Sunday, May 26, 2024

Does American Gods really fix its Pacing Problem?

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Whenever I talk about the biggest issues of the series you can always expect me to be most critical on the aspect of its pacing. In the last few episodes the writers finally proved to us that could put the series at a more sluggish speed, yet its methods can be both positive and detrimental. On the plus-side, you get more backstory for certain character who were otherwise left to their present in the novels, prime example being Laura in the previous episodes, and Mad Sweeney in the current. While novel writing will always have the upper hand when it comes to descriptive story, in this instance the series is giving us a lot more in term of what our favorite characters have been through prior to the events.

On the negative side of things, we have a little more problematic approach. With extending some character pasts and origins, we get many more drawn out scenes like when Laura met Shadow working for a casino and of course the scenes where we’ll see Mad Sweeney in this episode. However, this does end up changing a lot of what we know about some of the character in their novel form, which isn’t always bad, but sometimes it doesn’t make the most of sense or is contrary to how they would respond in the novel. An example of this, again, being Laura’s post death personality.

While it’s no longer the case that the House on the Rock will be the finale next, so they’ve bought themselves a lot of time; it seems their pacing problem has been fixed. My biggest peeve is well placed because this does present a problem for the pacing that season two will also face. Granted they’ve done a pretty solid, not perfect, job of creating original fill in material to counter this; I don’t think this will help considering they’re taking plots and events that should happen in the second season and throwing them into the first season. Not only is this giving up content that would make up the structure of season 2 but they’re tweaking them in a way that is not entirely faithful to the book, such as Shadow and Wednesday’s abduction.

So simply put, they may be fixing the pacing issue for season 1 but at the expense of giving season 2 the same problem, unless they have much better original content to use than a lot of what was used for this season.

Best of Friends

I want to start with this portion of the episode because it was one of the more well writing pieces of original writing to come from this series. While it is mostly filler to begin with and only lets out its significance when put into contrast with the half episode long vignette, it’s still really well executed as we do get to see a whole new side of Mad Sweeney. Then as the triplet of Laura, Sweeney, and Salim drive on their journey, once again Salim needs to stop to pray. In this scene, Laura finally has Sweeney reveal their true destination to Salim which of course is to the House on the Rock in Wisconsin, hopefully this might even be the premier of the second season now the show has confirmed it in the actual canon.

Anyway, Salim finally says goodbye to the duo and goes on his way to find what he wants, the Djinn. Laura and Sweeney pay off a guy for his ice cream truck which is a pretty funny scene and now Laura won’t rot!

Sweeney changes his story up a lot from his book counterpart at this point. While this isn’t exactly an example of the writers moving a future scene forward, it is very reminiscent to a scene post House on the Rock where we see Sweeney at his weakest. Of course it is at this point in the novel where we see that Mad Sweeney reveal that he gave Shadow the wrong coin during the first episode and what effects its having on him; mostly his alcoholism withdrawal.

Later in that chapter (8), we also get two accounts of Sweeney’s life from both Mr. Ibis and the mad Irishman himself. The first change from novel to screen is the fact that Sweeney said he was a king once. In the series he reveals himself to have been an Irish-Pict King named Buile Shuibhne who famously in legend went insane and fled a battle to spend a life of wandering. While the wandering madness part bit is actually derived from the book, it was never said that he was this king, his story does add up with this legend, sort of.

What we do know for sure is that this madness that cause the series’ king version of him was also seen in his novel version as Ibis explains that “madness” is what gave him power. Of course the other revelation which is more relevant in the second part of this piece is how Sweeney got into America in the first place, in the thoughts and prayers of an Irish girl who came over remembering the tales of what a leprechaun or pixie would grant should they be worshiped. Sadly, Mad Sweeney meets his demise in the very same chapter.

After his tale the two get into a very bad accident where Mad Sweeney has the luck, ironically, to survive. At this point, we do know the animosity that Sweeney has towards Laura simple for having his coin and now that he finally has it from her mangled corpse, it seems he would be on his way. He sees either Huginn or Muninn hovering above and absolves himself of completing some act that had to do with getting rid of Laura or retrieving the coin, as is suggested, considering Sweeney had told her he’d been a delivery man of sorts for Wednesday in the past. Yet, for one reason or another he decides to put the coin back into her. This brings up an interesting question of whether Wednesday wants Laura out of the picture or not. In the novels he responded pretty nonchalantly when Shadow revealed to him that she had returned to life.

