This was not an American Gods episode filled with a ton of reveals, but I really, really enjoyed it. Full disclosure, your reviewer here is mostly Irish, and loves the old stories of the fairy folk, so I may be just a wee bit biased. But judge for yourself below.
The episode begins back in the mortuary run by Anubis (aka Mr. Jack) and Mr. Ibis. Anubis is preparing a body for burial as Ibis enters, offering his co-worker an Irish ale. He refuses, saying they’ll be receiving more bodies soon and need to finish the current fellow (full frontal naked by the way), and notes that his pal has a story to tell, based on the twitching of his fingers. Ibis sits down and begins our latest “Coming To America” tale.
This story is being told primarily through Ibis’ voiceover, and as it begins, he explains that it is a fiction that America was fully founded by Pilgrims, but that the colonies were a sort of dumping ground or forgetting place for criminals. It was called “transportation”, and a criminal could be sold to a captain, then as an indentured servant, to avoid hanging in an English prison. Once you arrived, you’d work off your servitude and then make the best of the New World.
He then begins the story proper, of one Essie MacGowan (Emily Browning in her dual role). Essie was not a hard worker as a child, but preferred stories of the fairies, and of leprechauns most of all. She’s waiting on the cliffs in Ireland for her father to return, when she’s joined by her grandma (Fionnula Flanagan), who tells her more stories about a fairy hill and leaving gifts for the leprechauns to ensure their blessings.
Essie keeps the tradition alive as she’s older, continuing to leave milk and bread for the leprechauns. She regales the kids in the kitchen where she works with the stories she was told, including one of her own about being lost on the moors and saved after she left a gift. The fairy folk may be small, but they can make real trouble, she warns.
As she tells her tales, the young man of the house overhears her and smiles. Ibis describes her ambition as we see her leave the gift for the leprechauns of bread, hair, and her only piece of gold. Essie knows better than to ask for a favor from the leprechauns without an offering, and as she leaves, we see a familiar silhouette in the fog.
That night, the young man of the house comes to her in the kitchen, and they begin hooking up. He offers her his grandmother’s necklace and promises to marry her when he returns from a semester at Oxford at Christmas. She admires the necklace, but as Ibis reminds us, the fairies are fickle. The lady of the house realizes Essie has the necklace, and she is accused of theft. The young man cowardly says he never offered the necklace, and poor Essie is sent away for transportation.
Even as she’s tossed and starved on the disgusting boat, she never fails to leave something for the leprechauns. And wouldn’t you know it? The captain takes a shine to her, and she’s barely landed in America before she heads back to London with him and becomes his bride. But before long, the captain has to leave. After he’s gone, Essie gets to work stealing everything not nailed down in the house, and leaving an offering by the window. “She was branded a thief, so thief she became,” Ibis says.
We then catch up to our funny little trio of Laura, Sweeney, and Salim, with more flies buzzing around Laura than ever. They stop at a statue of a white buffalo that was born on a farm and considered sacred to the Lakota, with thousands visiting the site. But, it and the owner were struck by lightning and killed not long after. “That’s what you get for putting a god in a petting zoo,” snaps Sweeney, who’s also complaining about stopping again for Salim to pray. He stalks off as Salim sets up and offers to have Laura join the prayer. She declines and asks if he loves god, or is in love with god. Salim replies he never thought of it that way, but he supposes he loves god a little like that.
Meanwhile, Sweeney is taking a pee break, as a raven caws at him. He barks at the raven that he IS headed to Wisconsin per the agreement, and to tell Wednesday, “F**k you.” Laura catches him yelling at the bird, and they argue about letting Salim go because they are close to their destination. Sweeney refuses, and says he’s only taking this detour for her so she can get resurrected and he can get the coin back. Laura tells Salim their bargain is up, and he’s free to find his jinn. “You’re an unpleasant creature,” he calls out to Sweeney and happily takes off in his cab.
Sweeney is furious, destroying a picnic table as Laura rips the door off an ice cream truck. She informs the dorky kid operating it that they’re stealing it, and give him a bunch of cash to keep him quiet. The kid points out no one will believe him if he’s not injured, and asks Laura to punch him since he’s worried Sweeney will hurt him. Sweeney assure him, you don’t want her punching him, and knocks the kid out as they go on their way.
