This week's Sleepy Hollow gave us the plot no one was clamoring for: Ichabod and Katrina try to save their marriage, and get chased by an evil painting. It's more fun than it sounds! (Which isn't saying much.) Spoilers ahead...
Whatever Sleepy Hollow's long-term reactions to the widespread season-two backlash are, they're going to come too late to fix this season. That gives the show's back six a certain devil-may-care feeling about what the producers expect audiences to be invested in. It's already been reflected in the ratings that actually, nobody wants any of this stuff — but here we all still are, because what else are you going to do with things you've already filmed?
So! This week, the A-plot is Ichabod and Katrina's date at the Historical Society as they try to salvage their relationship by easing Katrina into the modern world. Frankly, no sale, since we know she's seen reality TV and been to a Hot Topic, at the very least. What more of humanity is there left to know?
Well, besides formal getup, which is stumping Ichabod something awful (with a delightful delivery of "How can one be both business and casual?"), and who seeks advice from Abbie about it.
That advice? The distinctly Abbie-esque "You don't have to go," followed up with, "it's not going to change the fact that she's done things to compromise our team." (Did they know by then? Are they listening? Has this all been setup for her to get evil, go home, and take Headless with her? Is this the show becoming sentient and taking sides? What's happening??)
Also, this is apropos of nothing, but I had cringed to think Abbie was there to drive them on their date – because Katrina has the cabin, let's recall, so Abbie has been asked specifically to come to this place that's mostly Katrina's now, presumably to drive Ichabod there. Then she leaves, and while I'm so glad her evening doesn't include Some Kind of Wonderful-ing this disaster couple around, I don't get why she was there. Was she delivering Katrina that dress? You know what, the more I think about this, the weirder it gets — let's drop it.
But however they get to the Historical Society, they go there. And Katrina gets to celebrate the present by remembering her friendship with Abigail Adams, who apparently was very clever and who knew about at least one Katrina pregnancy while Ichabod was still alive, which makes me think this must have been a very narrow window of acquaintance. Abigail Adams was also apparently an inveterate crime-solver, and Katrina, thrilled to have a name of her own to drop, just can't stop thinking about her.
Ichabod is so overcome by her sadness over her long-dead friend that he introduces her to public butt-fondling.
"In modern America, touching in public is quite permitted," he explains, which – maybe not in the middle of a Historical Society party, please.
The plot, which opts not to waste any time before leaping off the rails, is about a cursed painting in which the artist is trapped. The artist travels between the realms, either TO paint with the blood of others or BY painting with the blood of others — which I will grant is a very small distinction, since what it mostly mean is that anyone who touches the painting will soon be dragged back into the canvas to be killed like the tarot Hanged Man for no particular reason.
Is it hilariously over the top? Of course. Do we get a lot of flashbacks of Abigail Adams for no particular reason except that people vaguely know Abigail Adams? Probably. Does it lead Katrina to have to say, with a straight face, "He's using that painting as refuge. That must be why he drains his victims of blood!"? It does.
But at the same time, there's something about this episode, even for all its Katrina, that has the old-school X-Files feel that the best parts of Season One nailed down and has been sorely missed this season. The creepy cold open, the phone calls between partners, and the big save at the end are all classics. The monster makes no sense, and sometimes that's just fine.
Momentary tip of the hat to whoever had to make all the different versions of the painting.
Bleeding version, hero version, creepy turned-head version that was kind of amazing, He's Right Behind You version, He's Draining the Curator version, and We're Screwed version.
Bonus: the historical Abigail Adams and the "Hey, they called me up for Reverend Knapp again, that's fun!" version.
Though the biggest tip of the hat this week goes to whoever wrote this for Reyes: "Ichabod has a wife? Huh, he never mentioned you."
I assumed this storyline was intended to establish how well Katrina and Ichabod work together. The answer is: "Ehhh."
At one point they do get crucial information by reading a Historical Society pamphlet, which might be the hardest I laughed all week. They also got in a nice shot of Ichabod having an intense conversation next to a catering-kitchen lineup of fancy salad studded with potatoes, which I loved for no particular reason except that anyone who's worked in a catering kitchen has wished for an evil painting to spring to life just to save them from the salad course.
Interestingly (and dangerously), Ichabod's removal from the other plot did not make that plot any less interesting. His plot here was the usual admirable amounts of exposition and handling someone decked out in effects makeup, but what seemed to be set up as a Thin Man gone Gothic caper got tripped up by flashbacks and their big caper moment – We Must Kiss to Avoid Detection, one of my favorite tropes in all of TV! – still felt flat for two people whose marriage is being banged on about so much.
(It does get us a great line from a distracted Ichabod, though, as he leaves her to watch the painting while he investigates: "Ensure no one else goes near it...with a different distraction.")
And yet, things never really lifted off from there. Katrina's big moment of action is watching someone get yanked into the painting. For a show so desperately trying to make fetch happen, they give Katrina little to actually do. Abbie and Jenny have handled as much magic this season as she has, and then she and Ichabod finally get a plot to themselves — and all she can manage is to open the door between realms.
