Title: “American Gods Season 1 Episode 7: A Prayer for Mad Sweeney ”
Genre: Fantasy, Drama
Platform: TV – Starz
Director: Adam Kane
Writer: Maria Melnik
Release: June 11, 2017
Cast: Ian McShane, Ricky Whittle, Emily Browning
Feature image: Source
“You have a story to tell, I can see it in your fingers.” Anubis —American Gods
Anubis (Chris Obi) is at his and Mr. Ibis’ (Demore Barnes) funeral home working on a body. Mr. Ibis: “Lovers’ quarrel?” Anubis: “Overdose.” Mr. Ibis: “We get so few lovers’ quarrels these days.” He asks if Anubis needs any help. Anubis: “You have a story to tell, I can see it in your fingers.” Mr. Ibis goes to his study and picks up his writing quill. He begins to write another Coming to America set in 1721 in Ireland.
But Essie possessed a rare token of ambition….but she knew one does not ask favors of a leprechaun without a kindness of gold.” Mr. Ibis —American Gods
Mr. Ibis states that though many people came to America for religious freedom and other personal reasons, some criminals from England ended up in America as indentured servants to avoid the gallows. We see a young Essie McGowan (Keller Viaene) sitting on a bluff in Ireland watching the sea. Her grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan) sits beside her. Young Essie is waiting for her father to return from his voyage. Her grandmother tells her tales of the fairies and leprechauns. Essie listens and follows the practices her grandmother teaches her. The young adult Essie (Emily Browning) becomes a servant. She tells the kids in the house her own experiences with the leprechauns. Bartholomew (Jake Manley), the young master of the house amusingly listens to her tales. Mr. Ibis narrates a scene of Essie leaving an offer. Mr. Ibis: “Intelligence has never been uncommon among women and beauty is had by all at seventeen. But Essie possessed a rare token of ambition….but she knew one does not ask favors of a leprechaun without a kindness of gold.” It seems she makes this offer to gain the favor of Bartholomew. She meets him in the kitchen and they make love. Later, she tells him he will forget her once he goes off to school in Oxford, he promises Essie that he will marry her when he returns after Christmas, and gives her a necklace, a family heirloom. Another servant sees her wearing it and snitches to the Mistress of the house (Debra Hale), Bartholomew’s mother. In front of the household staff, she asks her son if he gave Essie the necklace, he shakes his head no. The authorities arrest Essie; in court, the Irish judge convicts her of theft and sentences her to death. Because of her youth, he shows mercy and sentences her to transportation, seven years of indentured servitude in America.
“Her world branded Essie McGowan a thief, so a thief she became.” Mr. Ibis —American Gods
The voyage to the Carolinas is harsh. Many men die on the voyage. Essie sleeps with the ship’s captain (Thomas Mitchell) and convinces him to take her back to London with him as his wife. Back at home, the captain is ecstatic with Essie and she appears to love him. He prepares for his next voyage and promises Essie he will get back to her as quickly as possible. As soon as he leaves, the soundtrack begins to play “Runaround Sue”. Essie robs her husband blind. Mr. Ibis explains it, “Her world branded Essie McGowan a thief, so a thief she became.”
In the present day, flies are buzzing around Laura (Emily Browning). Salim (Omid Abtahi) stops at a farm to pray again and Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) isn’t happy about it. A big statue of a buffalo is there because a white sacred buffalo was born there. The buffalo and its owner were later struck by lightning. Mad snidely remarks, “That’s what you get for putting a god in a petting zoo.” He goes off to the bushes to take a piss. A crow gives him a message from Mr. Wednesday and Mad isn’t happy about it. Salim invites Laura to pray, she declines. Laura asks Salim a question; does he love his god, or is he in love with him. Salim thinks probably both. She tells him where he can find his jinn and releases him from having to drive Mad and her around. Mad isn’t happy about this. Salim’s parting words to Mad, “You are an unpleasant creature!” He quickly speeds off.
Essie has become a successful thief. She is free to do what she wants. Essie continues to leave gifts for the leprechauns, but as time goes on, she stops. Big mistake, she is soon caught and tried in London. Since she skipped out on her transportation to America, the English judge sends her to Newgate prison for hanging. In the next cell is an Irishman, one who we already know, Mad Sweeney. He advises her not to eat the stew since it will make her sick. She puts an offering of bread on her cell window as an offering to the leprechauns. She and Mad have a conversation about America. Essie: “In the Americas, anyone can be anything they insist upon. New name, new life. That’s a place a body could be happy.” Mad Sweeney: “What the fuck is happy?” Essie: “Fucked if I know.” The next day Mad is not in his cell. The warden (A.C. Peterson) wants to see her. He proposes a way for her to get out of her hanging. He bangs her and she gets pregnant. The judge sentences her to transportation again, this time for life, to the Virginia colony. The voyage is harsh again, especially since she is pregnant. She makes it to Virginia and becomes an indenture servant to a Virginia planter, John Richardson (Peter Cockett). Richardson is a widower with an infant, so he needs a wet nurse. Essie takes care of Richardson’s child and her own.
