Ron Hogan

Apr 23, 2019

The best episode of American Gods' second season delves deeply into the madness of Mad Sweeney. Spoilers ahead…

This review contains spoilers.

2.7 Treasure Of The Sun

Only two characters have felt completely “on” in the second season of American Gods. Laura Moon is one. The other is her frequent scene partner, Mad Sweeney. I’ve praised their scenes together this season as some of the better ones thus far, and that praise continues when they’re separated from one another, too. The rest of the ensemble may seem a bit groundless, but Mad Sweeney continues to be the anchor of the second season, keeping American Gods from going adrift in stormy seas. Thankfully, he gets his own episode, highlighting his journey not to America, but how a quasi-mythological king in Ireland became a giant, fist-fighting leprechaun, tracking the various versions and transmutations of the Mad Sweeney myth before settling on the version that best fits American Gods.

Mad Sweeney has fallen on hard times of late. Laura stormed off, rejecting him. His position at Wednesday’s side has been supplanted by Shadow Moon. His lucky coin has been gone for quite some time, and he may never get it back from within Dead Wife’s chest cavity. He doesn’t even merit an invite to dinner anymore, his position at the table being taken by Salim, of all people. All Sweeney has is drinking to keep him company, and the allure of that seems to be wearing off with every hangover, and every morning he wakes up unconscious under a railroad trestle.

The episode focuses mostly on Sweeney as he recounts his story to various audiences, one at a time. With each retelling, Sweeney remembers just a little bit more about himself and how he became the Mad God-King of legend. His backstory unfurls slowly, in bits and pieces, glimpses of Sweeney in the arms of a witch or slaying with a spear on the battlefield, and while he’d like his story to be all blood and guts, the truth of the matter, as revealed in Heather Bellson’s script, is that Sweeney is a man gone mad because of a broken heart. He might drink and whore and fight, but he’s trying to fill the hole in his life left by his wife Eorann (Clare McConnell) and daughter Moira.

What sells this shift is Pablo Schreiber’s performance, particularly when paired with Paco Cabezas’s direction. Schreiber has always been a bit underrated, especially by me, because Sweeney’s swaggering confidence is easy to mistake as genuine, but when he’s allowed to drop the gusto, and to allow the vulnerability to creep into Sweeney’s eyes, the actor knocks it out of the park. The swagger and gusto don’t fade, but it never seems to really creep into his face or his body language. When he gets one over on Wednesday, he feels triumphant; it’s a bit of trickery that Wednesday would certainly appreciate if it hadn’t been happening to him, but then Shadow steps in to defend his man and things go pear-shaped for the leprechaun.

It’s paced well, and it’s shot well, and when Sweeney makes his turn, it feels natural and like something that’s been building for a while, throughout the episode and throughout the series. Sweeney is more than just comic relief, as we see him in his full glory as a husband, king, and warrior, with the subtle changes in Sweeney reflected in the various stories he tells. Sweeney is impressive in his full splendour, and his madness never feels like too much of put-on, right to the very end when he turns on his employer.

Of course, he seems to get one-up on One Eye, but whether that remains the case is to be decided. I am not sure which God has powers over the other, and if one God does one thing, then does another God from a different culture have the power to undo that thing? If Odin’s spear is in the Sun’s horde, can Odin get it somehow? Will he have to remake his spear? It’s more questions than answers, but it’s a fitting bit of trickery for the leprechaun to roll out at a pretty crucial moment in Wednesday’s war movement, isn’t it? The grey monks might have turned the fairy folk into little green men, but that doesn’t strip them of their abilities, and the innate love of trickery that all Gods have isn’t lessened by Sweeney’s being stuck in America, or by his depression. He’s mad, in more ways than one.

It’s hard to believe that a character like this, who has been so important to the show, may not be there next season. It’s a cracking episode if he indeed does not return, but the show will miss him, as he’s basically carried the second season on his shoulders, and as this episode proves, he’s a great foil for just about everyone on the cast. Bliquis, Ibis, Wednesday, Shadow, and (especially) Salim, as he and the Muslim cab driver have some great conversations with one another, and Sweeney has one good “fairy” joke with the two of them as a punchline.

Pathos, at all points. Sweeney is fleshed out, developed wholly, and by the end, he’s not just a comic relief heavy spitting out acidic quips at Dead Wife and Salim. He’s a man who has loved and lost, and who can’t get back the thing he wants. Sweeney isn’t mad, he’s tormented by his past, and by his present. And, perhaps, he’s willing to give up his future to escape his former life.

For the second week in a row, American Gods seems to be regaining its proper footing and returning to the show that it once was under a different regime. The hope is that the improvement continues, and the show levels off with a new hand at the helm and less drama backstage. Perhaps the madness is at an end, and American Gods can go on telling its tale with the confiedence of Ibis with his quill, and not with the struggle of Sweeney.

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Donar The Great, here.