This recap contains spoilers.
After a brief reprieve from Mad Sweeney and Laura’s tumultuous relationship in favor of telling the story of Thor, American Gods begins with a death scare in Cairo when Shadow happens upon the limp body of the leprechaun lying beneath a bridge. Beaten, broken and down on his luck, Sweeney’s rough appearance matches his attitude – frustrated and desolate.
Sweeney may have the Treasure of the Sun, or the ability to pull gold coins out of thin air, but his ability means nothing without his lucky coin – the further away Laura is, the worse off Sweeney is. Trembling and teetering on the edge of insanity, Sweeney begins to see images that are not there. Searching for Laura, Shadow gives Sweeney twenty dollars only to receive a warning – Shadow is walking on gallows’ ground, a tree that has roots from heaven to hell, noose around his neck. The claim, though half mad in appearance, offers a bit of foreshadowing that will resonate with fans of Neil Gaiman’s work, especially when a transition is made to a quickly growing Yggdrasil shortly afterward.
Wednesday, Ibis and the Jinn discuss the upcoming war and their potential allies (Jacquel, Set & Horus, Mama-ji, Czernobog, Bilquis, Anansi, Bast) when Shadow enters the room, putting a temporary stop to the conversation. After Wednesday claims that he trusts Shadow completely as his eyes and ears, the conversation resumes, during which the Old Gods discuss the problematic tendencies of Bilquis and Sweeney, at which time Shadow chimes in to inform the group that he does not seem well. Wednesday brushes Sweeney’s condition aside, claiming that he’s in the right place should his body give out on him before pulling Shadow into a private conversation.
Alone, Wednesday reveals the recently enchanted Gungnir. Crafted from Yggdrasil, Wednesday is quick to remedy the ancient weapon completely by using a branch taken from the newly resurrected world tree. Whole once more, Wednesday entrusts Gungnir with Shadow as he would his life before a transition to Tennessee is made, whereupon we catch up with Laura in a Motel America Diner.
Mama-ji, who claims to be Smashana Kali, the destroyer, will not be swayed by Laura’s ego. Although powerful, the Old God of War is quick to put Laura in her place by revealing her true power, showing her an image of a bloodied sword and Laura’s severed head. The Goddess’ sweet demeanor returns afterward, showing off her split-personality now that Laura respects her power.
Kali’s appearance as the destroyer was not an accident, if the conversation that ensues is any indication. When Laura reveals that she is searching for blood infused with love to restore her to life, Mama-ji is quick to suggest that the power to return to life lies within her already in the Mad God’s lucky coin.
Quick to make a move after Mama-ji slips her a note, Laura successfully hitchhikes a ride, but before we can learn where she is headed, a transition to a wheezing, hallucinating Mad Sweeney is made. Dark shadows begin to follow him in the form of the banshee as he knocks on the door of the funeral parlor and finds himself face to face with Salim. Plagued by the wailing of the banshee, Salim questions Sweeney’s condition when he fails to recognize that the women outside were mortals mourning the loss of their family.
Refusing the help of Salim, Sweeney staggers in search of Wednesday, during which a transition to Bilquis is made. Taking a seat in a pew, Sweeney watches as Bilquis preaches her own values to an audience, gaining a new following of her own in flesh and desire. After the sensual service, Bilquis approaches Sweeney. Although she has adapted, she has heard the tale of Mad Sweeney, serving as a transition through confession, during which we finally uncover the truth behind his long-forgotten past.
Once a renowned King, the Mad God reminiscences about his fate, which he initially played off as a foolish fortune long ago. Destined to be undone and abandoned west of the sunrise with nothing but a dead woman’s bauble to seal his fate, Sweeney has trouble piecing together his memories until Bilquis pushes him to remember that he once had a wife and child.
Before we can learn more, Sweeney wakes to find himself alone. A quick walk down the hall reveals the man he’s been searching for in Wednesday. Sweeney considers their contract over – he’s done everything Wednesday has ever asked of him only to be cheated out of his lucky coin. While it would be easy for him to take the token back by force, Sweeney claims that it needs to be given freely. After chiding Sweeney for his newfound feelings for Laura, Wednesday remains aloof during the conversation, adamant in his belief that Sweeney will remain under his charge and kill Laura Moon once and for all.
