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American Gods: “Prayer for Mad Sweeney”

I haven’t been watching the previews for American Gods so don’t know whether Emily Browning’s double casting was kept a secret. In an episode where Shadow (Ricky Whittle) and Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) are sidelined, keeping the reason why buried couldn’t have been easy. The Internet found out, but they might have been given an exclusive. Hopefully some viewers remained in the dark because the reward of slowly recognizing Browning in a second role made episode seven, “Prayer for Mad Sweeney”, distinguished among giants, and Browning, with her different way of walking for each character, superlative.

Reading into the show’s decision to double cast is another matter, as Browning played both Laura Moon and Essie McGowan, an Irish woman who lived a full life believing in leprechauns. American Gods doesn’t go for easy answers. Laura and Essie aren’t related, and neither Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) nor the show make a fuss about Laura looking like Essie’s twin.

Then again, if we were looking for signs that Sweeney recognized Laura the first time they met we would have to go back to the day Laura was killed. Sweeney was driving the car that caused Robbie (Dane Cook) to swerve on Wednesday’s orders. We learn this after Laura gets in a second car accident at the end of this episode. Wednesday’s hit should be the big news but his absence, and the primacy of Laura’s second death, puts his involvement on the backburner. It’s a longer suspension of sentence than he deserves.

The reason the show double casted, then, is to see what pitting these stories together unveils. Essie and Laura are different people and their relationships with Sweeney speak to that. Sweeney and “dead wife” Laura tolerate each other. They need something the other has and their squabble over Sweeney’s lucky coin is personal. Essie gave Sweeney the coin, and Laura is currently using it to stay alive.

Essie and the leprechauns have a history of mutual respect. She is the one who brought their stories to the new world, and she’s the reason certain faerie folk crossed the Atlantic. “You have done me many a good turn” she tells Sweeney in her old age, but doesn’t mention the ill. Essie’s esteem for Sweeney is too high to think he didn’t have reasons.

Essie’s biggest advantage is that her life isn’t summed up in a single scene. The other “coming to America” stories didn’t include second chances to settle in America after getting pushed out. “Prayer for Mad Sweeney” follows Essie from a little girl to a gran. It was her choice to leave America the first time she was sent there, and legally she was obligated to stay. That she gets another opportunity to go is more than most could aspire to.

What’s consistent about Essie is her desire to live. “Dying worked for me. Everyone should try it at least once,” Laura tells Sweeney but, after she dies a second time, Laura’s life is put in Sweeney’s hands. Every one of Essie’s stories would have Sweeney choosing her coin over Laura. Essie’s gran had called leprechauns, “so beastly guarding their gold,” that, “they have no time for anything else at all.”

So why doesn’t Sweeney take the money? Essie’s memory? Guilt over Laura’s first death? And will there be any time left this season to tell us? “Prayer for Mad Sweeney” was a great episode but left next week’s season finale a bit in the lurch, in terms of story to get through. The war will keep until season two but even focusing on Wednesday’s meeting of the gods in Wisconsin is a lot of ground to cover. Add in potential New God disruptions, and Kristen Chinoweth’s debut as Easter (the white bunny was foreshadowing, right?), and episode eight, “Come to Jesus”, promises not to be dull.

About Rachel Bellwoar

Rachel Bellwoar is the Comics Editor at That's Not Current and a contributing writer for Flickering Myth. Her first Alfred Hitchcock movie was Rear Window and she questions the value of the binge model for watching television — much better to avoid endings. Having found out who killed Laura Palmer, she compensates by watching as many David Lynch films as possible.

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