The Good: Fine direction, Decent acting
The Bad: Forced elements pertaining to direction, Dull characters, Disappointing plot, Kills the season's momentum.
The Basics: "A Prayer For Mad Sweeney" takes a divergence in the American Gods story to pay lip service to Mad Sweeney's story and conflict.
As much as I came to appreciate the first season of American Gods, the truth is that it is a show that requires some faith to invest in and it is a wildly erratic season. The eight-episode season meanders for four episodes, gets a purpose in its fifth episode, has strong rising action in its sixth episode and then takes a radical detour for its seventh episode. "A Prayer For Mad Sweeney" is the seventh episode and it diverges significantly from the tone of the a-plot of its prior episode.
"A Prayer For Mad Sweeney" picks up the Laura Moon subplot from "A Murder Of Gods" (reviewed here!) instead of continuing the throw down that Mr. Wednesday began in that episode with Mr. World. Laura Moon was the recipient of an entire backstory episode - "Git Gone" (reviewed here!) - earlier in the season and the fact that she gets a second episode focused on her family and her is surprising. Despite the title, "A Prayer For Mad Sweeney" is much more a Laura Moon (and her family) story than it is one that truly develops Mad Sweeney.
In the morgue, Anubis reconstructs a body while Mr. Ibis offers him a drink. Ibis sets to writing the Coming To America story starting in 1721. He writes about the people shipped off to America with the sentence of "transportation," people condemned to indentured servitude in the Colonies. His story flashes back to the story of Essie MacGowan. Essie MacGowan grows up in Ireland, hearing stories about the supernatural creatures like banshees and leprechauns. She is raised to leave cream and bread for the leprechauns and her donations are accepted by the enchanted folk, including Mad Sweeney.
Essie MacGowan's story continues with her getting sentenced to seven years transportation after her lover, the young master of the house where she works, denies that he gave her a necklace, making her appear to be a thief. Essie escapes her sentence by seducing the captain of the ship she was being transported on. Essie marries the captain, but then robs him and flees. After years of shoplifting, Essie is caught in London and sentenced to death. The influence of Mad Sweeney and a pregnancy allow her to escape death with transportation again, this time she ends up in the colonies. While Essie's story is being relayed, Laura, Mad Sweeney and Salim go on Laura's detour until she releases Salim to follow his quest to find the Djinn. Laura and Mad Sweeney steal an ice cream truck.
"A Prayer For Mad Sweeney" is heavy with Emily Browning, who plays both Essie MacGowan and Laura Moon. Browning infuses Essie with more innate passion than Laura has possessed. Ironically, Essie becomes colder and more methodical than Laura as she develops from an apparent innocent into an outright thief. Browning makes the transition well, though she is relegated to playing Laura as cold and snotty in her non-Essie scenes in "A Prayer For Mad Sweeney."
Browning does fine as Essie, but like Laura, Essie is not a particularly interesting character. Indeed, much of Essie's story is overwhelmed with a blaring, retro-pop soundtrack and were that and the narration from Ibis not present through much of her story, its inherent boring quality would be far more evident. Essie MacGowan is a woman who is raised with a faith and when it lapses, she suffers; it's a simple story and it is vastly overstated in "A Prayer For Mad Sweeney."
Pablo Schreiber is fine in his distant supporting role of Mad Sweeney. Mad Sweeney is proven to be both bound by gratitude and belief and near-immortal in "A Prayer For Mad Sweeney," which seems to imply that leprechauns like him are some form of divine, like Vulcan, Odin, and others in American Gods.
Fundamentally, Laura Moon is not a particularly interesting character in American Gods an fleshing out the story of a character who begins as a pretty strong atheist with a family backstory that is very much one of belief does not make Laura more engaging. Like Shadow Moon, Laura has found herself rather abruptly thrust into a world packed with divine beings and creatures and given that she is pursuing a full resurrection, she just seems snotty in "A Prayer For Mad Sweeney." In fact, "A Prayer For Mad Sweeney" implies that Mad Sweeney feels indebted to Essie MacGowan's family for his continued existence and in conflict with Wednesday's wishes for Laura. The episode does not explore that aspect enough to be truly satisfying, though.
The result is an episode that tries to force viewers to care about some of its (until now, generally) peripheral characters and it makes the attempt with inorganic tricks and without a satisfying sense of development.
For other episodes that are deep character studies, please check out my reviews of:
"Duet" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"Step In The Arena" - Luke Cage
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into American Gods - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of the surreal series here!
For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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