Back in jolly old London, our girl Essie is shoplifting left and right in the market, never getting caught, and always leaving her offerings. She’s quite content making her own way, confident that the creatures of Ireland followed her to London (and as confirmation, we see a hand reach in through the window and take the bowl of milk). One day in the market, a cute young man spots Essie, and they hook up, causing Essie to forget her ritual. Ibis reminds us the more blessed we feel, the more we forget to pray. The next day Essie is caught shoplifting in the market, and sentenced to hanging for dodging transportation and theft.
In prison, she receives her first meal of bread and soup, and hears a voice say to avoid the soup because it’ll give her the runs. Sitting in the cell next to her is a man (Sweeney) who explains he was just drinking at the pub when he got in a fight that cost the other man his eye. He asks what she’s in for and she replies that she was stealing lace and that she missed her chance for transportation. “It doesn’t seem right,” he says. “The world doesn’t operate on right,” she replies. And she sets a piece of bread on the windowsill of her cell.
He asks her about the boat trip, and she explains how she was barely in America. Sweeney thinks she could still get transportation with a bribe, and she says she’s out of things to offer, and he tells her he is too, having failed to deliver gold to the king like he was meant to.
She tells him more about America, where she saw a woman with “skin like a brick” named Susan, and she couldn’t believe her name was Susan. But in America, you can be anything you insist on being, she says, adding, that’s life, that’s a place to be happy. Sweeney asks her what happy is, and she thinks she knew when she was a little girl, and that it’s ultimately contentment. Contentment to hear is a home, a tree, and someone to be kind enough to her.
Essie thinks he’d do all right in America, he could deliver gold to the king. He tells her they don’t have a king, and she says not yet, but everyone needs a king, to which he smiles.
The next morning, Essie wakes up commenting on the cold to her neighbor. He doesn’t respond, but the warden arrives with a proper breakfast, and makes an offer to help her escape the gallows yet. Unfortunately, it involves having sex with the warden, but it does result in a pregnancy that spares her from hanging, and sends her to America for the rest of her life.
In Virginia, she has her baby and is indentured to a tobacco farmer, who needed a wet nurse for his child after losing his wife, and an all around maid. Essie fits the bill, and she cares for the children as she tells them stories of the fairy folk.
We return to the present, where Laura is driving the ice cream truck with the chill on full blast to stay fresh. Sweeney complains, but explains his guy will do the resurrection for a favor, not for gold, and tosses some coins out the door to prove his point.
Laura asks how much gold he has, and he replies a horde, and that he was a king once. But then the church came along and made them all saints, trolls, fairies, and that “General Mills did the rest.” She asks what Wednesday is offering that makes him want to go to Wisconsin, and he replies war. He was meant to go to war once, but saw a vision of his own death in a fire the night before a battle, and decided to put on his boots and fly away. Sweeney tells her that he owes a war. She scoffs at the idea of following Wednesday around to die in war and do his errands, but he says there’s worse he could do. Laura goes on that dying wasn’t so bad and she basically has a new lease on life.
While they chat, a white rabbit darts in the road and Laura swerves to avoid it, and flips the truck in the process. There is a spectacular crash, sending Laura throw the windshield. She crashes to the ground, her sewn together chest splits open and the coin pops out.
After that, we’re back with Essie, who is explaining Samhain (or Halloween to us modern day folk) to the children as the farmer returns home. Ibis informs us that the children believed because she believed. Later, she’s finishing up in the farmer’s room, when he enters and he makes a slight move on her, but she refuses. Essie acts shocked and hurt that he would torture her like that, her an indentured servant who cannot marry or return his feelings, and he a farmer. So, he proposes marriage, and they never kiss until their wedding day.
They go on to have a child, and as she sends all three kids off to school, she keeps them safe with bread in one pocket and salt in the other, so they can never be led astray. The farmer loved her kindly, and they were married a decade before she heard the cry of a banshee, and the fever took her husband away.
