Season 1, Episode 7: “A Prayer for Mad Sweeny”
Starring: Emily Browning, Pablo Schreiber, Omid Abtahi, Demore Barnes, Chris Obi, Keller Viaene, Jake Manley, Thomas Mitchell
A parallel: Laura and Mad Sweeny continue on towards Laura’s resurrection and then Madison, Wisconsin/Mr Ibis weaves a story of nuanced morals of a devious and beautiful woman.
‘Malice draped in pretty can get away with murder.’ – Mr Ibis
A record plays. A story begins…
The jazz-inspired soundtrack has been an important framing device throughout this series of stories. Many times, it contrasts tension and trouble, sadness and melancholy. During others, it subtly pushes us along as we observe a character’s moments alone. In the the Ibis and Jacquel Funeral Parlour, we see how Mr Ibis Demore Barnes) keeps track of records and stories, and Mr Jacquel (Chris Obi) carefully examine bodies amid a comfortable rapport and an almost non-verbal level of understanding.
“Coming to America” runs longer than usual but shows how an America from 1721 may not just have been a land of freedom from religious persecution, but also of repentance of crimes. The story focuses on that of Essie McGowan. Growing up as the image of innocence, she carries tales of the fair folk and leprechauns with her. None come fairer than Emily Browning, who plays the flaxen Essie and this suggests that she may be a past life figure of Laura at they share some of their more innocent characteristics and qualities. Essie’s thieving streak manifests rather differently. She is blamed for a theft she did not commit, but then embraces the title of “thief” because she might as well for the while she is branded as one. Essie is also very superstitious, leaving offerings of milk, food and gold.
Laura, Mad Sweeny (Pablo Schreiber) and Salim (Omid Abtahi) stop by a magnificent statue of a white buffalo, Tatanka Ska’. Here, Laura tells Salim where the gods are meeting and he’s free to go there on his own, while she and Mad Sweeny make a detour. This decision comes after she enquires with Salim as to how much he loves his god. His response evokes a compassion in her, or the shadow of it, because she lets him go on. It is intriguing to see the moments where her human emotions come up and to wonder whether they are genuine – there may be hope for her to be alive again.
Essie’s luck sees a prolonged upward trajectory as she lives out a nice, peaceful life with a man who loves her. She tries but decides against passing on her tales of the fair folk, after we see a particular instance where a grandchild cries for one of her stories. While we don’t get to usually see a whole arc of the lives featured in “Coming to America” sequences, this time we do and we finally see Essie meet the stranger who she has spoken of and left offerings for all her life. It is also worth noting the many beautiful and colourful scenes involving Essie, and the surprisingly sweet part of the bittersweet of this story. For a time, like Laura, Essie actually enjoyed happiness and we get to actually witness it.
Mad Sweeny is a secondary character to Essie’s and Laura’s story until we learn why it is he has to go and fight for Wednesday. He would rather not, as we have seen him be completely against the whole idea this whole series, but he is pulled to do so by godly obligation. In order to make things right, he has to do something he once got out of doing. This is not the only thing that Mad Sweeny has to make right, as we see in a flashback to the night of Laura’s accident that implies that it may not have been so accidental.
A much more complex episode (ha!) has left us with some distinct themes to grapple with and gave us more information to decide where we stand on both Laura and Mad Sweeny. Despite the pause in the main story and partial exposition the show ensure that it delivers the message that you have to have your own strong convictions and intentions, or you will probably be at the mercy of someone else’s. We will have to see if this is a theme that will extend into next week’s final episode.