This episode is a bit of an odd one – and feels a little bit like a break in the main plot. That’s not inherently bad – especially given how packed the last 2 episodes have been. At the same time, this is an eight episode season. Really, eight. That’s a tiny amount – every second this show has matters.
So spending an entire episode telling Mad Sweeney’s back story seems.. excessive. I mean, his story isn’t that hugely different from the others that have come over to America, albeit with a more personal and intense slant. Believers come to America, they carry their beliefs with them and lo the new god is now in a country which doesn’t entirely welcome them and in which they don’t entirely fit
This story is told by Thoth (Mr. Ibis) and we have a nice little scene of him and Anubis in their funeral home.
So back to 1721 in which we’re introduced to Indentured Servitude where criminals – even very petty criminals – could be transported to America to serve a period of “indenture”
We have Essie McGowen, an Irish woman who has been raised on the old tales of fairies and, in particular, capricious and dangerous leprechauns. She works as a maid and her beauty caught the eye of the young master of the house who gave her jewellery and promised to marry her. When confronted by his mother, he takes it all back and instead accuses her of theft.
As a poor Irish girl, no-one believes her and she’s deported and transported.
Along the way she catches the eye of the captain of the ship who takes her back to London to make her his wife. And, accused as a thief, when he goes off on his next voyage Essie decides she might as well become a thief that she’s been accused of
She manages to make a living for herself, beholden to no-one, living off theft for some time… but up until this point she always remembered her old stories, always left bread and cream etc to the fairies – and especially the leprechaun. And even gold when she could afford it
But as Thoth notes, when times are good, people tend to forget their prayers. And she is caught. Is it related? Perhaps – that always seems to be the case with the gods. It’s possible that they have duly helped people, or just coincidence: just like Odin and the wind that saved the Vikings.
A repeat offender and definitely a thief, she’s sentenced to hang. In her cells she has a cell next to mad Sweeney – he doesn’t identify who he is (though he disappears during the night). He talks about his past and raises the idea that both she can find a way out of this – and living in America is no so bad. Again, her beauty is noticed by the prison warder who has sex with her to give her an out: she becomes pregnant. A pregnant woman cannot be hanged so instead she is deported again to America and she arrives this time.
Taken on by a man whose wife has died and he needs a wet nurse, she catches his eyes and he ends her indenture and marries (because she’s smart enough to use his attraction more wisely than just having an affair).
They apparently have a happy marriage and eventually he dies and she becomes a well off and comfortable, capable widow with her own children and grandchildren to raise – starting to tell the same stories she always has but they become less popular as time goes by. She’s left to keep them to herself but still making the offerings until, just before she dies she’s met by Mad Sweeney. He introduces himself and who he is – and how hard it can be in America where so few believe and offer to him. She reflects on the good he’s done her while h acknowledges the bad – such is the way of the leprechauns: good and ill together.
Which is Sweeney’s back story…. And I’m not sure what it adds to the general plot. I mean, I liked the story of Essie – it showed a desperate but strong and deeply intelligent woman. It showed a woman who used her sexuality to save herself – but not because she was aggressive or predatory and nor was it presented to shame her: but to show that that was all she had. By classism and sexism she had no choice – she was as much exploited because of her sexuality as she used it to free herself.
It’s a good story - but not exactly relevant? Perhaps to humanise Sweeney?
We only have a brief moment of the present - Sweeney and Laura (Salim is quickly sent on his way to find the djinn to get him out of the way) and Sweeney is being harassed by one of Wednesday’s ravens - Hughnin or Munin.
They steal an ice-cream truck now they don’t have Salim’s taxi and make their way with Sweeney filling in some of his history: he was a king, and a saint and trolls and fairies - basically human belief has shaped and changed him
But he does reveal that long ago he had a vision that he would die in battle - so he ran before the fight and since then he “owes a battle.” And he’s been Wednesday’s lacky. What that actually means or why is in doubt (personally I can see him owing Morrigan more) but it is a matter of considerable angst for him: he is visibly upset and guilty. Especially when we see his memories and see the raven harassing him again over a dead woman from a car crash. It seems Sweeney caused the crash
So when they have a crash in the ice cream truck (caused by a rabbit) and Laura is thrown through the windscreen, her chest splitting open along her autopsy seams and the gold coin thrown free he has a chance to reclaim that coin
But in rage and with a lot of Gaelic cursing he instead returns the coin inside Laura to make her unlive again. She has no idea what just happened.