Great performances by Pablo Schreiber & Emily Browning
A fun mix of music while ditching that irritating noir jazz
Why wasn't the plot moving forward?
An extended coming to America that should've been a lot shorter
Incredibly slow pacing.
American Gods takes a meandering, partially successful detour to Ireland in the penultimate episode of the season
After last week’s American Gods, what kind of show would we be watching? This week is an episode that focuses on everyone’s favorite giant leprechaun, Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber). But first we take a visit to the mortuary of Anubis (Chris Obi) and Mr. Ibis (Demore Barnes), who are preparing a body for burial. Anubis’ skills ensure he always knows who’s coming so he doesn’t take a break. Ibis however has a story to tell so he sits down to write another “Coming to America” tale and give us the history of indentured servitude in America (it wasn’t good). The tale gets even more specific and begins to weave the tale of Essie McGowan (played by Emily Browning, the same actress who plays Laura Moon). Essie learns the story of the auld folk of Ireland at her grandmother’s knee (the always brilliant and oddly uncredited Fionnula Flanagan) and continues to believe into adulthood.
Learning the story of Essie leads us to learning about Mad Sweeney’s backstory. Sweeney is the leprechaun that’s taking Essie McGowan’s offerings. While it does get her some luck, it’s pretty backhanded. Essie manages to catch the eye of the lord’s son but ends up being accused of being a thief and sentenced to transportation. Lucky for her she catches the eye of a sea captain. In the midst of seeing Essie’s story we flash forward in time to Laura Moon who is now diligently following Shadow. When they reach a statue of the Great White Buffalo, Tatanka Ska, Salim prays, Sweeney has a tough conversation with a raven, and Laura Moon wheedles the location of their final destination of out Sweeney. Laura tells Salim and he’s off to find his Jinn. Laura and Sweeney steal and ice cream truck and continue on their own.
Back in the 18th century Essie becomes the thief she was initially accused of being. She has luck with this for a time but without regular offerings to the auld folk Essie’s luck runs out and she’s sentenced again to death. But Mad Sweeney has taken an interest in Essie. They have a lot philosophical chat in their adjoining prison cells before Sweeney disappears the next day, but not before he leaves Essie with a little luck in the way of a randy prison warden. Pregnant, Essie is sentenced to transportation again before her indenture is purchased by a nice farmer. Essie always has a plan though, and eventually the farmer marries her and she gets exactly the life she described in the prison before, old and at the end of her life, she dies and Mad Sweeney takes her on.
In the present we learn a lot more about the chip Mad Sweeney has on his shoulder and we learn that Mad Sweeney wants war because of a war he avoided in his youth. Swerving to avoid a bunny in the road, zombie Laura flips the ice cream truck and loses her coin and a few internal organs. This seems like a perfect opportunity for Sweeney to grab coin and run, but he flashes back to the last time he saw Laura in an auto accident and we’re blown away by the fact that it was Sweeney who initially killed Laura at Wednesday’s behest. He returns the coin to her chest, she zombifies again and they continue on to find the person who can resurrect Laura.
Those last revelations of this episode of American Gods were doozies, guys. There is definitely a lot of discuss in this episode, so time to get talking about it!
The undertakers take us in a new direction
This week American Gods really toyed with the structure of their show. Instead of opening with a “Coming to America” sequence it opened with the men responsible: Thoth and Anubis, Ibis & Jackal. We’re then moving between the Coming to America story, briefly with Ibis & Jackal, and back on everyone’s favorite zombie road trip with Sweeney, Salim, and Laura. Instead of simply using “Coming to America” as the setup, this week’s is woven to be used throughout the entire episode. Another break from the usual structure is that Ibis’ voiceover is used in one of the modern scenes as well. This unexpected break felt odd and out of place. It was as if American Gods had established rules and broken them. Why was the decision made for Ibis to speak about Tatanka Ska? Since Laura picks up the narration we’re not really sure why they bothered to have Ibis begin the speech and introduce an entirely new element with just one episode left in the season.
