With "The Vessel," Sleepy Hollow's back from the long winter of Ichabod's convoluted backstory for an episode of madcap supernatural shenanigans featuring the Mills and campy demons, and reminding us why we love the show in the first place.

Sleepy Hollow is back! And I don't mean from hiatus. After several weeks that waded dutifully through Ichabod's manful past, it was refreshing to get back to one of the overstuffed ensemble episodes this show does so well, and one in which the present is front and center. In terms of characters, that means Abbie, Jenny, Irving, and Macey take the lead; in terms of pacing, it means trying to outrace a ticking clock. And in terms of fanservice, it means finally giving the curious the modern-day clothes they've asked for, despite denying them the montage that would have immortalized the season. (No montage of bulk shopping, no montage of toiletries shopping, and no shopping montage? Is all our love gone, Sleepy Hollow? Where's the show that used "Sandman" as a music cue about a sand demon?)

Obviously Tom Mison would look good in skinny jeans so tight they're essentially body paint, and his body language is perfectly awkward, but I'd like to take a moment to salute whoever found that shirt – those pinched and buttoned pockets just broadcast discomfort.

And though Abbie's naturally excited that "Hell hath frozen over" and gotten him in some twenty-first-century duds, they don't last long before the old faithfuls come back out (that's enough out of you, fans, I guess).


Meanwhile, Irving's dealing with actual problems and trying to track down the touch-transmitted demon making its way through his precinct—the call literally comes from inside the precinct, this show doesn't miss a reference—and threatens to possess Macey by sundown if he doesn't deliver Washington's Bible. Irving's at a loss; even slow-motioning his way into the bullpen as hard as he could didn't scare that demon off.

But still, he goes right to Ichabod and Abbie about it, as one would expect from the only cop in TV history to call in backup before rushing into a firefight. The pair dive into Corbin's research on demon possession, and discover some footage that instantly pins this demon right to Abbie: Corbin's exorcising Jenny.


That's not going to be an awkward conversation at all!

Fun fact: all of that was the cold open. This show is not messing around.

In argument res when we come back, the trio argue back and forth about the impossibility of handing over Washington's Bible, which Ichabod insists contains a lot of important secret messages that he was going to get around to decoding any day now. Some more demon footage reveals that Abbie was who the demon was really after, and showing the demon was rough on Jenny, which prompts Abbie, compulsive problem-solver and master knife-twister, to demand Jenny's help with Macey: "No one was there for us, but we can be there for her." Jeez, Mills, pull a punch sometime.


The thing is, the "Vessel" in this episode title isn't Macey, but Jenny; she's the one the demon's already tormented and continues to torment, and she's just learned it was only using her to get to the sister who really mattered to it. It's no wonder Jenny has a chip on her shoulder; it's definitely no wonder she has to work through some of her guilt from carrying around resentful (even murderous) impulses, feeling like the demon was always on the verge of coming back, and purposely getting herself incarcerated to prevent herself attacking Abbie should she lose control.

I love this illumination of the motive behind what initially sounded like sloppy crimes, and I even enjoy the her car's plot valve cut out and she couldn't drive away before Ichabod came calling to chat. I do think that at this point she and Abbie have been doing well enough opening up to each other and relying on each other that it feels strange to be back at this impasse; she should probably have cut out the lithe, mannered middleman and just fessed up directly. But I guess somebody was going to get Romantic Lead Face this week and Jenny drew short straw.


In an alternate universe, she turned on her air conditioning just to watch his tendrils blow back a little bit like an Irish Setter on cruise control.

Meanwhile, Irving and his family decamp to a cabin in the woods with Agent Blandy and Luke Morales; Blandy is, of course, carrying the demon, who gets passed to Luke.


Demon-sight: slightly drunker than normal, not as drunk as Saturday night.

And Father Doomed shows up and does the most amazing thing this show's ever seen:


He salts a doorway to keep evil out. Thank you, Father Doomed, that only took 11 episodes! (I hope he showed up at the cabin with his Book of Folk Defenses and was absolutely floored to find out nobody had stocked up on even the most basic demon-repellents they teach you freshman year of seminary before they even get to the part where you demand Satan gets behind you.)

Ichabod, Abbie, and Jenny are FLOORED to make this salt discovery themselves shortly afterward, despite being able to unearth any other applicable piece of arcane knowledge in a single cutaway; they all stare reverently at the video as Jenny's demon flees and Corbin comforts her.


I've said it before, but Abbie's relationship with Corbin was so fantastic for its brief lifespan that it still lingers, and I desperately wanted a moment of Abbie processing that Corbin was working so hard to save Jenny while keeping Abbie in the dark for years; I absolutely definitely want to know how she feels about her surrogate dad cradling her estranged sister and hoping Jenny's urge to murder Abbie has passed, because that is kind of a lot to handle.

And apparently it's too much, because we don't get so much as a reaction shot – they plunge right into plot, working out the demon's backwards speech is "ancient Aramaic" [no subtitle font provided], and that only a consecrated plot lantern will drive the demon out. To no one's surprise, the lantern is within a hundred miles of them; also to no one's surprise, Ichabod remembers when Benjamin Franklin received them. Ichabod Crane: Nosiest Revolutionary. Jenny pinpoints them even better: "They're still in the hands of patriots," she assures them, "just not exactly the kind Crane is familiar with."


To Foxborough, men.

Back at the cabin, Luke convinces Blandy to clear the salt (Blandy doesn't watch TV much). That's the end of Blandy, and the beginning of the tense cabin dynamics while we wait for Macey the advanced science scholar (awesome) to get possessed by the demon, knowing it's going to happen but hoping something will interfere anyway just so Macey isn't possessed.



