After trying to woo you back with karaoke and a Hawley-free town, Sleepy Hollow tries to make "Spellcaster" the kind of episode that gets a show renewed. How'd they do?
It's no secret that Sleepy Hollow has had a rough year. Over the course of season two, they've lost a third of their regular audience, for whatever reason! These recaps may or may not be a catalog of those reasons, but given the general consensus in critical outcry, it's safe to assume that some factors became clear problem areas that the show would have to address if it wanted a third season. And with only three more episodes left, the show is trying to address them all, starting with "Spellcaster"!
Does it work? Not really. It doesn't even get an X-Files-ometer; that's for closers. Because while this episode has no fewer than three spellcasters to its name, none of them manage to be interesting. This week's villain is underwhelming, the big reveal isn't particularly reveal-y, and despite being Hawley-free, they're still trying to come up with a character balance that actually works. (Katrina is casting spells left and right; Jenny spends this entire episode artifact-hunting, presumably at the Canadian border.) But despite its disjointedness, there's a certain last-minute yearbook-club zeal to how hard they're trying to turn things around.
Smartest Person to Ever Appear on the Show: The curator who decides not to open the John Dee spellbook. It doesn't save her, but I was proud anyway.
I will remember you fondly, Curator.
Most Likely to Feel Like Your Dad Trying too Hard After the Divorce: Abbie and Ichabod. After what feels like three years of staring at each other as Ichabod halfheartedly tries to excuse his reasons for helping his dull family as Abbie just looks at him and dreams of the hiatus, they're back – more or less – and it's both lovely and awkward. They get some great beats that remind us just how good a team Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie make. Whether she's explaining pixels:
Or they're silently making battle plans in very-hard-to-cap quick cuts:
Its a great reminder why their character chemistry is the core of the show.
And while it seems like a bit much, it's also undeniably sweet that he brings her house-hunting with him, using his condor arms to snag muffins and learning from Abbie the modern language of realty. (Maybe Joe Corbin can finally move into his dad's house if Ichabod moves out! He and Big Ash can solve crimes in the B-plot.)
But there are a lot of loose ends to wrap up for them both narratively and emotionally, and at this point they're having to cut to the chase to squeeze it in. You can tell, as Ichabod gets in a couple of fairly non-sequitur big ones under this angsty lighting, perhaps the biggest of which is: "Do you have a vision of the life in store for us?"
Abbie's so gobsmacked she can't even arrange her face in time to respond.
Giving us so much Ichabod and Abbie is obviously a welcome change, but it still feels like a lot of unfinished business, with Ichabod eating hardly any crow for all the crap he pulled all season. At one point, he mentions the thing he hates most about Kent: "That a person could so easily betray the people who trust and rely on him most." Abbie gives him an out, but I'm going to need that to come back in the near future at a time when he's actually going to apologize and Abbie's going to let him actually do it. (That, or Ichabod kills Katrina to save Abbie. I'd take that, too.)
In the meantime, I'm just happy that we have moments like Ichabod refusing to put ice on his banged-up hand until about .00005 seconds after this look:
Wise man, Ichabod.
Most Likely to Get An Eyebrow-Raise from Some Legal Departments: Solomon Kent, evil warlock. (Mmm.)
As we learn from Katrina via the backstory provided by her grandmother Helena Van Tassel, Solomon used to be the sort of chill warlock who was also a Reverend (like the continuity to Knapp there). But he fell in love with, gave a knife to, and then attacked a young woman named Sarah Osborne.
As with so many historical women, her work as the first Puritan colonist to face-claw some dude who got shitty with her goes unrecognized today.
You'd think he'd take the hint after losing half a cheekbone, but he's so intent on assaulting her he stabs her with the knife he just gave her and kills her instead! Katrina's version; "It was a terrible accident, but Kent knew how it would look." Liiiiiike... he tried to force himself on her until he stabbed her to death? Because, I mean.
What an excellent opportunity to address whether Katrina's a reliable narrator by showing us something as Katrina tells us something else and letting the episode examine the truth of her statement! Sadly, it doesn't happen. That's just how everyone, including Katrina's mom, remembers the guy who killed Helena. At least Helena's coven finally descended on him and did the only thing covens do on this show: wrap him in vines and send him to Purgatory.
But now he's back with a vengeance. (Confirmed world-building: Everybody was released from Purgatory after Moloch exploded! Good news for evil sorcerers and agnostics.) His mission? To go back in time and prevent himself from being a murdering jerk who started the Witch Trials. His job? To suggest Katrina might consider turning evil. His cape action?
