‘American Gods’ Episode 1 Recap: The Bone Orchard

american gods episode 1 recap bone orchardStarz

Fans everywhere have been excited about the premiere of American Gods on Starz. Based on Neil Gaiman’s incredible fantasy novel about American society as seen through the imminent war between gods of different factions, the season premiere of American Gods is proving to be just as captivating as the original. Eerie, foreboding and mysterious, the first episode of the season, “The Bone Orchard” is as incredible as the opening chapters of the novel. In fact, Starz did such a good job with the premiere that it felt like the pages of American Gods came to life.

This recap contains spoilers.

In the season premiere, viewers are presented with a glimpse of the strange and mysterious world that is slowly but surely becoming a part of Shadow Moon’s reality. Taking from Gaiman’s brief interludes, episode one begins with a documented journey – “Coming to America”. Following the early Vikings on their exploratory journey to America, viewers are given a glimpse of the birth of the All-Father as an American God. Upon landing, the Vikings discover that America is incredibly dangerous and barren. Intent on leaving, they find that their ship will not move as there is no wind. Belief in the gods, or rather, in the All-Father, known as a god of war and sacrifice, results in sacrificial offerings in the hope of sailing home, which includes gouging out each man’s left eye, burning men on the pyre, and, in the end, a full on battle, as they discover that bloodshed is they key to the All-Father’s favor. Through this brief scene, viewers are pulled into the world of American Gods, as the mystery of the All-Father is temporarily abandoned in favor of the reveal of Shadow Moon (portrayed by Ricky Whittle).

The transition to Shadow marks a change in scenery. When we first meet Shadow, he is in prison for assault and battery, although we aren’t made aware of the exact circumstances that led to his imprisonment. Although brief, Shadow’s imprisonment is almost word for word taken from Gaiman’s novel. In a brief sequence of scenes, we are introduced to a few important characters, including Shadow’s wife, Laura (portrayed by Emily Browning) as well as a fellow inmate, Low Key Lyesmith (portrayed by Jonathan Tucker).

In just a few scenes, the viewer is overcome with a sense of foreboding, thanks to Shadow. Although Shadow is set to be released from prison in five days time, he knows that something is wrong. Through a phone conversation with Laura, Shadow learns that everything is okay back at home in Eagle Point, Indiana, but he can’t shake the feeling that a storm is on the way. As if Shadow’s eerily calm conversation with Laura wasn’t enough of an indication that something is wrong, the viewer is given a glimpse into Shadow’s dreaming mind, where he is met with strange images, including an ominous talking buffalo.

The next day, Shadow wakes up to find that his premonitions were, in fact, true. His anxiety is well founded as he is released from prison a few days early as a result of his wife’s mysterious death. If that wasn’t bad enough, he struggles to get home as he has problems with the airline, despite having a plane ticket. Once more the viewer is given a glimpse into the past in a surprisingly accurate conversation between Shadow and Low Key on the topic of airlines, where Shadow is advised to keep his temper at all costs so that he does not end up back in prison, or in Low Key’s words: “Do not piss off those bitches in airports.”

Two days later, Shadow finds himself on a plane on its way to Eagle Point, Indiana for Laura’s funeral. Strange events continue to occur as Shadow finds that his assigned seat on the plane is already taken and that two tickets were issued for one seat. In a strange twist of fate, Shadow finds himself next to Wednesday, who drops a few hints at who he truly is that go further than just his name, as in a delight to fans who have read the novel, Wednesday hints at having known Shadow’s mother. Furthermore, Wednesday, who is portrayed by Ian McShane, is actually perfect. Not only does he (and many other characters so far) fit the descriptions given to them in American Gods, but his tone of voice and personality are great and add to the eerie and mysterious air that brings the show to life.

As if Wednesday’s presence wasn’t unnerving enough, a terrible storm shakes the plane and sets the tone of the episode. Foreboding increases as Wednesday claims to know more than he should, and things only get worse when he offers Shadow a job. From there, we experience another strange dream sequence that heightens the tension. Not only does it add to the mystery surrounding Shadow’s strange circumstances, but it keeps the viewer on edge, ready and waiting for what might happen next.

Just as Shadow begins the last leg of his journey home, managing to shake Wednesday off in the process, as the remainder of his flight is rescheduled due to the storms, things get even weirder. As we watch Shadow drive off in the distance toward Indiana, the scene transitions once more to “Somewhere in America”.

