TV Review: American Gods – Season 1 Episode 7 “Prayer for Mad Sweeney”

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

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EPISODE 7: "Prayer for Mad Sweeney"

SYNOPSIS:  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.

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REVIEW: Well, it had to happen at some point. Tonight's hour of American Gods represents the first misstep in an otherwise stellar season. It is also hard to call this hour a misstep as it is still a genuinely good episode of television, but with last week's hour ending with the monumental decapitation of a god by Mr. Wednesday, it is somewhat jarring that the penultimate episode of the season would step completely away from the narrative momentum and give us a flashback heavy foray into the history between Mad Sweeney and Laura Moon. Well, we don't know for sure if there is a true connection, but the implications are gigantic. If this season had a half dozen more episodes, "Prayer for Mad Sweeney" would have been a welcome addition to the story but instead feels misplaced and brings the entire story to a grinding halt which is a damn shame because Emily Browning and Pablo Schrieber shine.

Like in prior episodes, this hour opens with what seems to be a side story tolk in flashback. This time we see the story is being narrated by Mr. Ibis, from the funeral home where he and Mr. Jacquel cleaned up Laura Moon, and he is transcribing a tale into a large tome. We soon come to learn that this is the backstory for Mad Sweeney that tells of how he came to interact with an Irish maid named Essie McGowan. Told around the idea of white indentured slavery in the colonial era, we see young Essie grow from a child to a young woman who falls in love with a man outside of her class. This leads to her being sent to America on a ship but she soon finds ways to embrace her accused role of thief by actually becoming one. The duplicitious nature of who Essie McGowan is leads her to use sex to her advantage to improve her station in life, very much like her doppelganger, Laura Moon. It is never explicitly stated that Essie and Laura are connected but it certainly is implied. As is their connection to Mad Sweeney himself.

From a young age, Essie is taught to believe in leprechauns and to leave food for them lest they bring her bad luck. She does make some mistakes which we are led to believe cause her to suffer in life, but it also forces her to have a run-in with Sweeney during a brief imprisonment. Sweeney and Essie share a conversation about fate and magic but Essie seems reluctant to accept the idea of magic after all of the hardships she has faced in life. A big credit is owed to the team who visually created this hour as they truly do not pull any punches in showing the grime and poverty inherent in the colonial era of both England and the future United States. Eventually, Essie reaches a happiness in America and grows old. It is as an old woman that she once again runs into Mad Sweeney. The implication here is that Sweeney is destined to intervene with the life (or lives) of Essie and Laura and seeing a raven hovering seems ominous for how Mr. Wednesday could be involved with what is going on.

Interspersed with the flashback storyline is our contemporary narrative. Wholly focused on Sweeney and Laura, the story finds them sending Salim off to find the Jinn on his own while the mismatched pair then purchase an ice cream truck to try and keep the decomposing Laura from rotting before finding Shadow. On their road trip, Sweeney and Laura have a far more contentious relationship than we saw between Sweeney and Essie, but it also seems unclear whether Sweeney is being totally up front with his travel companion as to what his assigned mission is from Wednesday. On the road, Laura almost hits some white bunnies (foreshadowing a character coming up in next week's finale) which sends the truck into a spin. There is a balletic quality of the crash which culminates in Laura's autopsied chest ripping open and Sweeney's coin dislodging from here. Forced to choose between his coin and his mission, Sweeney shouts at a watching raven and brings Laura back to life. The episode ends as the pair make their way to Wisconsin to find the resurrectionist who can bring Laura back to life and reunite her with Shadow Moon.

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Like I said, as a standalone episode this is a great hour. The problem is it feels very out of place in the flow of the season. Comprised of only eight episodes, placing this chapter just before the end feels like a poor decision on the part of the writers and producers. Clearly there is a major implication in how Sweeney and Laura figure into Mr. Wednesday's scheme, but that will all depend on how the finale plays out. What I can say from this hour taken on it's own merits is that there is a great introduction to the origin of Sweeney and Laura/Essie, but it just doesn't come together enough in the end to make this feel like a fully successful story. Reflecting back years from now as future episodes have illuminated this part of the story may have me alter my rating, but taken as what aired on Starz tonight and how it falls into the eight episode season, this feels like the weakest episode to date and not a great segue into the season finale.

Key Observations From "Prayer for Mad Sweeney":

  • Mr. Jacquel and Mr. Ibis are the storytellers we have been seeing the short intro films from all season. But are they more powerful than the rest of the gods? What is their role in the bigger story? 
  • Emily Browning is really good at playing unlikeable characters. Even in past lives, she is a terrible person.
  • There are a lot of penises on this show.
  • That car crash sequence was beautiful. Bryan Fuller created series always make carnage look gorgeous.
  • Pablo Schrieber deserves an Emmy nomination for this series.

NEXT ON AMERICAN GODS: "Come To Jesus" airs June 18th – On the eve of war, Mr. Wednesday must recruit one more Old God: Ostara, né Easter, Goddess of the Dawn But winning her over will require making a good impression, and that is where Mr. Nancy comes in.

TV Review: American Gods – Season 1 Episode 7 “Prayer for Mad Sweeney”




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Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.