Starz’ American Gods
Season 1, Episode 7: “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney”
Directed by Adam Kane
Written by Maria Melnik
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “A Murder of Gods” – click here
* For a recap & review of the Season 1 finale, “Come to Jesus” – click here
Anubis (Chris Obi) and Mr. Ibis (Demore Barnes) work on their dead bodies, share or a beer. Or, well, Ibis has one. The other works away. The writer has a “story to tell” by the look of his fingers. So he dips into the ink and begins to speak through his pen.
Back to 1721, dispelling pilgrim myths. America is, and was, a “forgetting place” where people find themselves as much as they do lose themselves. We see people, instead of hanged, sent to the New World, indentured to those who owned plantations and so on.
Then comes a familiar face, that of Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), speaking the name of Essie McGowan. She was a little red haired Irish lass, whose father was a sailor. Living in the land where the tales of the leprechauns are told.
When Essie (Emily Browning) grows, she keeps alive those tales of her home. She tells a story to children about fairy folk, how they can make trouble as much as they are magical. But she does more than tell stories, she believes.
Poor Ms. McGowan gets caught stealing. Rather than hang her the judge sends her off for 7 years transportation on a ship. She ingratiated herself to the captain and they become quite intimate, allowing her to make it back to London, got married, and lived happily. At least until he left for another berth. She fleeced whatever was worth taking to sell and went on living the life of a thief.
Back to the present day, as Mad, Laura Moon (Browning), and Salim (Omid Abtahi) make it further down the road on their trip towards Kentucky. They stop so that Salim may pray. One of the most interesting juxtapositions is with him and Laura; he loves God, she holds no god dear at all, which is why she’s a decomposing corpse. Mad goes for a piss while they talk, and he has a chat with a raven – might this be either Huginn or Muninn, one of Odin’s ravens? I think so.
Laura winds up sending Salim off to find his Djinn, as she and Mad are going on their way together to find Shadow (Ricky Whittle) and Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). They commandeer an ice cream truck to make the journey.
In between, we see more of Ms. McGowan out on the town, dolled up and nicking anything she could grab. Mostly, she was free of needing a man, only needing those old tales out of the Irish soil where she grew up to keep her company. Finally she’s caught thieving, for abandoning her prior sentence. They take her to prison, soon to see the gallows.
And it’s there she meets that familiar fella over in the next cell. Yes, Mr. Mad fucking Sweeney. They talk about her journey to the Americas before coming back to London, out on that ship. Mad mentions he used to have gold. She goes on to talk about America, the freedom available there, to start fresh and be anyone; a place to make your identity what you want.
Mad: “What the fuck is happy?”
Essie: “Fucked if I know”
Next morning, Essie finds the man next door is gone. Not long later, the warden offers another deal. You know what kind. She takes what she must to escape, then she’s with child. Naturally, they can’t hang her. Therefore, transportation all over again; for life.
She made it to America, bought up as a midwife and a housekeeper for a house in Virginia. She looked after the children, telling them those Irish stories from back where she was born. And in present day, Mad tells stories of his previous life. He was a king once upon a time, a warrior. After that he became a bird, then a leprechaun. He tells Laura: “I owe a battle.” Which is why he’s headed for Wednesday and the war of gods that’s on the verge of breaking out.
On the road, Laura swerves to avoid a rabbit. And the truck does a hard couple flips, though she won’t make out too bad seeing as how she’s already dead. Poor Mad, though. One good thing? His lucky coin rolls free of her chest after the impact.
Back to Essie, who tells the children more of the leprechaun and leaves another offering herself for the fairy folk. She finds out the master of the house wants to take her as a wife. Another new start. More of the excellent melting pot in America. She’s widowed before long and left with all that land for herself. Yet never does her tradition break, her beliefs. She continues leaving food for the fairy folk and keeping her culture strong.
But once Essie got old, Virginia didn’t need her stories anymore, they frightened children and the adults hushed her. She became quiet for the first time in her life, leaving the stories behind. Until that familiar face, Mad Sweeney, arrived at her doorstep.
Present once more. Mad crawls from the truck’s wreckage, seeing his lucky coin on the ground near Laura. He looks ready to go on without her now that he’s got it back. We also get a flash to the first time Laura died; Mad was there, too. He speaks to one of Odin’s ravens sending word it’s been completed. OH, SHIT! Seriously? Wow.
And he remembers that moment on the road, standing by Laura’s corpse again. This time he can’t walk away. He curses a bit of Gaelic into the sky before picking up the organs that spilled out of her, putting them back in, along with his coin to seal the deal. At least she has super strength and can tip the truck back right side up.
We cut back to Mad meeting Essie again after all those years. He reveals with a sly smile his identity. He tells her his kind were brought here by the likes of her, keeping their stories burning in the heart. She died soon, happy, content with the fairy folk of lore beside her.
Beautiful episode! Such fun seeing the backstory of Mad, as well as seeing Emily Browning in dual roles. PLUS, Fionnula Flanagan – the great one – in two roles to boot. Such fascinating writing. Now there’s only one episode left in this spectacular first season. I’m loving it. Finale is “Come to Jesus” next week.