From the first seconds of the opening titles, you just knew American Gods S01E01 was going to be an exhilarating, neon assault on the senses and a joyous fucking marvel to behold. The titles are worthy of a blog post themselves, but there was so goddamned much to take in, I can only run us through what we saw and what we felt.
AMERICAN GODS S01E01 HAS EVERYTHING A PILOT NEEDS
The first shot of American Gods S01E01, an EC/U of a quill being dipped in viscose black ink, set the tone. This series is going to be as dark, wet and sticky as a brooding Bible-belt thunderhead or a violent summer sexual encounter in the loft of a plantation’s stable barn.
FADE IN: A writer scribes words with a quill, the topic of his book, a Viking incursion into The New World in the year 813 (more than 100 years before Leif Erikson’s more famous quest) is reflected in his glasses – already a very Gaiman way of introducing a story about stories. Because that’s what Neil Gaiman often does, uses mythology (old stories) within contemporary settings (new stories.)
Bludgeoned, sick, starving, hopeless and trapped by the wind because The Gods have abandoned them, these Norsemen try to summon the weather to take them home via more and more violent means – carving Odin, poking their own eyes out, a human sacrifice on a funeral pyre – still, the winds will not come.
Until that is, they wage war upon themselves. Skins versus Shirts like they’d forgotten their gym kit when they packed the longboat. And here, we see the first glimpse of Bryan Fuller’s trademark, imaginative love of gore… and, in doing so, America reveals her true colours – blood red.
The Vikings leave and when they arrive home, we learn through the gloriously-written narration which has accompanied these opening six minutes, not one of them ever sets foot in a boat again nor mentions this godforsaken land.
DREAM SEQUENCES DRIPPING WET WITH MYTHOLOGY
Cut to present day. The aforementioned thunderhead hangs over Shadow Moon’s prison as harbinger of doom. After a series of neat scene transitions and imaginatively-executed portentous dreams tell us this guy’s been watching too many prison re-runs of Bryan Fuller’s other gore-fest and sublimely beautiful TV show – Hannibal.
Normally, I’d add a side of Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain and a pinch of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth to the list of movies in that prison library, but Shadow Moon later reveals he’s been reading six books a week. Maybe some were Neil Gaiman. Everything from those movies probably came from Gaiman’s imagination first anyway!
Sure enough, the very next morning our protagonist, Shadow Moon (The 100’s Ricky Whittle) wakes up to find himself released five days early after being told his wife has been killed in an automobile accident.
A FAUSTIAN PACT
On his way to the funeral, he meets mysterious con man, Mr Wednesday (Ian McShane) on a plane who offers him a job. Clue: he’s Odin (or Wodin) – the carving the Vikings left behind and the origin of the word Wednesday.
After refusing the deal with the devil and screaming at the heavens, we’re treated to the most incredible sex scene I think I’ve ever seen, but first this:
HOW TO TRANSITION FROM ONE SCENE TO ANOTHER
Quick scream at the heavens. Tilt Up, Card. Cut to interior of wherever the hell you like. #Simples. Look to the skies. You don’t have to use a card like here, just tilt back down to another setting. As humans, wherever we go, sky is always up, so this unspoken, international filmmaking/human experience language! Just as the thunder soundbridges transition us from scene to scene within the prison, seamlessly switching between scenes (and especially multiple locations long distances from each other) keeps the audience’s attention where you want it – away from that remote control. Watch and learn Game of Thrones.
AMERICAN GODS S01E01 FEATURES THE BEST SEX SCENE EVER
A woman, “Bilquis” seduces a desperate random in a bar “Somewhere in America” via online dating. Shy and demure at first, sexy-as-hell Bilquis takes the man to an entirely red room, undresses the no-hoper and they have sex. She commands him to worship her so, as he utters the parts of her body he idolises, and the scene peaks to a frenzied crescendo, she physically grows in stature until she quite literally swallows him whole… and not with her mouth. For Joseph Campbell students out there, this is The Temptress (and possibly even The Belly of the Beast) in a scene the like of which I’ve not seen before. This may be from Neil Gaiman’s mind but the style and execution are straight out of The Book of Fuller.
