TV Recap: American Gods, Episode 7: "A Prayer for Mad Sweeney"
When American Gods brought its plot to a screeching halt to tell the story of Laura Moon (Emily Browning), I was a little perplexed. Laura is a fairly passive character, one whose story is easy to grasp and had already been told to us a few times prior. With the airing of "A Prayer for Mad Sweeney," they finally gave an interesting purpose to Laura's story, particularly by fleshing out her relationship to Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber). The episode plays a little more naturally than the previous flashback episode, echoing now and then with present day Laura and Mad to show the cyclical nature of life.
It all starts in Anubis’ workshop where he is sculpting a cadaver's torn apart face back to normal. He and Mr. Ibis (Demore Barnes) speak for a bit before Ibis continues penning his book of the Gods. This story begins with an explanation of English slave labor, called "transportation," where people were sentenced to years of riding in cages in the belly of a ship, only to be sold off to work. Mr. Ibis gets a sudden vision and the course of the story changes to show a grandmother telling stories to a child about leprechauns. Every night they leave out offerings to the Leprechaun King so that he will help them in the future.
Time passes and the little girl, Essie MacGowan (also played by Browning), has grown up and is telling the leprechaun story to a group of children. She is one of many servants to a rich family, whose son she has a crush on. She doesn't have much, but she always remembers to leave out a little food (one night with a very familiar gold coin) for the leprechaun. Eventually, she develops a secret relationship with the son, which leads to them having sex. He gives her a necklace that she wears until the servants tell the matriarch of the family, who then accuses her of theft. The son does not stick up to his mother, denying the relationship, and Essie is sentenced to seven years transportation.
The conditions are cramped, horrid smelling, and the food is limited, but even if it's just a crumb Essie remembers to leave the leprechauns a gift. Essie is not in the bowels of the ship for long before she develops a sexual relationship with the ship's captain, who takes her back to his home in London where they wed. As soon as the captain heads back out to sea, Essie grabs the valuables and gets out of there.
"Her world branded Essie MacGowan a thief; so a thief she became."
The whole episode is not set in the past, however, as we head back to Laura and Mad on their journey to the resurrector. Salim has once again pulled over to pray, this time at a rest area that features a gigantic white buffalo statue. Mad's getting tired of the constant stops, but knows he still needs Salim to drive them. He lets it slip to Laura where the D'Jinn are and Laura quickly turns around and tells Salim, who speeds out of there as fast as possible. Now carless, Laura and Mad steal an ice cream truck from an all too eager worker, who merely requests a punch in the face to explain it to his boss. Mad obliges.
Essie is loving her life as a thief, pickpocketing for a decent living. The better her life gets, the more she forgets to leave the offering to the leprechauns and eventually she gets caught and put in prison where she is to be hanged. In prison, she talks with her next door cellmate, Mad. He's there for a bar brawl. She tells him that she wishes to go to America and make her own life. The next morning she wakes up and he's gone. The warden opens her cell door and they have sex in order to impregnate her before her hearing. Her pregnancy saves her from death and ends her up in transportation for life. Her debt is eventually bought by a Virginian farmer whose wife passed shortly after childbirth. She acts as a wet nurse to the children on the beautiful farm.
Mad's freezing in the ice cream truck (Laura can't feel a thing). Mad informs her that he was once a king until he went to war. He stared into the campfire and saw his death coming, so he abandoned the fight. Mad wants to fight in Wednesday's war because he feels he owes the world a death in battle. A white rabbit runs out onto the road and Laura swerves the truck. Laura flies out the window onto the street where her stitches rip open and the coin pops out of her body.
Essie's children have grown and she's telling them the story of the leprechauns. Essie and the farmer's relationship grows into love, and to get her out of her indentured servitude he proposes marriage. They are married happily for nine years until the farmer dies of fever and Essie is left in charge of the grounds. In time the children have grown up to have children of their own. Essie attempts to spread the legend to her grandchildren, but they are too afraid to hear them, so she keeps them to herself. One night she's sleeping alone in her rocker when Mad Sweeney approaches.
In present time, Mad is climbing out of the wreckage. He grabs his coins and starts to storm off, but he has a change of heart and plops it back into Laura's body. Laura pops up instantly and flips the truck back up. She honks the horn and yells at him to hurry back into the truck and they take off again.
Mad approaches Essie. She is overjoyed to see him, as he is to see her. She's one of few in the America's who holds on to her traditions. He asks, "Will you take my hand, Essie MacGowan?" and leads her into the afterlife.
Leprechauns have always been thought of as a joke, even Mad says as much with a funny dig at General Mills. I've never thought about where they came from but after doing a little research, it seems American Gods has created its own rich mythology for the often disrespected magical creature. This episode made Mad Sweeney my favorite character by far. He's a sweet guardian angel under that tough exterior. In the hundreds of years that he has been alive, he always has his Essie to look after. Some of them he wronged, but all he cared for. Next week is the season finale for American Gods, and I can't wait.