tree limb smacks him. He sees a noose on one of the limbs. A guard wakes him up; the warden wants to see him.
The warden tells him, and then politely asks him to sit down. Shadow has served three years of his six-year sentence; they are going to release him today. Laura died in an auto accident. The guard who walks him back to his cell jokes that this is a good news/bad news situation, the good news, you’re getting out early, the bad news, your wife is dead. This guard won’t be an opening act for Chris Rock anytime soon. The prison bus takes Shadow to the airport. The ticket he has is for the date of his intended release. The airline won’t change his ticket unless he pays $200, or shows a death certificate for Laura. He is ready to argue with the ticket agent but he remembers Low Key telling him not to “argue with the bitches” at the airport. It never ends well. He asks how much will it cost to change his flight to tomorrow. Shadow gets to spend a sleepless night at the airport.
A confused elderly man (Ian McShane) thinks he is supposed to be in first class, his son usually takes care of these things, and he must get to his grandchild’s christening. The ticket agent lets him sit first class either out of compassion or to shut him up. When Shadow boards the plane, someone is in his assigned seat, so the flight attendant sends him to first class. He is sitting across from the confused elderly man; accept he isn’t confused at all. It was just a con to be upgraded to first class. The conman talks a lot and seems to know things about Shadow. Shadow gives the conman his name, and the conman asks Shadow what day it is. Since it is Wednesday; he tells Shadow to call him Wednesday. Mr. Wednesday offers Shadow a job, but he tells him to think it over. Shadow falls asleep and sees an image of his wife and a big tree. A buffalo with flaming eyes approach him and says, “Believe”. When he wakes up he finds out the plane has made an emergency landing. Everyone has already departed the plane. They won’t leave until the next day, so he rents a car to drive to Eagle Point to attend Laura’s funeral. He stops at Shakamak State Park and walks to the top of a hill and screams. The song “Torture” by Kris Jensen has been playing since he began his road trip.
Somewhere in America
“That is a hell of a beauty regiment.”
An older, paunchy gentleman, (Joel Murray) meets his date at a bar. She, Bilquis (Yetide Bakaki), is a younger, beautiful black woman. They met through a dating app and he is thrilled. She seems a little nervous and unsure of her own beauty. She later takes him to her place, and leads him to a red bedroom with a big red bed, filled with candles. He is nervous; he did not expect things to go so fast. They take off their clothes and begin to have sex. Bilquis: “Do something for me. Worship me.” It is feeling so good to him that he’ll do anything she requests. He doesn’t know what to say but after she slaps him he starts reciting how beautiful she is, and that he will give her his wealth, his body, everything. It soon sounds like a chant a worshiper would say. She keeps telling him to, “Worship me,” and he does. He seems to grow smaller under her as she get bigger. Soon her vagina consumes him. She rolls over content and looks younger and more beautiful. That is a hell of a beauty regiment.
Shadow stops at Jack’s Crocodile Bar, whose interior looks like the mouth of a crocodile. The waitress persuades him to order the hamburger and chili. While he is taking a piss, he hears a familiar voice, Mr. Wednesday. He gives Shadow his condolences for Laura, and enquires if he wants the job since he is broke, and doesn’t have a job waiting for him. Shadow wants to know what he is talking about. Mr. Wednesday breaks the news, his future employer and best friend Robbie is also dead. He hands him the newspaper and it states both Laura and Robbie died together in the same auto accident.
Back in the bar, a record drops from the jukebox, the Iko Iko song “The Dixie Cups”. Shadow admits to Mr. Wednesday that he is broke and jobless. He will flip a coin, heads, he will work for Mr. Wednesday, tails, and he won’t. It won’t land on heads, because he can’t stand Mr. Wednesday, he is too forward. Mr. Wednesday tells him it won’t always land on tails. Shadow flips the coin and it lands on heads. Shadow can’t believe it. (It must have been a trick coin or Shadow was flipping it in a way for it to land on tails, because how would he know which way it would land.) Mr. Wednesday the gracious winner brings Shadow some honey mead to seal the deal. The deal is Shadow will work for him. He will be his aide de camp. He will drive and take care of Mr. Wednesday’s personal affairs. If on the rare occasion someone means him harm, Shadow is to kick that person’s ass. If he should die, Shadow will hold his wake. (I think it was something to do with wake, but I didn’t catch what it exactly was.) Shadow has his employment stipulations. He will kick someone’s ass if needed, but he won’t do it for Mr. Wednesday’s profit or fun. He will pay him $2,000 a week, and if Mr. Wednesday pisses him off, he will quit. Mr. Wednesday accepts his terms and they shake on it.
“Mad Sweeney: That’s a stereotype. Represents a very narrow view of the world.”
A big, tall Irish leprechaun named Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) shows up. Shadow: “Who are you?”
Mad Sweeney: “I’m a leprechaun.”
