American Gods: A Prayer For Mad Sweeney   Books Included 
June 11, 2017 7:02 PM - Season 1, Episode 7 - Subscribe

Her brief reunion with Shadow over far too quickly, Laura turns to an unlikely travel companion to find her way back to life, and back to Shadow. Mad Sweeney's long, winding, and often tragic past is explored.

Mr. Ibis gives us an extended flashback soundtracked by music that wouldn't sound out of place in a jukebox from the 50s. Because why not. In the present, our favorite duo says goodbye to Salim before going for a little tumble.
posted by sparkletone (31 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
So, minority opinion

As someone who has literally been in Bryan Fuller's shoes where a huge big media company is going to support your project and give you a big push and really get behind you and then DROPS YOU LIKE A BAD HABIT without warning (this happened to me literally three times! ) let me just say that from that viewpoint, I WANT HIM TO be this indulgent, let's spend all this time in backstory, let's be this unmarketsble, let's get revenge on every exe who said "well it's just not four QUARDENT enough"

I may indentify too strongly I spent two years on a project involving magical Scots-German-Irish American folk magic and lore into what was supposed to be a big ass book until well, stuff happened.

So for that I give him every possible excuse. Do exactly what you want to do sir,
posted by The Whelk at 8:53 PM on June 11, 2017 [8 favorites]

The thing is a lot of this story initially struck me not as Mad Sweeney's, but Essie's and I think that had to do with using the same actress for Essie as Laura. It put their relationship in another context. While she has no memory of him....he has a very long memory and relationship with her. But because of the nature of what we are shown this feels more like Essie's story to me. The story of believer to unbeliever (which is the basis of the whole thing here. People brought over these gods and then stopped believing.) She went from someone who believed in the old gods no matter what to someone who believed in nothing even when confronted with divinity. Sweeney's rage towards her makes more sense as she is one of the few who brought him over and then abandoned him despite being surrounded by symbols of the old gods. And of course, there is also the rage at himself for being part of her destruction.

I will say that red headed wig was AWFUL and painful and whoever is responsible should be deeply ashamed.

But yeah.....I am shocked and a bit frustrated next week is the season finale. I was hoping we would get a bit farther and I am not someone generally bothered by slow pacing.
posted by miss-lapin at 9:16 PM on June 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

My fiancée is reading the book now and a few nights ago when she was having trouble sleeping she read Essie's story; it's her favorite part of the book thus far. The show made a lot of changes to Essie's vignette, but my fiancée still loved it.

I thought for sure that the white rabbit on the road meant that we'd be seeing Kristin Chenoweth this episode. Shows what I know.

It's been about twenty years since I read the book, so I can't remember if it included the gay subtext between Ibis and Jacquel or if that's just Bryan Fuller being Bryan Fuller, but either way I'm here for it.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 9:26 PM on June 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

AV Club liked it quite a bit.
posted by sparkletone at 9:51 PM on June 11, 2017

For myself I thought it was bold as hell to take this detour this late in the season. Taken on its own, I really loved the episode? I think if I hadn't known that the plan was for 3ish seasons and for this first one to be about a third of the book I might've been incredibly annoyed at putting everything on hold to tell this extended bit of backstory, but knowing that has colored a lot of my feelings about the pacing of the season (which I've enjoyed way, way more than not).

Also, I have no idea whose idea it was to juxtapose the period stuff with such doo wop-ass music, but I was incredibly pleased that it worked as well as it did for me. Someone I know on the bird website is very annoyed at Brian Reitzel going ham in recent episodes, which didn't bother me in the slightest. They're behind a bit still, I think, but I'm curious to see if they react negatively to the doo wop-ish stuff that was composed for this in addition to the existing songs they used.
posted by sparkletone at 10:00 PM on June 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

I am bad with faces so didn't realize who was playing Essie the first time I watched this episode. Then the behind-the-scenes clip aired and it was a lightbulb "oh that's why they made those choices" moment.

I'm not so bright sometimes.

Laura's face during the crash: "So this is what one of these is like when you can see out the window."
posted by rewil at 10:15 PM on June 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm enjoying the twists and turns this show is bringing to the storytelling: sometimes live action, sometimes stop motion style graphics, and now using Emily Browning to play Essie as well as Laura.
posted by redsparkler at 11:03 PM on June 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Nice little reveal with Mad Sweeney at Laura's first wreck there.
posted by KathrynT at 11:15 PM on June 11, 2017 [12 favorites]

Seems weird not having Shadow at the mortuary. Ibis is just describing his beer to someone who already knows. It was less awkward, but still a little out of nowhere, when he was feeding his lines to Laura.