As characters go, he's a barely-there who's mostly good for burning up some CGI with blood effects and some red diaper-demons. Abbie shoots one. (I secretly love the sheer number of mythological beings that can be neutralized with modern gunfire and modern lighting. This show just can't talk about John Dee and blood golems for forty minutes. Shoot it and move on! In every sense.)
But for all his magic, during the actual big fight Abbie just electrocutes him, and then Ichabod punches him mostly to death, and then Frank steps on his neck. I love any time this show uses tech to fight magic, but overall it's anticlimactic, as cape-wielding warlocks go. The most interesting thing about his death is that Abbie can apparently hoist one Ichabod in a deadlift.
The only other interesting thing about Solomon is his initial incantation in the woods, in a font that reminds us of better times and an appropriately word-salad sense of prose:
There is an unexpected but not unwelcome Literal Music Video vibe here.
Most Likely to Drive Me to Tangents: Katrina.
A formative comic book experience for me was the Beauty and the Beast mini where Dazzler goes to mutant rehab. There she meets a girl whose mutant power is only the ability to change the color of a flower, and Dazzler has a nice inner monologue that boils down to, "Isn't that nice. Even the shittiest power of all exists inside someone."
Anyway, here's a picture of Katrina.
Great news: "The consequences of Moloch's evil may never cease." If you're lucky! If you're unlucky the consequences cease in about three episodes!
Good news: she's wearing something that feels like a human would have picked it out for themselves. Iffy news: Her backstory has not solidified whatsoever. ("Katrina's power comes from nature. Others from fire, from the moon and the stars..." May God curse those unnatural spheres, made by the Old Ones in their unholy forges.)
Bad news: Apparently she isn't evil yet, because that would mean some level of agency that this show refuses to give her, so a dude had to suggest it to her first. (I call No Way, but until further notice the show seems to believe it.)
Worse news: In what could be an attempt to remind everyone how useless she is before dispatching her in the season finale, but actually feels like the show trying to have its cake and eat it, too, the meta about Katrina has gotten out of control — and that's coming from me, so you know we're in trouble. If the series is laying groundwork for her departure, then it's as clumsy as the handling of her character has ever been. If they think acknowledging her huge problems and then trying to make her interesting will do them any good, I do not know what to tell them.
One thing's for sure: it's not subtle At this point Abbie has totally given up on looking away when she hits a Katrina Ceiling:
She also points out, "Before Katrina was here, we took down all kinds of supernatural threats, without magic," while Katrina is literally one room away. Abbie's done. Abbie is doooone.
Having the Most Fun with What He's Given: John Noble.
Turns out Henry has spent his time since the Apocalypse moping his ass off.
The episode suggests that Henry is somehow having a crisis of conscience, and we're meant to wonder if after he watches enough infomercials, his regret will grow inside him until one day he decides to become a good man and settle down with nice Mary, who runs the motel.
(She's very sweet for the three lines she gets. This show continues to bring us some excellent day-players.)
But even though she has a winsome son who gets bullied by guests the same way Henry was probably bullied by the Cloven-hoofed Lord of Demons who raised him, Henry takes only four acts to decide he actually really loves being evil and has no plans to make any big changes at the moment. He's going to kill those guests and get moving.
There is no way to quite capture the emphasis on 'wretched' Noble puts on his introduction: "I know you're all busy destroying your lives, day after wretched day."
It's just as well that he decided to go back to being evil, by the way, because otherwise Irving would have stolen John Dee's grimoire off a warlock corpse for nothing and have to just hang on to it awkwardly forever.
Most Likely to Be Playing a Triple Game: Frank Irving.
Letting the only significant man of color on the show languish for most of the season, then killing him in what feels like an attempt to make him more interesting (he was fine before, for the record), was awkward. Bringing him back and suggesting he's evil? Eyebrow-raising.
However, whether he's chatting with Abbie while she gets the jump on him and holds him at gunpoint, or she's trying to make it up to him by asking for his advice and assistance, it suggests a guy who might be playing both sides against the middle to get into Henry's confidence and undermine him from the inside.
("That's a really solid John Noble impression.")
Let's hope that that's what's happening, and at a crucial moment Irving will surprise Henry and do something amazing. There is something awfully pump-him-for-information-y about the big reveal, where Irving asks a bunch of nosy questions about what the plan is now, and John Noble ties an invisible napkin around his neck for all the scenery he's about to chew.
"Moloch is dead, and so are his plans," he intones, just so we're clear on the big arc for next season. "No longer am I the horseman of war. No longer will I be defined by anyone else. From here on, destiny bends to my will."
If Irving's actually evil, I'm going to have a lot of things to say about it. But Orlando Jones is playing a great space here, and honestly I'm more than happy to wait and see how it goes, because no matter what, that moustache is at home at last.