American Gods: “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney” Review


By: Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)

Every week, American Gods tells the stories of deities and supernatural figures, explaining their journey to America. This week revealed how leprechaun Mad Sweeney and others like him found their way to the shores of the new land. Was the tale worth an entire episode dedicated to it, or was there room for improvement? Keep reading for a review of this week’s episode of American Gods!

American Gods is a beautiful rendition of religions, and an insightful look into the realm of the supernatural and the power of belief. It’s also a tool of exploration into a changing landscape of worship and interest. That being said, it pains me to say that not every episode hits the bullseye. “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney” was interesting and had a lot of great attributes, but what it lacked was overall contribution to the story. Subplots can be fascinating, and the expansion of the character of Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) and exploration into the after-life of Laura (Emily Browning) are not lacking for good material. But what this week’s episode did lack was connection. Shadow (Ricky Whittle) and Wednesday (Ian McShane) are central characters, and as such, have the potential to act as the center of a web of stories, tying them all together. Leaving them out of an episode completely is still possible, but without even passing reference to them or the minor characters’ relationship to their story, the cohesion of a season is lost. “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney” felt as if it lacked relevance to the season’s goals. The reality is that it appears as if the episode could be removed from the season entirely and the overall story would carry on, just as before.

Now that the tough stuff is off my chest, here’s the good stuff about “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney” that deserves a look! Not only did Browning get an expanded role in Laura when she signed on for the television show, she also got to play Essie MacGowan, a young Irishwoman who brought her beliefs in the faerie world to America. Capitalizing on the unique relationship between Laura and Mad Sweeney, the writers intertwined the two again in an immigration story of long ago. The story of the gigantic leprechaun was told through Essie, while also shedding some light, ever so surreptitiously, on the life of a woman and the uses of her body in that time. “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney” fit the mold of American Gods in its slyly clever commentary of the minorities and underprivileged in America.

Meanwhile, Mad Sweeney was shown to have a wider range of emotions than previously thought possible. Generally coming across as an overbearing, crass, and angrily bitter creature, “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney” showed a new side to the character. It seemed unimaginable that the skyscraper of a man could be anything other than the Mad Sweeney we knew. His character could be likened to that of a professional wrestler, lacking all subtlety. However, this week’s episode allowed Schreiber to flex his acting muscles, which might have been the highlight of the episode. I was pleasantly surprised by his expressions of quiet sadness, wistfulness, and even his kindness (however exasperated he was with the situation)! The leprechaun blossomed from the stereotyped angry (and often drunk) Irishman into someone with more depth and a story rarely told, but always bubbling beneath the surface.

“A Prayer for Mad Sweeney” may not be the pinnacle of American Gods episodes, lacking the connection to the story of war the characters are headed toward, but it was nonetheless interesting. There is always hope that there will be meaning in the stories told in the future, thus, American Gods becomes a “slow burn” television show. Enjoy it for what it is and watch next week’s episode on Starz, Sunday night at 9 p.m.!

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