Although fans of American Gods immediately knew just how strange and uncomfortable things were about to become, those unfamiliar with the series were in for a shocking surprise when the first official god (many of the others will be introduced and true identities revealed later on) is revealed.

In a bar, an older man and a seductive woman, Bilquis (portrayed by Yetide Badaki), are on a date. Things advance quickly to the bedroom of a hotel, where things get a little weird. Bilquis takes full control and reveals her true identity as a goddess. Little does the man know that he is about to lose his life to the powers of her seduction and his own words. Taking full control, Bilquis dominates the older man, commanding him to worship her. In a wonderful nod toward the novel, the entire chant is taken almost word for word from the book. As the viewer watches in horror, the man is slowly eaten by her vagina. (Yes, it actually happens and it’s as disturbing as it sounds, though it’s not nearly as horrifying as it is in the novel).

We meet Shadow once more, who is slowly but surely making his way to Laura’s funeral. Despite having lost Wednesday on the drive, the mysterious man appears in the bathroom of the bar that Shadow stopped at to get dinner. Shadow is in for a surprise when he loses in the first con of the series. Reluctant to work for Wednesday, as Shadow does not care for him, the two agree to a coin toss to determine Shadow’s destiny. Although Shadow seemingly rigs the toss to land in his favor, the coin mysteriously lands on heads and seals Shadow’s fate.

To seal the deal, Shadow is given three glasses of mead to drink (which, by the way, is the drink of the gods – something to keep in mind for later). In frustration at his situation, Shadow begins to perform coin tricks, which help to clear his mind, when another character, Mad Sweeney, who is in fact, a leprechaun, appears. Sweeney, who is portrayed by Pablo Schreiber, has a few unique coin tricks up his sleeve as well, as he begins to pull small gold coins from thin air. Shadow, intrigued and unable to figure out the technique behind the illusion, asks Sweeney to explain it to him. Sweeney declares that he will tell Shadow his secret if and only if, Shadow fights him. Although Shadow does not want to fight, Sweeney provokes him by speaking ill of Laura, and a bloody and brutal fight begins.

The next day, a number of events happen very quickly. Shadow learns more about what is expected of him as Wednesday’s right-hand man, which includes driving, performing odd jobs, occasional fighting and a promise that Shadow will hold Wednesday’s vigil if he happens to die. From there, we transition to Laura’s funeral, where Shadow finds out the truth behind Laura’s death – she was having an affair with his best friend, Robbie, and on their last day together, the two get into a car accident.

Things go from bad to worse for Shadow, who after learning of the truth behind his wife’s death, finds himself in a strange car, where the viewer is introduced to the first new god, the Technical Boy, who is portrayed by Bruce Langley. In a wonderful display of what the new gods are capable of, the Technical Boy appears digitalized in an amazing scene that portrays the power of technology. In fact, even the Technical Boy’s bodyguards materialize out of thin air.

Hoping to learn more about Wednesday, the Technical Boy is severely disappointed when Shadow is unable to provide him with information. While Shadow does not know much about Wednesday, the Technical Boy believes that he is lying and shows just how cruel the new gods can be. Shadow quickly finds himself thrown out of the car, where a group of men appear and beat him senseless. He finds himself seemingly on the brink of death and is even hanged, before being cut down by an unknown benefactor.

The episode ends with Shadow escaping the encounter with his life, thanks to a number of strange circumstances. He finds his surroundings to be covered in blood, with various bodies strewn about. While any number of people could have been involved, there are strong hints that show that Wednesday might be the reason that Shadow survived the ordeal.

Next week’s episode is sure to answer a lot of questions, namely who saved Shadow. However, the mystery behind the lucky gold coin that Shadow wound up with after his bar fight with Mad Sweeney also needs to be addressed. An incredible amount of emphasis is placed on the coin after Shadow tosses it on top of Laura’s grave and while fans of the series know what the coin has in store, it will be great to uncover the mystery behind its significance as the season unfolds.

If the rest of the series is anything like the premiere, fans of Neil Gaiman’s work won’t be disappointed. In fact, in the first episode alone, every single thing that we wanted to see happen in the television adaptation of American Gods has already happened, which is a great sign. Here’s to hoping that next week’s episode is just a good as the first.

What did you think of the premiere of American Gods?

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Melissa Ratcliff
the authorMelissa Ratcliff
Senior Staff Writer
Reader, Writer & Translator. Cats, books and video games are my life.