This is a discussion post for the seventh episode of the first season of American Gods. Beware: I will be spoiling this episode, because I really want to talk about it.

Also, I just realized that Pablo Schreiber (Sweeney) also played Pornstache on Orange in the New Black. What a transformation.

SWEENEY: ....................You’d be bored.
Birth, and copulation, and death.
That’s all the facts when you come to brass tacks:
Birth, and copulation, and death.
I’ve been born, and once is enough.
You dont remember, but I remember,
Once is enough.

— “Fragment of an Agon,” Sweeney Agonistes by T. S. Eliot

This episode is another experiment in the grand experiment that is American Gods. Much like “Git Gone,” the episode features neither Shadow nor Mister Wednesday, and, like “Git Gone,” it features quite a bit of Laura. Well, Laura’s actress, who plays Essie McGowan, a maid-turned-thief who always leaves bread and milk for the Fair Folk. So it’s not so much a backstory for Laura as it is a backstory for Mad Sweeney, a story not about his rise and fall, but about what he’ll do to survive in the New World.

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The show quite interestingly begins with Mr. Jacquel and Mr. Ibis. As Jacquel makes a dead body look not-quite-dead (after all, Anubis was the god of embalming), he tells Mr. Ibis that Ibis has a story he needs to tell. He can see it in his fingers. So Ibis sits down and dips his pen in ink (like a bird dipping his beak in water) and begins the story of Essie McGowan which is also the story of Mad Sweeney, former king of the Dál nAraidi, fated to die in battle. Turned into a bird and then into a myth and then into a faded god with no power accept his own bad luck.

SWEENEY: ....................Life is death.
I knew a man once did a girl in―

DORIS: Oh Mr. Sweeney, please dont talk,
I cut the cards before you came
And I drew the coffin

— “Fragment of an Agon,” Sweeney Agonistes by T. S. Eliot

As we see Essie McGowan’s life transform from maid to accused thief to actual thief, we continually cut back to Laura, Mad Sweeney, and Salim. Laura, after witnessing Salim’s devotion to his God, decides to let him go and weasels the name of the House of the Rock out of Sweeney and off Salim goes to find his Jinn. Leaving only Laura and Sweeney and an ice cream van.

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And then Sweeney tells his story to Laura: he was a king once, but then he had a vision of his own death on the battlefield (during the Battle of Mag Rath) and ran, turning into a bird. This is a version of the myth of Buile Shuibhne or The Madness of Sweeney — the actual myth involves Sweeney expelling St. Ronan from his land and thus being cursed to wander the earth like a bird and die by spear-point.

And it’s quite obvious that Sweeney does not want to die. In the past, he appears to Essie McGowan when she’s in prison and helps her get to America and in America, Essie teaches her children the fairy tales she was told. But America is not a nice place for gods or fairies or even kings. In the present day, even when he had his coin, Sweeney was still down on his luck, stuck doing jobs for Mister Wednesday.

Jobs like killing Laura Moon.

SWEENEY: Well here again that dont apply
But I’ve gotta use words when I talk to you.
But here’s what I was going to say.
He didn’t know if he was alive and the girl was dead
He didn’t know if the girl was alive and he was dead
He didn’t know if they both were alive or both were dead

— “Fragment of an Agon,” Sweeney Agonistes by T. S. Eliot

It was Sweeney who killed Laura and Sweeney who brought her back. After another car crash pushes Laura through the windshield and rips the coin out of her, Sweeney could be free to go (free as a bird, one might say). But he’s run away before — he ran before the battle, when he saw his own death — and it only postponed the inevitable. That’s what he’s doing: postponing the appointment with Mr. Jacquel. But somehow, he can’t do it anymore — perhaps because he knew that he caused Laura to die in the first place or perhaps because he gave his word to her that he would resurrect her and gods keep their word. So he places the coin on her breast again and she’s neither alive nor dead again.

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As for Essie McGowan, she lived till she was old and Mad Sweeney appeared to her and took her hand.

We all gotta do what we gotta do
We’re gona sit here and drink this booze
We’re gona sit here and have a tune
We’re gona stay and we’re gona go
And somebody’s gotta pay the rent

DORIS: ....................I know who

SWEENEY: But that’s nothing to me and nothing to you.

— “Fragment of an Agon,” Sweeney Agonistes by T. S. Eliot

If you can’t tell, I really liked this episode.