Finally, the episode of American Gods that we’ve all been waiting for! Well, not exactly, as we aren’t quite at the House on the Rock, which means we have barely made any progress when compared to Neil Gaiman’s original work, but this episode was absolutely wonderful. Fans familiar with the events of the novel will find themselves in for a treat with this week’s episode, “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney”.
Need a quick catch up? Be sure to check out our recap of last week’s episode
This recap contains spoilers.
Although this week’s episode starts with a “Coming to America” story, it starts out a bit differently when compared to others in the series. While we have been briefly introduced to Mr. Ibis and Mr. Jacquel, the two men who helped to stitch Laura back up and make her appear alive back in Episode 4, the opening to “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney” sheds a little more light on their day to day lives. If you haven’t picked up on their role yet, Ibis and Jacquel are both old gods who run a funeral parlor. As we watch Jacquel preparing a corpse for burial, Ibis sits down and begins to document and narrate the “Coming to America” story, featuring Essie MacGowan, or Essie Tregowan if you have read American Gods (who is also portrayed by Emily Browning).
Through Essie, the true power of belief in gods, or in this case, fairies, leprechauns and the like, becomes incredibly clear. Passed down from stories told to her by her grandmother as a child, Essie grows up leaving offerings for the fairies and leprechauns every night in the form of bread and milk, even when she does not have enough to eat.
Essie’s belief continues even as she gets older. With her offerings, Essie finds herself to be quite lucky, which proves to be rather helpful in her manipulative lifestyle. As a young servant in Ireland, Essie successfully seduces the young master of the house, earning his love and the promise of marriage, which is symbolized through a piece of family jewelry. Essie finds herself in trouble rather quickly, as the lady of the house (the boy’s mother) is made aware of the exchange, branding Essie as a thief when her son does nothing to deny the claim.
Instead of death, Essie is sentenced to transportation to the Carolinas for seven years. When the ship reaches its destination, she will be sold as an indentured servant. During the journey, however, Essie continues to leave out meager offerings for the fairies and leprechauns and finds that she is granted a small period of luck once more, as she successful manages to seduce the captain of the ship, resulting in her safe return, this time to London.
Although Essie is given another chance at a free life, she chooses to make due for herself as a thief, as her new husband leaves to take another ship to America bearing indentured servants. As Essie is seen leaving the house with items of value, American Gods transitions back to the present day. However, we find ourselves viewing life from Laura’s perspective once more.
During the brief interlude, we find out that Laura, Sweeney, and Salim are indeed on their way to the House on the Rock, where all of the old gods will be meeting with Wednesday. Sweeney reveals that they have taken a detour along the way to restore Laura to life. After Salim is informed that the gods are all converging at the House on the Rock, he quickly leaves Sweeney and Laura behind to steal an ice cream truck so that they can make the rest of the journey alone.
As Laura and Sweeney continue on their journey, we watch as Essie’s luck runs dry once more as she forgets to leave out an offering. Shortly afterward, she is caught stealing, this time ending up with a death sentence, as she has already escaped transportation. In prison, after she leaves an offering, she talks with Sweeney, who is currently down on his luck on the cell next to her. The two briefly talk about the possibilities available in America, with Essie claiming that “In America, anyone can be anything they insist upon.”
The next morning, Essie wakes up to find Sweeney gone, but is presented with an opportunity of escaping death once more. This time due to a relationship with the warden. As time goes by and her trial nears, it becomes clear that she is pregnant. Essie finds herself pardoned once more and sentenced to transportation, this time for life. After an awful journey, Essie finds herself in Virginia, where she enters indentured servitude as a wet nurse for Master Richardson.
As Essie is seen caring for the children (her own as well as her master’s), we briefly transition back to Laura and Sweeney, who briefly recounts his own journey to America in order to avoid the death that he knew was waiting for him if he went to war in London. Sweeney reveals that Wednesday is preparing for war and that he is willingly going to partake in his plans as he “owes a battle”. As this information regarding Wednesday’s true plans are revealed, a rabbit jumps into the road, causing Laura to swerve and the ice cream truck to flip over, launching Laura out of the truck in the process in a scene reminiscent of her death.
We transition back to Essie just as we see Sweeney’s lucky coin that was providing Laura with life roll away, having been dislodged from her chest in the accident. Essie has continued to believe in the fairies and leprechauns, teaching her children about them and the need to provide them with constant offerings. Her continued belief has brought her good fortune, as she ends up marrying Richardson and leaving her life of servitude behind. Although he dies ten years later, she finds life to be fulfilling. As we watch Essie age up, however, it becomes clear that times are changing. While she still believes strongly in fairies and leprechauns, the stories scare her grandchildren, causing her to stop telling them completely.
One night Sweeney appears and reveals that Essie and those who believe in his type of magic have brought leprechauns and fairies to America, where they have continued to struggle to survive, as not many believe in them. He offers her the solace she needs and presumably leads her to death peacefully.
As the story of Essie MacGowan and Mad Sweeney comes to a close, we find ourselves face to face with a now dead Laura, before a flashback reveals that Laura’s initial death was not an accident. In fact, Sweeney caused the accident that resulted in her death at the request of Wednesday.
In the final transition to the present day, Sweeney picks up the golden coin and returns it to Laura’s body. In her typical fashion, Laura punches Sweeney as soon as she returns to life and jumps up, eager to get back on the road as if nothing has happened.
Although this week’s episode of American Gods was certainly a surprise and unveiled many things about the series, Essie MacGowan’s story was highly anticipated by fans of Gaiman’s work. By creating parallels between Essie and Laura, not only by having Browning play both roles but by placing their stories side by side, the reason behind the new relationship between Laura and Sweeney in the television adaptation of American Gods makes more sense, as it did not occur in the novel.
With only one more episode left in the series, there’s no telling where American Gods is headed next. While Salim’s quick departure suggests that we will see the House on the Rock soon, nothing is certain, as almost every episode has been a welcome surprise. Gaiman’s earlier tweet claiming that: “season one doesn’t quite get us to the House on the Rock”, makes it unclear as to whether or not we will actually get there before the season is out.