I wonder if the makers of Sleepy Hollow have seen the underwhelming 1998 horror flick Fallen. Denzel Washington plays a cop hunting a serial killer who, it turns out, is a demon who can jump from body to body with a single touch. It’s a nifty concept, and one I’m glad to see repurposed to better effect here (and really, I have no idea if anyone even remembers Fallen anymore; I saw it in theaters and haven’t thought about it since). An enemy that’s only restricted by the number of able bodies in reaching distance is a very dangerous threat, both for its ability to remain undetected, and for the difficulty in accepting it exists in the first place. A monster shows up and starts tearing apart your house—well, that’s terrifying, no question, but there’s direct, clear proof that something’s coming for you. A monster takes over your friends and messes with your mind without ever definitively revealing itself? That’s something else.
Admittedly, aside from a few stabs in the body-jumping direction, “Vessel” doesn’t do a whole lot with the concept. After being threatened in the park with his daughter last episode, Irving decides to take the man who threatened them in for questioning and polygraph tests, which is an interesting approach; Irving shows no real doubt at all over what happened, but Officer Morales and Officer Blond Guy Who Dies Before We Really Got A Chance To Know Him aren’t quite sure what to think. Which, really, is as far as the confusion goes. There’s a bit where Ancitif (the demon) grabs a cop, and Irving catches him, but the demon jumps away before he can do anything about it, so Irving ends up drawing his gun on a non-possessed, presumably innocent officer, but that doesn’t really go anywhere. You’d think that the Chief waving a loaded firearm around the office might set off a few alarm bells, and maybe it will down the line, but that’s not really how Sleepy Hollow works. There’s always time for emotional consequences, but logistical ones are expendable—especially if they threaten to get in the way of our heroes running around doing whatever the hell they want.
This is, for the most part, a good thing; it gave me some cause for concern in the first few episodes (remember how Irving, who everyone thought was a crazy man, got assigned to be Abbie’s partner somehow?), but having accepted that this is just how things are going to be done, there’s something refreshing about watching a show that makes no special effort to convince you that it’s realistic. Why should it? So long as the heroes behave consistently, the stakes are clear, and that emotional stuff rings true, legal procedure and paperwork aren’t necessary. The only downside of this in “Vessel” is that in rushing to get Irving and his family to a private cabin where they can be immediately ambushed, the writers end up with a certain amount of dead time on their hands, time which they attempt to fill by once again giving us some unwanted drama between Irving and his wife. There’s not a lot of it—really just one scene—but the problem is that, adorable daughter or not, Irving’s home life just isn’t that interesting. One of the dramatic focal points for the story is Irving’s desire to protect his loved ones, so the family scenes should, in theory, help reinforce that connection. But his problems connecting to his wife and daughter are such blandly generic “I worked too hard” problems that it’s hard to get invested in them. Irving’s big speech to his daughter at the end, telling her he believes in her, is a lovely moment (and one of Jones’s better performances), but it exists almost in isolation. When things are going to hell, Irving’s storyline works; when they aren’t, it’s a drag.
As usual, Ichabod and Abbie, with a later assist from Jenny, are available to pick up the slack. A cold open that cutely references the fact that Irving won’t ever change out of his old-fashioned clothes (because to do so would making him less instantly recognizable to us watching at home; kudos to the show for addressing this so neatly) is a fine return to form after a month or so away, and Jenny’s eventual involvement allows Ichabod to once again try and heal the rift between the two sisters. It turns out Jenny was once possessed by the demon who’s now causing all the trouble for Irving, and Sheriff Corbin tried to help her; there’s even video proof of how badly that help went. In a nice touch, once Ichabod and Abbie realize that Jenny is the possession victim in Corbin’s video, they wait to get her permission before watching the rest—a subtle acknowledgement of her rights in the situation, and the sort of deeply personal suffering possession would presumably cause. When Ancitif takes over a body, it robs its victims of control in a profound, horrifying way, and Abbie tries to give some of that control back, in a small way. While Jenny’s initial reluctance to help the two fight the demon plays a bit like a stall, her eventual monologue to Ichabod about how long she had the demon inside her, and how she used to commit crimes to get arrested solely to protect her sister, is a good character moment, and helps justify the delay.
Once Abbie figures out Ancitif’s identity, and Ichabod realizes what they need to stop the thing, it’s a quick trip to a militia compound to swipe a blessed lantern which Benjamin Franklin got from the French a couple hundred years ago. I assume it’s the same lantern, anyway. Fun though much of it is, “Vessel” does get bogged down in a few spots, namely by having a plot that never really gets past its initial premise. Ancitif demands Irving turn over GEORGE WASHINGTON’S BIBLE (sorry, the capital letters are a legal requirement) or he’ll hurt Irving’s daughter, Abbie and Ichabod race to the rescue, and that’s pretty much it. The demon’s decision to possess Macy is creepy (and man, that poor priest), but the show works best when it all comes in a rush, when Abbie and Ichabod are in a situation where it seems like all hope is very likely lost, and that never really happens here. The scene in the militia camp, which has its share of funny bits, never really comes alive, as there’s nothing to distinguish the militia members themselves from whatever popped into your head the minute you hear the word “militia.” (I mean, apart from your Uncle Daryl.) It’s not bad, exactly, but it doesn’t justify its existence. The story is a bit too much of a straight line. Thankfully, with next week’s season-finale double feature, I’m sure there are plenty of twists in the road ahead.
- Modern Things Of Which Ichabod Does Not Approve This Week: New clothes. (“One sign of the appending apocalypse is surely skinny jeans.”) He’s also a little unsure of our interpretation of the second amendment: ““There was concern among us that it could lead to perverse consequences.”
- Hey, Irving, once you figure out that the demon threatening you can possess people, maybe you should tell the officers guarding you and your family to immediately report any sudden lapses of memory? Also, where the hell did that priest go?
- Great makeup work on possessed-Macy.
- The blessed lantern looks like a Bug Zapper Of Righteousness to me.
- I don’t want to be a skeptic, but I’m not sure writing a date in a diary means anything beyond your ability to write a date, even if it is in invisible ink. Abbie and Ichabod seem very excited that George Washington wrote a date that’s four days after the date of his death in his Bible, but I’m not seeing how it’s a thing. (Although knowing this show, of course it’s a thing.)