It’s been a while since Sleepy Hollow had the old-fashioned-serial momentum of season one, but darn it if “The Art of War” isn’t trying. Jenny being possessed by a demon has never been such brisk fun!
A nice thing about this season’s villains is that no one has asked you to care about them. Gone are the days when the show strained to make Katrina’s deal look like a moral dilemma! Sure, the days when the Horseman actually made a vaguely-formidable enemy are also gone, but you take your chances, I guess. What it means for us: Atticus Nevins can summon all the Norse berserker demons he wants and nobody expects us to be invested in it. Pandora can show up with her supergoth Lord of the Rings cosplay boyfriend, and you do not have to care about it whatsoever! This has led to a subdued pace, but it’s also made it easier to refocus on all the neglected character dynamics from last season, and a few new ones of...varying efficacy. “The Art of War” tries to change all that and make sure you’re invested in the workings of the evil-hearted—it even opens with Abbie handing Ichabod his double-jug in chess to make sure you understand this is an opening gambit in a fall-finale strategy.
In its favor, this episode has a pretty effective race-against-time A-plot: Jenny’s possessed by the shard, and she’s being hunted, and if they don’t get the shard out in time she could become something eeeevil. (Remember that videotape of possessed Jenny from Corbin’s effects? Besides feeling immensely sorry for Jenny, who straight-up can’t catch a break, this is a reminder that two whole seasons after that moment, nobody in this team carries salt on them.)
The good news is that as soon as Jenny and Joe realize what’s happening, they head to Abbie and Crane to fess up. (Additional good news, not pictured: Jenny and Joe are hilarious sparring partners who spend most of their warm-up talking about Swiss bank accounts and flirting.)
More good news: The Abbie/Ichabod work marriage is firing on all cylinders. (When Danny brings by her Authority Phone, Ichabod makes the world’s most intense cup of tea about it, no words necessary.) The bad news: Jenny and Joe pissed off the wrong half of that work marriage.
I feel for Abbie. The show is setting her up to have to make a decision between her career and her calling, and though Ichabod dares to suggest he knows what it’s like to be caught “between two worlds,” it’s still going to suck when Abbie’s staring that decision down after a lifetime of aiming. And it is not going to make things any easier if she gets dismissed in disgrace because Joe thought it would be fun to play antihero and Jenny went with him to make sure he wouldn’t trip over himself on the way inside.
Abbie is correct.
However, there’s no time to dwell on it, since the berserkers come looking for Jenny and the hilarious action sequences of this episode begin. This one is still my favorite of the episode, just because the show’s leaning so hard into the Abbie Just Shoots It idea that it’s infecting everything around her:
She is one fight sequence away from Vasquez’ giant alien automatic.
But really, every interaction with the berserkers is handled with Flash Gordon aplomb. Ichabod and Joe hunt them down with mistletoe arrows! (It does nothing because something something plot something.) So instead, everybody suits up to climb trees and drop Jenny’s blood on the bersekers’ backs so they’ll attack one another.
I mean, it would be priceless even if the sequence didn’t end with them dropping from the trees and then just casually strolling up to the berserkers anyway. But it does!
(Yes, Ichabod’s vial of Jenny’s blood is still in his teeth. Tom Mison is not going to let that visual gag go to waste.)
And the big action finale involves the three berserkers beating one another to death while Abbie, Ichabod, and Joe mostly just hang out and wait to make sure everybody dies:
Good work, team. All that sparring pays off.
Actually, there’s one other sparring scene, which happens after Ichabod convinces Abbie to put her job on the line and remove surveillance on Nevins under false pretense so that Ichabod can sneak in. Why? To get a pencil rubbing of the incantation Nevins used to raise the berserkers in the first place. (Actual plot point. I’ll take it; it makes more sense than a good 62% of this show’s normal plot points.)
But oh ho! What’s this?
(I mean, this suggests strongly that Sophie is the woman Ichabod is actually going to be making out with once Sweetheart Blandaisy is out of the picture, right? Otherwise, what are we looking at? It is, I admit, entirely possible the show has no idea how this looks - this show is tone-deaf in some very strange ways - but, uh.)
