How I’ve Waited for This Moment to Be By Your Side: American Gods, “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney”

On our penultimate American Gods television journey, the sounds of Mal Hallett and His Orchestra guide Mr. Jacquel as he snaps a dead man’s jaw back into place and begins his restoration. A bottle of Irish red ale (brewed just like the Franciscan Monks, circa 1231) at the ready, Mr. Ibis kicks off the latest Coming to America (1721)…

Guided through the eyes of a young girl from her earliest memories, all the way to Essie Macgowan’s (Emily Browning) last, Ibis narrates us through a fully-lived life full of love, letdowns, leprechauns, lecherousness and luck, during the course of which the through line of Mad Sweeney and Laura Moon’s American adventures runs.

Growing up in a time when petty thieves could be hanged in London for stealing twelve pennies, or if you were lucky, sold off as indentured servants — aka Transportation — Bantry Bay’s own Essie learns from her gran (Fionnula Flanagan) and later passes on tales of little people and leprechauns (“One does not ask favors of a leprechaun without a kindness of gold; we leave a gift because we want their blessings”). After her first young lover, Bartholomew (Jake Manley) lets her down (It’s easier for the mistress to believe Essie a thief, than her son seducing the help),Macgowan flees her first flirtation with death for foreign shores, fulfills the fate she’s been assigned (“Her world branded EssieMacgowan a thief, so a thief she became.”) and carries along, with her beliefs and belongings, a certain ginger minge king.

Second sentencing around, awaiting her prescribed punishment in Newgate Prison, Essie and Sweeney trade tales — it’s all they have left — to pass the time. When she again avoids her deathly debt (luck of the Irish a pretty face), the new mother Macgowan marries her master, and for the foreseeable future, fares fairly fortuitously, fosters a few offspring and finally facing mortality, takes Sweeney’s hand in escort to the afterlife.

With doubly heartfelt, gorgeous performances, Pablo Schreiber and Emily Browning thread through their alternately arranged characters; Laura and leprechaun, Moon and Mad Sweeney, meant to be traveling together through time. After listening in on his rambling to a raven (Huginn or Muninn), Laura releases Salim (to find his Jinn at “House on the Rock, Wisconsin”) by a statue of a rare and sacred white buffalo, that was killed by a lightning strike. In need of a new ride, Laura leans on her lineage, takes a truck in trade as Sweeney delivers his merciful punch to its driver.

By the unluckly feet of a wily white rabbit, and to the melancholy musings of a lovely leprechaun — “I was a king once, and they made me a bird, and mother church came along, turned us all into saints and trolls and fairies; General Mills did the rest” — our Red Rocketers wreck their ride, right as Sweeney confesses his “god-fest” motives (“War … I owe a battle”). In a final flashed-back moment of quiet confession, we learn that Wednesday coordinated Laura’s (television) first finish, with Sweeney’s assistance. His guarded guilt gains ground, another cosmic debt demands repayment and so with a sigh, Sweeney sweeps up a few spare parts, pops them back into a broken body, lays his golden coin back on her chest, and breathes life back into Laura Moon’s ongoing terrific tale.

 

Deep Thoughts:

The episode title would seem to be a play on John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meaney, which is about a character who dreams of his war-related (Vietnam) death, has a vision that he saves a bunch of children, and ***Spoiler*** that vision comes true. Likewise, when Laura asks Sweeney why he’s joining Wednesday’s war, the leprechaun tells her he owes a debt, that he once foresaw his own death and ran from it. “On the eve, I looked into the fire. Saw my death, sure as Sunday. Knew I would die that day if I stayed. Put on my boots, took my sword and I flew.” I won’t spoil the non-readers as to whether Sweeney’s debt comes due.

In the book, it’s intimated that Wednesday (and another character, not Sweeney) had something to do with Laura’s accident, and I love this twist on the story. It was such a lovely way to intertwine Sweeney’s Coming to America, and carry on the chemistry between Schreiber and Browning.

Could that bunny be another of Wednesday’s henchcreatures? With the staged accidents we’ve learned about, and myriad in his service, I wouldn’t be the least surprised.

