American Gods Season 1 Recap: "A Prayer For Mad Sweeney"
The penultimate episode of American Gods’ first season takes another detour away from main plot completely, with a killer filler episode.
The novel American Gods is not a long book. The copy sitting on my desk runs 522 pages, with the section that our first season covers, “Part I: Shadows”, ending on page 204. Compare that to AG’s counterpart on HBO, Game of Thrones–their first season covered all of the first novel, my copy of which runs 807 pages. This first season of Gods runs two episodes shorter than the first season of GoT, but the problem is obvious. There’s just not nearly as much content to fill the time.
Ibis: We get so few lover’s quarrels these days.
Most of the final chapters of “Shadows” involve Shadow Moon hanging out with Mr. Ibis and Mr. Jacquel at the funeral parlor, in hiding from Mr. World and company, once Mr. Wednesday’s plan for War has been revealed. Most of what he learns during that period is stuff the show has found ways to tell us earlier–who Ibis and Anubis are, for example. The fuel for the opening “Coming to America” Viking story is containing in these chapters as well, as is the story that became the one of Mrs. Fadil. Another fact that doesn’t come out until the end of the section that was dropped far earlier: that Laura’s undead life is powered by Sweeney’s lucky coin.
Now, the show has managed to hold off Mr. Wednesday’s Big War Plans reveal for the finale, as we saw in the “next time” trailer. But that leaves them rather to cope, with an hour of television to fill prior to the big finale and not much to put in it. Shadow has to stay with Wednesday for the reveal–he can’t go to the funeral parlor yet. Moreover, some of the things that happen while he’s at Ibis and Jacquel’s place–like the death and wake of Mad Sweeney–are clearly not happening any time soon on the show. Especially since the chemistry between Pablo Schreiber and Emily Browning is so great, and both are having their roles expanded.
Sweeney: You just prayed! How many times a day is this going to be? Tell me you don’t do the full load.
There is one story from those two chapters for the show to use–the story of how Mad Sweeney’s came to this country, and the believer who brought him here, which is told by Mr. Ibis at the wake. And there is at least a sliver of modern plot twist that the show would like to reveal ahead of next week’s finale. Since Schreiber and Browning are so good together, why not double cast her as the Irish lass Essie who believed in leprechauns so strongly that Sweeney followed her to America? Though her story isn’t like that of Laura, the spirit of both characters is the same. Both have the rage at a society that isn’t fair, a refusal to forgive, a “take what’s mine, even if it’s not” attitude, but also the resilience to do whatever is necessary to live comfortably, and the shameless manipulation of everyone around her.
This week’s episode was therefore one long “Coming to America” episode, narrated by Mr. Ibis for us, with short interruptions of present day road trip–all of which focused on Laura and Sweeney. The show has already paused the action completely once this season to have an episode which starred Browning, one whose plot ultimately didn’t move the ball forward in the slightest. It’s a ballsy move to do it twice, and so close to the finale. But if this was a trial balloon experimenting with the format to see if this is a viable way to do filler episodes down the line when they run into this problem again in season 2, I would say it worked.
Sweeney: I was a king once…. Then they made me a bird. Then Mother Church came along and turned us all into saints, and trolls and faeries. General Mills did the rest.
The truth is, Laura and Sweeney can’t really get too far along in their trip, so pausing their action in favor of Mr. Ibis writing Essie’s story for us wasn’t a bad one. The juxtaposition of present day dead Laura and 18th century era survivor Essie made for great counterpoints. Giving us her whole life story also made her ending that much sweeter. Much like the scene where Anubis revealed himself to Mrs. Fadil, and took her to the afterlife, Sweeney finally revealing himself to Essie after quietly following her all those years, and holding her hand as she passed away was a genuinely moving moment. Perhaps taking another “Coming to America” segment and extending it to fill the hour might not have worked as well. But in this case the double casting–and having Mad Sweeney interact with both versions of Browning–really informed the choice we saw him make in present day.
At least this filler episode did have some forward momentum for Laura and Sweeney in present day. The first thing was the realization that Wednesday’s crows are watching Sweeney–always. Then there was Laura’s decision to kick Salim, his cab, and his endless praying, to the curb. I was sorry to see him go, but unsurprised–I liked the three of them on a road trip together, but I wasn’t sure exactly what they were planning on end-gaming with Salim, and it turns out they realized they didn’t have one. In his stead, Laura changing vehicles in favor of an Ice Cream truck, whose freezer would help her stay fresh in the midwest heat on their way to Wisconsin.
Laura: Dying worked for me. Everyone should try it once. It looks like you’ve walked a couple hundred years in those boots already, so you’re due.
With no Salim driving, instead it was time for Laura to have another car accident, and die all over again. Her chest rips open and the coin falls out, leaving her as dead as she should have stayed the first time. And here we learn our plot twist of the hour–that it was Mad Sweeney who engineered the first accident, at Wednesday’s command. Wednesday’s flooring it to get away from Laura last week wasn’t a fluke. He really needs her out of the picture, so that Shadow doesn’t have loyalties to anyone but him. So much so he was willing to do the wife in before having even offered Shadow the job.
This time Laura’s car wreck is caused by a bunny who’s been watching them, which suggests there’s another God doing Wednesday’s bidding. (You can guess.) With the coin finally out of Dead Wife’s belly, it seems like Sweeney can finally move on to Wisconsin to join Wednesday, unhindered, and lucky once again. But it seems Sweeney isn’t quite as ready to die for his cowardice 400 years ago in Wednesday’s war as he says he is. Or perhaps Laura’s resemblance to the woman who brought him all the way to America, and believed in him until her dying day, is why he can’t quit her. Given the chance to walk, instead Sweeney drops the coin in her open ribcage. The coin burrows once again and brings her back to undead life. Sweeney’s thanks for his trouble is to get punched in the face by her, before she flips the truck back upright so they can keep driving.
Laura: Seeing as my stomach is sewn shut and not connected to the organs of digestion, I think I will pass.
As far as filler episodes go, this was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. But it concerns me that we’re only seven hours into this tale, and already the show has needed two of them to pad out their story. Still, if this is the way the show plans to pad going forward, it will make for enjoyable detours along our byway filled path. But personally, I’m glad we’ll be getting back on track next week, as Mr. Nancy finally crawls out of Wednesday’s pocket to take center stage.