A shaggy-god story
American Gods, Episode 7 – A Prayer for Mad Sweeney
Musha! I loved it. Every bit.
Pablo Schreiber was wonderful as usual and Emily Browning was charming. I even loved the soda shoppe soundtrack and how it tied in so perfectly with the ice cream truck later on.
The episode centres around Mad Sweeney and his journey to America and the girl from Bantry that came to the New World, Essie Macgowan (Tregowan, for book readers). I was so excited to see Emily Browning playing Essie. It was such a lovely way to tie bind Laura and Sweeney’s stories together. And it’s a love story.
We start with Ibis and Jacquel as the gramophone starts and we get more shots of machinery. A reminder that machines are a creation of man, so too are gods.
The story of the beer, first brewed by monks for the purpose of saving lives from poisoned well water, shows how its use has changed over the years and the reason for its invention long forgotten. A metaphor for the gods.
This is Mad Sweeney’s Coming to America story. However, his story is Essie’s story. The show has somewhat softened Essie’s character as she was much more self-serving in the book. She was a storyteller, a con-artist. In the book, she starts off pretty awful, there was no betrayal that caused her to spiral into a life of crime. She was just easily bored.
When we first see young Essie, she is playing “He loves me, he loves me not”…
Essie grows up hearing stories of the faerie folk to fill her time as she waits for her father to safely return from sea. The stories are her escape from the daily worry and she is devoted to them. Sharing with all and keeping the traditions of food each night.
“There’s favour on one side of the coin and wrath on the other”
Be careful what you wish for. Essie made an offering of gold to the leprechaun. She wished for Bartholomew to notice her, and he did. He said he loved her but ultimately betrayed her, forming Essie’s distrust of men. She was accused of theft and sentenced to death by hanging, but as luck would have it, her sentence was commuted to 7 years transportation, aka indentured servitude, aka white slavery. At the end of the period, the transportee would have freedom and often would be granted a gift of land and seeds to start their new life.
We’ve seen 7 as a recurring theme for Laura as well with the 7 of spades showing up 3 times and her obituary on page 7. Also keep an eye out for recurring 3’s. One of Odin’s names is “Third” (After “High” and “Just as High”). Really.
However, even this reduced sentence and the promise of a new life wasn’t good enough for Essie. She used her charms to seduce the ship’s captain on her way to America and convinces him to bring her back to London as his bride to be. But Essie was just using the captain, and as soon as he set sail with more human cargo, she robbed him blind and became a petty thief and small-time hustler.
Laura did have a thing about thieves …
Meanwhile, Laura and Sweeney head to the White Buffalo memorial, Tatanka Ska, with Salim.
The story of the buffalo in the show is somewhat true. The names and dates have been changed, but there was a white buffalo born on a ranch in Wisconsin that was killed by lightning in 2006. Coincidentally, the white buffalo in the real story was a descendant of Miracle Moon, who was the first white buffalo in this line. This particular white buffalo was a male and the third born on this farm, an extremely auspicious sign from the gods that this is a holy place. It was named Miracle’s Second Chance and its birth attracted thousands of Sioux Indians in pilgrimage to the farm. Sadly it was struck by lightning when it was three months old. Clearly someone didn’t like the competition.
Seriously, though…. Miracle, Moon, Second Chance.
“So, do you love god or are you in love with god?”
While Sweeney is “flipping the bird” to Odin, Laura suddenly gets the idea to release Salim, as flies buzz about her. That conveniently spares him as collateral damage in the subsequent fender bender, but I’m sure we will meet him again.
Vehicle problems taken care of with a stolen ice cream truck and the Zombie-Leprechaun roadshow continues. Sweeney throws some coins onto the road as an offering to Easter, as he tells Laura of his days as a king, his pot’o’gold, and Odin’s war. He has a debt to Odin because he fled Ragnarok the first time around. He owes Odin a war: Ragnarok v2.0.