“We get so few lover’s quarrels these days.” -Mr. Ibis
The extended time with Ibis and Jackal was an enjoyable diversion if not strictly necessary, which turned into a theme with this episode. They’re two of the more mysterious old gods, they’re fun and charming and they have an intriguing rapport with each other. They’ve not established a connection with Wednesday as of yet, seeming only to appear when the show focuses on Laura Moon. They’re also intriguingly stuck in the past. When the show began we couldn’t tell if they were in the 1930’s or if that’s simply the way the characters chose to speak and dress in the present. Our final decision? There was one particular lightbulb in a lamp near the two of them that didn’t exist in the 30’s, so this must simply be a time period the two of them connected with. This living in the past is rather charming roots them firmly with the old gods despite their lack of connection with Wednesday thus far. Though given the big revelation that it was Wednesday who was ultimately responsible for Laura’s death we have to wonder why they’re helping her? We liked and appreciated the fact that the show gives answers but keeps tension by making us think of more questions.
Coming to America (and taking your damn time about it)
The majority of this episode was given to the coming to America story of Essie McGowan. In an intriguing twist, Essie was played by Emily Browning who also plays Laura Moon. At first we thought this was a fun coincidence but as the episode progressed we actually became obsessed with the idea. Was Laura related to Essie in some way? About halfway through we realized that Essie was played by Browning because Laura reminds Sweeney of Essie. It says a lot more about Sweeney than it does about Laura, who we’ve already seen a great deal of. But it gives Browning time to stretch her legs in another showpiece that she handles admirably. Whether or not she needed one is another story. Essie’s story is a charming diversion but a bit of a shrug. It was a nice learning experience to see the story of indentured servitude in the US, but watching a woman use sex as currency isn’t exactly revelatory. By extended this sequence so that it swallows the entire episode we wonder if the best decision was made.
“Good and ill, we’re like the wind. We blow both ways.” -Mad Sweeney
One thing Sweeney’s backstory managed to do is change our perceptions of him slightly. Thus far he’s been slightly amusing but mostly a foul-mouthed jerk. (All the gay jokes at Salm’s expense and his penchant for the c-word are getting old.) Sweeney doesn’t strictly help Essie as he admits from his own mouth, but it’s clear when he leads her on after her death he was quite fond of her. Or he was at least fond of the tributes she paid him and the earnestness with which she believed in him. Sweeney has fallen, and fallen far. We were able to watch Sweeney at the height of his power and fall far within Essie’s own lifetime. It more than explains his bitterness in the present if it doesn’t completely justify it.
If you were a short cartoon pushing marshmallow cereal, you’d be pissed too!
We saw the white buffalo Tatanka Ska on the road trip which is the first time we’ve seen him outside of Shadow’s dreams. The white buffalo has been a symbol of American Gods. In Native American culture, the white buffalo represents creation and sometimes brings messages. Having the Sweeney-Salim-Laura trio wind up here is something else that makes us start to question every moment as being important later. In terms of plot there wasn’t much going on besides the ditching of Salim and the slow reveal of Mad Sweeney as Wednesday’s errand boy. So why there at the buffalo? Just to reinforce the imagery? The fact that Sweeney has been brought so low- nearly a king in his own right- and reduced to being the muscle for someone far more important is one more reason for Sweeney to have a chip on his shoulder. Over time leprechauns have turned into a bit of a joke. So the world thinks of him as a joke and he’s not even his own man any longer. It’s a sad place for him to be.