I do love me some Gaelic

Coming to America

The other side, this episode greatly expanded on one of the longer coming to America vignettes form the novel on which we follow the life of an Cornish woman named Essie Tregowan and her life from being a young girl who believes in tales of pixies and faeries and brings them through the horrors of traveling as punishment and indentured servitude over to America by sheer belief. Whether it was simply because of the casting budget or a greater significance between Laura and Mad Sweeney, it wasn’t completely surprising to see Emily Browning also cast as Essie. Though I would like to believe it is because of the latter.

Another difference to note is that in the series she is thought to be Irish which is probably to show a more concrete belief in mythology that is mostly associated with Ireland, when in reality that is not at all the case.

The series makes a good effort into keeping the scenes with Essie (for the most) part verbatim with the book, though there were a few moments that were altered.

The first change was her first love interest, a squire Bartholomew. In the series it was apparently a mutual love between the two, that is until he gave her one of his families’ precious heirlooms. Of course when she was noticed with it, his mother went to him to see if what the girl was telling her was true. He denied it and Essie was sentenced to transportation as punishment.

In the novels however, Essie did have a fling with the squire which led to her being pregnant. The child was a stillborn yet her condition of course was apparent. She was initially dismissed but brought back on the urging of the squires wife. Essie got herself into lots of trouble however, when in a fit of rage she allowed a new lover to sneak in the home and he stole a silver plate, an heirloom. When he was caught of course, she went down with him and was sentenced to transportation.

As in the novel, the next section of the extended vignette remains exactly to the books. Essie seems to fall in love with the ship’s captain on their way to the Carolina region of America, and he takes her as his bride back to London. Of course being in the business that he is, she would expect him to be gone for months or even years at a time. In the series she takes all the valuables in his home and sets off , just like in the novels.

One change, which really isn’t all that huge, was how she is caught. At the start, she always payed her tribute to the pixies or in the series’ rendition to Mad Sweeney himself but began to forget. In the series she’s chanced upon as a trick of fate by a guard roaming the area. In the books she’s given away by her former lover, Bartholomew. In the end she escapes the sentence of death for returning from transportation to a life sentence of the same. The series gave the reason over Mad Sweeney’s intervention of course while in the book it’s because she is visually pregnant. From the book we can guess that it was perhaps her husband, though she neglects to tell anyone who the father is, but the series’ gives us a more straightforward answer with an obvious sex for favor situation.

While this part was not wholly excluded, the intermission was of course not shown. On her stop in Virginia after a horrid journey, her indenture is purchased by a tobacco farmer whose wife had passed away of sickness and his child needed a wet nurse, so Essie cared for both her own son and the farmers. She eventually does become his mistress and they sire a child of their own—the adapted version does take the bit where she explains how she is slave to indenture and by the end he’s apologizing to her leading to a proposal. After a few year of happiness her husband passes and she’s left to manage the farm, telling her children and theirs about the leprechauns and faeries of Ireland. While in the book more tragedies inflict her life, like her son killing off another and such. She ends up marrying again and birthing even more children and always remembers to pay her tribute with a bowl of milk or bread for the faeries of her old world.

The ending was practically the same with the only difference being that the stranger who approaches her is the Mad Sweeney we know, while in the novel it is only suggested who he is. As she changed her name as had he to “Cousin Jack” though she realized through his ramblings who he was. It’s a tragically beautiful scene and shows what goodness can come out of the power of belief in a show and novel that are both trying to warn us about obsessive belief can bring, we get a scene at what comfort it can bring. While we don’t get to see it all the way through in the series’ we assume in the novel that Essie was nearing the end of her long life, and just by “putting out milk for an honest fellow”, allows her to finally meet the source of all the luck in her life as he leads her away from life.

I’m not crying, you’re crying

Final Thoughts

While this episode is mostly filler, it is done tactfully and with some greater significance to the plot as a whole, at least concerning the relationship between Laura and Mad Sweeney in context the extended vignette. It was great to see more of Sweeney, especially realizing that he wasn’t always a drunk asshole. While most can say the pacing issue as being fixed I gave my thoughts about it at the start of this and really hope that it wont affect the second season in the same way, but we’ll cross that bridge once it comes.

Overall, I did like that they focused mostly on the vignette; with all the original content we’ve been seeing over the past few episodes it was nice to see something familiar and authentic to the novel. Let’s hope the finale next week gives us some more faithfulness.

Images courtesy of Starz

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