American Gods season 1, episode 7 recap: ‘A Prayer for Mad Sweeney’


American Gods penultimate episode was a bit of a departure, but still revealed one stunning bit of information.

From the beginning, we knew American Gods the TV show would depart from American Gods the novel, but we never knew quite what that mean. We also knew, that despite being a relatively short novel, Starz was planning on a three season series. And again, we didn’t know quite what would mean. As we approach the season one finale, however, ‘A Prayer for Mad Sweeney’ has been the answer to all our prayers. Or at least, our questions.

The episode focuses entirely upon Laura Moon and Mad Sweeney (as well as Laura’s ancestor Essie MacGowan, and much younger Mad Sweeney), without even so much as a glimpse of Shadow or Mr. Wednesday. In the novel, the story of Essie MacGowan is one of the more detailed “Coming to America” interludes, and on screen, it gets even more time in the spotlight. And here is where we arrive at the key component of the TV series; expansion. More on that later.

Essie MacGowan’s story is largely the same is it appears in the novel, but here we see that not only is Essie MacGowan an ancestor of Laura Moon (as she is played by Emily Browning), but that Mad Sweeney has apparently been lurking about this particular family line for quite some time. It alludes to a deeper connection between Laura and Sweeney than we were previously led to believe. More on that later.

As we flash between the present misadventures of Sweeny and Laura and the past misadventures of Sweeny and Essie MacGowan, we begin to suspect there might be more to Sweeney than the simple drunken lunatic we’ve seen thus far. Through the flashbacks, we are taught that leprechauns are fickle creatures, prone to acts of kindness, immediately followed by acts of malice and vice versa. More on that later.

As we watch Essie MacGowan bounce from England to American to England and finally back to America, we see the influence of Essie’s belief in leprechauns bring her great luck for a time. Her happiness is consistently taken away, only to be replaced with despair and horror. Neither her good fortune nor her bad last particularly long, and it appears to be a trait passed down to Laura.

When the present day Sweeny and Laura stop for Salim to pray, Sweeney’s restroom break in the woods is the first inkling that Sweeney might be following an actual thought out plan, and not simply bouncing from bar to bar. Of course, that plan belongs to Mr. Wednesday, and we get our first hint as Sweeney converses with one of those omnipresent ravens.

Screengrab pulled by EPs. Original Filename: Graded Reference Stills Episode 8-323

After divulging the location of Salim’s jinn, the former quickly departs leaving our odd couple to hilariously steal an ice cream truck. Like her ancestor Essie, though, Laura’s luck does not last, and while swerving to avoid a rabbit, the truck crashes, flinging Laura through the front windshield.

In the process, Laura’s chest is ripped open, and the magic coin Sweeney is intent on recovering is expelled from her body. Laura, really dead, lays upon the pavement, and Sweeney is presented with the opportunity to recover the coin and be on his way. Sweeney returns the coin (along with several of her organs) to Laura, however, and we are left to question why.

We are given two possible reasons for Sweeney’s actions and left to decide which we believe. Or even if they are actually the same reason. The first reason (although chronologically the second) is that Sweeney visited Laura’s ancestor Essie upon the day she died, and are led to believe somehow took her life (though not murder, more of a Grim Reaper type visit). Guilt over the death of her ancestor is one possibility, but it’s not the only thing for which Sweeney carries guilt over.

Photo Credit: Starz

In a flashback, it is revealed that Sweeney was driving the car that swerved into Robbie and Laura on the day of their deaths. Sweeney not only caused Laura’s death but apparently did so upon the order of Mr. Wednesday, as immediately afterward Sweeney is once more talking to the ever present raven. So it was guilt over murdering Laura or taking the life of her ancestor Essie that leads Sweeney to return the coin.

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It’s a monumental reveal and one that occurs very late in the novel. But expansion is the name of the game here. Expanded characters that spend most of their time off-page in the book, and expanding their connection to one another as with Sweeney and Laura’s new shared backstory via Essie. Likewise, Laura’s second accident, and her losing the coin is an expanded bit from the novel. It adds some humanity to the foul-mouthed leprechaun and fits with the leprechaun characterization of being fickle. Just not sure we needed a whole episode to establish these traits.

The Essie interlude is one of the better-done interludes from the novel, but expanding it to fill an entire episode seemed a bit excessive. But again, expansion is the name of the game here. It remains to be seen if the expansion of the novel will turn out to be a good thing or a bad thing. Fellow novels turned series such as Game of Thrones went the opposite route, keeping the narrative tight and focused. Each of the novels by George R.R. Martin (all of which are longer than American Gods) was adapted into a single season, while Starz is taking a single novel and adapting it into three seasons.

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While some characters could certainly benefit from this expanded take, thus far it has felt a bit like the series has just been spinning its wheels. With one episode to go, there is a lot of ground to cover. While the acting, cinematography, and dialogue have been top notch, the plot has been fairly meandering, but hopefully, when Wednesday’s plan is fully revealed, the series can bear down and get back on course.