If you’re a fan of Bryan Fuller, I’m sure that like me, you’ve been missing “Hannibal” these days. Although that show isn’t coming back, your prayers have been answered with the heavily stylized and daring “American Gods,” where Fuller is a co-showrunner with Michael Green.
Ex-convict Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) has been released a few days early from his six-year prison sentence after his wife Laura Moon (Emily Browning) dies in a car accident. On his way back home to attend her funeral, he comes across a mysterious man named Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) who, after asking persistently through multiple encounters, hires him as a bodyguard.
The pilot does an excellent job of not only foreshadowing what’s to come later in the season (with a few knowing winks to fans of the source material), but also being accessible to people who have never read a single page of the book, written by Neil Gaiman (who’s an executive producer on the show). The episode is leisurely paced, as the script (written by Fuller and Green) takes its time establishing its characters and setting up conflicts.
As with any show headed by Fuller, the cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. A particularly striking shot was of Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), a goddess of love, after sacrificing a man she’s just had sex with by swallowing him with her vagina. It’s a shot that could have potentially been exploitative and voyeuristic, but it’s merely just shocking because her figure is mostly obscured in shadow and the red of the room is so vibrant. There is also a lovely tracking shot of the inside of a crocodile bar that occurs right after the scene with Bilquis. Not only did it convey the eccentricness of the bar, but the juxtaposition of these two shots encapsulates much of the humor in this show.
The violence in “American Gods” is very stylized, as the first episode begins with the story of these Viking deities discovering an island and eventually fighting each other. Copious amounts of blood are slowly splashed everywhere, which are meant to symbolize blood sacrifices to the gods, as well as convey the heightened reality that this show operates on. The score for the episode is also excellent and haunting in its shrieking.
The performances of the actors are on par with the level of craftsmanship involved. McShane is the big standout in the episode, with the charisma necessary to make Mr. Wednesday so intriguing and enigmatic. Whittle brings a decency and empathy to Shadow Moon, who could have just been characterized as abrasive, given he’s been in prison for six years. Pablo Schreiber brings out the biggest laughs as the leprechaun Mad Sweeney, who eventually gets into a bar fight with Shadow. Laura barely appears in the episode, but Browning (along with good camerawork) brings a startling and unusual quality to her. The audience knows that we have not seen the last of Laura Moon.
If I have one complain about the show (and it’s a minor one) it is that a lot of the symbolism feels heavy-handed and unsubtle. From the amount of blood to the image of a noose being displayed over and over again, it feels a little disheartening that the writers don’t trust the audience enough to not hammer them over the head with imagery that seems a little too on the nose.
“American Gods” is bold, dazzling, and epic, and I’m happy that the series has finally graced us with its presence.