It’s hard to know what to think of Sleepy Hollow, the latest offering from FOX. To say it’s full of faults is an understatement. Time-traveling British doctor (TARDIS not included), headless War of Independence-era horseman with an all too convenient weakness, demons that live in a mirror world, a priest who’s a wizard (no, wait…witch?), and a local sheriff’s department that is somehow at the heart of all of it? It makes for confused and, at times, terrible TV. And that’s not even the worst of it. That comes in the horrendous, mid-pilot revelation – the Headless Horseman, one of the most renowned villains in folklore history, is one of the Horseman of the Apocalypse (specifically, Death)? Rather than adding to the mythos around the character, this neuters him. It makes him less terrifying, less cold. The original tale of the Hessian soldier preying on travelers was scary. The ghost of the headless horseman was indiscriminate in his killings. He was driven solely by the desire to kill. Giving the ghoul a back-story makes him too understandable. It also positions the show in that grey area that Supernatural has insisted on inhabiting for the last few seasons – it straddles the occult and the religious, thoroughly unnecessarily.
The format is awkward at best throughout. Opening as a standard procedural, it gets a little muddled in the middle, with an often-uncomfortable surrealism that jars, but not in the expected way. Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison, One Day, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) should, naturally, clash with this modern world and all its accoutrements. He should clash with Lieutenant Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie, Shame, 42), the (free) African-American woman in the trousers. But, instead, we’re treated to more of a clashing of spirit. The concept of Ichabod Crane working with the police to find a supernatural killer is what is ridiculous to us. But that isn’t clever writing taking us out of our comfort zone. It’s bad writing that fails to show us why we should be IN our comfort zone. The writers failed at their very first task – making us believe this is all possible.
But the final moments give us some hope. The fast-paced, slow-build episode culminated in a couple of scenes that painted a more overt idea of what the show will be all about (and don’t get us started on the poor conception that must have led to a pilot ‘origin story’ episode that doesn’t really do much setting up of format until the final moments). Based on the first 35 minutes of the episode, we’re not interested. The last few scenes, on the other hand, make us envisage a more adventurous series, where the cop procedural takes a back seat to the occult. Mills operating out of uniform places a demarcation line between the cops and our new mystical duo. This gives the show some potential, making it more Supernatural than Castle. But the success of that approach, or even its continuation, remains to be seen.
The episode is not without merit. Ichabod Crane is charming and funny, Abbie Mills mysterious. Guest star John Cho (Go On, Star Trek) played an important role in set-up – showing us that the horseman has acolytes – if in an all too fleeting role. Captain Frank Irving (Orlando Jones, Rules of Engagement, Evolution) is immediately the object of our suspicion, thanks to some really fantastic side-eye. The Horseman is a badass packing some serious heat. Ichabod’s wife, Katrina (Katia Winter, Dexter), should bring some much-needed emotional conflict to the show. The knowledge that she is alive somewhere (most likely trapped in the mirror world we saw the demon escape to at the end) should layer Ichabod in guilt when he (undoubtedly) begins to fall for Abbie.
Although we’re not enthusiastic, we will watch the second episode – “Blood Moon” – just to see if things improve. The series does have an interesting premise, theoretically (though we do wish that the networks would come out with something original), but we’re not sure they’ve hit the mark quite yet. The sly implication that the show will run to at least seven seasons, rather than thrilling us, made us feel a little queasy. Let’s see if they deserve to get that lengthy run. – K
“If the horseman reclaims his skull, he will become whole again. Three more will follow and then it will begin.”
“What will begin?”
“The end.” – Katrina, Ichabod