Essie goes on to run the plantation, continuing to leave offerings at harvest and all other times, and she has good days and bad days in balance. Eventually, she ages into the Widow Richardson (also played by Fionnula Flanagan). As a grandma, she’s telling the same stories as before, but now the grandchildren are frightened. She sees that there’s no room for the spirits of old in Virginia, but she keeps their memory close to her hear anyway, and remembers the cliffs of home. One night, she sits on a porch as Sweeney approaches her, saying her name, “Essie MacGowan.”
Sweeney awakes from the present day crash, where he sees Laura’s body and the coin lying on the ground. He snatches up the coin and pauses.
Flashback to Laura’s original car crash death, where she’s on the side of the road, slowly dying. Sweeney approaches and looks at the scene, telling a raven in the branches above him, “it’s done.”
Back at the current crash, Sweeney looks at her body and seems to have a pang of regret. He lets out a string of Irish cursing to the sky, concluding with a hearty, “F**K!” Then he sticks the coin back in Laura’s chest. She pops back up to her semi-alive state, embarrassed at her literally bare chest, and pulls on a jacket to cover herself. Laura then flips the truck back upright and orders Sweeney to hop in, and they continue on their way.
Essie, back on the porch, asks if she knows the man who approached her, and realizes he’s Irish. He affirms he is, and that he was a man of the mounds, and there’s not many in this new world who will put out bread or milk for an honest man. She realizes he’s a leprechaun and tells him she has no quarrel with him, and he replies he has none with her. He laments this world has no time for magic or fairies, but she and people like her brought him here. Essie says his kind have done her many a good turn, and he replies that that’s true, but they’re like the wind, they can blow both ways. Sweeney flips a coin for her and it disappears. “Will you take my hand, Essie MacGowan?” he asks. Essie accepts his hand.
Ibis writes that Essie was still warm when she was found, though she was already dead. He closes his book as we see a brief glimpse of Ireland.
Again, this episode may not have been to everyone’s taste, but we learned how much more involved Sweeney is with Laura, and that Wednesday ordered her death. And I just loved the tale of Essie MacGowan, it had so many elements I’ll get into below that just touched my Irish-ish heart.
Questions for Next Week
- We know Wednesday wanted Laura out of Shadow’s life, so when will he find that out, and when will Laura? And when will Laura know Sweeney was involved?
- What exactly are the pacing plans for this show? We are just getting to Kristin Chenoweth and the return of Orlando Jones’ Mr. Nancy in the season finale! I’ve enjoyed the series so far, but if you’re a fan of them, it’s kind of frustrating that they’ve barely been in the show.
Points of Interest
- As I said, I just loved this episode. The final scene with Sweeney coming to take old Essie away was really wonderful and sweet. It’s nice to see the softer side of Sweeney.
- Emily Browning and Pablo Schreiber are really becoming the break outs of the series for me, and I love the two of them paired together. Dare I say, I ship them over Laura and Shadow???
- Having Browning play Essie alongside Sweeney really drives home the characters’ connection. Bryan Fuller and Michael Green even say that it’s two distinct roles, with “a sparkle of the same soul through history.”
- They also added that the final scene was a great example of what the old gods can do for people, offering comfort, and I agree. I think this episode showed how important that is more than any episode this season, except maybe the first one with the Vikings.
- Fuller and Green also noted the costumes, and how as Essie steals more, her simple outfit becomes more elaborate. It was a nice touch.
- I know there was some griping on the interwebs about switching Essie from being Welsh with the last name Tregowan, to the Irish MacGowan (which if you really want to nitpick is a bit more Scottish), but it made sense because her character was specifically brining Irish leprechaun Sweeney with her to America. In the book, Essie brought more general fairy folk with her and not a specific character.
- The music was really interesting in this episode, playing mostly 50s doo wop and pop songs over Essie’s story, including one of my favorites, “Runaround Sue.” From what I could tell, they were primarily romantic, with maybe a few about a girl breaking your heart, which was fitting for Essie.
- They showed that white rabbit twice, and I have a theory it was connected to Wednesday, who probably isn’t thrilled about Laura and Sweeney working together. And rabbits are supposed to be lucky, but this one wasn’t.
- I’m going to miss Salim if he doesn’t pop back up in the finale.
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