After years of development, the adaptation of one of Neil Gaiman’s most notable works has made it to the small screen. To prepare, I re-read the novel and his recently released Norse Mythology (definitely recommended). There will be some book discussion but I’ll reserve the spoilery talk for my fifth thought, which will always be dedicated to talking about adaptation choices. In this episode, Mad Sweeney gets his “Coming to America” story, while in the present, he gets a crazy reveal. Beware, spoilers for the episode will follow.
1. “Tell him. Tell him it’s done.”
I usually try and follow the plot order with these points, but we need to skip ahead for this one. There had been hints, but now it’s official: Mr. Wednesday wants Laura out of the picture. Even as a book reader, Mad Sweeney’s involvement caught me off guard. It’s a great way to expand even further on Laura and Mad Sweeney, and add more depth to their already complicated relationship. The show did a good job of earning the moment with the development of Sweeney’s character as a reluctant lackey for Mr. Wednesday. So, it makes sense that he was the one behind the wheel when Shadow’s life took a big left turn. Having said that, the show earned it with the main story, not Mad Sweeney’s prolonged “Coming to America” parts of this episode.
2. Prayer for Who?
I had really been questioning the purpose of this episode until the car crash reveal. It is a great character story (though not the one we actually care about), but it embodied all my previous complaints about the “Coming to America” vignettes, stretched out for an entire episode. After last week’s wheel spinning episode, the show really needed to progress the plot in a meaningful way. Instead, it takes another long detour to fill out a supporting character’s backstory. Unfortunately, this was much less successful than the Laura-focused “Git Gone.” Essie McGowan is a very interesting and animated character in the American Gods world, but this is the last we’ll see of her, so it feels like a waste, since we didn’t learn anything about Mad Sweeney that couldn’t have been done in the regular five minute “Coming to America” segments.
3. Emily Browning Double Duty
The one way Essie McGowan’s story was successful, is with the audience’s investment in the Laura and Mad Sweeney relationship. By reusing Emily Browning as Essie, the show can reinforce the onscreen chemistry between Browning and Pablo Schreiber, without trying to manufacture things for them to do in the main story (like last episode). Instead, the little time we do spend with them in the present, becomes a character defining moment for Mad Sweeney when he decides to continue to help Laura, instead of just leaving with his coin.
We also see more of Laura’s character, when she wakes up and doesn’t even acknowledge what Sweeney just did for her; another instance of Laura taking for granted things other people have done for her. Casually flipping the overturned ice cream truck was a nice little moment as well. And speaking of the ice cream truck, the crash sequence leading up to those moments may have been my favorite of the show so far. Everything from the actors’ expressions to the little background details, like the ice cream bars spilling out, was amazing to look at. The sequence deserves repeated viewing to catch it all.
4. A Nice Nod to Pushing Daisies
This episode felt a lot like one of Bryan Fuller’s older shows, Pushing Daises, and that’s a good thing. That show had very dark subject matter, but was counteracted by having a voice over with a storytelling cadence, and a production design that was bright and a little cartoony. In this episode, the soundtrack was exclusively anachronistic 1950s style music, and Mr. Ibis’ narration had that same storybook quality. Those things contributed to the same feeling in any given Pushing Daisies episode. It effectively made this story about a woman who revered fairytales, feel like a fairytale.
5. Book Spoilers Ahead!
Having Mad Sweeney be the one that drove Laura and Robbie off the road was a great adaptation choice. It fits the character, fills in a bit of the story that wasn’t in the novel, and still keeps the underlying motivation from Mr. Wednesday intact. With this added backstory, it really feels like Mad Sweeney is going to make it to the end of the series (or the end of the series’ adaptation of the first book). He’s getting almost the same attention as Laura is, story-wise, and she plays a pivotal role in the finale, so it only makes sense that he would make it further than he does in the novel. There, he slowly died without having the coin, like it was his energy source. It doesn’t seem like that is happening in the show, but this version of Sweeney is also much more likely to die from a bizarre gardening accident before the end of the series as well. I’m definitely not going to complain. Now that the show has given both him and Laura more to work with, I can’t wait to see how adding Shadow and Mr. Wednesday back into the mix will play out.