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American Gods S01 Ep07 Deep Breakdown: A Prayer for Mad Sweeney

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Gird your eyebrows and your hackles, I’m about to make a potentially controversial comparison. Or maybe not, depending on your degree of passion, regarding the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola Dracula. Either way, it’s happening, because last night, Mad Sweeney became a full on romantic hero to me.  The moment Sweeney (who we will refer to as Sad Sweeney for this review, given his general lugubrious demeanor this time around) returns his beloved, lucky gold coin to the gaping chest wound of the woman he has been swiping at would have already been swoon worthy.  But that the moment only comes after we have watched an entire episode dedicated to the relationship Laura’s early Irish doppelganger forged with our boy Sad, as her belief and her love carried him across oceans with her, turns Laura and Sweeney’s relationship into something grandiose.  Mythical, almost.  Here’s that comparison I mentioned earlier, get ready, it’s about to drop; Laura becomes the Mina Harker to Sweeney’s Dracula.

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Now.  There will of course be the temptation to say, “But Kelly, Sad Sweeney and Essie (Irish Laura) weren’t lovers,” and there is certainly an element of correctness to that.  They do not interact much, and there is never, that we see, physical contact. And yet.  Essie commences her relationship with Sad at a very young age; she leaves him gifts and she maintains that relationship with him through the whole of her long life.  He is with her through every up and down, and even when she has virtually nothing, Essie shares what little she has with him.  And it is this love that keeps Sweeney alive and present.  A love that pulls him to new lands and far from home.  And this is a Bryan Fuller joint.  If anyone can make compelling the notion of lovers who never touch, but still need each other to survive, it’s the man who gave us Hannibal and Will and Chuck and Ned.

But let’s say that the word “lovers” is inapplicable.  Let’s split those hairs, I’m down.  There is no denying that the Sad Sweeney we know was in a very important relationship with Essie.  In that it was the relationship that brought him to America and kept him alive, as she told stories of him to her children and grandchildren.  The interaction we do see between the two is fond; a little flirty.  In a very real way, Essie is the most important person in Sweeney’s life; and truly, what more could anyone want from love than someone who believes in them?

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So flash forward to a living dead girl with Essie’s face and a rapier wit.  There are several potential explanations as to why Essie and Laura would look the same, and I will posit none as absolute.  We are hearing the story of Essie through the honeyed tones of Mr. Ibis, in a “Coming to America” segment.  He could be telling the story and casting Laura as Essie as a touchstone, someone on his mind.  We could be seeing Essie through the filter of Sweeney’s memory, conflating two women who both have great significance to his current story.  And too, we now know that he carries a weight of guilt.  Sweeney has been at the scene of a Laura death-by-car-crash before; he was the agent of her first death, and we can guess from the raven he yells at, that it was at Wednesday’s behest.  It would be the easiest thing in the world for him to scoop up his coin, walk away from the remains of the already dead woman who has been unapologetically verbally and physically beating the ever loving shit out of him.  But he doesn’t.  He gives her life, the way Essie once gave him life.

STARZ

I have been enraptured with Sweeney and Laura’s dynamic since the beginning; now I am head over heals.  This presents a couple of distinct and interesting problems, both of which are bound to dear Shadow Moon.  Shadow made Laura’s heart start beating again.  He is the light she moves towards, and her current purpose.  Yet that feels academic, as if Laura needed a purpose so badly and Shadow is a good man, a stone cold fox, and deserves way better than she gave him in life.  He SHOULD be the thing she wants and her motivation.  But their dynamic never feels like an epic love story.

The other complication that must be taken into account is that while American Gods has a broad scope and a wealth of characters, it IS still Shadow Moon’s story.  And this week we had an (amazing) episode where we didn’t see him at all.  I am here for Laura and Sweeney; they have an earned chemistry that Laura and Shadow do not.  And there’s a genuinely interesting narrative opportunity in shirking the notion that making her heart beat again means that Shadow is the love of her life and that Laura is bound to him – it was, after all, Sweeney’s coin that actually brought her back to life.  I would love to see these things explored, but not at the sake of Shadow.  I would hate to see him lost in the plot, because he is a compelling character, Ricky Whittles is killing it, and the non-romantic dynamic between Wednesday and Shadow is one of the most compelling and complicated relationships I’ve seen depicted on film.

Fortunately, even though this episode could practically stand alone, it still managed to advance the universe, the plot, and our understanding of it.  Without even a brief appearance, Wednesday has become more dangerous and sneakier than before.  We see how he can warp the universe to meet his needs.  We also saw a number of white bunnies, who will doubtlessly be referenced next week, when we meet Easter.  And we got to see our favorite Mortician Husbands, Ibis and Jacquel, being domestic and perfect and I love them forever and ever.  This world feels full and realized.

Next week is the season finale, and Tucker watch remains bleak.  But the promo for the episode seems fittingly bananas, and I am hype for it.  See you next time, same bat time, same bat place.

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Kelly Mintzer hates dolls but loves movies about evil ventriloquist dummies. She is working her way through the “Sandman” series slowly but surely, and has been compared more than once to that iteration of Death. Holding down South Philly with a creative writing degree and the full series of “Hannibal”, she hasn’t seen her natural hair color in years.

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