Remember what made the first season of Sleepy Hollow so great? The show’s definitely trying to remember. Last night’s fall finale reads like a callback list of big moments from season one—right down to the final sacrifice.
This season of Sleepy Hollow has made me think about how shows build and lose trust, and what difference it makes to the way one approaches a show. A storytelling decision that would enrage strangers is a brilliant twist for those who have faith in the show to pull off whatever they’re trying. When Sleepy Hollow began, the revelation that the wild concept was grounded by an amazing central couple and had a refreshing supporting cast note-perfectly in line with the tone of the show meant that we took a lot on faith.
And for the most part, that first season delivered. Crane was by turns charmingly sincere and hilariously over the top; Abbie was a great onion of a character whose pragmatism disguised both fear and hope; Jenny moved out from under the shadow of Abbie’s expectations to become a unique member of the team. By the time Abbie sacrificed herself for Katrina in the first season finale, it was a narrative necessity (in accordance with prophecy), but it also sprang from the deep bond we’d seen developing between Abbie and Crane over the season and felt like an opportunity for even more exploration of character amid unsettling horror. It was also the episode in which Henry revealed that he was actually Jeremy, Ichabod and Katrina’s evil son whose age was literally inexplicable within the established canon timeline, but overall we were excited to see where Abbie (and Crane) would go next.
The second season pretty much took care of most people’s faith in the show. To the show’s credit, it seems aware of how narrow its escape was and has been doing work to reestablish trust with its audience. We come back to some of Abbie’s personal demons; it found a natural fit with Joe Corbin. (It’s even backed away from Betsy Ross so we didn’t have to deal with yet another Ye Olde Chronologically Tricky Love Interest!) There have been some weird things, but the effort is there. The show wants to recapture the magic of season one.
And wouldn’t you know it, this fall finale feels just like a greatest-hits album! Whether that’s a good thing remains to be seen.
Track 1: “Make It Look Good”
This is a show that often has to make do in terms of cinematography – needs must when you’re chasing the devil in the Carolina woods – but its best moments have always managed to have a sense of visual polish, from the incredibly creepy shot of the Four White Trees to this opening shot of Pandora washing her hubby in a truly gorgeous river.
Even the collection of Exposition Junction scenes this week have a certain majesty.
It helps break up the slightly board-game nature of the episode and make the journey feel like something that’s both worthy and increasingly tense.
Track 2: “Abbie’s Job is in Sudden Jeopardy”
Remember the pilot of this show, when it was so exciting to see three law enforcement officers of color gathering to discuss the crime and no bones being made about it? Me too. This is a nice callback. It’s even coupled with them looking at the CCTV of Nevins in the interrogation room, Ichabod-style. (Poor guy; I can’t even remember what Nevins’ name is without looking it up, because in my notes his last name has been Macguffin this whooooole season.)
But that parallel to the pilot gets a lot more intense when you realize the show is actually bringing Abbie’s conflict of interest to its logical conclusion. Irving was on her side, and Reyes could be handled, but Danny lays an ultimatum on her, and Abbie reacts as we all know she would, and seems to resent it just as much as you imagine she might.
(I am still surprised Abbie’s so furious at being kept out of the loop about Sophie—she’s the character on the show most entrenched in the system and definitely the one most likely to buy in, even momentarily. If this was believable code for her frustration that Danny was holding out on her because of subsumed feelings, the season has not sold that at all.)
Related: Danny calling to inform his boss they’ve lost “the asset” could mean several things—he has an asset in Sophie, too, and it doesn’t make him evil to be cultivating people for the jobs he wants them to do. However, if they really want to go into a modern government conspiracy (completing the show’s transformation into X-Files 2.0), they’re going to have to be really careful. We can barely stay interested in the conspiracy from 1779, and everybody back then is in amazing hats. The present has its work cut out for it.
The good news is that with Abbie out of the picture, the show has introduced a substitute agent to lean on furniture and try to guilt-trip perps into helping her:
Welcome to the procedural plot, Sophie! I hope you’ve been practicing your furiously incredulous expressions; Abbie set a high bar on those.
Track 3: “Love Humanizes Villains, Even When Nobody Cares, Right?”
Pandora and The Hidden One are that couple who can’t stop talking about how strong their relationship is since they found couples’ kombucha-making classes.
And it’s fine! The image of a woman reviving her dead husband is some ancient-mythology cookie crumbs I can get behind! But this was clearly an introduction for a villain who’s supposed to be a threat in the second half of the season; his job here was to be grumpy about humanity having ruined the planet, which is fair enough. I really hope the second half of this season turns into a darkest-timeline Captain Planet.
And why might it do that?
Track 4: “But Why Must These Accursed Powers Fall to Me?”