“I was a king once…I was. And then they made me a bird….then Mother Church came along and turned us into saints, and trolls and fairies. General Mills did the rest…” Mad Sweeney —American Gods
Laura and Mad need new transportation. Laura walks up to an ice cream truck and breaks the freezer handle. Ice Cream Man (Dan Beirne): “Can I help you with something, ma’am?”
Laura: “Yes! I’ve always wanted to steal a car. So I’m going to steal yours.” He tells her his boss won’t believe it was stolen unless he looks roughed up. Since Mad is so big, he asks Laura to hit him. “Trust me,” Mad Sweeney says. “You don’t want this one hitting you.” Mad hits the Ice Cream Man and he Laura take off in the ice cream truck. Laura has the truck freezing cold for obvious reasons. Mad complains and she tells him to stop complaining. Mad opens up a bit and tells her some things about himself. Sweeney: “I was a king once…I was. And then they made me a bird….then Mother Church came along and turned us into saints, and trolls and fairies. General Mills did the rest…” Laura asks why he runs errands for Mr. Wednesday. Mad tells her about a battle he was supposed to fight in; he had a vision of his death, so he ran off. Mad: “I owe a battle.” Laura tells him he’s been alive for hundreds of years, “Dying worked for me — you should try it some time.” A rabbit runs in front of the truck, Laura tries to avoid hitting the rabbit and the truck rolls over. The impact of the crash causes the magic coin in Laura to roll out of her.
A few years have passed since Essie arrived in Virginia and aside from being an indentured servant; things aren’t going too bad for her. Richardson’s child and her child are playmates, and Essie gets to tell the kids her Irish folklore. Richardson watches her and falls in love. Richardson tries to kiss her and she plays him just right. She tells him she has feelings for him too, but they can’t do anything about their attraction for each other since she is his indentured servant. Richardson marries Essie and it ends her indentured servitude. Unlike the ship captain, Essie develops real feelings for her husband, they have their own child and they are happy until his death ten years later. She continues to run the farm and it is prosperous. She becomes a grandmother, and old Essie (Fionnula Flanagan) tells her grandkids about the leprechauns. These kids freak out hearing her stories so she stops telling them, but the stories still warm her heart.
Mad wakes up from the crash and sees that Laura is dead again. He finds his magic coin down the road. He is ready to walk away, but stops. Mad has a flashback to the car accident that killed Laura initially. Mad was the other driver. He looks at Laura dying and tells a crow to tell Wednesday that it’s done. (He didn’t say Wednesday’s name, but who else could it be?) Back to this accident, Mad looks at Laura and starts screaming something in Celtic. He takes his coin and puts it back on top of her so it can sink back into her body. Laura awakens and punches Mad in the face. She realizes her insides are hanging out and tells him not to look. Laura flips the truck back up and they take off.
Essie is on her porch falling asleep. A familiar figure walks up to her. Mad starts talking to her and she realizes he is a leprechaun. (She doesn’t realize he was the man in the other cell.) Mad tells her that she and others like her brought him to America, “Into this land with no time for magic, no place for fairies and such folk.” Essie: “You have done me many a good turn.”
Mad Sweeney: “Good and ill. We’re like the wind. We blows both ways.” Mad gently takes Essie’s hand and escorts her to the hereafter.
Wednesday and Shadow did not appear in this episode. Shadow’s only presence in the episode was Laura seeing his ‘light’ in the distance. Wednesday was more prevalent throughout the episode. His crows were keeping tabs and communicating with Mad. We learned a shocking fact, that Wednesday had Mad cause Laura’s first accident. This causes me to ask why he wanted Laura dead. It appears he needed to remove the one person who would have caused Shadow not to accept his job offer. He needed Shadow not to have a reason not to accept his offer. This leads to the big question, why does he need Shadow for his plans? Who is Shadow Moon and is there something special about him? We should start getting some answers in the season finale.
The focus of the episode was on Mad, Laura and Essie. Who would have thought at the beginning of this series that you could do an episode about Mad and Laura, and it could be great? It shows how much the show has developed them from just being a walking Irish stereotype and an unfaithful dead wife. We got to see a more tender side of Mad, with him giving the magic coin to Laura to bring her back to life, and the final scene between Essie and him. Mad was so kind and sweet to her in that scene that Salim would have never believed it.
The music has been good on this show, but the imaginative use of late 50s and early 60s Doo-Wop as the background music for Essie’s life was inspired. “She is My Dream” by the Tads was the background music when Essie was a child sitting on a cliff in Ireland overlooking the ocean. “Ah Ha” by Baby Washington played while Essie left bread and a gold coin for the leprechaun. In the recap I had already mentioned “Runaround Sue” by Dion when Essie was cleaning out the sea Captain. “Daddy’s Home” by Shep & The Limelites was the background music after Essie married John Richardson. There was also a nice mix of traditional Irish music in the episode also.
Special mention must be made to Emily Browning for her double duty of playing both Laura Moon and Essie McGowan. Playing both roles illustrated her range as an actor. She has done wonders with Laura, but she added a different dimension to Essie. There was a hopefulness and sense of wonder in Essie that Laura lacks. Fionnula Flanagan and Pablo Schreiber also have to be mentioned for their wonderful scene as Old Essie meets Mad Sweeney in her last moments of life. Mr. Schreiber was excellent in the episode overall.