American Gods: “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney” Season 1 Episode 7 Review

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American Gods finally made me legitimately care about a character. “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney” is far from a perfect episode of television, but it serves it’s titular figure well and left me feeling something, a first for this series, which has thus far gotten by on visuals and concept alone.

A recurring theme throughout the season has been the death of belief. The old gods aren’t as relevant as they used to be because the world’s population has forgotten them. This episode does a great job showing us exactly how that happens through extended flashbacks of a woman who came to America and watched her religion die as she tried and failed to spread it. While intellectually stimulating, the episode doesn’t quite connect us to Essie McGowen, the Irish immigrant who continually calls upon a figure that turns out to be Mad Sweeney to no avail.

Put through the ringer, and played by the show’s own Emily Browning for some smart ties to the present, Essie doesn’t have much relevance to where American Gods is going, but is pivotal to the story of one of the show’s players who hasn’t had much of a chance to shine yet. Mad Sweeney is the last character I expected this show to make me care about, but here we are. And it only took an overlong tale about a believer with no reason to believe.

But through his own methods, as her faith wavers, he finds a way to reassure her and ultimately help her, even if it is the final moments of her life. That’s why he saves Laura in the present. He’s accustomed to taking life away, but he can give it back now, even if it’s only a half-life. It’s more compelling character drama than American Gods has delivered before, which pushes me to have faith that, in time, this show can get where it needs to to become great.

And yet, the episode flounders in trying to make Essie compelling. Maybe it’s that Emily Browning doesn’t seem to try to connect with the audience in either role. It’s certainly not that the script isn’t trying, otherwise she wouldn’t be the focus of the entire episode. Essie’s story is simply more intellectually stimulating than emotionally. But it’s clearly intended to be highly emotional, and that’s where it just crumbles.

This episode’s placement in the overall season is odd as well. Last week’s episode felt like we were building to a genuine conclusion to the season, where this week we slowed things down again. It’s more proof that American Gods as a whole is kind of a mess. A visually compelling one, with one hell of a concept that also finally made a character emotionally accessible, but a mess nonetheless. The show isn’t terrible by any means, but season two’s structure needs to clean things up if the show is to consistently deliver without growing more frustrating. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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