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American Gods: “The Bone Orchard”

Who is a free man? After getting released from jail early, that’s what Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is supposed to be. There’s a job waiting for him at his best friend’s gym. There’s his marriage, where “I love you” comes before “Hello.” These shouldn’t be privileges to a smooth release but when Shadow has both taken away, he’s backed into a job he wanted to refuse in the pilot of American Gods.

The first time we meet Shadow Moon is with his cellmate, Lowkey Lye Smith (Jonathan Tucker), who tells him, “Prison has a way of trying to keep you in prison. They’ll do anything they can to keep you inside.” A prophetic statement, “The Bone Orchard” is filled with travel snafus, including the car accident that kills Shadow’s wife, Laura (Emily Browning), and his best friend, Robbie (Dane Cook). Transportation gets Shadow out of jail sooner but destroys the future that was going to ensure he never returned to prison again.

Working for Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) doesn’t come with the same security. Conning his way into a first class seat, on the plane that Shadow is flying, he’s not the guy to associate with if you want to stay out of the system. What makes him difficult to ignore are the statistics: “…between 60… and 75 percent of those released from prison — 600,000 Americans every year — are still unemployed one year out,” (Lehrer). Shadow is adamant he doesn’t want Wednesday to hire him, but he was adamant he needed his flight changed, to make it to Laura’s funeral on time. The receptionist wouldn’t budge for him, while Wednesday got his seat upgraded.

Lowkey’s warning, about “bitches at airports,” rings true, but the man in Lowkey’s story was at a disadvantage because he was an ex-offender. If he hadn’t been in prison, his license wouldn’t have expired, and his identification would’ve been valid. Shadow’s disadvantage isthat his receptionist is a bad judge of character and Wednesday always gets what he wants. Shadow tries to put distance between them but, whenever his travel plans go awry, they inevitably cross paths.

Is working for Wednesday really a choice, or has Shadow ended up back in (a) prison, as Lowkey suggested might happen? Leave it to alcohol to make the answer complicated. Wednesday has Shadow drink three shots of mead to seal their verbal agreement. “Tastes like prison bleach. Eating a garbage bag of rotten fruit,” Shadow says, with the obvious reference being to the tree of knowledge. In prison, Shadow used his sentence to read and “…come back better than when [he] went in, for [Laura],” but Wednesday wants to hire Shadow for his muscles, not his brains. Violence was Shadow’s past, but becoming a personal bodyguard encroaches on his future. All that accumulated knowledge in prison becomes rotten without use.

That’s reading American Gods using the Christian Creation story but “The Bone Orchards” leads with Norse mythology, and a crew of Norse seamen who are forced to return home after low winds lead to death by severed arm (if showrunner, Bryan Fuller’s, visuals weren’t characteristically extravagant, the violence would be extreme).

According to the myth of “The Mead of Poetry,” mead was made from Kravsir’s blood and “contained Kravsir’s ability to dispense wisdom,” (McCoy) . When Wednesday offered Shadow his glass on the plane, his words were, “I offer you the warmth from my beak…” (McCoy) and Odin stole mead by becoming an eagle who transported three sips in his beak, not unlike Shadow’s shots. “…the true poets and scholars are those to whom Odin dispenses his mead personally…” and where Wednesday’s job offer originally comes as a sacrifice to Shadow’s academic pursuits, it changes into a recognition of them when viewed through this story.

Bodyguard will always be a physical job but, thanks to mead, it doesn’t have to be without wisdom. It also doesn’t have to be permanent if Shadow finds another future to believe in. Ending up in Wednesday’s employ wasn’t the plan but it’s entirely up to Shadow whether Wednesday’s a prison or a pit stop.

Works Cited:

Lehrer, Eli. “Help Ex-Offenders Find a Job by Clearing Background Hurdles.” The News & Observer, 5 Apr. 2017, www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article142981839.html. Accessed 28 Apr. 2017.

McCoy, Daniel. “The Mead of Poetry.” Norse Mythology for Smart People, norse-mythology.org/tales/the-mead-of-poetry/.

About Rachel Bellwoar

Rachel Bellwoar is the Comics Editor at That's Not Current and a contributing writer for Flickering Myth. Her first Alfred Hitchcock movie was Rear Window and she questions the value of the binge model for watching television — much better to avoid endings. Having found out who killed Laura Palmer, she compensates by watching as many David Lynch films as possible.

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