‘American Gods’ Book Club – Say A ‘Prayer For Mad Sweeney’ That Laura Moon Never Finds Out The Truth

Each week, Uproxx will be hosting the American Gods Book Club. This is a safe space where readers of Neil Gaiman’s massive novel can come to dissect the changes to the series and debate what will happen next, all without fear they’ll accidentally spoil something for non-readers.

We’re in the home stretch now, folks. After a ‘Prayer For Mad Sweeney,’ there is only one episode left in this season of American Gods. Starz took a chance on this crazy show, but hedged their bets with a shortened season. That way, if the effects-heavy series didn’t catch on, they weren’t locked in for anywhere from ten to twenty-two episodes. Of course, now that the gamble has paid off, hopefully Starz will go all-in for Season two.

Unlike the last few episodes, ‘Prayer For Mad Sweeney’ actually draws most of its material from the novel. The whole backstory of how the leprechauns (and other gods) migrated to America is almost word-for-word the same. Only now with even more meaning than the original. If you want more information about the character, check out my interview with Pablo Schreiber and keep an eye out tomorrow for part two, which is full of spoilers.

With that, let’s dive into the changes!

#1: Meet Essie McGowan

In the book: Essie Tregowan from Cornwall instead of Ireland was always a bit of a bad seed. Instead of falling into a life of crime after a romance gone wrong, she attempts to seduce the son Bartholomew and ends up miscarrying. After her careful plans fall apart, she gets revenge on the family by allowing her new lover to rob her masters blind. She gets caught and the rest of her story closely mirrors that of her television counterpart, save for the fact Essie Tregowan has no connection to Laura Moon whatsoever.

On the show: Essie turning to thievery because she was falsely accused is more palatable than her original story, though perhaps not as interesting. Having Essie get caught for the careless theft of lace pales in comparison to what sends her back to prison in the novel: trying to pickpocket her former lover, Master Bartholomew. The only other major difference is that the child Essie conceives in prison is not a weak and miserly thing in this incarnation, but instead as healthy and fair as the children she has later on as the mistress of the house in America.

#2: The story of Mad Sweeney’s journey to America

In the book: This doesn’t happen. As a Cornish woman, Essie brings the piskies, and not the leprechauns, to America. There’s certainly no story about him running from battle or helping Essie while she’s in prison. One can assume Mad Sweeney ended up in America under similar circumstances though.

On the show: Tying together Mad Sweeney’s story with Essie’s and Laura’s is an efficient stroke of storytelling brilliance. Intertwining the three gives the audience insight into how mythical creatures ended up destitute in America, adds pathos to Mad Sweeney’s story, and gives us a glimpse into who Laura might have been in another place, time, and circumstance. Without the vote or other lawful protections, women made due with tools available to them.

#3: Laura sets Salim free

In the book: This, you guessed it, never happens.

On the show: Honestly? I loved this scene for multiple reasons. One, it gives Salim a chance to tell Mad Sweeney what he really thinks. Two, it shows Laura’s humanity. It’s more important to her that Salim finds his lover than it is for her to be resurrected. Once again proving that Laura Moon is more alive and empathetic than she ever was alive.

#4: The big reveal about Laura’s death

In the book: Laura’s death is an accident and a tragedy.

On the show: Apparently, Laura’s death was set in motion by Mr. Wednesday and executed by Mad Sweeney. This completely changes the tenor of the relationship between Wednesday and Shadow for the rest of the series. While Shadow — for now — doesn’t know the truth about Laura’s death, it is more than certain he will eventually find out. When that happens, Valhalla help Odin, because no one else will.

Odds & Ends

– So what do we think? Does Laura just look like Essie, or is she a descendant?
– Laura’s self-consciousness about her stitches popping at the end might have been the most vulnerable we’ve seen the character yet. The illusion that she’s alive is completely shattered.
– More of Odin’s ravens being sassy shits, please.
– Mad Sweeney choosing to give the coin back to Laura, when he could’ve had everything he ever wanted, speaks volumes about the amount of guilt he feels over Laura’s death and gives us clues to who he really is underneath all that apathetic drunkeness.
– Seeing Essie in action was a thing of beauty. Here is a woman who thumbed her nose at how women in her era were expected to act. Society told Essie her only value was her sex, so she turned that into power by which to survive and thrive.
– No wonder Mr. Wednesday is so determined Shadow not see his dead wife. He’s afraid.