The Irish Gaelic phrase Sweeney yells out before he revives Laura with his magic coin:  Créd as co tarlaid an cac-sa-dam? Nach lór rofhulangas? Is lór chena, níam olc! Níam! Fuck!” H/T and thank you to Carl Jameson, who asked a friend for a translation. Very loosely:  “You have all the shine of ox shit [bullshit], but really ox shit isn’t as bad as you” or “You’re nothing but ox shit, and I’m not bad, myself.” Yes, Sweeney’s pissed at Wednesday, and even as he recognizes his own part in Laura’s fate, Wednesday’s the head honcho, here. **Update:  A second, closer translation has arisen, and been confirmed by a friend as being fairly accurate — H/T and thanks to Guy Gondron and Siobhán NíBhuachalla (fluent in Irish Gaelic):  “Haven’t I believed enough in your bullshit? Haven’t I suffered enough? Isn’t that enough itself? I’m not evil! I’m not!” (That sounds exactly like something Sweeney would scream aloud to Wednesday.)

Browning’s accent was lovely and believable, at least from this American’s POV. And what beautiful costumery, this hour! Bow down to designer, Suttirat Larlarb.

Is is just me, or Did Schreiber show a hint of a smile when, after he brought her back, Laura was beeping at him and he walked to get into the truck? Their love/hate relationship is complete.

His emotional range this hour, especially that final scene when he gathered up her bits (*sniffle*) and resurrected (kind of) Laura, was glorious.

That was the wonderful Fionnula Flanagan — who some may recognize as Lost‘s Eloise Hawking — playing Essie’s grandmother and the aged Essie. I do hope she got to reunite with Jeremy Davies, who will finally show up as Jesus in the finale. There was also a white rabbit in Lost, and it was an episode title, as well. Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit leads Alice down the rabbit hole to Wonderland. Everybody say, “Hmm …” (Keller Viaene played young Essie.)

I’m taking this hour to mean that Essie is a distant relative of Laura Moon; do you agree?

Essie’s novel name, Tregowan was changed to Macgowan.

Not for nothing, but Sweeney’s magic coin seems earmarked for Laura. There’s an L right in the middle.

House on the Rock is a real place built by Wisconsin architect, Alex Jordan, Jr., and it exists in Gaiman’s novel, too.

Songs This Hour:

Mal Hallett and His Orchestra, Turn On That Red Hot Heat
The Tads, She Is My Dream
Baby Washington, Ah Ha
Dion, Runaround Sue
Shep and the Limelights, Daddy’s Home

Great lines:

Sweeney to the raven:  “Fuck you, I will eat you. He doesn’t like it? You tell that one-eyed cow … Fuck you, that’s what you tell him.”

Sweeney to Laura:  “Does a man get a moment alone with his prick?”

Salim to Sweeney:  “You are an unpleasant creature.”

Mr. Ibis:  “The more abundant the lessons, the more we forget to pray.”

Laura to a freezing Sweeney in the ice pop truck:  “Quit it, you fucking baby.”

Sweeney’s response:  “We’re not all hanger steaks.”

Sweeney to Essie right before he takes her hand:  “We’re like the wind, we blows both ways.”

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis has been writing about the entertainment industry for ​over seven years, and is the ​Editor-in-Chief at Oohlo, where she muses over television, movies, and pop culture. Previous Senior News Editor at Pajiba, and published at BUST.

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  • I <3 this show so hard.

    • JenVegas

      so hard.

  • JenVegas

    I wonder if part of Mad Sweeney’s attraction/affection for Laura is because he recognizes some Essie in her. They did such a beautiful job of taking what the book gave them of Essie’s story and interweaving it with current events. It was a beautiful episode I will probably watch a few more times. I’m so not ready for this series to be over.
    Also, I really really really really hope they actually filmed at House On The Rock. It’s such a delightfully weird and wonderful place.

    • That’s definitely how I took it, whether they meant for her to be a descendent of Essie, or Laura just reminds him of her.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    The rabbit might have been a puca, one of the fairies in Essie’s stories. They are shapechangers and can appear as several kinds of animals. Maybe someone doesn’t want Suibhne to break his curse?