American Gods Recap: “A Prayer For Mad Sweeney”

The penultimate episode takes a break from the main action to give us the tale of Mad Sweeney’s journey to America.

Beware the Goddess of Spoilers…

Slavery comes in many forms…

As Ibis and Jacquel work another day in their funeral parlor, Ibis finds himself itching to transcribe another account of America. This time, our history tale is about the lesser known form of slavery branded as “transportation” by the 18th Century British. Unlike the more horrendous enslavement of Africans, this one came with the opportunity of freedom after the debt to society is paid. Those who were caught breaking the law would have a choice between the gallows, or indentured servitude in the Colonies. This is how a young woman named Essie McGowan came to the shores of America and brought the Mad Sweeney with her.


Essie grew up with the tales of fairies who would bring you fortune if you left offerings. Working as a servant in Ireland, Essie would place a contribution on the window seal each night so she might seduce her way into a better life. It worked as the young man of the household gives her a precious token and promised to marry her. But the Mistress of the house found out and accuses Essie of thievery. The son does nothing to help Essie. She takes the option of transportation to the Carolinas. Through the horrible journey she never forgot to leave an offering. Essie’s beauty catches the eye of the ship’s captain and she persuades him to take her with him to London.

As soon as the Captain leaves for another journey, she steals anything that can fetch a price and begins her life as a shoplifter. “Her world branded Essie McGowan a thief” Ibis’ voice over explains. “So thief she became.” Things were going too well and Essie forgot her blessings. She is caught and this time transportation is not an option. Sitting in her jail cell, Essie strikes of a conversation through the walls with a very familiar figure. The two talk of their woes and the possibilities of starting over in America. Still keeping the faith, Essie leaves most of her bread on the window seal.

The jail warden offers an opportunity to Essie the next morning and come time for her to hang, she is able to plea pregnant. Transportation once again. In Virginia, she is purchased by a tobacco farmer in need of a wet nurse after his wife’s passing. Essie continues to leave offerings and tells the old-world tales to the little ones. The farmer falls for Essie’s charms and she is relieved of her indentured service when he marries her. She is given all that she asked for in the jail cell talking to Mad Sweeney. A happy life with children, a tree, and a husband who loves her.

Now a grandmother, Essie tells her tales to her grandchildren only to find they are frightened, not awestruck. She keeps the stories to herself, but never forgets to leave an offering. One night, as she approaches death, Mad Sweeney visits her one last time. He thanks her for continuing to believe, but bemoans the new world “with no time for magic, no place for fairies and such folk.”

Favors for Wednesday

Back in the present, Salim stops once again to pray, much to the annoyance of Sweeney and he lets it slip to Laura he is meeting Wednesday and Shadow at House on the Rock in Wisconsin. Laura tells Salim so he is free to find his jinn and she steals an ice cream truck for the rest of hers and Sweeney’s journey towards her resurrection. Nearly to their destination, Sweeney makes an offering of gold to a rabbit on the side of the road. Shortly thereafter, the rabbit runs in front of the truck and Laura violently swerves to miss, causing the truck to flip. Laura is thrown from the vehicle and the force of the impact dislodges Sweeney’s coin from her chest.

Sweeney is happy at first. He has his coin back, but then he thinks back to the first time he stood over Laura’s dead body. He was the one who ran her and Robbie off the road on the orders of Wednesday. Either guilt or the fact that he developed a soft spot for Laura sways Sweeney to place the coin back in Laura’s chest. Seemingly unknowing of his sacrifice, Laura tips the truck back on its wheels and the two continue on.


This might have been my favorite episode of this season. It is a big risk to stop the main story cold in the second to last episode and tell a side story of a minor character in the book. But this telling of Mad Sweeney’s journey to the New World was beautifully done. Like all of the other “Coming to America” vignettes, the god is not the main character. The focus is on the people who bring the deity to these shores.

Ibis chose an interesting time to tell Mad Sweeney’s story. It makes me wonder if he was attempting to influence the Leprechaun with the tale of Essie, who’s life parallels Laura’s (Emily Browning plays both characters). Both are spoiled, selfish women who used men to get what they pleased, though it was never enough, and used their beliefs (or lack thereof) to justify their behavior. Essie and Laura paid a high price for their sins and were given a second chance. Essie was given a new life she and decided it was enough. Laura was given a second chance after death to make up for how she treated Shadow.

Sweeney sums up our treatment of Gods the best: “I was a king once, then they made me a bird. Then, Mother Church came along and turned us all into saints, trolls and fairies. General Mills did the rest.”

Til Next Week!

About the author: The Nerdling has an unhealthy obsession with books, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Star Wars. She finds hockey to be the best sport in the world (Go Dallas Stars!) and is working on her first novel, but mostly glowers at a blank screen. You can find her on Twitter @nerdlingstale