The show opens at the funeral home of Anubis and Ibis as they are working on a new client. Anubis fittingly tries to get Ibis to drink some Irish Red Ale with him but Ibis declines, noticing that Anubis is itching to write another story. And that he goes and does, telling us the story of how Mad Sweeney came to be in America. From his days on the ship and as an indentured servant finally paying off his dues.
It all started with the Irish girl, Essie McGowan, who is a dead ringer for Laura Moon. We see her grandmother sharing the stories of the fair folk and an older Essie repeating those stories to children at the place she works as a maid. They are entranced just like the son of the masters of the house. Essie keeps the tradition alive even though she’s poor. She leaves the infamous gold coin along with bread at a mound for the fair folk. When she’s gone, we see the first appearance of Mad Sweeney.
Essie soon starts sleeping with her masters’ son and believes it is love. She worries that he’ll leave her for a more refined woman once he goes to school and to prove his love and eventual promise of marriage, the young man gives her a necklace that belongs to the family. Obviously, this is going to go south. Other maids see Essie looking at the necklace from time to time and report her to the mistress of the house. Essie is accused of stealing and when the son is brought in to prove her innocence, he lies, sentencing Essie to be shipped to America to work off her sentence as a slave. But Essie’s beauty and youth save her and the captain of the ship falls in love with her. She ends up going to London with him and becoming his wife. As soon as her husband leaves on another trip, Essie steals from him and leaves to start a new life.
In the present, Salim pulls the taxi off at a tourist attraction that happens to have a statue dedicated to a famous white buffalo. He needs to pray again. Mad Sweeney stalks off to pee and gets harassed by one of Mr. Wednesday’s ravens. Laura witnesses this and makes fun of him. She gets him to spill that all the gods are heading to the House on the Rock in Wisconsin, which she then uses to release Salim from driving them. Salim hurries off but not before telling Mad Sweeney he’s a horrible man. Laura then decides to steal an ice cream truck because she’s always wanted to steal something. She is now echoing the story of Essie. The driver needs them to make the robbery believable and asks Laura to punch him. Mad Sweeney does the honors because a punch from Laura would kill the guy.
We see Essie in the market shoplifting everything that catches her eye. As her goods grow, she slowly stops praying to the fair folk. Which quickly causes her luck to turn. She gets caught and gets thrown into prison. There she meets Mad Sweeney who is in the cell next to her. They get to talking and Essie tells him about America, where she was briefly before London. The next morning he’s gone and Essie realizes she must grant the warden’s wishes and sleeps with him in order to stay away from the gallows. She is now pregnant and avoids the gallows but ends up being shipped off to America as a slave once more. Her time on the ship leaves her with nightmares and when she reaches Virgina, her baby has been born. It turns out she got some luck back as the owner of the tobacco farm is in need of a wet nurse due to his wife dying during childbirth.
Laura makes the ice cream truck so cold that Mad Sweeney is shivering. She makes fun of him and Mad Sweeney snipes back that he was a king once before people started forgetting the tales. Laura asks him what Mr. Wednesday is up to and he tells her that Mr. Wednesday is trying to start a war. He flashes back to a war he was once part of and tells Laura how he saw his death so he picked up and left that war but now he owes a battle. Laura tries to convince him that he doesn’t owe anyone a battle and then jokes he should try dying, it worked out well for her. A bunny hops into the road and Laura ends up flipping the truck and flying out of the window, her chest bursting open and the lucky gold coin flying out of her. She’s dead, truly dead, on the road without the coin.
Essie passes her traditions down to her children and even members of the farm. The master of the farm proposes to Essie but she tells him she can’t while she’s still an indentured servant. He ends that and they marry, with their wedding day being the first day she kisses him. They are happily married for 10 years before she hears the scream of a banshee and her husband dies of fever. The farm flourishes under her care but she learns to keep the old ways to herself as her grandkids don’t take to it. One night she’s out on her porch when Mad Sweeney walks up to her, sweetly asking for her attention.
In the present, we see Mad Sweeney crawl out of the crash. He sees Laura is dead and rushes to pick up the coin but he doesn’t move on. We get a flashback that shows Mad Sweeney caused the original accident that killed Laura as a job for Mr. Wednesday. But we see that he’s not happy with himself for doing this job. The raven is there and pulls him out of his memory. Mad Sweeney flips out and goes back to Laura, placing the coin on her, thus bringing her back to life. She makes him go flying when she wakes up and hurriedly covers herself up (her rib cage is still showing). Without missing a beat she lifts the truck up and yells at Mad Sweeney to get back in.
In the past, Mad Sweeney tells Essie McGowan that she is the reason he is in America. Her gifts and stories kept him going. He asks, “Will you take my hand, Essie McGowan?” Her body was found on the farm still warm.
Past and present, Mad Sweeney and Laura/Essie will be there for each other.
American Gods airs on Starz, Sunday at 9 pm.