'American Gods' Episode 7 'Prayer For Mad Sweeney' Recap: Vore The Love Of The Irish

  • Drama
  • Fantasy
laura moon emily browning american gods
Emily Browning as Laura Moon on American Gods. (c) Starz

Last time on American Gods, Corbin Bernsen got thrown into his own Forge and Mr. Wednesday removes a nasty ol’ tree parasite from Shadow’s rippling six-pack abs. We also get to enjoy the world’s most uncomfortable travelling trio: Sweeney, Laura, and our man Salim, who is still seeking the djinn that changed his life.

This week’s episode, “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney,” promises to give us a peek into everyone’s favorite gangly leprechaun’s lengthy backstory. I can’t tell you that it’s my favorite episode, but I can promise you that you’ll get tons of Emily Browning in an astonishing red wig, a fair dollop of Pablo Schreiber and even some good ol’ Ibis and Anubis to get you started.

Ibis starts us off by explaining the concept of “transportation,” England’s old-timey solution to its prison population whereby those who might otherwise be hanged were sold as indentured servants in the Americas instead. After serving their term of indenture, they could do as they pleased in the New World. Cut to Mad Sweeney’s fine self back in the day, shirt open at the chest and eyes kind and sad, looking straight outta the Kindle ebooks Romance section. “Essie McGowan?” he says.

From there, Ibis and his big ol’ glasses tell us the story of Essie McGowan, played by Emily Browning in an astonishing red wig and a whole mess o’ freckles. Essie’s a young girl in Ye Olde Ireland who’d rather listen to stories of leprechauns and fairy mounds than do awful ol’ chores (#relatable). She grows up into a young woman full of stories who always leaves an offering out for the Sweeneys.

Smart, pretty and ambitious, Essie offers a gold coin on top of some bread one night, hoping for the leprechauns’ blessing. The young master of the house, smitten, beds her and gives her the gift of a necklace. But “the fair folk are a fickle lot,” and some evil jealous biddy catches sight of Essie’s new necklace and reports her to the missus of the house, forcing the young master to deny having given it to her.

Essie is sentenced to hanging, but the judge offers the charitable alternative of seven years transportation instead. While on board, she makes sure to leave a few crumbs of her meagre portions for the leprechauns, which results in the Captain bedding her and bringing her to London rather than dropping her off in the Americas. The Captain soon leaves on another trip overseas, and new bride Essie instantly ransacks his home for silver and valuables, then departs… but not without leaving an offering to the fair folk.

Cut to Laura, looking deathly tired as she stares into the glow on the horizon that marks her husband’s presence. The unlikely trio takes a break so Salim can pray, and as Sweeney takes a piss, one of Mr. Wednesday’s crows starts squawking. “Fuck you. That’s what you tell him,” Sweeney growls as he zips up.

Laura decides, perhaps out of mercy, to tell Salim where the gods will all be congregating after Sweeney lets it slip. “You. Are an unpleasant creature!” Salim says to Sweeney before tearing out of the rest stop. RIP to the world’s most unlikely trio! Laura immediately commandeers an ice cream truck from an ice cream guy who takes it pretty well, all things considered.

  • “Malice draped in pretty can get away with murder.”

Cue more jaunty ‘50s music as Essie shoplifts every pretty scrap of lace and fabric she can stuff into her wide skirts. She makes a living in this way, and we see a hand stealing under her window to grab an offering she’s left, indicating that the fair folk are still actively involved in her life. But eventually, Essie stops leaving the offerings she so believed in. Big mistake, Essie.

  • “Unfortunately, the more abundant the blessings, the more we forget to pray.”

Essie is caught, charged with returning from transportation and theft, and taken to Newgate Prison to be hanged. For the first time in Sweeney’s backstory episode, we actually see Sweeney, in the cell beside her. Essie conscientiously leaves an offering of bread on the windowsill as she and Sweeney chat about the Americas. At the end of their conversation, Sweeney seems thoughtful about the prospects of life in the New World. Cut to crumbs on the windowsill.

That’s when Essie’s luck changes. The gross warden enters her room and offers her three facts: it’ll be 12 weeks before her case, she’s very pretty, and there’s a way she can escape the gallows. So she lets him rut her, and at her final hearing she pleads her pregnancy. Her death sentence is commuted to transportation for life, and she endures a nightmarish voyage across the sea. She lands in Virginia, her indenture bought by a tobacco farmer who needs a wet nurse for his daughter and a maid of all work on his holding. Essie raises her baby and the farmer’s baby together in the Virginia sun, telling them her tales.

Cut to Laura and Sweeney in the ice cream truck, driving past… a bunny rabbit. Hmm…

Sweeney’s in a reflective kind of mood.  “I was a king once,” he tells Laura.  “I was. And they made me a bird. And Mother Church came along and turned us all into saints and trolls and faeries. General Mills did the rest.” He even flashes back to his reasons for fighting with Wednesday, which date back to an ancient battle he skipped: “I looked into the fire and I saw my death, sure as Sunday. I saw. I knew I would die that day if I stayed. Put on my boots and dropped my sword and I flew. I owe a battle.”

