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I would have been a terrible Viking. I’m prone to seasickness and I cannot stand being cold. Right now, it’s 71 degress in my office, and I paused typing this recap to turn on my space heater. Sure, I love to travel. But when I discover new things, I mean dive bars in Munich.
So when American Gods opens with a boat full of Vikings crossing the sea I could only think, NOPE. The year is 813 CE, and the men are hoping to land somewhere in North America. I would rather die than be in that boat. The dark Atlantic is churning and rolling, and the sky is spitting as the Viking ship sails towards…what? Do they know or are they operating on faith alone?
When they finally reach land, the Natives are not having it, showering the white men with a torrent of deadly–and very accurate–arrows. Also, there are black flies. If you have ever been to Maine in late spring, you know what fresh hell this is.
Starving and cursed, scratching and freezing on the beach, the Vikings want to get the hell out of dodge, but without wind, they are marooned on the sandy beach. Lightbulb! The gods can control the wind, if you ask and if they are listening.
Unfortunately, the gods are fickle assholes, and you are never really sure what they want. Do they want you to carve an idol into wood? A graven image? Blinding every man by stabbing out right eye? Human sacrifice? Yes! The gods love a flaming pyre! Getting warmer…
Their god was is war god, so the men channel Tyler Durden and start Fight Club! Shot in the visual style I call “300-esque violence”, the Vikings attack each other, as the red blood flies across the screen along with arms and legs. If this first episode is any indication, red blood GUSHING is going to be a recurring theme. The Norse god loves a crushed skull and he (He?) arrives, paying back the men’s brutality with enough wind to fill their sails.
The men haul ass to the boat and leave, but we know the history. The Vikings will come back and when they do, their god will be waiting.
Cut to a modern day Oklahoma prison yard. Shadow Moon on the bench press. He’s very…handsome. Good bone structure. He’s five days from release, and he’s anxious to get out and see his wife, Laura.
The night in his cell, he sleeps fitfully, dreaming he’s in a dead forest. The tree branches touch him, cutting him with talons like a Vanderpump Rules manicure. Shadow walks on bones. Skulls and ribcages. At the center of this bone orchard is a giant beech tree, from which a noose drops and…time to wake up!
Called to the warden’s office, Shadow finds out he’s being released early. His wife is dead in a car accident, and during this conversation we find out Shadow’s crimes: assault and battery. As a viewer, I can live with that. I figure he had a good reason because I’m very shallow, and again, Shadow (played by Ricky Whittle) is very good looking. Whittle does some amazing chest acting in this scene, as his face remains passive while you can feel the stress coming from his heaving pecs.
At the local airport, Shadow discovers what most seasoned travelers know: airports and airlines are the worst. He can’t change his flight without incurring change fees and the difference in fare. Shadow counts to ten and remembers the sage advice given by his cellmate, Low Key Lyesmith: “Do not piss off those bitches in airports.” Shadow changes his flight for the next day.
He waits. And waits. And waits. The next day, he notices Ian McShane at the ticket counter, acting afool and conning his way to a first-class upgrade. When Shadow boards, his seat in coach is double booked and the only available seat is next to McShane.
Shadow knows a con-man when he sees one, and the men strike up conversation, mixing it up over free cashews and Jack & Cokes. McShane comments on Shadow’s just getting out of prison, but assuages Shadow’s fears by saying, “Do’t worry about me. I’ve got an eye for these things. Just the one…You lost something vital in there. Not just time.” Who is this older gentleman with a delightful accent and “the sight”?
“What might I call you?”
“Today’s my day. Let’s go with that.”
As they fly in a metal tube at 30,000 feet, courtesy of faith or Sir Isaac Newton, Wednesday offers Shadow a job. There is always room for a big guy who knows when to let other people think he’s dumb.
Shadow declines and then drifts off to sleep, where he is again before the Tree. If he stood in front of this tree for three hours and while listening to Smetana’s The Moldau symphony, it would be a Terence Malick movie. From behind the tree emerges a bison with flaming eyes. In a gravelly and familiar voice, the bison says, “Believe.” The flight attendant from United Omaha Emirates Airlines shakes Shadow awake; the plane had to make an emergency landing due to weather.
Shadow decides to rent a car to get to the rest of the way to Eagle Point. Road trip in a sub-compact!