Back in Georgian London, Essie gets so caught up in the success of her conquests that she forgets to pray and her luck finally runs out. She’s arrested and sentenced to the gallows once more. As she awaits her death, she meets her God. Essie laughs when Sweeney tells her that he was delivering gold to the king… the same way Laura laughs when Sweeney tells her he was a king once.
Essie expresses her regrets for squandering her chance to reinvent herself in the new world. Her wants are much more humble now. She wants a home, kindness (but not too kind), and a tree. The tree could represent a small piece of the earth that is hers to harvest or it could be something that grounds her. Sweeney grants her wish and the next morning she is presented with an opportunity: the Warden.
The Warden made 3 factual statements:
- There were at least 12 weeks before her trial
- That she was a very pretty thing
- And that there may be a way, luck smiling, to escape the gallows yet.
And so it is. Essie lifts her skirts and three months later, by the time of her trial, there can be no mistake that she is preggers. So, once again, her sentence is commuted and she gets transportation to the Americas, for life. She is sold to a widower tobacco farmer in Virginia, where she works as a wet nurse, raising her son along with his daughter. Essie has been given a second chance.
She continues to leave offerings of apples for the faerie folk; Essie’s own harvest from her tree. Her master hears her tales and also leaves some tobacco leaves from his harvest. Perhaps this is when Mad Sweeney picked up smoking? As luck would have it, Essie catches favour with her master. A few white lies and a little bit of Catholic guilt, and she convinces her master to take her as his wife. Her servitude has ended. They have another child together, a boy. FYI, Essie never had a girl of her own. After the death of her husband, Essie takes over the farm and prospers, still remembering to leave offerings for the leprechaun as thanks for the harvest.
The end of Essie’s transportation parallels history. The Virginia tobacco crops were one of the reasons for the demise of indentured servitude. Servants (transportees) were usually promised land as part of their contract, and land was at a premium for the cultivation of tobacco. Transportation gave way to slavery. You may have noticed that in the beginning of Essie’s story, all the workers on the farm are white. By the time Essie is the mistress of the farm, all the workers are black.
I loved that Essie as a grandmother is played by the same actress who played Essie’s grandmother. It shows the strength of the physical attributes that are shared by generations, so it doesn’t take a huge leap to imagine that Laura would look like Essie 300 years after the fact.
“The apple don’t fall far from the tree” (Neil Gaiman, American Gods)
In fact, it is that very thought that inspired young Isaac Newton, as he sat under the apple tree in 1666 and pondered why apples fall straight down and not up or sideways. Newton rejected the idea that heaven and earth were governed by different laws and developed his theories to explain the universe mathematically. This was the beginning of the scientific revolution, a departure from the doctrines of the church, and the beginning of the end of the belief in magic. Even Essie’s grandchildren don’t care for her stories anymore.
In the present again, we see a cute bunny cause a big mess. The ice cream truck flips over, Laura gets hurled out the windscreen, and the magic coin pops right out.
Sweeney remembers driving the other car the night that Laura was killed and reporting the completion of his task to the ravens. Killing Laura was part of his repayment plan to Odin, along with picking a fight with Shadow in the bar. I will remind you that the latter is where he lost the coin that ended up bringing Laura back to life in the first place. His second deed undid his first deed.
He really should be happier about getting his coin back, but Sweeney seems a bit put out by the whole situation and yells something at the sky:
That is a very rough translation, but I think the sentiment is about right. If anyone can validate, please send me a comment.
Sweeney then decides to put organs and the coin back into Laura. She seems a bit ungrateful as she is reanimated. A thank you would not go amiss.
Mad Sweeney saved Essie from the gallows twice and then saved Laura from the gallows god himself… Third one’s the charm.
“We’re like the wind, we blow both ways”
Finally, we see Essie at the end of her life. Sweeney explains that both the good and bad luck she had through her years were his doing. His tales will die with her and the real meaning of leprechauns will soon be forgotten, until all we are left with are cartoon caricatures on cereal boxes.
“This land has no time for magic”
Sweeney takes Essie’s hand as she dies. He is her afterlife.
She is his lobster.
Please let me know how you enjoyed the episode and as always, please let me know if you’ve spotted anything I’ve missed.