Reconciling the many facets of a deity is explored American Gods Season 2 Episode 7 and although Mad Sweeney is central, he isn't the only one who plays multiple roles.
We've always known that Wednesday's got a multitude of names and he takes great pride in trotting out the titles in moment of pomp and circumstance.
As he tells Shadow on American Gods Season 1 Episode 8,"I am called Glad-O-War, Grim, Raider, and Third. I am One-eyed. I am also called Highest, and True-Guesser. I am Grimnir, and the Hooded One. I am All-Father, Gondlir, Wand-bearer. I have as many names as there are winds."
But because he's known him so long, Mad Sweeney is somewhat taken off-guard when his returning memories include that of an older, disguised aspect of Wednesday being a root cause of his troubles.
We, on the other hand, know all too well that Wednesday's insidious influence can be counted upon to set the wheels turning in his favor.
His efforts to exclude Laura illustrated the lengths at which he's willing to grant a wish in exchange for moving the players in preparation for war.
We've also seen that he has no qualms, in past or present, about representing the truth of matters in creative ways.
Whether he's spinning a tale or role-playing, he's consistently Wednesday whatever day of the week it may be and that means he's conning someone out of something.
Salim: I am here because the Jinn is here. And the Jinn is here because he owes Mr. Wednesday.
Mad Sweeney: He collects a lot of debt, don't he?
Laura's path after having her coin recharged on American Gods Season 2 Episode 4 has taken her to the altar of resurrection and a very strange encounter with Mad Sweeney and now to Nashville where she attracts the attention of Mama-Ji.
I loved this scene. Like her brief interaction with Bilquis on American Gods Season 2 Episode 1, Laura comes away from her meeting with Mama-Ji with a solid change in perspective.
Completely flummoxed by the quest Baron Samedi set for her on American Gods Season 2 Episode 5 -- completing her potion with two drops of love-infused blood, she finds a diner which is Mama-Ji's domain and just waits.
Like any good food establishment proprietor, Mama-Ji is upset to find a corpse sitting at her counter but once they establish neither one of them likes Wednesday, they realize that they are kindred spirits in a weird yet fitting way.
Laura's been in a complicated dilemma since probably before Shadow even went to prison. She's played roles -- wife, lover, responsible citizen, savior -- and even started believing them in some way.
Mama-Ji, the manifestation of the Hindu goddess Kali, could easily be underestimated in her motel uniform as a weak, domesticated deity.
That would be a mistake. As she demonstrates for Laura, calling up her Destroyer persona, Smashana Kali, wielding her flaming scimitar, decapitated head and all, she is one bad-ass ancient god.
And then quick as a flash, she's the solicitous hostess again, offering her help and advice.
A little respect is all I ask. A little help is what I can give. Do you need direction? Or cream? Sugar?Mama-Ji
Mama-Ji is able to remind Laura that her powers are quite like those of Devi Kali's own and she should really stop waiting for things to happen to her and make them happen herself.
Mama-Ji: Can you not see you have the power here in your own heart?
Laura: What? Like the power of love?
Mama-Ji: No. The power to destroy.
Mama-Ji isn't the only one offering comfort. When Mad Sweeney arrives back at the funeral home, he finds the service being presided over by Bilquis.
Granted, her sermon is far more engrossing that the previous reverand's, I'm sure, but it's curious how completely the congregation has bought into her guidance.
Mad Sweeney listens and watches and doesn't buy that the Queen of Sheba's become a Christian leader.
What is left unaddressed completely is what actually happened to the previous reverand. With Bilquis in the equation, one can only imagine.
And it's Bilquis who opens Mad Sweeney's memories up, stirring the stories that are all jumbled in his head.
Bilquis: The stories that are told about you have reached my ears over the years too. The leprechaun, the hell-spirit, the pagan warrior, the madman, and the great and golden king. You haven't always been... this.
Mad Sweeney: Ah, well. It's all bollocks anyway. Don't remember much of it these days.
Before I move on, I want it on the record that Pablo Schreiber pulled out all the stops here and it was glorious.
Unreliable narrators have become incredibly powerful instruments in all forms of media nowadays.
From FX's Legion to the brilliant Castle Rock Season 1 Episode 7, experiencing a story from the perspective of characters whose memories have been warped or disguised or damaged gives rise to extremely intricate revelations.
Mad Sweeney has never claimed to be sane. It's in his name after all.
However, we've come to accept that he's a leprachaun. He's needs his luck. He was brought to America through the belief of an Irish woman.
But through various accounts of his past, we learn so much more about him.
Yes, he's cursed but the source of his madness is debatable.
He was a warrior.
He was a king.
He was a god.
And whether you like best the story of the king who betrayed the grey monks or the hedonistic sprite with the fortune-telling girlfriend or the Irish god of the sun who slayed his grandfather in battle, the point is, according to Mr. Ibis, THEY ARE ALL TRUE.
A storyteller does not concern themselves with the truth. Stories are truer than the truth. These are not literal constructs as much as imaginative creations.Mr. Ibis
Mad Sweeney's unravelling of his past has a little to do with the battle Mr. Wednesday owes him and a lot to do with shining a spotlight on the truth.
As the last tale tells it, he was Lugh of the Tuatha De Danaan and he was god of the sun and the rightful king of Ireland.
Remembering this, Mad Sweeney must've taken stock of where he'd ended up and chose a new path.
He tries to keep Shadow out of the way.
He extorts the promise, vaguely worded as it was, but Shadow takes his loyalty to Wednesday seriously and breaks his word, defending his boss and fulfilling the prophecy of Sweeney's death with the spear Gungnir.
Although it's never spelled out what Sweeney thought to accomplish in attacking Wednesday, I assume he meant to take his vengeance while preventing the war.
Wednesday: What a waste. I would've given you your battle.
Mad Sweeney: You're always my battle.
He does get that last laugh though. Wednesday's spear, Gungnir, is gone. (Which calls into question whether American Gods Season 2 Episode 6 was relevant at all.)
I appreciate the parallelism in telling a more comprehensive version of Mad Sweeney's history as well as sending him off in proper Sweeney style.
I feel like there should be some sort of repercussion for Shadow breaking his promise but I can't imagine how that'll play out.
The loss of Gungnir is a blow to Wednesday's plans but, being who he is, I'm sure he's got contingencies for this sort of thing.
And, after all, he's still got his tree.
American Gods premieres on Starz each Sunday in the U.S. and new episodes become available the day after the U.S. broadcast in Canada and internationally on Amazon Prime Video.
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.