As Irving bargains for Macey, Father Doomed is dispatched, and Macey grotesquely transforms into an older version of herself no longer bound by union rules about how many hours comprise a working day for a minor (you fiend!). Irving promises to take the demon to the Bible, and cleverly tips off our trio, which is the last time I'm going to use "cleverly" and "our trio" again in this episode, for obvious reasons.

Racing toward the militant camp where the plot lantern is kept, Jenny explains she's been there before to sell them weapons and can get in with minimal trouble. Ichabod's aghast at the Second Amendment run amok, which, sure, even though we're in a weird plot area where Jenny's guns were illegal anyway and they're clearly a creepy outfit except they're right about the impending apocalypse, and it's a whole thing this show wasn't planning to tackle. Abbie's mostly aghast Jenny wants to flaunt the law, when she's right here and can flaunt the law for free.


Ichabod, come on, remember when she picked the lock on Corbin's cabin and you were so into it you were picking out your kids' names? Get it together.

Abbie and Ichabod sneak through the compound and into the shed as Jenny guides them remotely. There's a little tandem lock-picking between sisters, and a little of Ichabod sticking his nose in where it would have been more powerful to just let the sisters work it out, and then Abbie gets a boost for lantern retrieval as Ichabod studiously avoids inspecting the flawless workmanship on the modern day's slenderest trousers. (Still not sure why: a shipper moment is better served by lingering closeness afterward, and a comedy moment by flinging her onto the ledge; we're stuck in an awkward middle space.)


Of course, they're immediately busted, which I feel is fair given how they were the worst sneaker-arounders ever. Not even Ichabod bonding with their leader over "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" will save them now!

It's cool, Jenny will.

Ichabod and Abbie are really thrilled to see her. Also really thrilled to see her: the leader of the commandos.


*Sailor Moon music plays*

Protected in Jenny's bajillion-caliber sights, they make good their escape.


Far less lucky is Irving, who's led the demon to the Archives only to come up empty-handed on the Bible, and is about to face the demon's wrath alone when Jenny steps out of her hiding place to square off against it.

When the demon starts in on her, Jenny's affected (not possessed, but momentarily overwhelmed), except then Abbie steps into the frame behind her sister, and we know things are going to be fine:


Yes, you knew it was going to happen as soon as they showed Jenny in profile; doesn't make it any less satisfying.

Turns out Abbie and Jenny remembered salt (11 episodes into a season about supernatural evil), and the two of them bait the demon into half a ring of salt they hope to lock closed in a desperate battle for Macey's soul.


Ichabod's been assigned to janitorial. (Reminder: this is a team that has fended off the apocalypse approximately half a dozen times.)

Of course, the plot lantern demon-banishing is the same campy faceoff we've come to love from the show, as everyone pitches in to assure victory:


But it's still worth mentioning that five out of six people in this supernatural-TV encounter are characters of color, four of them are women—and they all survive. Good job, everyone!

Yes, turns out Macey's come through all right on the other side, and her parents comfort her, as a shellshocked Jenny finally, finally gets the Abbie-hug she's been waiting a decade for:


It's okay, Jenny. It's all over now, except the dimension full of witches and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and that demon leading a host of other demons to swallow your soul up and Moloch ambling behind them in case you had any soul scraps left. You're going to be just fine.

Back at the house, Ichabod finally has his shit together about wanting to look for secret messages in Washington's Bible (did they do nothing but reluctantly shop for clothes during the winter break? Seriously, what was the delay on this), and starts to explain his invisible ink method to Abbie, except she knows it already, thanks anyway.


I can't wait until she punches the apocalypse in the face.

It doesn't explain why neither of them has tried this before – theirs is a very reactive approach to the Apocalypse – but it does prove that Tom Mison's Romantic Lead Face is a renewable resource.



The message inside: December 18, 1799. "But George Washington died December 14, 1799," breathes Abbie, who's had ninety-seven percent of American Revolutionary history explained to her this season but can't ever, ever forget the 14th of December, because how could you. They stare it down as the drumroll drives us out for the week.

(So, December 18, 1799 was actually the day of George Washington's burial, according to an internet search I just did, and it's clearly a clever historical ruse for reasons unknown that I mostly hope aren't hiding more Ichabod backstory, because we're full up and things are just getting good again.)


I would grant that this episode was so Mills-and-Irving heavy that Ichabod was occasionally at a loss for narratively useful things to do (hence his amateur-therapist routine), but frankly, I was fine with letting him take backseat for a week. The interplay between the sisters and the tension at the cabin worked so well it hardly felt like twenty ounces of plot in a ten-ounce lantern, or that Macey's peril seemed a little easily dismissed, given the scope of the threat against her. Not that I want her imperiled any more – I want her acing High School Jeapoardy and to never be possessed by a demon again, thanks – but I'm surprised it didn't carry over into next week's two-part season finale. The episode would have earned the cliffhanger.

On the other hand, they have plenty to deal with, since current cliffhangers include: Washington's secret date, how to defeat the Horseman, how to defeat Moloch, how to defeat Moloch's demon army, whatever's up with Moloch's realm, whatever will happen to conflicted John Cho, whatever already happened to Ichabod's son, whatever might still happen to Abbie's soul, whatever's going on with Katrina, if Luke is still locked up in that cabin or what, and Corbin. (Note: Abbie's only ancestor with a dog in this fight burned up in a church, leaving her with nothing to tie her to any of this except her own soul, unless this week already took care of it, which would leave her even less to do. Several weeks of a power imbalance are starting to show.)

So have fun dragging Washington's corpse from his crypt and making his ribs into a xylophone to summon John Cho back. See you next week; good luck wrapping that up.