This episode is Mad Sweeney’s elegy. He is also one of the more unlikable characters in the show., but it turns out he’s not actually a bad man, and has heart of gold. In the real world, someone like Sweeney would get their ass kicked on a regular basis, (actually he does in the show, too) but he is a great character.
Normally, I like fictionalized assholes as much as I like real world ones, which is to say not at all, but from time to time I get captured by a great depiction, and Sweeney is one of those. Pablo Schreiber plays the hell outta this guy, and I have to give him some props, especially when I had no idea who he was before this show.
One small dislike for me is that this is another filler episode, that distracts from the greater narrative revolving around Shadow and Wednesday. I didn’t dislike this episode, it’s just that I’m less interested in what Laura and Sweeney are up to. But tonight’s episode was devastating in its implications about the relationship between Laura and Sweeney, deepening it, and explaining a lot of the dynamic between the two of them.
The episode begins at the Anubis funeral home, where Mr Ibis and Mr. Jaquel not only lay out corpses for burial, but can even predict when corpses will arrive. I thought it was interesting getting a glimpse into their relationship. Are they a couple? Are they brothers? Just friends? They’re always considerate and polite to each other, and know each other too well. Mr. Ibis tells Sweeney’s story through the eyes of an Irish girl named Essie, who looks suspiciously like Emily Browning. Laura is not the reincarnation of Essie, though. Its that Laura reminds Sweeney of Essie, and I think he’s starting to like her.
The episode is split between Laura’s and Sweeney’s modern day road trip, and Sweeney’s past, when he knew Essie. This follows the book pretty closely. Essie has a very colorful life, as a thief, an indentured servant, then a wife and mother, and finally grandmother, where she often traded on her looks to get ahead, aided by her gifts to, and stories, about “The Good Folk”. Notice that whenever Essie stops giving to the good folk, they stop giving to her.
There’s a scene where Essie is in Newgate prison, after having not made an offering for a time, and Mad Sweeney is in the next cell, and she tells him stories. She tells him about her wish for a good life, quiet and settled, a tree, some children. She makes an offering to the Good People using the only food she has available, a piece of rotten bread. Eventually she gets out of Newgate and gets sent back to America where her wish comes true, because she made an offering of her last bite of food.
Eventually she has to stop telling her stories about the Fair Folk, realizing that there’s no place in her current world for belief in such things. But she never stops believing, and upon her death, it is Sweeney who comes to collect her soul.
The term Good Folk is a reference to the Fay, or any Fairy creatures of Celtic folklore. The general idea in most people’s minds are the tiny, butterfly beings that frequent rings in meadows, or Tinkerbell, but the term encompasses a greater variety of creatures than just those, (some of which are pretty horrific, deadly, and not at all tiny. See any book by the painter/illustrator, Brian Froud.) Irish folklore is pretty complicated though, and you could spend your entire life studying the subject.
*For background on Faery lore, and myth:
*And for background on the real mythology behind Mad Sweeney:
Sweeney, Salim, and Laura stop at the site of the White Buffalo statue.The legend of the White Buffalo is somewhere around 2,000 years old, and was originally a tradition of the Lakota Sioux, a Plains Tribe. This particular scene, like all the modern day scenes, which involve Laura and Sweeney, don’t happen in the book.
For those of you concerned that there haven’t been any Native gods depicted, I think Shadow’s dreams count. In the book, they don’t play a pivotal role until much much later, and are responsible for interfering in the war, coming in on Shadow’s behalf. I expect we may not see them until well into second season. Although I do agree they should be introduced in some greater form beyond the forgotten Nunyunnini.
While at their rest, Sweeney is visited by one of Odin’s birds, who he harshly chastises. He mistakenly lets Laura know that all the gods are meeting at a tourist attraction/resort called House on the Rock in Wisconsin. Now that she knows where Shadow is going, Laura decides to release Salim from his bargain to take her to a resurrectionist friend of Sweeny. She tells Salim to go get his Jinn. He happily leaves, but not without (hilariously) informing Sweeney of what a vile creature he is. (Yes, he is, but Sweeney also has a lot of secrets.)
That morning, Laura talked with Salim, asking him if he loved God, or was “in love’ with God. He answered in the affirmative. I think Laura is seeking an answer to her own questions of how she feels about Shadow. She may not have loved Shadow when she was alive, but I think she is certainly loves him now, (or is obsessed or something) and part of that may be the supernatural connection that exists between them, because I dont tihnk she is “in love” with him.