This unexpectedly intense interlude is the only surprising emotional moment this week, but frankly I had enough of emotional surprises last season and was more than happy to enjoy a little continuity instead. Abbie is deeply worried about the possibility of losing Jenny, which is no surprise given that she can’t seem to ever keep Jenny in the first place, and they both know it.
Jenny is using gallows humor to deflect her fears, which they are both a lot more comfortable about these days.
And the two men in their lives struggle to be helpful, which might be easier if they could look down at their papers and stop talking around their feelings regarding various Mills sisters, but good luck.
Ichabod does have some cogent advice for Joe, which is that he should talk to Jenny about his feelings. And though Joe might be new and completely unprepared for this entire line of work, apparently he can, on occasion, listen to good advice. He’s still a fool about it – don’t kiss anyone right after a blood draw! You have to give them orange juice and a cookie and wait 20 minutes! – but we’ll make allowances for time. He explains his feelings:
Jenny also explains her feelings.
Great conversation, you guys. The eighth-grade dance of fighting the supernatural has turned into the making-out-behind-the-senior-bleachers of imminent demon possession. Nice one.
In case you think I’m disappointed or kidding, I’m not. Leaving aside the shipper subtext, this show has a bad track record with romances: Andy was a creep who had to die twice before he redeemed himself, Katrina was a mess, Mary got ghosted literally and figuratively, Hawley tried to make something happen with both Mills sisters, Danny’s in an impossible professional bind, I honestly couldn’t remember Zoe’s name until I looked it up, and Betsy Ross is suffering from the position the showrunners put her in as an object of Ichabod’s affections who, hilariously, has spent most of her screen time so far doing shit she never even told him about. Jenny’s got a mercenary in every port, but other than that, this track record is laughable. I actually decided in the middle of writing this paragraph that Sophie might want to just avoid Ichabod after all, because this entire group of people is a romance garbage fire. To conclude: I am frankly relieved that Joe and Jenny’s low-key flirtation turned into a low-key makeout. May they avoid all the mistakes of the past.
Especially because it will be the only mistake they avoid.
Yes, this week’s old-fashioned serial flavor means that being taken by surprise is almost inevitable. But these are two seasoned demon-hunters and an ex-Army man, and they do not look nearly embarrassed enough at having been caught out by a two-man team. They just jumped down from trees in order to walk another 20 feet approaching their quarry anyway, and that is still not the lowlight of their expedition. Just imagine that. (Note: Joe the Army man tucks his polos into his jeans. That is a seriously accurate costuming note.)
Joe, heroic as he is, is willing to die to avoid disclosing Jenny’s location. But one has to imagine it’s pity as much as anything that stirs Sophie to save this sad, sad trio and blow her FBI cover.
You know, I get the surprise; by all means, be surprised. But from the way Joe and Ichabod handle it, the implication is that Danny has betrayed Abbie by not telling her about Sophie. And I know we are on Team Witness and everything, but the first thing Danny had to to when he appointed Abbie to the team was to ask her to maybe keep her sister away from the scene of the crime. There is no reason he would inform Abbie about a Need to Know undercover agent. If Sophie was a Tell Anybody You Feel Like undercover agent, Danny still should not have told Abbie. Abbie’s FBI activity this week included lying to get surveillance out of the way so her friend could sneak in and steal stuff! Abbie is compromised! If this show tries to make any of this Danny’s fault I’m going to have questions.
They will not, however, be my most pressing questions, which I guess we are saving for Pandora’s Galadriel routine, a return which would be a lot goofier if Jenny hadn’t abandoned her post and joined up with them.
(I don’t want to look around for Galadriel/Sauron fanfic, but I am 100% certain it exists, and whoever wrote that should be very happy with this shot.)
And while Abbie and her men speed in vain toward the Masonic hideout, Jenny’s welcomed to the party with one of the most Flash-Gordon-y cliffhangers this show has ever seen:
Stay tuned next week, boys and girls, as Jenny gets – A SLICE OF THE ACTION.