A series of brief transitions reveal that Laura is on the road, filling the viewer in on both sides of the coin when a hallucination of crawling ants sends Sweeney back into the past. Desperate for food, the Mad God is seen scavenging when we’re given a glimpse of his wife and daughter, though he struggles to remember who they are until they sit down to eat with him around a dingy campfire.
Quick to remember their wedding day, Sweeney is carefree and happy until he realizes that his wife and child are dirty and dressed in rags, much like himself. Sympathetic, Eorann touches his leg, informing him of their situation – they lost their lands, title and wealth in the war. Plagued by a curse after abandoning his allies on the field of battle, Sweeney was doomed to lose everything. Having remembered the battle with the Grey Monks who he claims were never his allies, the image of the past is shattered when the Mad God’s wife and child back away in fear as he lashes out in anger at the memory of his true identity of Buile Shuibhne.
In the present, Salim joins Sweeney outside of the funeral parlor, during which the leprechaun questions Salim’s allegiance. Although Salim may not be happy with what has happened in Wednesday’s sphere, he remains devoted to the Jinn out of love, a concept that sends Sweeney spiraling back into the past. During a period of prosperity, we witness as Sweeney and Eorann argue about the fate of the future. Though he is convinced that the Grey Monks are a dangerous threat, she begs him to see reason and embrace change for the sake of their growing family. Just as he seems to see reason in the idea of a long life with his family, the tolling of church bells sends him reeling in a fury, determined to wipe out the Grey Monks who threaten his reign through religion.
Angered at the prospect of Christianity infiltrating his lands, Sweeney confronts Bishop Ronan, the man in charge, only to be plagued by the God he wants to banish with madness and death by the spear. Fear of death in battle caused him to run away from war, taking everything from him in the process – his land, his power, his family and his mind.
Shocked out of his memories by Bilquis’ voice, Sweeney finds himself alone once more. Making his way through the funeral parlor, Sweeney happens upon Shadow, who is examining Gungnir, offering one final warning in the process – “don’t let her near Grimnir.” Shadow remains skeptical, but Sweeney is adamant in his belief that Wednesday’s favors always come at a price, foreshadowing another event in the process; one day Shadow will be tasked with holding Wednesday’s vigil.
As Sweeney makes the rounds of the funeral parlor, death in tow, he enters Ibis’ room, during which we are given a brief glimpse of the historian writing down the details of the Mad God’s own life. The continuous scratching of Ibis’ pen serves as a transition to his “earliest story”, during which we learn that Sweeney fought every single god out of Ireland until the church arrived and turned his people into fairies, saints and dead kings, banishing them from their homeland.
Sweeney began as Lugh, God King of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Called long hand by his people due to his skill with a spear, Sweeney fought hard to defend against his enemies, the Fomorians. As Ibis and Sweeney make their way through the memory, we learn that madness was cast upon Sweeney when he was forced to kill Balor, his father’s father.
Stories, which Ibis claims are “truer then the truth” change paths as Sweeney’s memories fluctuate, causing him to picture Grimnir (Wednesday) in Balor’s place. Having found his own truth, Sweeney presents Ibis with the twenty dollar bill, just as Laura arrives on the outskirts of Cairo.
As the episode nears its close, Wednesday, Ibis, Bliquis, Salim, Shadow and the Jinn sit down for a proverbial last supper, feasting on the food provided by the mourning women when Sweeney makes an appearance. Reminding Shadow to stay out of the way, he reaches for Gungnir to settle the score once and for all.
The Jinn clears out the room, but Shadow remains adamant in his protection of the spear, fighting Sweeney off in the process out of devotion for Wednesday. As Wednesday continues to eat the meal before him, Sweeney and Shadow get into a brutal fight, during which Sweeney tells all – Laura died on Wednesday’s orders and is not to be trusted. As a final blow, Sweeney reveals that he had sex with Laura, sending Shadow at Wednesday to search for answers.
While Shadow is distracted, Sweeney picks up Gungnir and aims for Wednesday, only for Shadow to catch the spear mid-thrust and send it back on the Mad God himself in a brilliant play on a single line from the book, during which Sweeney suggests that Shadow was responsible for his death when he goes to pick his body up off the ground under the bridge.
As Sweeney takes his last breath, he sends Gungnir to the horde where all of his coins are collected, claiming that it is now a part of the sun’s treasure.