American Gods. Believe.
And so it begins…
It’s finally here. American Gods on Starz. Sorry, if I’m a bit late to the party.
I wanted to watch a few episodes before forming an opinion of the show.
It was at once, not quite what I had expected and at the same time exactly what I expected. The story and dialogue stay pretty true the book, but it is more comical than I had imagined. There is darkness and there is brevity; through the dialogue, the visuals, and the soundtrack.
We start with Shadow Moon, our protagonist. He has been in prison for years for a crime that we know little about. He has been sheltered from the influence of society, cut off from media, and had no access to technology. He’s got no people skills, but he has been reading. He knows things, but not really what they mean. A blank slate.
His cell-mate, Low-Key Lyesmith, fills Shadow’s head with all kinds of garbage (or truth wrapped in garbage). So Shadow catalogues it all, along with his book knowledge, and doesn’t really apply much more thought to it. He doesn’t need to. This is all a way of passing time until his early release into the “real” world. Surprise, even earlier release. And, guess what,
Shit. Just. Got. Real.
Shadow’s wife dies days before they were meant to pick up where they left off. In prison, I would think one imagines life in the “real world”, not really knowing what they are missing. Shadow had made plans for a world he has largely imagined. Now what? Shadow just wants to say goodbye to the one thing he “believed the shit out of”. It was all meant to be simple; a pre-arranged ticket to a home, a job, and love. What was there to think about? Now, he has to deal with shit on his own for once, in a world that is unfamiliar, where he keeps meeting strange people and seeing crazy stuff. WTF?
Shadow’s world has been turned upside down and inside out. In a way Shadow is an immigrant.
This story unfolds slowly, building the characters and the world progressively, in a way that encourages the audience to seek out the original legends behind the characters we meet.
Raise your hand if you have googled “Bilquis”, “leprechauns”, or “Jinn”?
Knowing the backstories helps you to understand the subtle clues that we are given throughout Shadow’s journey. Having wikipedia open while reading the book is the equivalent of today’s podcast companion show to a hit TV series.
Speaking of which, please check out my friends at Shat On TV if you are looking for a fun and insightful podcast for American Gods. If you need something that goes a bit more into the book as it relates to the show Michael and Sarah over at American Gods Podcast do a great deep dive each week.
If the first few episodes seem confusing, that’s entirely intentional. In the book, we learn about Shadow slowly as the story unfolds. He meets some interesting characters along the way and has started having very strange and vivid dreams. He can’t quite make sense of all of this yet, but the audience (in both the book and the show) is given some hints of the supernatural right from the start.
- The story of the Vikings showed them ceremonially blinding themselves in the right eye
- Wednesday mentions that he “Has an eye for these things, just the one”, as he points to his left eye.
- The story of the Vikings begins in 813 AD
- Shadow has read 813 books
- Shadow is very confident of his magic and his ability to read the toss
- Wednesday proves him wrong
- Mad Sweeney introduces himself as a leprechaun, which shadow laughs off
- Proceeds to pull gold coins from the air… with panache
- Bilquis swallows a man with her vagina
- So, that’s not quite normal, right?
The “Coming to America” montages have been my favourite so far. Each story of how the gods reached America is really a story of the immigrants who make up the country. The journey across middle America, and its wonderful tapestry of cultures and beliefs, questions whether there can ever be a simple definition of what it means to be an American. How does this change over time with the imposition of a common set of values that seek to unify? Or exclude?
We will slowly learn about these gods as their backstories unfold and we hear the journey of different “tribes” to America. We should feel the motivations and challenges of leaving one’s homeland and the promise that America gave. How do the stories change and adapt as they are passed through generations, lost, twisted, merged with others? I hope to feel all of this before the end of the season.
We have been introduced to some of the old gods and some of the new. They don’t get along. Wednesday is trying to rally the old gods together for their continued survival in the face of technological dependency and media manipulation. The gods’ strength comes from their followers and stories are lost through the generations, or diluted. The great American melting pot.
Please take a look at my analysis of episodes 1-3 here.
Book adaptations are always tricky because readers have built a world in their minds. If you are like me, you have also played the “casting game” over the years, where you pick actors who would play the characters in your own perfect screen version. So, I am excited to look for hidden symbolism that goes beyond the book.
Check out the Easter eggs I have found so far.
The look is cool. It is reminiscent of Supernatural (complete with black vintage car, and divine trenchcoated companion). It isn’t hard to believe that Supernatural pulls some of its material from American Gods, as Eric Kripke is a notable fan of Gaiman’s work. Along with the roadtrip, Supernatural gives us deities walking the earth and even a godly meet-and-greet at a dodgy hotel in middle America…. oops, spoilers.
The highly-stylized battle scenes remind me of 300 or Spartacus Blood and Sand, with no expense spared on the red corn syrup.
and the slo-mo precipitation shots give this stunning 3D effect.
The result is a show that has a beautiful comic book quality. It’s dark but with pops of technicolour. There is humour brought in with the dialogue, and lightness with the music.
The soundtrack is a mix of classics. For a list of tunes featured in the show, please check out this link. Also, you may be interested in this playlist, which includes music from the show, the book, and just some other cool tracks.
Gaiman’s words are thoughtful and deal with themes of faith, tradition, values, evolution, and community. He shows that a man is a shell without belief in something. We may not know or understand what we believe in, but who we are is shaped by the stories we hear. Over time, these form our core values. People believe so strongly in things they have never seen, yet Shadow is blind to what is right in front of him.
Shadow’s journey through this is long. Almost 400 pages long.
The book is amazing, but I think the TV show will do itself a disservice if it doesn’t try to abbreviate some scenes to move the plot along. There are some emotions that take hundreds of words to create on the page, but can be done so much more effectively with this medium. I feel that in some places they have missed the mark. We can have a separate discussion about the extra-long, extra-cheesy explicit scenes hammered into each episode. #spaceboner
I would love to hear what you thought about #AmericanGods. Come find me on Twitter @jezzie_bell