“Then they made me a bird. Then mother church came along and turned us all into saints, trolls and fairies. General Mills did the rest.” -Mad Sweeney
The biggest plot developments in the episode came directly at the end with the fact that Laura’s initial death was at the behest of Mr. Wednesday. We also see references to a war which next to no details were given about and finally heard that the ultimate destination of the travellers is not merely Wisconsin but specifically “The House on the Rock”. The flashback to discovering Sweeney’s role in Laura’s death was a nice showcase for Schreiber and you really saw the struggle on his face as he’s clutching the coin he so desperately wants. He clearly feels responsible for his hand in her death and he’s at least going to give her a chance at her true resurrection despite any negative consequences from Mr. Wednesday. And as we saw from last week’s episode Wednesday doesn’t really have a lot of tolerance for disloyal people so it’s a massive risk for Sweeney to take. But Sweeney has been carrying around guilt for missing the last war, whatever it was. So his journey seems to be one motivated by redemption at this point.
Final Verdict: After American Gods 1×07, more than Mad Sweeney needed the prayers to get us back to the plot
If you like Emily Browning, you’ll enjoy this episode. We like her, so we were fine watching it. But is fine what you want from the penultimate episode? Where was the plot? Where was Shadow Moon? To save the only bit of plot for the ending of the episode made this one feel like it was plodding along at a glacial pace. Despite great performances by Browning and especially Schreiber, this was an episode that we felt fine about but weren’t blown away. We didn’t hate it, and that’s about how we feel about it taking time away from the main story.
One could spend a lifetime exploring each allusion in American Gods. When speaking about his death, Sweeney said, “Sure as Sunday, I saw,” we asked ourselves why that particular expression? Each line of dialogue makes us question its use. Does some small part of Sweeney want to stick it to Wednesday by squire-ing Laura Moon around to possibly resurrect her? Salim’s devoutness is interesting, and when he’s asked by Laura whether or not he loves God or is in love with God is an interesting thought- Has the Jinn become Salim’s God in some way? We cannot wait to see a reunion between these characters. Does Ibis see Sweeney as well as Essie? Does Ibis know Sweeney? What is their connection? We need to connect these two gods to someone else!
The massive diversion and meandering story through a coming to America story was what we didn’t really love. Hair design has been such a strength on the show up until now but the wig on Emily Browning this episode felt incredibly wrong and just looked really fake. Red is a difficult color to do and the too-perfect curls just missed.
The noir jazz that has accompanied most episodes of this show was blissfully absent this week, and thank the gods. This week’s original score by Brian Reitzell had a unforced celtic flare that really worked. The use of the 30’s music for Ibis and Jackal was a great compliment to their scenes. The 50’s music, while we didn’t necessarily understand the use, was a really fun compliment. “Runaround Sue” while Essie is robbing the ship captain she convinced to bring her back to London by banging him silly? We’ll take it.
As a standalone episode of television we enjoyed this week’s American Gods. For an episode that we wanted us to make us really excited about next week’s season finale? We did not like this week’s American Gods. It was a decent watch and the performances were good but when you’ve only got eight episodes and there is a hugely plot-rich novel you’re basing the show off of that you can use for inspiration, we’re going to need to get to that plot faster. We want to be completely jazzed about the finale and dying to see what happens and it’s hard to feel that way when we’ve only been teased with a the tiniest bit of plot here.
Comments and Questions: We need our own prayer, with all these questions
- Oh the indignity of death. What was with the gratuitous penis in the opening?
- Does someone speak Irish Gaelic that can translate Mad Sweeney’s speech? We’re dying to know what he said.
- PLEASE tell us Ibis saw Sweeney, knows him, and is called to tell the story because of him.
- Why isn’t Fionnula Flanagan credited ANYWHERE?
- Why do you want hair around bread, Mad Sweeney? That’s gross.
- Laura seems too jaded to give a crap that she’s running over a bunny.
- Who does that bunny belong to? It can’t be a coincidence.
- Essie is just too EXTRA for those 18th century millennial kids. God they ruin everything.
- What war did Sweeney avoid?
- What was with that ending shot over Ireland?
- Poor Laura. Stay away from cars, girl.
American Gods returns for the finale next Sunday, June 18th 2017 at 9/8C on Starz.
American Gods Review 1×07: “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney”