Previously on American Gods, “A Murder of Gods”
Emily Browning pulled double-duty this week, portraying Laura Moon in present day, and putting on an Irish brogue to play 18th century Essie McGowan (Tregowan in the book), the central focus of this week’s “Coming to America” tale. Unlike the other vignettes, this story takes up the full hour, with just a few visits to present day. “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney” also sheds light on Mad Sweeney’s origins and past, and reveals that Essie was responsible for bringing the leprechaun to the United States.
Though the two characters aren’t related, there’s definitely a connection between Essie and Laura. Both have a penchant for finding trouble and finding ways to get out of that trouble, usually relying on their sharp wit, slick tongues, and undeniable beauty.
Essie grew up on tales of piskies, ballybogs, and leprechauns, and always made sure to set out a bowl of milk or bit of bread for the latter. Though this practice brings her fortune, Essie’s life was not without hardship. An affair with her employer’s son (and his lie) lands her on a boat to the Americas as an indentured servant. However, she seduces the ship’s captain and convinces him to marry her and bring her back with him to London. When he sets sail weeks later with new human cargo, Essie wastes no time in stealing his valuables and setting off on her own to pickpocket her way through the streets of London. When she’s caught and brought before the judge, she’s sentenced to hang.
While waiting for her turn at the noose, Essie strikes up a conversation with the man in the next cell, Mad Sweeney. They talk of second chances, their recent misfortunes, and Essie’s brief time in the Americas. The next day, he’s gone. Essie gives in to the warden’s advances with the hopes that a pregnancy will spare her from the gallows. It does, and she’s once again given a sentence of transportation to the Americas, this time for life. She eventually marries the tobacco farmer who bought her contract, and when he dies she manages the farm and raises their children on the stories of her youth. When she dies, it’s Mad Sweeney who comes calling for her, remembering all the kindness she left for him and how she kept him in her heart all those years.
In present day, Mad Sweeney lets slip the meeting spot for the gods. Laura tells Salim and relieves him of their agreement. In need of a vehicle, Laura steals an ice cream truck, but later crashes it to avoid hitting a bunny in the road. She’s ejected from the truck and the coin bounces out, killing her once more.
As Mad Sweeney ponders whether he should take his coin or bring Laura back to life, a more significant connection to her is revealed. Doing Wednesday’s bidding, Mad Sweeney was responsible for the car crash that killed Laura and Robbie. It was clear then, and now, he’s not proud of what he did and chooses to return the coin to Laura’s body, but not without lots of Old Gaelic cussing.
Is Good? (And Other Bits of Note)
Essie’s story was one of the more interesting ones in the novel and it was risky giving it a full hour. It paid off thanks to the stunning cinematography, the costumes, Browning’s and Schreiber’s performances, and the ’50s doowop. I asked Bryan Fuller about the music choice and here’s what he had to say:
We found in post the episode needed a bridge to the story of Essie and 50’s doowop gave us some energy, an access point, and an attitude.
— Bryan Fuller (@BryanFuller) June 12, 2017
Though it was brief, it was great seeing Ibis and Jacquel this week. As Jacquel tends to a fresh corpse, Ibis records Essie’s story in his book.
Mad Sweeney is tormented by his past and running from a war, and by his involvement in Laura’s death. Wednesday wanting Laura dead adds urgency to finding out why Shadow is so special and how he fits into Wednesday’s plans.
Pablo Schreiber, like everyone else whose character has been given more to do than in the book, has stepped up to meet the material. The final scene of Mad Sweeney offering Essie his hand was touching, and I cried.
Belief is the central theme within American Gods, and they continue to explore that not just in the creation and nourishments of gods, but in people as well. In “The Secret of the Spoons,” Czernobog said everyone assumed he was the bad brother so, “I became me.” Essie, wrongfully accused of being a thief, became one in London. I’ve said on the podcast that Wednesday might be holding off telling Shadow who he is explicitly because he needs Shadow to believe him (and in him) fully in order for his plan — whatever it may be — to work.
We also speculated on the podcast that Mad Sweeney might be headed for Easter (goddess of Spring and resurrection) to get Laura brought back to life, and the bunnies in the road make that a highly likely possibility. Still, Jesus himself is still in play.
So much to unpack, but I’ll save some for the podcast. Can’t believe next week is the finale. *sob*
American Gods S1E7
"A Prayer for Mad Sweeney"
Starring: Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane, Emily Browning, Yetide Badaki, Bruce Langley, Pablo Schreiber, Crispin Glover, Gillian Anderson, Demore Barnes, Cloris Leachman, Peter Stormare, Kristin Chenoweth, Orlando Jones