Laura hasn’t looked at peace since she was resurrected, so I just want to point out, during this episode, we often see her quietly smiling to herself when contemplating Shadow. I think she is finally at peace in a way she never was in life. She has a goal and a purpose now, that was missing, when she was alive. Shadow is her purpose. He’s her god, now. He is literally her reason for living and not only has she realized that, she’s okay with it. She even seems happy about it. Yeah, she is stalking Shadow, but if you’ve ever read John Campbell’s Hero’s Journey books, then there’s a purpose to it.
While driving, Sweeney gives Laura some more background. He tells her about his hoard of gold, that he used to be a king in Ireland, that he was once a bird, and then a saint according to the prevailing beliefs of whatever time period in which he lived. He ran away from so long ago war in which he knew he would die. He gave up his sword and vowed not to get involved again, but he owes Wednesday a war, which explains his objections to Wednesday’s warmongering between the old and new gods, but also his refusal to leave.
Keep in mind, Sweeney is a leprechaun, which is a kind of Celtic deity. Although Laura is more powerful than him, he is not without power of his own, as illustrated by him easily stomping a park bench, without breaking a sweat. His speech to Laura is a reference for how diminished the gods have become as people’s belief in them changed, and leprechauns have been demoted to cute cartoon characters on cereal boxes, something which bears almost no relation to what he actually is, or even looks like.
One of the rules of being a Fey is one can only take what’s freely given, so when we see Sweeney throw the coins out if the vehicle, its becasue he took the ice cream out of the freezer, and the owner wasn’t there. When he and Laura stole the truck, Laura gave the owner of the truck all of his money, so he doesn’t object to that. He didn’t have to leave anything behind in return for stealing Salim’s taxi because he was interrupted before he could finish.
One of the questions that is confusing to a lot of people about American Gods is if these gods can die. If all it takes is a belief in them, then can they really be killed. Vulcan is is killed in the last episode. But he is definitely a god, people actually believed in a version of him. Does that mean some other version of him will take his place? Does Wednesday’s curse prevent this from happening? Just as there are different versions of Jesus, there are different versions of ods like Wednesday and Sweeney, wherever they are believed.
For example, in one of the last scenes from the book, Shadow meets a more authentic version of Wednesday in his home country. He is a more original form in his country of origin, and acknowledges Wednesday as an offshoot of him. I don’t think the gods can travel to anyplace where they are not believed in. Wednesday can’t leave America, and hasn’t done so, as he says to Shadow in one of their earlier discussions. When the new gods offer to make a missile in his name, over North Korea, Wednesday refers to it as a form of exile, and it would only be that way if belief in him were transferred, from America, to the missile system over North Korea.
Another treat we get in this episode is the white rabbit. The white rabbit is a sign of the goddess Easter, or Ostara, a pagan fertility goddess. She is also the goddess of Spring and renewal. Her imagery often involves hares and rabbits. We will meet Ostara in the season finale. When a White rabbit hops into the middle of the road, Laura swerves to avoid it, crashing their vehicle. She flies out the windshield, and loses the coin, after which there is another revelation, as Sweeney contemplates her dead body.
Sweeney was the one who caused Laura’s first death in a car crash, and he feels some kind of way about that. Incidentally the words he’s screaming, after the truck crash, are in Old Irish, not Gaelic. Something along the lines of, “Why is this shit happening to me? Haven’t I suffered enough? And I’m not an evil man!” Which is ironic after being told by Salim that he is an unpleasant creature.
Wednesday has been trying really hard to keep Laura and Shadow apart, and was the orchestrator of her death. He was responsible for hiring Sweeney to kill her the first time, and I’m certain he’s responsible for hiring Ostara to crash their vehicle this time, since the rabbit which caused it, is her symbol. Laura is meant to die again and she does, when the coin, that Sweeney has made clear that’s all he’s interested in, pops out of her open chest cavity. Sweeney retrieves his coin and he could walk away, but flashing back to the night he first killed her, he changes his mind and places the coin back in her chest. He immediately regrets it, of course, when Laura punches him out, for touching her. The two of them continue their journey.
I also want to mention the music in this episode is so spot on, it’s hilarious. During the scene where Essie absconds with her latest husband’s money to become a market thief, the theme is Runaround Sue by Dion. Daddy’s Home by Shep and the Limelights, is the song that plays the first time she offers bread to the Good Folk in America, an unknowingly summoning Sweeney.
Next week is the season finale, titled Come to Jesus, so I guess there will be some Jesus involved. The show has already been picked up for a second season, and if we’re lucky it will continue for many more beyond the story of the book.