A Prayer For Mad Sweeney

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:

http://www.medbherenn.com/faerie-lore.html

http://www.medbherenn.com/faerie-lore.html

 

*And for background on the real mythology behind Mad Sweeney:

http://www.askaboutireland.ie/reading-room/history-heritage/folklore-of-ireland/carlow-folklore/the-story-of-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.

http://lightningmedicinecloud.com/legend.html

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.

 

 

American Gods Season One: Git Gone

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This episode is all about Laura and it’s a pretty good episode. I enjoyed it. I initially thought it would be rather boring because I wasn’t particularly interested in Laura Moon. I’m still not a huge fan but I like and understand her a little bit more. In the book, Laura has no backstory. We hardly know anything about her other than Shadow loves her, and she cheated on him with his best friend. So kudos to Bryan Fuller for fleshing her out for the show, and making her as richly complicated as any female character I’ve ever seen, on TV.

I don’t want to get into diagnostic behavior but Laura shows all of the Classic signs of clinical depression. She’s low energy, she’s got no hobbies, she’s bored, sad, and at one point tries to commit suicide in her hot tub,using a bug spray called Git Gone. She’s looking for meaning. She’s looking to believe in something. Depression is often signified not so much by not wanting to do something, so much as just not caring about what you’re doing.  Much of the decision making on Laura’s part arises out of boredom, and apathy, and I understood that.

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Laura at the Casino

She works in what some people consider the most exciting place on Earth; Las Vegas, as a dealer in a cheesy, Egyptian themed casino. For Laura,  it’s just any other old job until Shadow walks in, and tries to scam money from her Blackjack table. Like Wednesday, Shadow lived his life conning people out of their money. She warns him against that, and  afterwards, he approaches her in the parking lot,  to thank her. She takes him home with her, they have sex, and begin a relationship. One of the clues I had for Laura’s sense of apathy is she goads Shadow into being rough with her. This means she’s looking for excitement. For something to break up the endless tedium of her life. She takes home a stranger she knows is a criminal, so perhaps she was hoping he would kill her.

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Rob and Shadow

Over the four years they’re together, Shadow meets her friends, a couple named Robbie and Audrey, and they become Shadow’s friends too. Robbie offers him a job at his gym, and Shadow is happy. Shadow, as it stands in the narrative right now, has no backstory. As far as we can tell, he’s all alone. His mother is dead (or so he believes) and he doesn’t seem to come from anywhere, and appeared to be going no where in particular,when he met Laura. Laura becomes his home, and he cares deeply, not just about her, but the idea of her. He idealizes her and she is perfect in his eyes. Shadow isn’t just in love with Laura, he’s in love with being in love, as he really doesn’t know a whole lot about her. In other words, he BELIEVES in Laura, even after he finds out about her infidelity. I think this is what allowed the coin to resurrect her.

The first time Laura approaches Shadow, with the idea that she is unhappy, he doesn’t understand. He simply took it for granted that she was happy because he was happy with their life. She tries to explain that she is depressed but she can’t articulate this to him. She  tells him that it’s not him, but I don’t think Laura fully understands what she’s experiencing either. She knows she’s supposed to be happy, but she isn’t. And she wants to be.  So when we catch her asking Shadow to bring home bug spray, we know her depression is in full force again.

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Instead of suicide, she decides that criminal enterprise is the way to make her life exciting this time. She comes up with what she thinks is a full proof plan for robbing the casino. Shadow initially balks at this (We can see where his reaction to Wednesday robbing a bank comes from. That he ultimately goes along with Wednesday’s plan, proves that Shadow hasn’t learned his lesson, or he actually really trusts him. Pick one!) but he goes along with Laura because he thinks it will make her happy.

It all goes horribly wrong.

Shadow ends up in prison, where Laura says she will wait for him. She does wait, and tells her friends she’s waiting, but Laura is still bored and depressed. One way to alleviate her boredom, if not the actual depression, is to fuck her best friend’s husband. So she begins an affair with Robbie. She keeps saying she wants to break it off but keeps sleeping with him anyway. it the only thing she has to alleviate her ennui.

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All of this is carefully watched over by Hugnin and Munin, Wednesday’s ravens. They’re present at every stage of Shadow and Laura’s relationship; at the barbecue where Shadow meets Robbie, they’re watching from the roof; when Shadow goes off to work they’re watching from the street lamps; when Laura and Robbie have their fatal accident, the birds are following their vehicle. Which means Wednesday didn’t just meet Shadow by chance. He’s known about him for a very long time, although whether or not he caused the car accident is still uncertain. I do wonder if Wednesday had something to do with the heist that went wrong, that landed Shadow in prison, to be conveniently watched over by a man named Low Key (Loki) Liesmith. 

Because Laura believed in nothing, but worked in a casino dedicated to Egyptian gods, it’s  Anubis who comes to retrieve her when she’s dead. She refuses to cooperate with him, she doesn’t want her heart weighed. She wants to be sent back home,  but he tells her she will go into darkness instead. She asks if there will be peace but he doesn’t say, and before he can make her climb into the representative hot tub, in which she tried so often to kill herself, she gets snapped back to Earth when Shadow drops his lucky coin on her grave.

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Laura kicks ass.

Laura crawls out of her grave and is understandably mystified by her return. She sees a beacon of light in the distance and follows it until she comes upon Shadow hanging from the tree, surrounded by his assailants. So it’s Laura who was Shadow’s mystery savior. She discovers she is incredibly fast and strong as she easily bludgeons Shadow’s attackers, then  jumps into the air, and pulls him down. She does lose her arm, though. Unable to face Shadow in her bloody state she eventually finds her way to Audrey’s home.

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I’m still not entirely certain exactly what Laura felt for Shadow. Audrey claims she treated Shadow like a pet, but Laura insists that even if she didn’t love Shadow before, she certainly loves him now, and that appears to be the case. Laura finally BELIEVES in something. In someone. Like she’d always been searching for when she was alive. And remember, in this world,  it’s all about belief. This makes me wonder how her belief in Shadow will express itself in his life. Because all it takes is for just one person to be thoroughly convinced that Shadow is special.

Audrey is freaked out to discover a dead woman, in her house, walking and talking. I love the relationship between these two. They say exactly the kinds of things you expect two such people to say, and are fairly blunt about it. Audrey handles the situation like a boss. I still don’t like her for trying to rape Shadow, but she’s not actually evil. Like Laura, she’s complicated, and so is their relationship.

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Laura and Audrey on a road trip.

Laura convinces Audrey to take her on a road trip but that is interrupted by Anubis and Mr. Ibis. The two of them run a funeral home and they take Laura there and patch up her decaying body, reattaching her arm and giving her a lifelike glow. One of my favorite moments was Anubis low key dragging Laura, while he fixes her up. She gives him the side-eye because shes not sure if he’s being funny. He also says he’ll be there to collect her when her task is over.

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Laura waits for Shadow.

Shadows presence in the world appears to Laura like a beam of sunlight moving in the distance and she is compelled to follow it. I think it’s hilarious that Shadow looks like his name to her. A “Shadow Moon” is basically another term for eclipse, and that’s what he looks like to her, a shadow that’s surrounded by beams of light. Laura eventually makes it to Shadow’s motel room. One of my favorite images is Laura’s point of view of Shadow walking towards her, his light getting brighter and brighter, outlining him in a yellow corona, as he steps into his motel room.