Written By: Mathew ‘JJ’ Simoes
Bloody, visceral and brilliant are the three words I would use to describe the first episode of Starz’s new television series, American Gods. Adapted from Neil Gaiman’s critically acclaimed novel of the same name (a personal favourite of mine), American Gods blends elements of classic Americana and folklore into the breathtaking first chapter of this urban fantasy epic.
The premiere is a solid introduction to the world of American Gods, establishing the basic rules of the universe very subtly, and introducing a few key characters to the narrative. The best scene in the episode would have to be the sex scene between the old god Bilquis and her hook up, with it being a representation of the place that the old gods have found themselves in at present in the series. Their need to be loved and praised shows the desperate natures of the old gods in a new world that’s unfriendly to them. For her it is more than just sex, instead being a ritualistic act of worship. The use of camera positioning also brings to life one of the more ‘out there’ scenes from the novel. Gaiman’s work is always concerned with the importance of stories and their affect on people, and Fuller seems to be keeping to this with this adaptation, as the opening of the episode is someone telling a story. The opening scene with the vikings was unexpected (I had not seen any previews prior to watching this episode), but serves as an important introduction to the series mythology and how one God arrived to the Americas.
Bryan Fuller, one of the series co-creators, brings the visual flare of Hannibal to this nascent series. The opening alone looks like the Daredevil intro on all of the acid, as it combines images of ritual significance with representations of American mythology. The lighting adds to the tone of each scene, making this episode a powerful television experience. Shadow’s dreams and his encounter with the Technical Boy are visual spectacles, and speak to the high production values of the series. The holographic body guards and the deletion sequence was one of the best visuals in the episode. The visual style of the show seems to compliment the idea of fantasy being hidden in reality, as they prove to be a massive break from the shows general gritty look and feel, which is most evident in Shadow’s time in prison. Speaking of grit, this episode is bloody, but it never feels disgusting or revolting. In the opening set-piece, the blood caused by Viking on Viking violence was presented in an artful manner, giving the violence in American Gods its own distinct visual aesthetic.
Ian McShane delivers all of Wednesday’s lines with the world wise and sarcastic manner present in Gaiman’s novel, with every word spoken being a treat for viewers. Whittle plays Shadow’s grief and confusion over the events of the pilot impeccably. Whittle looked like he was dead inside for the whole hour, much like Shadow would be after losing everything. The chemistry between the two characters is an important aspect of the premiere and carries much of it, with their interactions driving the plot forward towards the end. The Leprechaun aka Mad Sweeny was one of the most enjoyable characters in this first episode, with Shadow’s wife already being given a larger role than she had in the novel.
The show seems to be moving at a fairly slow pace, at least at first, and does not directly tell its viewers anything. There are a few subtle moments in the pilot that tell you more about the series’ larger mythology, such as the Viking opening, but other than that the show doesn’t do much to guide us through the world. While that can lead to some confusion over what is actually happening in the series, it does away with clunky exposition moments and creates a more complex series that requires critical thinking. This pacing also makes you crave a follow up episode and the answers it may provide.
Starz’s new series premieres with a visually striking and narratively complex episode. Though the characters are not well developed as yet, the series slow pace leaves out any need for unnecessary exposition.
Mathew’s Rating – 8.7/10
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