Recap: Sleepy Hollow S02E01 – This Is War
Sleepy Hollow returns with a bang for Season 2’s alternative history hijinks
Sleepy Hollow returned Monday night with a flurry of otherworldly conjurations, plot pretzels, and the darkly rewritten Revolutionary history that made it’s first season so enjoyable for fans of the show. The recent glut of network TV shows based around occult themes, supernatural ideas, and various other horror fare has had very limited success as the big networks attempt to cash in on superior horror-themed shows on cable such as American Horror Story and The Walking Dead. I would even be so bold as to say that besides NBC’s Grimm, they have failed miserably…..except for Sleepy Hollow, who’s charm lies not in an exceptional stylistic vision, or monumental storytelling, but in the relationship between it’s characters and the likeability of it’s actors. The horror element is more in ambience than direct punches to your psyche, and the show’s blend of alternate history, and the ‘fish out of water’ exemplified by the resurrected Ichabod Crane allows for both humorous moments, and a blithe social commentary on our superficial 21st century lives.
Last season thrust us into a world that required more than a little suspension of disbelief … The show’s creators would have us believe that Ichabod Crane (played brilliantly by British actor Tom Mison) was a key figure of the American Revolution, knew everyone from George Washington on down, and that the Founding Fathers were leading a war against the evil minions of the demon Moloch. Everything we were taught in school about American history had a second, mystical meaning that tied directly back to the Freemasons, Ichabod and Katrina (Katia Winter), Ichabod’s soon-to-be wife who was a good witch involved in the nefarious conflict. That conflict has survived the intervening centuries into modern times, and Crane finds himself brought back from the dead after 232 years. He teams up with a spunky detective, Abigail Mills (Nicole Beharie) to fight the forces of evil and solve the mysterious questions surrounding Ichabod’s life and death as well as Abby’s own childhood visions of Moloch. Season 1 ended with a traditional cliff hanger (no, Ichabod did not shoot JR Ewing): we learned that their ally Henry (John Noble) is actually Ichabod and Katrina’s son, Jeremy Crane, is a servant of Moloch and is none other than the second Horseman of the Apocalypse, War. Ichabod is trapped in a coffin, Katrina is taken by the Headless Horseman, who also happens to be her spurned fiancee, and Abigail is trapped in Purgatory.
As episode 1 of season 2 began, shenanigans were afoot from the get-go: Ichabod and Abigail were celebrating Ichabod’s birthday (with an uncommonly patriotic cupcake) a year later and still hurting over the death’s of Katrina and Jenny (Lyndie Greenwood), Abby’s sister. I was racking my brain … though it had been several months admittedly, I recalled Ichabod’s
subterranean imprisonment and Henry’s revelation. When did Jenny and Katrina die? Perplexed, I figured there would be a reveal soon enough.
Abby receives a call from the Sleepy Hollow Sheriff’s department: a history professor has come to them with important information. Off they go into town and, upon arrival, they find a decapitated officer with the signature cauterized neck wound; luckily, they came prepared with a trunk load of blessed weaponry, consecrated ammo, and stoic gravitas. Armed to the teeth, they head inside. The building seems unoccupied and left to the creative whims of the lighting department – muted, subdued, and Sheriff-y. The purported Benjamin Franklin scholar is discovered, also sans head and detective-ing
This week’s alternate history subject is Franklin, and Crane regales Abby with many a story revolving around Franklin’s less than admirable character, quirks, and peccadillos. As Franklin’s assistant back in the 1700s, Ichabod is privy to the way Franklin thought and his methods and soon finds a hidden compartment in the desk that reveals the professor’s notes. Suddenly, in a fanfare of stroboscopic lightning, the Headless Horseman enters in a hail of shotgun blasts. Keep in mind that he had discarded the traditional Hessian axe and sabre back in season 1, in favor of a more Terminator-esque arsenal. After a return volley of blessed ammunition, the Horseman realizes he is outgunned, and exits the room amidst the chaos of a flashbang grenade.
In the notes, Crane and Mills find mention of a drawing of a key. Not just any key: the key Franklin used in his famous kite flying electricity experiment. Thankfully for we the viewership, Crane was present at the aforementioned event, and knew it’s true meaning … Franklin was trying to destroy the diabolical door opener, as it is the Ghenna Key and unlocks the realm of Purgatory. Left with no alternative, they must consult their captured adversary, the Second Horseman of War, Henry. Henry is locked away in an underground chamber of the Sleepy Hollow sewer system. Henry is coy and non-compliant during the exchange, taunting and superior. After a fruitless questioning, Abby and Ichabod leave the room to discuss their options.
Abby recalls her sister going on a mission to retrieve some Franklin related files for their mentor, Sheriff Corbin (Clancy Brown). Henry breaks free of his restraints and reveals that Act 1 has been an elaborate ploy, an illusion created to reveal the location of the key. Abigail is still in Purgatory, Ichabod is still six feet under, and Moloch has found a way to leave his netherworldy prison. Faith in my memory restored, I mired my way through the commercial break in anticipation of Act 2.
Our middle section takes up the suddenly restored plot threads and begins weaving its way towards our epsiodic culmination. Jenny is a captive of Henry, brought back by a shot of adrenaline. Now that Henry knows that she is the key to … the key … he reads her mind and sees the documents he has been seeking. As soon as he deciphers Franklin’s coded instructions, he can free Moloch. Ichabod, hindered by vegetation and trapped in his pine box, realizes that the earth above him is laced with sulfur, and decides to blow his way out of the grave. Fuse, match, BOOM. Unscathed, he begins his walk back to town. Abigail is sneaking around Purgatory when she encounters her frenemy, Andy Brooks (John Cho). Officer Andy has a nasty habit of flip flopping between his role as Moloch’s undead servant and his human crush on Abby which results in him playing both sides to his own benefit. Andy informs her that Moloch is planning on raising an army of the dead to storm out of Purgatory the moment Henry opens the gate. Abby feels the sudden, urgent need to contact Crane, and Andy (always helpful except when he’s not), tells her of a special mirror in Moloch’s lair that Katrina had used to contact Crane all through season 1.