But he’s done worse than errands for Wednesday, he says with a distant look of guilt as Laura questions his choices. Then she spots another rabbit and turns the ice cream truck sharply to avoid hitting it. The cinematography is pure poetry: ice pops spill out in slo-motion, Sweeney is pressed to the side of the truck, Laura’s hair flies and the truck whirls over several times. As Laura is flung out of the truck, the threads holding Laura’s autopsied torso together are torn open and Sweeney’s gold coin flies out of her exposed ribs. (Yuck.)

Cut to Essie McGowan. The tobacco farmer confesses his love for her, and Essie takes him for a real drive, crying how she respects him so much and is an indentured servant who can’t marry, and how could he treat a poor transport-taker who has feelings for him in this fashion. The farmer instantly proposes an end to her indenture by marriage. This is now like the sixth time we’ve seen Essie in bed with some dude. Did we really need to see every bedtime romp she’s ever had?

Anyway Essie has a son by the farmer and makes sure the kids carry offerings in their pockets for the leprechauns. Ten years later, Essie hears a banshee and a week later, her kindly husband dies of a fever. We see her continuing to leave offerings for the leprechauns as her farm flourishes.

She ages out of being Emily Browning and becomes Old Essie, who tells spooky stories to tiny bitch-ass kids who can’t handle that Irish truth tea and cry because they’re scared. Essie is sad because there’s no room for magic and stories in this new world, so she keeps her tales to herself. One day as she falls asleep in her chair, Sweeney walks up to her and says her name. Essie instantly knows who it is.

Cut back to Sweeney, who rouses himself from the wreckage. Laura is super, super dead in the middle of the road, and Sweeney stares out at her corpse, then picks up his lucky coin, holding it to his lips in relief. But something stops him and he shuts his eyes, looking pained. We go back to the scene of Laura’s original death, where a MAJOR REVELATION awaits: Sweeney walks over to her twisted, dying body, then tells one of Wednesday’s crows to tell him it’s done. Sweeney doesn’t look proud of himself at all; in fact he looks sick to his stomach.

Sweeney killed Laura!! Mr. Wednesday asked him to do it!!

We return to the scene of the ice cream truck wreck where Sweeney cusses up a storm in Gaelic, closing with “FUCK!” He awkwardly wedges bits of Laura’s flesh back into her body, then places the coin back on her innards. Laura wakes up and immediately punches him.

“Don’t look!” she cries like a girl caught coming out of the shower, covering her exposed ribs with a jacket nearby. She tips the ice cream truck back over and yells at Sweeney to get moving. Sweeney looks like he can’t believe what’s happening as he returns to the ice cream truck, not saying a word about the coin.

As the truck rares off, we return to Essie McGowan. Sweeney explains that now he’s here in this New World where no one puts out ale or milk for an honest fellow, or bread at harvest time. Essie says she has no quarrel with him, though Sweeney replies that she and a few others like her brought him here. She says he has done her many a good turn.

  • “Good and ill. We’re like the wind. We blows both ways.”

Looking distractingly handsome, Sweeney flips a coin in his palm. It disappears, and he offers his hand to Essie, who takes it and slowly rises.

Not a bad way to go, Essie. Ibis closes his tome and we enjoy a flyover shot of lush, misty Irish countryside. End of episode.

This episode is so different from previous episodes of American Gods, even the Laura backstory episode. Rather than concentrating on one single through-line, we swap back and forth between Essie McGowan’s tale and Sweeney and Laura’s adventures. Normally, when a different character is played by the same actress, you assume they’re somehow related, but there’s no indication that McGowan is an ancestor of Laura. It seems that smart, pretty Laura just reminds Sweeney of smart, pretty McGowan. That, as well as his guilt over killing her in the first place, seems to be what motivates him to give the coin back to Laura himself.

Something about the pacing of this episode feels really slow, despite the shocking and highly plot-important revelation that Sweeney killed Laura on Wednesday’s behalf. I can’t put my finger on it, but it might be that the tale of Essie McGowan is supposed to be a backstory for Sweeney, but Sweeney just doesn’t feature enough in it.

It’s a story about how Essie’s entire life is shaped by her belief in the fair folk and her adherence to their requirements, so Sweeney’s hands invisibly shaped her story, and yet we only see Sweeney interacting with her in two scenes. The entire episode asks us to invest in a character we don’t know and probably won’t see again. However charmingly that character is portrayed, I just want to meet more gods and enjoy more over-the-top divine shenanigans.

Perhaps the subtle, softer approach is lost on me, because for the most part, I was gently bored.

What do you think of American Gods episode 7? Feel free to let us know in the comments section below.

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