This recap contains spoilers for American Gods Season 1, episode 1, titled “The Bone Orchard.”
Shadow Moon had a hard week in the first installment of American Gods.
After being released from prison and learning that his beloved wife Laura had died (while performing a particularly ill-advised sex act on Shadow’s best friend Robbie in a moving car, as he later discovered), our brooding ex-con reluctantly agreed to work for the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday, a canny grifter with a false eye and a flair for the dramatic.
What followed was a disorienting trip into a world of myth and symbolism for Shadow and the audience. We witnessed the seductive goddess Bilquis devour a man with her lady-parts in a sex scene unlike anything else on TV; an epic bar fight between Shadow and a gigantic “leprechaun”; a talking buffalo with burning eyes haunting Shadow’s dreams; and a virtual reality beatdown that was all too real.
While Bryan Fuller and Michael Green’s adaptation made a few slight deviations from Neil Gaiman’s novel to better fit a TV show narrative, much of the series premiere was pretty faithful to the book — up until the final ten minutes or so.
In Gaiman’s version, Audrey doesn’t proposition Shadow after Laura’s funeral, she simply snarks at him while driving along beside him. On the page, there’s more animosity between them, compared to the tragedy and betrayal that Fuller and Green’s script chooses to emphasize.
After she drives away, Shadow is simply walking along the road when he’s chloroformed (which isn’t quite as high-tech as being attacked by a sentient virtual reality headset) and wakes up in a limo opposite an overweight computer nerd who chugs Diet Coke and swears like a sailor. He looks a little different in the show — but most of his lines are the same.
This is Technical Boy, and he’s been given an upgrade for TV — one that better reflects the way that technology has taken over our lives. What used to be considered a niche pursuit for geeky types who occupied their parents’ basements is now mainstream, and it’s no surprise that our connected consciousness is represented by an impatient millennial who puffs synthetic toad skins and has little use for the stuffy traditions of the Old Gods.
His lackeys are faceless pixel creatures he calls The Children — at first, we assume they’re digital constructs since they seem to appear out of nothing, but when they’re destroyed by a mysterious assailant after they try and hang Shadow, it’s clear they’re made of flesh and blood — lots of it, judging by how much ends up on the ground.
Technical Boy wants to know what Wednesday is up to — and for Shadow to tell Wednesday that he’s “forgotten, old… consigned to the dumpster of history.” Oh yeah, and that “language is a virus, religion is an operating system, and prayers are just so much fucking spam.” Cheerful.
In Gaiman’s novel, after a somewhat aggressive interrogation, Technical Boy kindly drops Shadow off at his motel without any need for violence, but the show escalates things quickly, with the New God threatening to delete Shadow from existence, allowing his Children to beat our poor protagonist within an inch of his life and attempt to hang him.
Luckily — in a scene that could’ve come straight out of Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal (it’s no coincidence that the episode’s director, David Slade, previously worked with Fuller on that other artfully graphic masterpiece), Shadow is saved by an unseen helper, who cuts his rope and literally tears the Children apart, separating skin from skeleton and sending blood arcing through the air like a fountain.
In the end, Shadow’s alive, but he’s clearly shaken, and his journey is only just beginning. Who saved him? You’ll have to keep watching to find out.
American Gods airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Starz.