Jenny, taking advantage of a flirtatious Hessian, escapes her bonds and sends Ichabod a text message detailing her location, expediently within walking distance of Crane’s most recent grave. Crane arrives at the warehouse and commandeers an ambulance. Gunshots can be heard emanating from within and he turns the warehouse into a drive-thru in a timely manner and spirits away with Jenny. They compare notes on the key, and Ichabod reveals that the key may provide a way to rescue Abby from Purgatory without providing the required exchange soul. The needed documents are in the local archives, so it’s a research oriented race against time to divine the key’s location. Henry has a head start, but Ichabod, due to his apprenticeship, knows Franklin’s alphabetical code. Jenny recalls a statue of Franklin in a nearby park, so they head off. Meanwhile, Abby enters Moloch’s lair, an absolutely stunning set for a television show, replete with a wall of skulls, a cathedral like display of candles, and a giant Sigil of Baphomet (minus goathead – it is network TV after all) that functions as the communication portal between worlds. Abby sends a vision/summons Ichabod and they suss out their plan.
Rounding the corner into Act 3, we find Crane and Jenny at the Franklin park. Hessians have beat them there, and are milling about the place, digging and doing Germanic things. Recalling a cryptic comment made by Franklin, Ichabod figures out that the key is not in the park itself but beneath the clock tower next to the park. A couple of hammer blows later, a brick is removed and the key recovered (thank you National Treasure 2). Back at the Headless Horseman’s love shack, we catch up with the imprisoned Katrina. The Horseman enters, and after a Mister Rogers “beautiful day in the neighborhood” peacoat exchange, places the Necklace of Seeing My Head upon her, thereby allowing him to remove his green screen mask and have a conversation. Abraham / the Hat Challenged Horseman (played in human form by Neil Jackson), informs her that she needs to get on with her new life as Ichabod will be dead by midnight.
Crane and Jenny arrive at the four white trees of interdimensional mirror smashing with the Ghenna key in tow. After a brief discussion, Crane recites the Watcher incantation and heads into Purgatory. We cut over to Abigail searching frantically for a charm given to her by Katrina that keeps her safe from Moloch. Ichabod arrives and offers her a canteen … turns out that if someone offers you food or drink in Purgatory, bad things can happen, so Abby is hesitant. Suddenly, another Crane appears and we launch into a full Ichabod fight. Abigail gets knocked down and loses track of which Crane is the illusion. The victorious Crane runs to her with the key. They must go. After a bit of running, Abby stops to catch her breath. Ichabod implores her to continue so she can get back to her sister and seals his fate with “Finally, lieutenant” … as any fan of the show knows, Ichabod refers to her in the more traditional British colloquialism “leftenant.” Abby grabs a sword and lops off the faux-Ichabod’s head. The real Crane comes running up, recovered from his tussle, and they continue on to the gate as Moloch’s undead army begins rising from the ground. They reach the gate and use the key. Moloch realizes what is happening and charges towards the gate. Abby and Crane jump through the gate back into our world, and the portal seals up right before Moloch can get through.
Tragedy averted, the Ghenna key turns to dust, a one time ‘get out of jail free’ card. The sisters are reunited, the End of Days has been put off until next week – and Moloch won’t be escaping Purgatory. Moloch, ever the eternal, infernal optimist, has a new plan. He gives a gift to Henry, a large, fiery, armored golem that the Horseman of War can control. The story continues …
Though chock full of reasons not to like Sleepy Hollow – implausible storylines both past and present, ample inconsistencies, a lack of horror, and the big networks dogged pandering to middle America that submarines shows like this – I like this show.
I’ve always been a fan of the original Washington Irving story with it’s creepy New England folk lore and iconic imagery. I’m a sucker for alternate history, secret societies, and the more subtle elements in creepy staging, so perhaps I am predisposed to having an affectation that supercedes my logic. The whole show, for me, hinges on the performances and chemistry between Mison and Behaire. It just works.
Mison deftly handles the dry, stuffy, proper persona of a British colonial, and uses that as a perfect starting place for dealing with the oddities of 21st century life. Coupled with the character’s love for Katrina, which transcends death, and his dedication to Abby, it’s a well-rounded character, concisely written for, and lends a difficult-to-achieve balance between humor and seriousness that anchors the show.
The imminently likeable Behaire provides the perfect street-smart counterpoint rooted firmly in the now, and the natural flow of their conversations makes the alternate history threads seem less like unnecessary exposition and more like an unveiling of the shroud of history. In the hands of other actors, it might not come off as effortless, and would be an anchor around the neck of the more fanciful elements.
Also of note, John Noble positively chews scenery in the role of Henry … his measured delivery and sense of menace lying just below the surface are brilliantly subtle, and the resonance of his voice makes me wonder why he hasn’t gotten more work in Hollywood over the years, besides his role as Denethor in the LOTR and as Walter Bishop in Fringe.
All in all, I don’t know who I would recommend this show to. Drama purists will cringe at the storylines, horror enthusiasts won’t find enough meat on the bone to keep them interested – it sits in a little niche all it’s own. Seeing as how FOX renewed it for a second season, and ratings have been good enough, SOMEONE out there likes it besides me.
Hopefully, our select group of fans can keep the show buoyant enough and for long enough that it can reach a satisfying conclusion for all parties. And hopefully, the writers tread carefully and smartly. There’s a pattern of second seasons jumping the proverbial shark, and a headless shark would be even worse.