I’ll admit that after watching American Gods’ previous episode, “A Murder of Gods,” I had expected the last two episodes of the first season to be continuing Shadow and Wednesday’s road trip. Little did I know, and much to my pleasure, the writers have given us a fantastic episode that could stand as its own little short film.
Coming to America: Mad Sweeney
Normally, we start out the episode with a tale from Mr. Ibis, played by Demore Barnes, about how a god came to the Americas. However, this time around, our tale not only was the length of a quick Wikipedia session, but also spanned the episode’s full hour-long run.
This episode, we follow the tales of Essie Macgowan, who was one of the few who had brought Mad Sweeney to the Americas, starting with a scene between Anubis (Chris Obi) and Mr. Ibis back at their funeral parlor. Mr. Ibis is preparing a body as the Anubis has their fingers twitching to write a story.
Parallel Sides: Moon & MacGowan
Emily Browning gives a wonderful performance as Laura, of course, and also as Essie. This episode is a much more interesting take on the American Gods’ world-building than what was shown in “Git Gone,” which I already have high praise for. We get to know our character and see them fleshed them out through their wit, strength and weaknesses. It’s truly a wonderful experience.
Essie’s entire story runs parallel with Laura’s own life. Both women go with the flow of their actions and continue to try to distract themselves from being bored with a rather loose moral compass.
In my opinion, Essie comes across a lot more compelling on screen than in Neil Gaiman’s novel. Emily Browning’s performance of both Moon and MacGowan give the characters a sense of ambitious wit. Whether it’s the lucky coin that gives Laura her rose-tinted glasses or her mission to not be bored, it’s once again giving depth to a characteristic about her that we already knew: she’s an interesting, horrible person.
We’re not entirely sure yet if the on-screen version of Laura Moon is ever going to change to treat Shadow right, but as of now, it doesn’t look like there’s really any growth, just a slight growing bond with Mad Sweeney.
Mad Sweeney: Been There All Along
In this episode, even if we see a different yet similar story for Laura. We do get to learn more about Mad Sweeney. We learn that he used to be a king, and his prayers were ale, milk or food offerings left by his worshippers. His influence can be of ill intent or good luck, depending on how well he’s remembered, and so far, I’m totally on board. (I was already entirely on board with Sweeney being the comedic relief with his sailor vernacular and exasperated tough guy appearance.)
Turns out he’s quite the asshole with a rather jaded heart of gold. He feels regret, emptiness and a longing to pass on for his unlucky ways, while still feeling obligation to take Laura to where she needs to be, even when he could’ve walked away with his lucky coin after the ice cream truck accident. (The car-jacking ice cream truck scene was amazing. Poor kid, though.)
Pablo Schreiber and Emily Browning are able to play off of each other so incredibly well, and the comedic scenes seem absolutely effortless, even when they’re supposed to be entirely somber. *cue Emily Browning punching Schreiber in the face*
“A Prayer for Mad Sweeney” was able to build upon how leprechauns operate in the American Gods universe, and how prayers and a worshipper’s faith influences their own life through the particular god’s guidance. Sweeney and Moon/MacGowan’s bond works incredibly well, and I’m more than happy to see the showrunners be able to let the audience get to know characters who appear to be side characters.
It also eases the nerves to know that American Gods is already going to have a second season, so we have time to properly get to know all the characters instead of just getting a surface level impression of everyone. Totally can’t wait to see what happens next week for the season finale, since it looks like both our parties are back on track to their destination!