So whose bunny is that?
posted by ODiV at 11:29 PM on June 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

I really liked the way Essie and Laura were linked, and the way the show in general is fleshing out and linking a lot of the backstories
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:47 PM on June 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

and I loooove the way Mr Ibis speaks
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:48 PM on June 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

What was Mad Sweeny yelling at the sky at the end?
posted by divabat at 5:48 AM on June 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I didn't actually remember the Essie vignette from the book, but this may actually have been one of my favorite episodes so far in terms of driving home the overall theme of other cultures bringing their gods to America and eventually stranding them. I would totally watch an anthology series of nothing but full-episode "how this god came to America" stories-of-the-week like this.

Like the book, the show takes its time and meanders and really seems like more of an overall zeitgeist than a strictly linear, tightly plotted narrative... if I hadn't read the source material I could understand being put off by how slowly things are advancing, but I'm happy enough to watch things unfold at their own pace.

I've driven across the entire country with all of my worldly possessions in tow twice, and what I liked about the book was how well it conveys the disjointed/adrift feeling I remember while driving such vast distances through so many different regions and American subcultures (and past all of the countless roadside tourist traps along the way.) Even when you know you're driving from point A to point B, it all sort of blurs together, so yeah... I'm just enjoying the ride.
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 5:58 AM on June 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

divabat, according to commenters elsewhere, he yells in Old Irish, to one of Mr Wednesday's ravens he knows is witnessing:

"Haven't I believed enough in your bullshit? Haven't I suffered enough? Isn't that enough itself? I'm not evil! I'm not!"

I thought the reveal of his involvement in Laura's first crash the most important of the episode. It'll come out, too, to Shadow eventually.
posted by The Nutmeg of Consolation at 7:11 AM on June 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

Like the book, the show takes its time and meanders and really seems like more of an overall zeitgeist than a strictly linear, tightly plotted narrative... if I hadn't read the source material I could understand being put off by how slowly things are advancing, but I'm happy enough to watch things unfold at their own pace.

Heh. I was thinking that anyone who gets frustrated by the digression in this episode is going to love Lakeside.

I did not expect to love Mad Sweeney as much as I do. Once I got over my confusion over why Essie and Laura were connected, I was impressed by how the show was able to develop what where originally pretty one-note characters (although in Laura's case, her flatness was a pretty apt depiction of depression) without really changing the characters themselves. Laura and Sweeney are still going to be motivated by pretty incompatible goals, they're still going to dislike each other, and they're still going to be damn abrasive. No one learned any profound lessons that day. But I'm more invested in them as characters. I care more about them, which (spoiler) Fuller and company will be able to use against me in later episodes.

I'm curious to see if future episodes use the Coming to America flashbacks as more than scene or thematic settings as both the story develops and we get used to the idea of America as a land of abandoned gods. I wish we had more than 8 episodes this season.
posted by bibliowench at 8:26 AM on June 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

The musician choices , using the classic Americana of 50s ballads for a story in the colonial past, was inspired.
posted by The Whelk at 10:01 AM on June 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

So whose bunny is that?

Easter/Eostre presumably, who looks like she has an expanded role in the finale (and seems uh, meaner, interesting if she also cut a deal with the new gods or if, like in the book, she gets on by having her worship co-opted by the larger culture, It still works even if it's not really ABOUT her)
posted by The Whelk at 10:03 AM on June 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, he's poor old sweeny, embodying what happens to gods as they loose thier followers, desperate and mean and lost, no wonder he puts up such an assholish front.
posted by The Whelk at 10:10 AM on June 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Am I correct in assuming Laura is a descendant of Essie?
posted by divabat at 4:15 PM on June 12, 2017

miss-lapin: Sweeney's rage towards her makes more sense as she is one of the few who brought him over and then abandoned him despite being surrounded by symbols of the old gods.

Interesting. I didn't interpret Essie as having abandoned the old gods - noone else believed, and noone else wanted to hear her stories, but I felt she was still a believer until the end.

Just noone else was.
posted by coriolisdave at 4:20 PM on June 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Yeah she was the only one that tried but no one else believed her.
posted by divabat at 5:02 PM on June 12, 2017

This was my favourite episode thus far. I want more of this kind of character exploration. And I don't mind the slow pacing, just so long as they do not cancel and we get to flesh this out for a few more seasons. At least three more.
posted by Fizz at 8:09 PM on June 12, 2017

You misunderstand me. Yes Essie believed until the end. Laura, however, believed in nothing despite being surrounded by symbols of the old gods. By using the same actress, the character arc becomes expanded. Essie believes no matter what, but Laura doesn't believe even to the point of being openly hostile to Anubis. That Sweeney was so closely aligned with Essie, this adds a dimension to their relationship for him.
posted by miss-lapin at 10:31 PM on June 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just because I happened to be 80% through Essie's story in my reread when we watched the show, some notes. The most significant change in the show, some narrative nips and tucks exempted, is that Essie's last name in the book is Tregowan, rather than Macgowan, and she is from Cornwall, not Ireland. Oddly, I just finished reading a book called Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire and it opens with an examination of how piracy was entwined with the edges of empire beginning with attempts to stamp it out in the west of England, specifically including Cornwall. Essie's character in the book emphasizes her willingness to seize the day in the moment of chance, and I suppose that may reflect English ideas about Cornishmen, er Cornishwomen.

