American Gods – Prayer For Mad Sweeney

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By: Kelly Kearney

With the first season of “American Gods” quickly approaching the finale, it was a surprising choice to venture away from the main characters, but nonetheless, a choice that paid off. In perhaps one of the series’ lushest and engaging stories, Prayer for Mad Sweeney steps away from Wednesday (Ian McShane) and Shadow’s (Ricky Whittle) war of the gods to tell the tale of Essie MacGowan (also played by Emily Browning) and her unwavering belief in leprechauns.


This stand-alone episode begins in Mr. Ibis’ (Demore Barnes) and Mr. Jaquel’s (Chris Obi) funeral parlor where the two men are preparing for a rush of incoming bodies. Mr. Ibis offers an extra set of hands, but his friend declines the help and reminds Ibis that he has a story to tell. Pulling out his pen and ink, Ibis opens a large leather book and writes “Coming to America 1721.”  His story begins with the first American colonies that was not only founded by those seeking religious freedom, but were also a haven for many English criminals escaping death. If a criminal was lucky, they were sent on a prison transport ship to the colonies where they could work off their sentences and one day be free to pursue a life in the new world. The passage from England to America for an indentured servant was hard and many didn’t survive the trip, but it was worth it for a chance to escape the gallows. Nobody knew this better than Essie MacGowan, a young Irish woman who was spared the noose for a transport ship and a life of indentured servitude.

Since childhood, Essie believed in the local folklore about fairies and leprechauns and their charms of luck. All through her life no matter how little food she had, the red head left bowls of cream and crusts of bread as an offering to the supernatural beings that charmed her countryside. The offerings seemed to keep Essie in luck until she falls in love with Bartholomew (Jake Manley), the son of the family she works for. The two have a late-night tryst and the young man gifts Essie with a necklace that just happens to be a family heirloom. Pillow talk turns to promises of marriage until the boy’s mother (Debra Hale) learns of Essie’s new necklace. The regal looking woman confronts her son and asks him if he gave the jewelry to their servant and he denies it, making Essie look like a thief. Found guilty of theft, MacGowan is sent on a transport to enter indentured servitude until she discovers a way out. Flirting with the ship’s captain (Thomas Mitchell) has its benefits and after a night of passion, the red head convinces the man to take her with him to London and away from her sentence in the Carolinas. Back in London, the captain receives his orders to return to the transport ship and Essie uses this to her advantage. If the law already sees her as a thief, she might as well live up to her perceived talents. With the captain at sea, MacGowan packs her bags with the man’s valuables and begins her life as a grafter. She prostitutes and steals her away across London. Even though Essie was a self-made woman, her thieving days come to a halt when she’s arrested for stealing a lace shawl. Thrown in Newgate Prison and awaiting her death sentence, Essie meets a fellow Irishmen in the neighboring cell who just happens to be Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber). The two make a connection, but in the morning Mad is gone and Essie is faced with a decision – agree to sleep with the warden (A.C. Peterson) or hang from a noose for her crimes. Of course, Essie takes the warden up on his offer and sleeps with the creepy jailor only to become pregnant and once again safe from the gallows. The law does not hang pregnant women so MacGowan is sent back to transport to live out her original sentence. Time and again Essie’s luck waivers and it always depends on her faithful donations to the fairies. Every time the woman negates to leave an offering, her luck runs out only to be reignited the minute she offers the fairies a gift.

After an unlucky and treacherous ride on the transport, Essie and her baby make it to the Americas where she becomes a wet nurse and maid to a wealthy tobacco farmer (Peter Cockett) who has just lost his wife in childbirth. As the years go by, Essie and farmer John Richardson fall in love and eventually marry, freeing her of her service and making her the lady of the house. A decade goes by and Essie’s life on the farm is a happy one until her husband expectantly dies. She takes over the tobacco farm and works hard at making it a success, never once forgetting to thank the fairy people with her crusts of bread. Generations go by and Essie lives to be an old woman, telling stories to her grandchildren about the leprechauns that charmed the land. Thanks to her unwavering loyalty to the fairy people, Essie was blessed with a charmed life that comes to an end the night she gets a visit from a very young Mad Sweeney. Before the old women can drift off to the afterlife, Mad admits that Essie and people like her are the reason he came to America. Mad and Essie had an undeniable connection which may explain the utter contempt he feels towards Laura Moon (Emily Browning). They say there is a fine line between love and hate and in the present, Mad Sweeney couldn’t hate Laura Moon anymore if he tried.


When last we saw Laura, the leprechaun and Salim (Omid Abtahi) they were on a road trip to meet the gods. Salim was in search of his Jinn (Mousa Kraish) and Laura is searching for that resurrection Mad promised her. After a pit stop so Salim can pray (five times a day he informs the surly Sweeney), Mad lets it slip that the Jinn is actually at a tourist trap in Wisconsin and not in Kentucky where they’re headed. Salim’s not happy the leprechaun lied to him and Laura agrees to let the cab driver go on without them to search for his love. Of course, Salim was their ride so Laura steals an ice cream truck to finish their journey to Kentucky. The truck is a smart choice, with the flies swarming around her rotting flesh the cold will keep her body’s decomposition to a minimum.

Back on the road in their ice cream and corpse truck, the two unlikely companions talk about their pasts. Mad reveals, “I was a King once, I was. 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.” While he didn’t see his future turning into a magically delicious cereal, Mad does reveal he once saw his own death. The leprechaun was preparing for battle and had a vision he wouldn’t make it out alive so he fled like a coward and left his fellow warriors to die. Now that Wednesday is building his army to fight the war of the gods, Mad feels like he owes him this war. Distracted by Sweeney’s admission, Laura swerves away from a rabbit in the road and flips the truck, catapulting her through the windshield. The force of the landing tears Laura’s rotting skin from her rib cage and out pops Sweeney’s lucky coin! Mad climbs from the wreckage and grabs his precious lucky gold, but is torn over leaving his skinless enemy on the highway. Sweeney turns to a raven looming from above and says, “Tell him it’s done.” Then, he selflessly forces the gold piece back into Laura’s chest. Gasping, she wakes in a rage and has no idea Mad saved her. Laura gets up and uses her superhuman zombie strength to lift the ice cream truck and place it back on the road. Surprisingly, the truck still runs and the two unlikely companions resume their trip to Kentucky in search of war, resurrection and the light that follows Shadow Moon.

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