The Dominant Paradigm is a weekly podcast where Geeks of Doom Podcast hosts Dwayne D, Andrew Sorcini, and Tosin Onafowokan discuss STARZ’s TV series American Gods, the works that inspired it, and the larger questions about the lenses in which we see our world, AKA, the paradigms.
In this episode of The Dominant Paradigm, Dwayne, Andrew and Tosin delve into American Gods, Episode 1, “The Bone Orchard.” Beyond the recap, the three discuss the salient imagery of the noose, the dreams and the overall visual style of the pilot, as well as changes from the 2001 novel.
Finally, you’ll find Ephemera – links to content that is either related to American Gods or that gives insight to the show.
A man (Demore Barnes) with a quill writes “Coming to America” and the scene transitions into one of Norsemen coming to America before Leif Ericsson. They had an awful time of it and attempted many sacrifices to their gods to gain the resources needed to head home. Eventually they came home never to return. When Leif, son of Eric the Red, shows up decades later, he finds his gods waiting.
In the here and now, Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) gets released from prison three days early because his wife has died in an auto accident. On his way home to the funeral he begins to understand life “on the outside” and meets a man who calls himself Wednesday (Ian McShane). Wednesday recognizes that Shadow is a recent ex-con and offers Shadow a job. Shadow declines the offer.
After Shadow’s plane is re-routed, he rents a car to drive to the funeral. Shadow runs into Wednesday at a bar and learns of his best friend Robbie’s (Dane Cook) death in the same crash as his wife, Laura (Emily Browning). We discover that the job Shadow expected to work once released was supposed to be for Robbie, who, now dead, won’t be able to employ him, so he accepts a job with Wednesday as his aide de camp. At a bar, Shadow meets Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), a tall Irish-seeming man who calls himself a Leprechaun, and he promises to show Shadow a coin trick if he fights him. Having become drunk, Shadow loses control and they brawl in the bar. Hung over the next day, Wednesday reveals that Shadow learned Mad Sweeney’s coin trick and even acquired a golden coin from him.
During an interlude, a woman named Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) meets a man through an online dating app. She takes him to her bedchamber, where they make passionate love and she entreats him to worship her, so he calls out her name as they make love, all the while remarking at how good the experience feels. He shrinks as she magically takes his whole body into her vagina. Once complete she is satisfied, and her face appears considerably younger and more healthy.
The next day, hungover, Shadow attends the funeral where he learns from Audrey (Betty Gilpin), the best friend of Laura and widow of his dead best friend, that the two were having an affair and that they died while Laura was performing oral sex on Robbie as he drove his car. Disgusted, Shadow throws Mad Sweeney’s coin atop Laura’s grave.
When walking along the side of the road back toward the motel later that evening, Shadow is accosted by a youth (Bruce Langley) in a limousine. He is interrogated and is nearly lynched by the youth’s henchmen, who fail at the attempt when they are suddenly, violently, and bloodily dismembered by an unknown assailant.
Salient Imagery: The noose, the dreams and the overall style.
The Noose: The Norsemen hang their fellow sailor as a sacrifice to their god, while in prison, white supremacist inmates are shown threatening Shadow with a noose. Shadow’s cellmate remarks that the U.S. started going to Hell when it stopped hanging people. Toward the end of the episode, henchmen attempt to lynch Shadow.
The Dreams: Early within the episode, we see Laura at night while Shadow is in his cell, and the entire world seems to fall away so Shadow can talk to his wife in his dreams. Their bond is almost supernatural. Later, we see the bone yard and a bison (with smoke coming out of its mouth and fire coming out of his eyes). We presume this gives the episode its name: “The Bone Orchard.” The orchard has a tree that scratches Shadow. Finally, there’s a dream sequence when Shadow is on the plane where he seems to be re-living Laura and Robbie flying through the air as the car crash occurs as thunder and lightning crash around the plane before it’s forced to land.
The Overall Visual Style: While the subject matter is definitely speculative fiction, with some action elements, the pilot doesn’t do the obvious stuff, like making Robbie’s car explode when it crashes. Rather, visual shock comes from fantastic elements like hundreds of arrows flying into a Norseman, or an arm flying through the air that manages to land in someone’s neck. The blood shown in the first and final scenes is reminiscent of the film adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300.
Supernatural characters introduced in ‘The Bone Yard’
Queen of Sheba
Half woman and half demon by some accounts
Queen of Demons according to other accounts. Associated with Lilith.
Some Rabbis denounce her because her son with David was Nebuchadnezzar who destroyed the temple
Mad Sweeney, as a Leprechaun
Tall as opposed to the short stereotype.
Drinks Southern Comfort and Coke rather than Jameson or another Irish whiskey. Perhaps because they’re “American Gods.”
Pulls gold out of the air.
Lucky with the darts. Or is it skill?
New god of computers and the Internet.
Silicon Valley eccentricity drenched in money (smokes synthetic toad skins)
Is in the shape of what one might refer to as a “Bro.”
Has an alternative shape of all of the memes and muck of the Internet: always moving, shifting.
Represents hardware too in the form of his limo and the smell of burnt circuit boards.
Changes between “American Gods” the book and the STARZ TV show (by no means exhaustive)
The inmates want to hang shadow.
The buffalo man is now a white buffalo.
Shadow is getting released three years early on a six-year sentence. Here he’s just being released a few days early. No Parole is mentioned. In the book, it’s clear Shadow is released three years early from a six-year sentence.
Bilquis is not a prostitute as she is in the book. Now she finds her marks on dating apps.
Mead: Second seals the deal. Third is the charm. In the book, it’s not shots.
Mr. Wednesday’s car has a name: Betty?
Wednesday ditched Shadow’s car rather than have Mad Sweeney return it.
In the book, Audrey spits into Laura’s open casket.
In the show, Shadow suffers technical difficulties lowering Laura’s casket into the earth.
In the show, Audrey attempts to perform oral sex on Shadow over Laura’s grave to get her dignity back.
In the book, the Technical Boy is described as being overweight.
Shadow was not lynched in the book.
Ephemera: Stuff to read or watch related to this episode, “The Bone Orchard”