American Gods Ep. 107 Recap & Review – ‘A Prayer for Mad Sweeney’
American Gods takes another break from the main story to tell the story of how Mad Sweeney came to America. Like Laura’s own episode, “Git Gone,” this is a pretty straightforward romp with not a whole lot to unpack. However, this episode does have a big reveal concerning Laura’s death. Spoilers ahead.
“A Prayer for Mad Sweeney” is one large Coming to America story as told by Mr. Ibis, who (fun fact) is drinking Irish Red Ale as he writes the story down in a large book. This week we touch on a little piece of American history that is often glossed over in school. Australia wasn’t the only dumping ground for convicts.
Essie MacGowen (changed from Tregowan for some reason) is a working-class Irish girl who, thanks to the many stories her grandmother told her as a child, believes in Ireland’s many magical folk — fairies, banshees, and even leprechauns. Her grandmother (played by Fionnula Flanagan) also taught her how to pay alms to leprechauns if she ever wanted to receive their blessings. For some, leaving little offerings was just as much about protecting yourself as it was trying to appease them, or any fair folk for that matter. Maybe that’s why Essie’s stories take on a much darker tone than her grandmother’s as she gets older. The unpleasantness of life warped her adult brain. Such is life….
The first time we see Essie leave an offering to the leprechaun was when she got lost in a thick fog. To find her way back home, she performs a ritual — she cut off a lock of her red hair and tied it around a slice of bread. Essie then adds a gold coin to entice the leprechaun. This is the only time we see Essie doing this specific ritual. Every other time, she just leaves some bread (be it a crumb or an entire loaf) or a saucer of milk by her window or outside a field. For a time, Essie’s life was relatively good for a servant girl. But as Essie’s grandmother warned, the fairy folk are fickle creatures.
Essie’s luck runs out, she’s accused of stealing, and is sent to the colonies to work off her sentence in indentured servitude. Essie, half-starved, never forgot to leave an offering for the fairies, and good luck eventually returned in the form of the ship’s captain. He took her as his bride and brought her to London. Of course, Essie didn’t actually love him. As soon as he left to ship off more convicts to the New Land, she took all the silver and ran off. Society already branded her a thief when she really wasn’t. Might as well become a thief for real.
The more blessings and successes Essie received, the less she remembered to leave something for the leprechaun. Her luck runs out again and she finds herself in prison. This time she’s headed for the gallows. In the cell next to her is Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), who also happens to be down on his luck. Whether he’s telling the truth or not, it sure sounds like he had given his special coin away to the King. Since we already know the kind of sh*t luck Sweeney has without a coin on his person, it’s no surprise how he ends up in jail. Or, he could have just made up that whole story and he’s actually there for her.
Sweeney and Essie have a talk. Essie talks of how the Americas can be a clean slate for anyone, and Sweeney thinks on the idea with fondness. Maybe it’s Essie’s persistent belief in the supernatural and her resuming the ritual of leaving food at the window that Sweeney sets into motion her freedom, her life radically improving when she sets foot on a tobacco plantation in Virginia. Fionnula Flanagan returns to play a much older Essie at the end of her life. Sweeney returns and takes her to the afterlife.
The conclusion of Essie’s story, while leaving on a bittersweet note, reminds us that she is the only person left in her family who still believes the stories of the fairies and leprechauns and púcas and banshees. Yes, she told the same stories she has always told to her children and then her grandchildren, but her versions always came with the same terrifying edge young children don’t always have a taste for. After making one of her grandchildren cry from fear, she stopped telling her tales.
Meanwhile in the present, Laura, Salim and Mad Sweeney are still road-tripping to Kentucky. We first see them stopped at a roadside attraction featuring a giant white buffalo depicting an important god from the Lakota tribe. These type of tourist traps are somewhat important in the word of American Gods, but it’s not explained here in the show. At least not yet. In the book, Wednesday informs Shadow that roadside attractions are often built on spots with supernatural power. People in the U.S. are drawn to these spots and feel compelled to build “a model out of beer bottles of somewhere they’ve never visited.”
Right now, however, it’s a stop where Laura decides to release Salim from his obligation to them — she tells him that the jinn is going to The House on the Rock in Wisconsin. Still in need of transportation, Laura decides to steal an ice cream truck, possibly the most sensible decision she has made since coming back from the dead. While on route, Sweeney opens up a little about his past. He hints that he was once a king who fled “as a bird” from a battle in which he knew he’d die. He’s at a point now that the wants to, or needs to, fulfill that particular destiny by joining in Wednesday’s war. It’s a neat little twist to the original Buile Shuibhne tale that doubles as a kind of insight into Sweeney and his role in all of this.
Then he does something suspicious like discreetly dropping a few coins on the side of the road as soon as he spots a white bunny. It literally dawned on me upon a third viewing that he is most likely paying the rabbit to cause an accident. Farther down the road, Laura spots a white rabbit crossing the road and she swerves out of the way to avoid it. Not the best reaction to have when you’re driving a top-heavy ice-cream truck. The truck flips and Laura is thrown, causing her chest cavity to reopen and spill its contents. That’s including Sweeney’s special coin. That trixy rabbit….
His plan to reclaim the coin back as soon as Laura dies (again) works, but he feels conflicted. Why? Well, hold on to your butts, readers, because this one’s a doozy. We learn in a flashback that it was Sweeney who caused the accident that killed Robbie and Laura. Sweeney steps out to confirm Laura’s death and relays a message to one of Wednesday’s crows. That’s right. Wednesday put a hit on Laura, and Sweeney was the hit-man. Present-day Sweeney could have left Laura there, but it seems as though he doesn’t have the stomach to let her die a second time. He returns the coin to Laura and they continue on their way.
Next week is the season finale. Let me tell you — Crazy. Sh*t. Happens. So don’t forget to tune in next week!