The Sleepy Hollow season finale had one last chance to convince viewers to come back after a rocky second season. But did this "reverse pilot" do the trick? Spoilers ahead...
The good news: This was definitely one of the very few episodes this season that made me wish it were longer! On the other hand, half of what made "Tempus Fugit" so fun was the pacing: the whiplash nonsense of this show at its best, in which nearly everyone involved was at their cleverest, politics was folded into plot, and the relationship beats built naturally. Despite some third-act slapdash that felt designed to bring back the show's missing viewers, it was easily the best episode since the season opener. (Gosh, it has been a seriously rocky season.)
When your show trades on the dynamic of your two leads and things have gotten a little stale, a reverse-pilot almost always works to shake the snow globe, and despite my worries about how the second-season team would handle Abbie being in 1781, this felt like a throwback — not just for the show's timeline, but to the show's more aware first season — and if that's how we go out, then maybe that's all right.
Here are five questions the finale answered... and one it didn't.
1. Was it worth sending Abbie back to the past?
It was! My biggest worry – how they would handle the way the eighteenth century would treat her – was fairly well answered. Though it fell into a few small traps (they know something's up with Abbie because her "demeanor" isn't accommodating enough, Franklin praises her for being "well spoken," there's a mention of a slave auction that feels like it needed more grounding), it also avoided several big traps. It even got in a few small jabs – like Abbie brightly greeting a couple of Colonials just to watch them squirm.
Plus, this episode never forgot that Abbie is Abbie — and when General Sutton comes by to assault her, she informs him, "There have been a lot of developments in close-quarters combat," and then beats the crap out of him.
It's that same strength of characterization that helps sell the speed of her connection with Ichabod. When Abbie first met Ichabod, she'd just seen Sheriff Corbin decapitated by a headless horseman, so someone else believing her was a feature, not a bug.
Here, Ichabod has only suspicions and concern for his duty, which is a very different beast. He's in his element, and so just a tick more self-assured and colder than we know him (savvy work by Tom Mison) – and besides all the supernatural dangers, Abbie is at an immediate political disadvantage that raises her stakes exponentially and risks making her look like she's inventing stories just to get out of jail. Plus, given the Revolutionary War going on around them, Ichabod has just enough reason to think she's a spy that their first meeting is pretty tense.
(It actually is very tense, just let me have this.)
But of course, Abbie's sharp as a knife, and knows just what information to give him and what to withhold – and Ichabod's fundamentally drawn to her the same way she was to him in the pilot, so that he believes her almost despite himself. They progress from strangers to close-talking in just under five minutes, shortly after she points out "the flimsiness of the I Am From the Future cover story," and Ichabod politely crisps out an agreement that saving the world sounds like "an intractable task."
Sadly, their first disaster causes a total loss of faith on Ichabod's part: Abbie negotiating with him and delivering more information even as she cries, determined to push through it and solve the problem, a moment Nicole Beharie delivers beautifully.
But obviously they're destined to work it out in hurry, so we're still just 15 minutes to the full reconciliation, where he assures her he looks forward to meeting her in any timeline, and she skips right to the hug.
Did they miss some opportunities? Definitely. Things moved too fast for us to ever have time to contemplate what might have to happen to Ichabod for history to right itself, to think how Katrina might succeed (though Katrina has never succeeded at anything, so maybe this gets a pass), or even to worry much about Abbie's chances – in the basics, it was a very shouty game of plot hopscotch. But it captured that core sense of connection and purpose that's been missing for a season, and that, in the end, was pretty much enough.
2. Did they have some fun with the premise, though?
Well, they decapitated Ben Franklin! That was pretty fun!
It sort of serves Franklin right for giving Abbie the old thrice-over right on the doorstep, I guess.
But in terms of "Okay, well now you REALLY have to fix it" twists, this one worked, and it made me laugh. Good luck inventing swim fins and the post office now, jerks!
I think it was actually fairly smart to avoid having too much fun with the premise, both because there wasn't time and because the inescapable historical context was going to get awkward fast. But they definitely wanted to make the most of their shooting week in Colonial Williamsburg, and it worked out. Even Evil Nurse Katrina had a fun moment, running up to where she thought Ichabod would be in fake high-dudgeon panic before she realized Abbie was more than happy to mess up history to in order to get her way.
("Oh, my poor husb-! Hang on, I don't care if YOU die, what is this bullshit?")
3. Is the show ready to let Abbie back at the center of the action?
The show is ready. The show is so sorry. This show puts Abbie at the center of the narrative engine and lets her propel the entire episode. This show has Benjamin Franklin ask about everything he invented that's still around purely to remind us he's forward-thinking, and then has him declare to Ichabod: "She is the American Dream."
The show is So. Sorry.
This episode even has Abbie meet Grace Dixon and get a character beat that isn't about Ichabod! And while I'm really sorry they didn't get more time together (we could have cut the opening battle - Tom Mison's stage combat is very nice but this would have been a bigger payoff and cost one-tenth as much), I was pleased not just by the way Grace instantly recognized Abbie's need for the family connection:
But that when they return to the future, Abbie's first comment about Grace is how sorry she is Jenny wasn't there. The karaoke episode had a glimpse of a functioning relationship between them; I'm glad that seems to be where they are now. We can never go back and fix the four white trees to be creepy and meaningful, but we have this!