Shadow: “You’re a little tall for a leprechaun.”
Mad Sweeney: “That’s a stereotype. Represents a very narrow view of the world.” He shows Shadow a bunch of coin tricks and asks him if he really knows who Mr. Wednesday is. He wants to fight now, Shadow doesn’t but Mad Sweeney hits Shadow over the top of his head with Laura’s obituary and calls Laura a nice piece of … that is when Shadow decks him. These two huge men begin fighting and Mad Sweeney loves it. He wants Shadow to love it too. To entice Shadow to fight he gives him a (magical) gold coin. Shadow takes it with him.
“She realizes he doesn’t know the whole truth, ‘She died with my husband’s cock in her mouth’.”
Mr. Wednesday is driving an old Cadillac with Shadow sleeping in the backseat. This would normally be Shadow’s job, but today is special; it is Laurel’s funeral. After stopping in a restroom to clean up, Shadow arrives at the funeral. He walks in and sits by Audrey (Betty Gilpin), Robbie’s widow, and Laurel’s best friend. She has some strange things to say about Laurel looking good after the mortician pieced her together after the accident. Shadow ignores it because he thinks she is in shock like him losing her husband and friend. She realizes he doesn’t know the whole truth, “She died with my husband’s cock in her mouth.” Later at the graveside, Shadow angrily talks to Laurel. He asks her why she did it. He read 813 books while in prison to be a better man than when he went in. Audrey stumbles over after pissing on Robbie’s grave. To get revenge on Robbie and Laurel, she offers Shadow a blowjob right there. Shadow refuses her offer. If he won’t accept that, they should just have sex. She gets on top of him but he remains strong. He talks Audrey out of it and he holds her while she cries.
“We are the future, and we don’t give a f—about him or anyone else anymore. They are consigned to the dumpster. We have reprogrammed reality.”
Shadow is walking alone down a deserted road back to the motel where Mr. Wednesday is staying, when the street lights start blinking out, one by one. He sees a glowing device in a field. When he investigates, it jumps on his face and becomes a virtual reality helmet. It looks like Shadow is in a limo. He is in a virtual reality plane. The man at the other end is called Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) and he looks like a Silicon Valley douchebag. He asks Shadow questions about Mr. Wednesday and keeps warning Shadow, “Don’t f—with me.” He brags to Shadow, “We are the future, and we don’t give a f—about him or anyone else anymore. They are consigned to the dumpster. We have reprogrammed reality.” Shadow isn’t impressed and even if he knew what Mr. Wednesday was up to, as his employee, he won’t tell Technical Boy. This angers the douchebag so he orders his faceless minions to kill Shadow. They throw him out the limo and back to reality, beginning their beat down. They tie a rope around his neck and drag him to a tree, and lynch him. Shadow can put his hand between his neck and the rope and stay alive. He hits the ground and sees Technical Boy’s minions torn to pieces, their blood gushing over him.
Over five years ago, I bought a copy of American Gods to read while I was on vacation. I read nearly half of it, but once I got back, I didn’t finish it. I kept planning to get back to it but never did. So in honor of the show, I’ve started reading it again from the beginning. I’ve read most of what’s happened in this episode.
I won’t do a book and show breakdown, but if there are any major changes that I notice, I’ll mention it. The beginning of the first chapter didn’t start with the Vikings— that was later in the book. Bilquis was a prostitute, not someone using a date app. I’ll try to keep reading ahead to spot other changes. The change I liked the most was Bilquis not being a prostitute. She seemed more in charge of this situation as a civilian than as a prostitute. It allowed her divinity to shine through more.
The show is bloody but beautiful. The blood is filmed beautifully. The American landscape looks majestic. Jack’s Crocodile Bar is a great set. When Shadow walks in the bar, it looks like he is walking into the beast’s lair. Bilquis bedroom looked sensual and spiritual.
The cast is uniformly strong. Ian McShane owns the role of Mr. Wednesday. He is colorful and funny but hints how dangerous Mr. Wednesday is. Pablo Schreiber was great as Mad Sweeney. He also was funny but exhibited a joyfully violent core. Yetide Badaki probably had the riskiest role. She could have just been the tits and ass that premium channels use to spice up their programming. Instead she owned her sexuality and was in control of the situation. She was naked, but she was regal and dignified. Ricky Whittle makes an interesting Shadow. His character doesn’t have the larger than life personalities of the other characters, but he anchors the show. In the book, he is a man of color, but not a black man. People thought he was different nationalities, and he didn’t seem to identify with any group. This Shadow is definitely a black man and is treated as such. That made the lynching scene somewhat problematic. Lynching is identified with the treatment of blacks in the south. It is a national problem that takes a different form in our country even now. I hope they have something to say about this, and aren’t just using it as another colorful palate to the story.
I enjoyed the show. Some critics have already called it the best show of the year and the year’s most important. The audience will be the judge of that. They are off to a good start.