Meanwhile, the show gives Abbie the wheel-spinning B-plot, but it gets all the emotional heft and interesting dialogue when Frank Irving comes back to the precinct unable to remember what happened after the Standoff at Bullshit Corner.
(There's more emotion in this wordless ten seconds than in the entirety of the marriage-counseling adventure.)
Her loaded and pained conversation with Irving is a focal point of the episode, and tells us several things: One, they buried his ass in the woods at Bullshit Corner, which is stone cold; two, they told Cynthia and Macey, but that just means they've been mourning him for six weeks without being able to tell anyone why, which feels hardly better; and three, he doesn't know why he's back, and Abbie doesn't like that at all.
It's such a good scene (so good I omitted the moustache!), and it's more than Frank Irving had to do for the entire first half of the season. He nails it – they both do – but the man literally had to die in order to get some decent dialogue, which is the sort of thing you'd think a show would realize beforehand. I guess they were busy trying to decide how the bad guy was going to jump out of the painting.
Later on, Jenny also gets a moment with Frank, who might be under the whim of a servant of Hell, but his flirt game is untouched. Without even slowing down, he gets in, "Jenny, a sight for sore eyes." Nice. She can't even recover in time, and calls after him, "Hang in there, friend," which he takes in stride but the lady who came in to report a regular-type crime clearly thinks is a bit awkward.
And with the unknown hanging over them – Henry's motivations, Frank's ability to fight supernatural orders, how long they have before something worse happens to Frank – it falls to Abbie, of course, to do the deeply unpopular but necessary things, because she alone has never forgotten what her job as Witness actually means. She delivers the news to Cynthia, who's struggling to understand the rules of the supernatural world since the Worst Cabin Trip Ever. And while there's not much momentum – Abbie forbids them meeting until she knows that they're not looking at another Brooks, once again making herself the bad guy for the greater good – it's a nice moment that feels so natural you can almost forget we've gone the entire season without seeing Irving with his family.
The reason Abbie calls Jenny down to the station in the first place is to tell her they can't afford another Brooks, and send her to find something that will stop Frank if necessary. "If we have to put a dead man back in the grave, that's what we do. Even if that man is Irving."
Jenny's face is an accurate representation of being asked to do this.
Jenny's face while digging supernatural bullets out of a corpse is also very accurate. Hawley, who blessedly doesn't appear in this episode, apparently told her the bullets were buried with the guy, rather than in him, and – in maybe his most dickish move ever – forgot the fine print, which means Jenny ends up getting attacked by the undead and Lyndie Greenwood hilariously howls into the night, "THANKS FOR TELLING ME TO LEAVE ONE IN THE BODY, HAWLEY."
(Reminder: we're going to see Jenny and Hawley make out soon.)
But Abbie's face when they realize they might need Katrina to check Frank for signs of supernatural possession is the episode's most priceless:
"I know, I'm not her biggest fan either," Jenny says. The show is waking up! RUN.
But the whole B-plot would justify itself for no other moment than Ichabod and Katrina at a loss as the bad guy emerges from the painting to once again spread his artsy wrath among humanity for whatever reason the episode gave him for wanting to do that:
And getting this:
(Ugh, it's SO X-Files, for a second I was fourteen.)
On Ichabod's advice she shoots the painting:
And still has enough breath for her one-liner, which reminds us she's the only Witness worth her salt: "You didn't answer the phone." Welcome back, show.
Do we have lingering questions about Frank's innocence? Yes, mostly because that B-plot was some perfectly nice acting but not a lot of forward motion. Do we have lingering questions about whether Abbie has just wasted all her Frank Irving backup bullets on this painting guy and so they'll have to find something else? You bet. Do we know whether she warned the coroner to leave one of the bullets in the body so he doesn't come back to life and terrorize the populace again? I mean, it would actually really help, if the show would stay consistent about anything, even supernatural bullets, for more than five minutes.
But overall, this feels like a small step in the right direction for a show that's been a shambling mess for over half a season. Abbie and Jenny bonding, Frank actually having some emotional work to do, and a villain whose over-the-topness was actually entertainingly off-the-rails. In fact, the episode had only one real problem, which was that in separating Abbie and Ichabod, Ichabod got the goofball stuff, and Abbie got all the character beats PLUS saved the day in the A-plot. Just let them hang out again without constantly talking about Katrina, show. Please. It's not a big ask. How did we come to this?
The recent announcements that the show's shifting to be more episodic have caused totally legitimate consternation, but it's one thing to keep everything serialized in 13 episodes and another to tie everything together for 18; the series thus far appears incapable of the latter. Trying something slightly more standalone, if it keeps the crew together, might not hurt. If it becomes CSI: Revolutionary War, we're in trouble, but we've essentially been struggling with that already, and this week's has-to-be-deliberate homage to the old FBI division of our hearts is a glimpse of some of the fun that's been missing for a season, so I'm curious. And nervous. But still, a semi-win's a semi-win.
Next week: An episode about Hawley, because what, why is this happening, who let this happen.