[SPOILER WARNING: The following review does contain spoilers for the novel American Gods as well as the earlier episodes of the TV series American Gods.]
Neither Laura Moon nor Mad Sweeney is happy about their current travel arrangements or their reluctant partnership, Laura just wants to get back together with her husband, Shadow. Mad Sweeney just wants the lucky gold coin that is the only thing keeping Laura animated, if not precisely “alive”.
Both of them need to get to The House On The Rock in Wisconsin, where Shadow’s new boss, Mr. Wednesday, is calling a meeting of various powers. Mad Sweeney needs to get there because he gave his word to Mr. Wednesday he would be there whereas Laura is hoping to find someone capable of resurrecting her.
As the two reluctant allies travel through the heartland, Mad Sweeney can’t help but think of another young woman who crossed his path – an Irish lass by the name of Essie Macgowan, whose heart was as mercurial as Laura Moon’s but far more full of faith.
By sheer coincidence, Mr. Ibis – the funeral parlor owner who, with the assistance of his partner Mr. Jacquel, helped the recently deceased Laura Moon put herself together again – is also thinking of the tale of Essie Macgowan, and putting pen to parchment to record it…
A Prayer For Mad Sweeney draws largely upon the Coming To America tale in the fourth chapter of the original American Gods novel. Unsurprisingly, the adaptation of Essie Macgowan’s story stays fairly true to Neil Gaiman’s original text with only a few deviations of no import. The greatest change is that this sequence makes clear what was only implied in the original story – that Mad Sweeney is indeed the leprechaun who was brought into The New World by a woman who didn’t believe in much of anything save the old tales of her childhood.
The parallel between Laura and Essie’s journeys is made clear by Emily Browning playing both roles. She sports fantastic chemistry with Pablo Schreiber in both sequences, particularly in one of scriptwriter Maria Melnick’s original flourishes – a scene where Mad Sweeney proves to be jailed in the next cell over from a soon-to-be-executed Essie.
One oddity in the episode that works far better than it logically should is that all of the scenes of Essie Macgowan in the 18th Century are set to mid-20th Century doo-wop songs. Spiritually, this fits the tone as Essie’s tale is one that deals with untrue lovers and sudden deaths and doo-wop is one of the most American of musical sub-genres. Some may quibble with this and other choices but Adam Kane’s direction proves solid enough and the other ensemble players shine in their brief moments in the spotlight.
A Prayer For Mad Sweeney is another strong story that proves that the television adaptation of American Gods is in good hands on all fronts. The acting, direction and various technical aspects of the show are all handled masterfully. If you aren’t already watching this show, you should be.