Something is going to happen, and you're sure of it, but you don't know what it is. It's a feeling that we're probably all familiar with, and it's a particularly feeling that isn't just frustrating due to its lack of clarity, but also due to the feeling of powerlessness comes with it. It's exactly the type of feeling that has been soaked through the premiere episode of American Gods, adapted by Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, and featuring an ensemble cast made of Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane, Pablo Shreiber, and a shit fuck ton of Blood.
Similar to Fuller's Hannibal, American Gods is awash in the finer points of what's happening onscreen. As often as he and director David Slade can get away with, Fuller opts to slow the action on screen to a crawl and push in heavily on the macro details of a moment, whether it be the selection of a song in the jukebox or a full-grown man being cloven in twain. Rain falls in fat gobs and blood flows in slick crimson rivers as Murphy puts the viscera of just about any situation front and center. The result is a story that offsets its serious scope with moments of cartoonish violence, and the juxtaposition works like gangbusters.
While the pilot episode of American Gods might not offer much to chew on in terms of subtext or thematics, it does bring some incredible visuals to the table, and manages some surefooted character work while setting up a story that is almost assuredly going to get more interesting as the episodes pass.
Shadow Moon is a racially-ambiguous (it's important to the plot and its themes, trust me) inmate who gets let out of prison a wee bit early when his wife dies in a car accident. On the way home, Shadow meets a guy calling himself Mr. Wednesday. Wednesday offers him a job, Moon says "No thanks" two or three times before being goaded into fighting a leprechaun and eventually just deciding to take the job. He goes to his wife's funeral, talks to a weird kid in a virtual reality mask, and almost gets killed before an unseen benefactor saves him. That's about all that happens in the episode, but each sequence is packed to the brim with arresting visuals and sharply-delivered exposition.
Since "The Bone Orchard" has its work cut out for it in terms of introducing American Gods' stylized and expansive universe, the episode doesn't get much of a chance to develop much in terms of subtext or thematics. There's a general sense of anxiety — both cultural and personal — permeating the hour, but it gets little time to breathe because Fuller and Green have a lot of work to setting up the plot's moving parts. Clearly Wednesday is up to something and clearly Technology Boy knows this and doesn't like it, but Wednesday is the only person who knows what his plan actually involves. Shadow has clearly gotten himself into the "weird shit" that the trailers have been promising, and American Gods is working as well as it does out of the gate due to Fuller, Green, and Slade's ability to inject the episode with moments that defy you to take your eyes of the screen for even a second. Moments as simple as a pen dipping into an ink well are stretched and slowed, exploring the minutia of everything from writing to violent bloodletting, and it works masterfully as a statement of intent.
Anyone familiar with the show's source material knows that Gaiman's novel is a rich well of (upsettingly relevant) thematic material, and there's no question Green and Fuller and their writing team will go about unpacking it beautifully. "The Bone Orchard," as it stands, is heavy on visuals and relatively light on plot or thematics...but when you're working with visuals this impressive, that's a hard thing to complain about.
Oh, and also...
• Pablo Schreiber's obnoxious coin tricks were easily the best part of the episode.
• Holy fuck, that Bilquis scene was just as gnarly on screen as it was in the book.
• This show is bringing some absolutely next-level TV special effects to the party. Let's hope that continues. Those Technology Boy visuals were among the best I've ever seen on television, hands down.