Out in Los Angeles, a man (one of Bill Murray’s many brothers) meets an age-appropriate woman for a date. She is into him and takes him back to her place. Hey, Mr. Murray. Pro-tip. Never fuck a woman with a hundred pre-lit candles in her red bedroom.
She’s intent to bone and he is easy prey. While they are going at it, she tells him to worship her. He is in ecstasy, and she begs him not to come, but instead pray to her like she’s a goddess. “Say my name!” He cries out “Bilquis!” She rides him while he worships her, as her body–her vagina–eats him. Dang. Once she has “feasted”, she is young again, her skin luminescent, looking like she just got a year-long facial from Georgia Louise.
Shadow pulls over at a dive bar for supper. Taking a bathroom break, he find Wednesday in the loo. Wednesday has the newspaper that contains Shadow’s wife’s obituary. He offers shadow the job again. Shadow had planned on going to work for his friend Robbie, but whoops! Robbie’s obit is in the paper, too.
About that job…Shadow offers to flip for it. Shadow calls it tails, good at coin tricks and reading the toss. But Wednesday knows it’s heads. Shadow plays with the Susan B. Anthony; American currency reads “In God We Trust.”
Shadow isn’t the only one good with coins. Mad Sweeney enters (“I’m a leprechaun”), and he’s a tall, ginger dick. Mad Sweeney and Wednesday know each other, but they are clearly not friends.
Shadow is now in Wednesday’s employ. Job requirements: driver, occasional asskicker, hustler swindler, and liar. They seal their deal with mead, the nectar of the gods, which according to Sweeney tastes like a diabetic’s piss. Yummo.
Sweeney might just be a leprechaun, as he starts to pull gold coins out of the sky. Sweeney is like every boy named Sully in South Boston, drunk on whiskey and looking for a fight. And all he needs to do to set it off is insult Shadow’s dead wife. Cue the cinematic fight sequence.
Leaving with the joy of the fight and a gold coin in his pocket, Shadow wakes up, finding himself “cruising down the road in this big ole Cadillac and it’s so hard!” Wednesday is taking him to bury his wife in Eagle Point, the “Crossroads of America” with an active Rotary club.
Shadow “talks” to Laura, and tosses the gold coin on Laura’s fresh grave. Shadow finds out how Robbie and Laura died from Robbie’s widow, Audrey. Did The World According to Garp teach us nothing?! Audrey says that Laura died in the crash, with Robbie’s cock in her mouth. She bit it clean off. “Severed at the root.” Natch.
And the gold coin disappears into the dirt.
Things continue to get weird. Imagine finding a glowing metal box in the field…in the middle of the night…after something extinguishes all the street lamps. Would you approach it? Naw. Would Shadow? Sure!
The box opens and attaches itself to Shadow’s face, like the facehugger from Alien. Shadow is now “in” the box with a digitized version of an EDM douche kid named Technical Boy, who vapes hallucinogenic toad skinz. Of course he does.
Shadow is seated between faceless goons that TB calls “the Children.” TB knows Shadow is working for Wednesday, and he wants to know Wednesday’s game plan. He tells Shadow that Wednesday is history, and that he–TB– is the future; that prayers are spam. Shadow can’t tell the kid what Wednesday is up to because he doesn’t know. Which is the truth.
The world shifts from digital to analog and now Shadow is in the rain getting the shit kicked out of him. The Children are still faceless but now they have berets like evil Curtis Sliwa clones. They string Shadow up in the tree with a noose. It is quite a startling image, the men dressed in white lynching a black man. Shadow is overpowered and helpless. His face grows purple and puffy as he sways in the wind.
But then the rope snaps, Shadow falls to the ground while his tormentors explode in a mess of red guts. It’s a sea of entrails covering the ground, as an invisible hero saves the day.
I recently tried to get into Legion on FX. The show was certainly weird in the right ways. Legion had its own aesthetic and a compelling hero in Dan Stevens’s David. But I tapped out five episodes because it wasn’t easy to watch. Once you establish your world, I want the world to fall away. But with Legion, I was constantly having to decipher the rules of the world. I couldn’t relax and I stopped caring about the story.
I hope American Gods doesn’t fall into the same trap. If AG can continue to build up this world and then settle into it, I will be here.
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