[SPOILER WARNING: The following review does contain spoilers for the novel American Gods as well as the first two episodes of the TV series American Gods.]
Shadow Moon’s a big believer in not believing. He doesn’t trust anything he can’t see for himself. Now he’s not sure he can believe even that much.
Shadow’s encountered quite a few things he couldn’t believe recently. He couldn’t believe he was getting out of prison early. He couldn’t believe that his wife was dead. He couldn’t believe that she’d been having an affair with his best friend. He couldn’t believe that a gentleman calling himself Mr. Wednesday would offer him an ex-con like him a job. And he certainly didn’t believe Mr. Wednesday’s claims that they would not be doing anything illegal.
From there, things have gotten even more unbelievable, even ignoring the fantastic dreams Shadow has been experiencing. Now Shadow can’t believe that some punk kid who vapes synthetic toad skins is urging him to betray Mr. Wednesday. He can’t believe that Lucille Ball is talking to him through the television sets at Wal-Mart. He can’t believe a seven-foot-tall leprechaun can pull gold coins out of the air. He can’t believe that he was challenged to a game of checkers for the right to hit him in the head with a hammer by some madman from Eastern Europe named Czernobog.
Oh, and add one more thing to that list. Shadow can’t believe Mr. Wednesday just told him that today they’re going to rob a bank.
This third episode of American Gods opens with a new vignette not taken from the original novel. The scene still seems very much a part of the oeuvre of Neil Gaiman’s work, perhaps because – like many of the stories about Death in The Sandman – it focuses on a recently deceased woman being guided to the afterlife. It’s a magical scene and Chris Obi possesses an engaging presence as Anbuis, which bodes well for later in the show when his earthly avatar Mr. Jacquel arrives.
The episode’s other Somewhere In America sequence comes directly from Chapter 7 of the original novel. Here, a harried businessman named Salim – who is having a rather disastrous business trip in Manhattan – is surprised to discover that the sympathetic cab driver who curses in his language is one of “the people of the flame”. However, an entirely different kind of flame burns between the two strangers in a strange land, ending in a night of love.
Much has been said about this scene in the pre-airing press regarding this episode about Bryan Fuller’s commitment to “equal opportunity…sexual content” and how astonishing it is that not only is the show attempting to depict a loving sex scene involving two men – it is doing so with two men of color from a Muslim country! I’ll leave it to others to discuss the significance of this as I feel ill qualified to comment beyond echoing Neil Gaiman’s thoughts that “I appear to be watching the best gay porn I’ve ever watched.”
Strangely, this level of care seems to have skipped over the scenes for the main story line with Shadow and Mr. Wednesday. While there are some additions to the dialogue here, they are largely limited to Ricky Whittle muttering curse words to himself as he encounters more and more unbelievable things. Thankfully, the chemistry between Whittle and Ian McShane negates most of the worries that Fuller and Green decided to go full Scorsese with the profanity just for the hell of it. And the episode’s visuals – particularly the sequence in which Shadow encounters The Midnight Star, Zorya Polunochnaya – remain as breathtaking as ever.
Despite some rough edges, American Gods remains a skillful adaptation of one of the most original fantasy novels of the 21st Century. With the series recent renewal and a promise of the second season confirmed, the future is looking bright for fans of this series.