Martin Carr reviews the seventh episode of American Gods…
Narrated by an erudite mortician with a talent for finely tailored calligraphy, American Gods unfurls like a genteel acid trip without the paranoia and better dialogue. Naturally nuanced and inventively old-fashioned, ‘A Prayer for Mad Sweeney’ does away with tricks in favour of solid storylines built around fantastical characters. Featuring faery tale visuals combined with Pilgrim father prison ship overtones, Gods throws its audience by cross cutting between time and place. Seguing seamlessly between modern-day road trip compatriots Sweeney and Laura Moon, before jumping back to pick up with their latter-day doppelgängers.
By mixing soundtracks and incidental musical influences between Fifties rockabilly and saxophone swing jazz, Gods continues to challenge whilst delivering a story of breadth. Browning in dual roles plays the middle incarnation of our ‘Made In America’ protagonist raised to believe in leprechauns, magic and mystery. From youth through to old age each actress providing a solid cross generational portrayal, with Browning doing the heavy lifting. Guided by the silky tones of our talented literary scribe we follow her through numerous misadventures, each showing elements to the actress which her scathingly bitchy alter ego prohibits. With the elegance and grace of a black widow prior to paralysing her prey, Essie uses guile and beauty in a story defined as much by dialogue and intonation as physical congress.
Alongside this is an origin tale delivered under the radar, more distraction technique than rags to riches eulogy. Mad Sweeney begins as the stuff of legend, grows into an old wife’s tale before being burdened into being by a necessity and need personified by Essie McGowan. It is here the hard-drinking Irish gob shite melts an audience into submission, by revealing his irreverence and pithy demeanour to be nothing more than a defence mechanism. Pablo Schreiber slots in like a missing jigsaw piece to help refine another cool, calm, stylish crossover episode which just adds to the already flawless reputation American Gods has garnered thus far.
Minus McShane and Ricky Whittle we are given instead an ageless romance which resonates across centuries of time between opposites. Both foul-mouthed, intolerant of others, self-absorbed to the point of narcissism yet inexplicably drawn together by necessity. As the carnage of an upturned ice cream truck lays dormant with its front wheels still spinning a bearded figure crawls from the wreckage. Just up ahead her torso is exposed having been thrown through the windscreen. A few feet away sits a gold coin, his gold coin, their shared connection exposed, vulnerable and within reach.
‘A Prayer for Mad Sweeney’ gives us another reason to lament the fickle faith of creative programming which is inherently risk averse and lacking in imagination. Commissioned as an eight part taster for the tentative television viewer, American Gods has borne witness to and birthed a phenomenon. Never choosing the path of least resistance Fuller, Slade and Gaiman have created something of beauty akin in musical terms to a classic first album. No dud tracks, no filler and no margin for error, has them harnessing lightening, saddling inspiration and forging ahead to give us a defining moment in television.