I think this change is a reasonable way of deepening both the show's characters as well as Gaiman's (and Fuller's) themes. Overall, in fact, an aspect of Gaiman's writing that I recall clearly from my initial read is being well-addressed in the show. I have always found that his characters lack a certain interiority, possibly due to his cutting his fictional teeth writing Sandman, and as a result I have tended to zip through his books with great speed and little reflection. The show is carefully finding places where Neil's left threads hanging and bringing them together in ways that provoke that reflection in me.

Finally, colonial Richardsons in Virginia are an interesting lot, including a prominent Quaker leader, William Richardson, before the colony opted for the state monopoly of the Anglican church after the English Civil War. The Quaker Richardsons in the UK had ties of residence and family to both England and Ireland. There is an historic John Richardson who was a traveling Quaker in America, but he did not settle and instead returned to England. It's pretty unlikely any of this went into either the creation of the book or the show's John Richardson, though.

Why do I know this about the Richardsons? My adoptive mother's maiden name is Richardson and while her family did not retain spoken memories of the family's past beyond the late 1800s in Missouri, I recently was able to find their earliest documentable American Richardson ancestor, who was born in 1790 in the hills of North Carolina, a Quaker. I haven't been able to identify his father yet, but his religion sure seems like a clue.
posted by mwhybark at 11:19 PM on June 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

I think the other reason for having Emily Browning play Essie is to have her bookend Mad Sweeney's tenure in America. Essie's faith carried him to safety once, but such evasions are not escapes but postponements. Of course a woman with her face figures in the chain of events that leads Mad Sweeney to the inevitable. I suspect he's known ever since he first saw her that Laura foreshadowed the beginning of his end.
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 12:14 AM on June 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

It's funny that the show is 'about' Mr.Wednesday and Shadow Moon but the really interesting character(s) are Mad Sweeney and Laura (Deadwife). It's also my big problem with the whole shebang. Never having read the book, I have no idea who any of these characters are and so it's up to the writers to show it. And So far Sweeney is more interesting than Shadow/Wednesday. That's not really a problem but it's also not much of an advantage. To have not much interest in the main characters... There's plenty of opportunity as well, Wednesday is an inherently interesting character - Some kind of old god who has a solid reputation but people have forgotten about him a little and so now he's trying to build himself back up and etc... But why was he ever so fearsome? I wanna see that. There's been no evidence to date that he really ever was such a badass. Swearengen, that was a bad ass...
posted by From Bklyn at 4:52 AM on June 14, 2017

> Am I correct in assuming Laura is a descendant of Essie?

Yeah, I hope there was an actual rationale for casting the same actor and not just lazyness/'an artistic decision'. This show was already superloaded with dudes.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 4:45 PM on June 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I hope there was an actual rationale for casting the same actor and not just lazyness/'an artistic decision'. This show was already superloaded with dudes.

In the behind the scenes featurette thing that plays on streaming services after the episode, they indicate that it's because they were liking Emily Browning so much as Laura, that she could do the accent, and that they liked the idea of "a sparkle of the same soul across history" or something like that.

Maybe Fuller or Green says something more in this recording of a panel with them and some of the cast but the bit quoted in the write up of the post is just:

“Emily also plays Essie Tregowan, and those who have read the book, Essie was one of Michael and I’s favorite stories in the book. It’s essentially the tale of how Mad Sweeney made it to America,” said Fuller. “And we were talking about casting that role, and as we were in that conversation, Michael said, ‘Oh, we should just cast Emily in this role.’ And then we went to talk to Emily, and it was like, ‘So, the Essie episode’ — she was like, ‘Have you cast that actor yet? Because I think I should play her.’ And we were like, ‘Well, that just worked out well.’ ”
posted by sparkletone at 5:56 PM on June 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

This was the part that made me fall in love with the book, and the part I was most concerned about them not being able to pull off in adaptation. The sheer length of it, taking us through a lifetime of events in Essie's history, for a one-off character, made me feel like maybe they weren't going to do it at all.

I was crying at the end of this. I think more than anything, seeing Browning in the role gave us a sharp contrast between her fairly joyless nihilism and the spark of life always behinds Essie's eyes as she triumphs and fails and survives and blames all of her luck on the Fair Folk but never resents them for it.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:37 PM on June 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

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