I genuinely try not to buy into the hype concerning the release of a trailer, let alone a very early teaser like this. But I’ve watched this one close to twenty times today now.
I have previously written about my absolute love of Gaiman’s source material on this blog, but I have yet to discuss my adoration of Bryan Fuller. I’m of the opinion that Hannibal is one of the greatest television shows ever produced. So in many ways I’m the crossover market that this show was explicitly made for, but even so I didn’t expect to love it as much as a did!
After the jump in the page, I’m going to break down what I gained from the trailer as someone very familiar with the book, and exactly why that makes me excited for this show. Fair warning, if you’ve never read American Gods the rest of this thing is going to be spoiler heavy for the first third-half of the novel.
I think it’s important that the teaser opens with a close up of Shadow playing with a coin. It’s one of the more important facets of his character, and acts as a way to define him as something other than an ex-con. But more importantly it’s such an excellent way to introduce one of the key themes of the text – misdirection. The coin magic relies very heavily on a distraction hiding the reality of the trick, and in many ways the text is the exact same. Much of the twists and revelations at the end of the narrative aren’t surprises, rather they were in plain sight in the text the whole time (especially true of names) but the audience just failed to notice.
Misdirection is in fact key to the entire trailer. One of the first scenes shown is Shadow visiting Laura’s funeral. It opens with a long shot of him walking up to her open casket, and then skips ahead to him burying her. Shadow tosses into the ground a golden coin, and then the audience is shown a close up of it sinking into the soil. A minute or two later we’re shown a scene with a seemingly alive Laura visiting Shadow in bed, with Emily Browning delivering an absolutely perfect “Who said I died puppy?”. Her resurrection is played up as part of a mystery of this world, and the reader coming to the trailer blind is meant to question how/why she has risen from the dead. But they know this already – they watched Shadow give his dead wife the coin. The whole time the trailer encourages its audience to buy into the mysteries being presented as a distraction from the reality that the answers are in plain sight all along.
This brings me along to the other main “arc” of this teaser: Shadow meeting Wednesday on a plane, and then the related scene with Sweeney in the bar. As a book reader I was delighted to see that Shadow drinking the mead made the cut here; it is the moment Shadow pledges himself into this world after-all. But yet again, the trailer really plays upon the enigmatic nature of Mr. Wednesday. Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) asks Shadow, and practically addresses the audience directly, and asks: “You know who he is? Who he really is?”. The trailer raises open questions about Wednesday’s motive, why he uses his pseudonym, and what his real identity is. But at the same time, an earlier scene in the trailer openly tells you who Wednesday actually is through a brilliant performance by Ian McShane. When Shadow asks his name, his new friend replies:
What’s today? [Wednesday] Today is my day
The emphasis is entirely on the “my”, with this implication being that he has possession of the day. It’s not that he’s named after the day of the week, rather what the old english called wōdnesdæg or “Woden’s Day” belongs to him. By asking an audience unfamiliar with the source material to question who Wednesday is, the trailer mystifies the scene where it reveals he’s Odin.
There are many reasons to be excited by the trailer. Ian McShane and Emily Browning give ridiculously promising performances, and Crispin Glover looks unsuitably unsettling as Mr. World. Bryan Fuller’s dedication to beautiful cinematography from Hannibal has clearly carried across to his new show and that is apparent from this small teaser. Hell even the song is perfect when you take it in less of a figurative way, and more along the lines of literal questions Shadow asks Laura. But these aren’t what makes me excited for the adaptation of American Gods. The trailer stands out because, much like Gaiman’s book itself, it is one big confidence trick – a bait-and-switch that reveals a lot more about the narrative if you can see past the distraction. As a trailer, it openly encourages it’s audience to buy into it’s mysterious premise as part of it’s entertainment. In other words, a potential audience is supposed to watch the trailer and then come back to the actual show to get these questions answered. But the teaser just adopts the spectacle of the unknown as a huge distraction from the actual trick being performed – every question being asked, as already been answered.