The Journey Of Shadow Moon – Paul
Religion. The word itself evokes different feelings in different people. For some, it is the basis of their earthly existence, following a code that will one day allow the believer into an afterlife of nirvana, reuniting them with their loved ones and making the trials and tribulations of planet Earth worthwhile. For others, it is an instruction manual to make war against divine enemies with otherworldly rewards both lavish and obscene. There are others that don’t follow a specific tenant but feel at one with nature, or a sense of spirituality while others feel nothing at all, that everything has a logical explanation and when our time on this rock is up, that is the end of the show. Our human civilization is built upon our concepts of the divine, but when it comes down to the most basic foundation of religion, one thing is undeniable: Religion only exists because of the humans that believe in it.
These are the issues posed in the engrossing first season of American Gods. The Starz series based on the novel by Neil Gaiman brings to life the old gods and the new, with the series protagonist, Shadow Moon caught in the middle of a conflict that has been years in the making. Shadow is a low level con man married to a dissatisfied woman who goes to prison as a result of a perfect casino heist gone wrong. He is finally about to see freedom when the tragic news of his wife’s demise lets him out of his cage a few days early. As he travels back home for the funeral, he meets the eccentric Mr. Wednesday and his Celtic warrior Mad Sweeney. Wednesday convinces Moon to work security for him and that is when the real craziness begins. Everything that has happened to Shadow has been predestined by a god: His time in prison, his wife dying, his encounters with Wednesday are anything but random.
Religion 101: God has a plan. It helps us believe in the unbelievable. For us, the ordinary mortal, the only way that the believer can hold true to the path is faith. Faith in an ideal can be a powerful thing. It gives hope in the face of hopelessness and keeps a person going even when there seems to be nothing to go on for. While we shuffle along with faith in the invisible, Shadow is confronted with the very visible: gods who entice, trick, and threaten. He faces a death sentence for a lost checkers match, is wooed by a god in the form of I Love Lucy and lynched by Technology. He sees his wife sort of resurrected, meets Jesus in all his forms at a garden party and witnesses the victorious return of Odin.
The first season of American Gods was so successful for me because it not only entertained, but raised questions that most people do not want to talk about. For most, if you are Christian, Christianity is an absolute and if you do not believe in it, dire repercussions await you. The same could be said of Islam or Judaism, but what of the old religions? Did those gods stop existing because they weren’t real or because their worshipers forgot? Are they still waiting in the shadows for someone to once again pray to them, giving them strength once more? I guess we will have to wait for season two to gain some clarity.
First Season: 5 magic coins out of 5
The Players of Heaven and Earth – Belle
One of the things this show gets right is the characters. For all of their otherworldly aspects they are grounded in reality. I know for some people this made Shadow Moon’s journey a bit frustrating: why won’t Shadow accept what is right in front of his face? How could he see all of the insanity around him and not either run away or embrace it fully? Honestly? It’s hard to accept the miraculous. In the entire history of the world those who do or are something beautiful, something inexplicable, who’s very existence defies the laws of what we accept to be real aren’t accepted, at least, not while they’re alive. Even those who are simply touched by the supernatural tend to be elevated by it or utterly destroyed, no in between. Shadow’s reaction is all too human and all too real, because, as much as we’d like to think we’d react differently, we wouldn’t. His confusion, his fear of what is happening to and around him are real, just as his yearning to believe, no matter how much his head tells him not too, is also real.
It’s why, no matter how much he should run from Wednesday, he can’t help but be charmed by him and his antics. Ian McShane makes Wednesday the adorably daft grandfather we all want, who keeps us guessing, makes us laugh and yet, on some level, we know that the face he presents to us isn’t who he really is. There’s a darkness in him and around him that makes him dangerous and when we (and Shadow) find out who he really is, it makes perfect sense.
As for the other gods, both the old and new are perfectly cast and embody who and what they are (good and bad) so well you can’t imagine anyone else in the part. There’s Technical Boy the spoiled and over-privileged child. He’s the very worst of the internet troll personified: vicious and nasty, a try hard wannabe, filled with entitlement and pretentiousness. By contrast you have Bilquis, a goddess of love and the Queen of Sheba. Once worshiped for her beauty and passion, now, after years of being told that she is worthless, of small men with small minds destroying all she built in her native home, of war destroying her temples, she has been humbled in the worst way. Now she is rising again but the cost of regaining her glory might be far more than she’s willing to pay.
In the very dapper Messrs. Jacquel and Ibis we have the beauty, and terror, of death. Their kindness, bluntness and humor make everything better and I cannot wait to get more of them personally but for now I’ll take their amazing ‘Coming To America’ intros that give us character backgrounds with loving voice work that enriches every scene. On the opposite end of the spectrum we have Ostara, goddess of spring and renewal. Beauty and grace, flirty and fun she is hilariously proper, light and good, but she is absolutely not to be messed with.
However in a cast of standouts the standouts are hands down Mad Sweeney, Anansi, Media and Mr. World. With Mad Sweeney we get a man who is at the end of his rope. One wrong choice made eons ago has led him down a path he no longer wishes to be on. Pablo Schreiber gives a character who could easily be a one-note henchmen depth, sadness, frustration and an underlying sweetness that makes his choices even more heartbreaking. In Anansi, Orlando Jones is a tour-de-force, a wrecking ball of unabashed, unfiltered honesty who absolutely refuses to sugar-coat a thing about the experience of being black in America. Every scene he’s in is a think piece waiting to happen delivered with glorious style. Speaking of style, the one and only Gillian Anderson is Media, as in Queen of All, and she is the absolute best. Whether it’s appearing as Lucille Ball, as mentioned above, David Bowie or a Marilyn Monroe who will absolutely beat the brakes off of you – while never raising her voice above a breathy whisper – she transforms so utterly and completely it is astonishing. Last, but certainly not least is Crispin Glover’s Mr. World. With only a few appearances he manages to make a huge impact bringing the perfect combination inhuman calm, logic and underlying scariness to the proceedings that you get why Mr. Wednesday considers him a genuine threat. In a cast of greats that include Peter Stormare, Corbin Bernsen and the legendary Cloris Leachman these four steal every scene they’re in and leave you wanting more.
As for the (mostly) human side of things this show simply would not work if it weren’t for Ricky Whittle’s Shadow. As I stated in my reviews of the first four episodes he is Shadow Moon, grounding everything in his honest portrayal of man so in over his head it’s amazing he’s not dead already. Emily Browning makes Laura a perfect arsehole of such epic proportions that you can’t help but both loathe and feel sorry for her. Omid Abtahi makes Salim so wonderfully precious that you want to wrap him in hugs and protect him at all costs and Betty Gilpin‘s Audrey takes a character from the books and elevates her to something more, making her one of my favorite characters in the season for all her real talk goodness.
Overall season one of American Gods was a wild, wondrous ride and we cannot wait for more. Five Totems Out of Five.
What did you think of this season’s American Gods? What would you like to see answered in future seasons? Let us know in the comments!