Because Joe can’t help but think if he could become a wendigo again, he could learn to control it, is why; he could harness those powers for good! Ichabod, who can barely handle being a Witness without throwing lycanthropy into it, shoots that down with a single pat from his condor arm.
But no lie, this would be an interesting move for Joe, who has been a wonderful Everyman with steadfast forearms, but whose curiosity about what his father got into would either require a lot more quiet investigation or a lot more werewolfing, and I feel like we know where this show comes down on that. I’ve talked about it before, but one of the things this show struggles with is moral ambiguity. You are either a Witness or you are an evil god out to vaporize all of humanity. Joe trying something like this and having to deal with it would be a welcome dose of gray into all this black and white.
Track 5: “We Could Also Inject a Little Humor!”
You sure could, show! For an episode that had so much busy work, there were some lighter moments. One of them is Pandora, who honestly is climbing up my best-villains-on-this-show list just from being so, so done. When Abbie has her at gunpoint she hand-flicks that entire business, and it’s not even to Force-push that gun; she’s just All Done with the Abbie standoff, is all.
She’s a lackadaisical villain; I respect that.
But the real winner in this episode is a rare smash-cut from Ichabod that works. We get so many of these that don’t quite land, so Ichabod ends up a drama queen for not a lot of payoff. This time, though, they go hunting for the First Book of Masonic Law, at a university where “it may be protected and studied by the brightest, most learned minds in academia. “
Better: Everybody’s Disappointed Parent face when confronted with this toga wretchedness.
Best: The fight that breaks out between two dudes and cuts instantly to this:
That young woman was just ITCHING to yank someone’s nostrils. This fight was purely an excuse.
Even Bester: The credits.
Walker Stipe, I hope you put that credit on your business card. That shit’s amazing.
Track 6: “That Weird Moment We Have to Talk About Even Though We Don’t Want To”
Pandora, strangling Nevins: “You see, my husband is back in town. And I need to do some housecleaning. I mean, think of how it would look if he found out that an insignificant worm like you used my box.”
Okay, all done; thanks, Abbie.
Track 7: “Abbie Will Take Care of This, Too”
All this buildup—the interludes of Jenny being drained of the Shard’s power, the flashback to Paul Revere getting way too intense for a flashback (“Don’t let anyone in too close - when you lose them, it’ll break you,” he tells Ye Olde Ichabod, who looks uncomfortably aware that this will become thematically relevant in about fifteen minutes), the scene of Abbie walking out with half a garrison of arms in her handbag, apparently—is to get us to the big cliffhanger: an earthquake, a magic spell, some Romantic Lead Face, and Abbie carrying the shards into the Tree of the Underworld as it closes behind her.
This would be devastating...if it had any significant setup. There was some, sure; Abbie dropping the mic at the FBI was definitely a clue that she was suddenly going to have a lot of free time to wander into hellish realms should a position in the Underworld open up. But it feels like we were missing one or two big steps in the middle. (We are definitely missing the part where someone explains why you can’t just throw the shards into the tree and be done – I would happily accept nearly any reason, but we really need a reason; when someone’s descending into hell, you usually need to establish some stakes so the dread can build up.)
There’s purpose behind this, of course, and not just to keep us guessing about whether Nicole Beharie walked or whether Abbie’s currently hanging out in Cirque du Soleil Purgatory again until Crane and Company can stage a rescue mission. Part of it has to be invoking that X-Files 2.0 business to make us question the nature of this relationship.
(You give me any Queen and Huntsman shot ever, I will probably be a fan.)
But seriously, after a season of seeming surprised by the depth of chemistry its leads had together, and a season of trying to force something else that backfired utterly, the showrunners are starting to openly discuss this dynamic. Clifton Campbell said to TVLine yesterday: “I don’t think there’s ever been a question that he’s in love with her.” Let’s be real: a lot of this is shipper bait to try to keep people tuning in when it comes back and gets shunted to a new time slot. But whether or not you want Abbie and Ichabod to get together romantically, their work marriage is the heart of this show, and I won’t fight anything that gives them more time together. Shoot ghosts, play chess, judge Jenny and Joe, infiltrate high-end parties, whatever, it all works.
Unless Abbie’s dead, I guess. It seems unlikely...except that it won’t be the first time someone’s walked off this show, we know that in the past she’s been overlooked (not being invited to do DVD commentary, etc.), and we all saw the second season. That means the greatest mystery this show has ever given us has happened almost entirely offscreen, and leaves us at the mercy of real-life decisions. There’s a cliffhanger for you!
Bonus Track: “Joe Is Briefly Me”
After Ichabod mentions Paul Revere, again:
Perfect. Hold it. See you on the flip side.