So far, we don’t know who or what Bilquis is (she can see herself in the mirror and seems more like a Djinn than vampire, plus I’m guessing narcissism will be one of Gaiman’s more modern gods) but not only was this scene a joy to watch from a filmmaking point of view, it was also the most delicious, sexy vamp/demon seduction ever placed on celluloid and enough to get any warm-blooded human hot under the collar. Brian Reitzell’s (Hannibal) unrelenting haunting, screeching score also helped get the blood pumping. Grrrrr!
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Like The Simpsons’ Springfield, this show’ Somewhere in America vibe keeps locations purposefully generic. Yeah we know we’re in Indiana but then, suddenly we’re in an Americana backwater bar. The giant alligator’s mouth set and waitresses accent suggest the south, but this the kind of kitsch you only find on Route 666, which runs nowhere alligator country. In the little boys’ room, it’s revealed Mr Wednesday has followed Shadow Moon and, in between learning a coin trick and the best ex-con-versus-leprechaun-in-a-vest-and-braces bar brawl ever, Shadow Moon is tricked into accepting Mr Wednesday’s Faustian job.
Shadow Moon makes it to the church on time for the funeral, whereupon he finds out that his wife had Shadow Moon’s best friend, Robbie’s “cock in her mouth” when she was killed. Robbie’s grieving widow, Audrey accosts Shadow Moon in the cemetery and wants revenge sex in some of the best drunk-acting you’ll ever see. courtesy of Betty Gilpin.
AMERICA’S NEW GODS – MEDIA, CELEBRITY & TECHNOLOGY
As Shadow Moon walks (not to be confused with Shadow moonwalks) the streets alone, he spies a Batteries Not Included-type gizmo by the side of the road. Touching it with a stick, it leaps like one of H.R. Geiger’s facehuggers and attaches VR goggles to his face. There it is, folks, the first sign of Gaiman’s new mythology since the opening titles.
Our hero is dragged from our reality into a virtual world via some Douglas Turnbull Space Odyssey for a conversation about Mr Wednesday’s plans in the back of a virtual limousine with a young man with an ice-cream quiff who’s vaping on a hallucinogenic toad. When it transpires Shadow Moon knows nothing, the young man orders his faceless CGI goons to kill him. So, back to the real world where they become a droog-like lynch mob, they hang him from a tree like a piece of strange fruit… but in a rain-soaked bloodbath, someone or Some Thing saves him.
THIS SECOND GOLDEN AGE OF TV SHITS ALL OVER CINEMA
American Gods S01E01 was, quite simply a stunning sixty-two minutes of television. Today I have been lucky enough to have watched and written about two courageous and perfectly-imagined shows that mix mythology with a love for the craft. Two shows that go to the other, other-worldly places that other shows can’t. The Leftovers may be much more subtle, but what this show lacks in subtlety, it more than makes up for in its viscerality. They are two different beasts.
In the past few years, Lost, Breaking Bad, Hannibal, The Leftovers and now American Gods S01E01 have raised the television storytelling stakes higher than a vampire queen demon reaching for the top shelf at the butchers.
The good news is, Bryan Fuller’s directing team from Hannibal are directing all eight episodes after tonight’s American Gods S01E01, including two more from David Slade, Adam Kane, Vincenzo Natali, Guillermo Navarro (Star Trek Discovery Pilot and Del Toro’s DOP) and Craig Zobel who directed The Leftovers’ mind-blowing “International Assassin”.
Expect seven more weeks of hair-raising, beautiful but terrifying visuals and storytelling that isn’t afraid to expose the shadow-self nor offend prudish American sensibilities. With Bryan Fuller writing, Michael Green and The Gaiman himself exec producing,
I think we might have found the highway to hell.