4. Is the system of magic on Sleepy Hollow still played fast and loose?
Well, remember the huge time-travel spell that sent everybody back to 1781 and took Solomon Kent 350 years to track down and required two magical halves of the most powerful tome ever written to be joined together in unholy union before the spell could even be cast? Turns out you can return a spell to any branch of the store within 72 hours, and Grace Dixon just happens to have the anti-time-travel spell in her house book!
(He gets to hold flowers. That's it. No time to care about Ichabod. Grace Dixon has things to do.)
This is both howlingly lazy plotting and quietly great characterization, because it reminds me of the days when this show enjoyed subverting expectations about race and genre on TV, and it makes just enough sense to fly, since Grace Dixon is magical without quite being the Magical Negro trope, forward-thinking but a firm believer in her own time and importance, determined to make sure Abbie understands the stakes, and not going to hear one word about Abbie risking herself for some ex-Brit dinkus who only started believing her about five hours ago when he saw the selfie.
4. So they still managed to make Ichabod deal with tech?
Of course! In fact, one of my favorite beats of characterization for Ichabod this episode is that his approach to technology remains intact, which is: huff about it, attempt it with iffy results, work it out, be fine with it. It happened with NorthStar, it happened with cars, and as we know from this episode, it happened with selfies.
('Two years in possession of this technology, and still I cannot conquer the Selfie Tilt?")
There's one solid beat of physical comedy from Ichabod obeying the slide instructions literally, but he's a smart guy and he works it out, and then we're into the meat of the matter.
The real meat of the matter is that this show isn't sure it's coming back, and so it is apologizing to the shippers for the entire second-season waste of chemistry by giving Abbie a phone where his birthday is the passcode. (Also, I do not care that those are promo stills, it's Jenny and Frank and Joe Corbin and Sheriff Corbin and I'm thrilled to see them all in there, I don't even care that it's tacked-on, I see it but I don't even care.) But this hint of burgeoning Shipper Feelings fro Abbie sets a very interesting stage, if the show comes back, especially now that team dynamics have shifted.
5. So did they figure out what to do with Katrina?
Oh, did they ever.
Woooow. They were leaving no room for angsty guilt about Ichabod's inability to save her at a crucial moment as she died at the hand of another, were they?
I was fairly sure that the biggest promise this show could make to viewers was to kill off its albatross, but there was no shortage of other ways this could have happened – until the last minutes I thought either the Headsman would kill her in the past, or that Grace Dixon would handle it. There was even a greater-than-zero possibility, given how Katrina has been unable to stick the landing on pretty much everything, that Katrina would try to send herself back in time again immediately and mess up the spell and explode. They had options.
And the option they went with? The old Shakespearean Gotcha; mostly accidental, totally fatal.
Katrina dies as she lived: flaky, and largely through the will of others.
With her dies the last of the second season's many ill-advised villains, leaving our heroes to face the future. Which brings us to the question this episode was never going to be able to answer:
Is it enough to get Sleepy Hollow a third season?
There's no telling. It's a question mark that hangs palpably over the entire episode, especially the last few minutes, which feel like they're very aware they could be the show's last, and the writers decided to bring everyone a little closure. Abbie and Frank immediately reconcile after a season of Abbie's growing suspicions abut Frank's loyalties. Does it seem too fast? Yes. Would I rather this series end on a hug, if it had to? Yes.
When I genuinely thought they'd be dumb enough to get rid of Orlando Jones midseason, I was surprised and disappointed. Then they brought him back, and I was hopeful!...because I could not have been prepared for the eensy plot circles he'd be jogging in for the back seven. May this be the end of all that, and he goes back to being the cop who called a ton of backup before confronting a warehouse full of sketchy dudes.
I also liked that Jenny and Ichabod – who, again, had a nice rapport last season and have been suffering from plot-induced amnesia about a lot of stuff this season – had a moment, and Jenny (who, back when this show had character layers, was more sensitive to family loss even than Abbie was) was the first to verbally express condolences to Ichabod on the loss of his wife...by being stabbed by him.
If you come back, it's going to be awkward for a while, show. Just accept that now and make that a thing you work through on purpose.
And of course, as we wrap up, Abbie dutifully informs everyone that courtesy of the Grace Dixon Bummer Alert, they are probably in for some more awkward, as-yet-unspecified attempts at a new villain arc next season. "These are the most important pages," Grace told her of her journal; the mythical Season Three pages. (Question: do the other Horsemen still exist? Does keeping Pestilence from showing up on Earth count as killing him? Does the one Horseman we actually know still exist? If so is he evil? Will hearing about Katrina's death make him evil once again? Will they drop it for two seasons and then randomly run into him in the middle of the woods playing poker with the Kindred? Forget it, me, it's SleepyHollowtown.)
But after that?
"Ready, Captain?" "Ready, Leftenant."
It would be nice if the show could ditch whoever spent the season trying to make the Crane Family Band happen, and give us the kind of season three that would erase the awfulness of this season. (If Elementary managed it, they can, too!)
(Abbie saw Elementary's second season. It was a mess.)
But if this is the last episode of Sleepy Hollow we get, and this is where it ends – the pair of them off to new adventures, smiling and/or sniping at each other, barely able to fit in the same frame because of their height difference – then I guess that's still something after all.