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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Sleepy Hollow: “And The Abyss Gazes Back”

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Man, this season is a bit messy, isn’t it? Not that this is anything new for Sleepy Hollow; the show has never shied away from trying several approaches at once, and at its best, the result is an exhausting but ultimately delightful rush of barely controlled chaos. But the past few weeks have been messier than usual, and, more frustratingly, filled with turns that serve to distract, rather than enhance, what really makes the series work. Ichabod and Abbie having adventures is still the main focus, thank goodness, no matter how many times Hawley shows up for no apparent good reason; and yet each time he does show up, there’s a sensation of drift, of a story pulling away in the wrong direction for no clear reason. No matter how messy things get, there needs to be a fundamental balance, and that balance is teetering. And it’s not just Hawley, no matter how much his blonde pointlessness irks me. Some parts of the season have been working, but there’s a frustrating lack of focus to several major threads, and, equally as bad, a certain familiarity has started to bleed in.

Like, for example, the fact that “And The Abyss Gazes Back” opens with what seems like the umpteenth variation on the “Ichabod and Abbie act like they’re involved with something very serious and life-threatening, but ha ha it’s not that at all” joke. Last time, it was driving a car; this time, it’s yoga. It was a dumb gag the first time they used it, but Beharie and Mison have enough charm that it worked fine. A second time, though? And yoga? Look, I get it: one of the cornerstones of the series is having Ichabod react in his peculiarly Ichabod-ish way to the trials and tribulations of modern life. This wouldn’t be the same show if he suddenly took everything at face value and never ranted about anything. At the same time, it’s hard to shake the impression that some of these gags are being pushed in regardless of story or character logic, simply because it’s an easy laugh.

But that’s just nitpicking, really. So what if it’s bizarre that Ichabod would decided to get into online gaming; it’s amusing to hear Tom Mison read out gamer usernames and complain about getting “fragged,” so let it slide. Less amusing is the fact that once again, the case of the week revolves around someone with a direct personal connection to Abbie: Joe Corbin, who comes home under a terrible curse to retrieve some property of his father’s that he intends to trade for a cure to his sickness. It helps that Henry is once again behind everything, but too much of this feels like retreading old ground. Sheriff Corbin flashback again! And Joe is resentful because his dad spent too much time with Abbie, which, honestly, makes no damn sense. It’s certainly not something that Abbie can just fix with a nice monologue, which of course is just what she does. If Sheriff Corbin was a bad father, well, there you go; and if he wasn’t (which, given everything we know about him, seems more likely), Joe comes off as an asshole.

An asshole who turns into a horrible monster at the sight of human blood. A surprisingly complicated monster, in fact, with a fair number of rules behind it; the wendigo needs to eat human organs to turn human again, but it also only changes four times before the change is permanent, which mostly sounds like a very convenient way to provide suspense once our heroes realize you can steal organs from the hospital. (Jenny’s “That being said, we should probably all donate blood or something” was easily the funniest line of the night.) For a hideous beastie, the Wendigo turns out to be mostly a dud. It commits a lot of horrific violence off-screen, but then, when it comes face to face with our heroes, it’s captured pretty easily with a tranq gun. Later, when Joe makes his “final” transformation (after being betrayed by Henry), they manage to corner him in an alley and just hold him off until Ichabod is able to chant at him (using a special Shawnee chant written on a skull) and cure the curse. Not much of a curse, really. The closest the whole thing comes to being dangerous is when it looks like the chant won’t actually work. (Then there’s a commercial break.) Oh hey, the chant worked without anyone having to do anything else. Neat.

There are good moments throughout, but overall it doesn’t hold together as well as it should. Joe’s problem is revealed to have pretty much nothing to do with his character, and he’s introduced and dismissed with an equal lack of fanfare. (He wants Abbie to write him a letter of recommendation to Quantico. Okay!) It’s clever that this is all part of Henry’s plotting—he wants a special poison which, at the end of the episode, he pours out, watches as it turns into a spider, and then sends that spider into Katrina’s mouth. Creepy stuff. But it all seems a little too haphazard, right down to this week’s subplot, which has Henry turning up the heat in Irving by trying to convince him to murder the man who hit Irving’s daughter with a car. The man who is apparently in the same criminal asylum as Irving is. How does that work? I’m willing to stretch plausibility, but I don’t know how a drunk driver convicted of assault would end up in an asylum, and I’m also not sure how no one seemed to realize he and Irving might have a history? And that’s not even getting into the abruptness of Irving completely believing Henry’s assertion re: how to get his soul back, and the speed with which he goes from contemplation to confrontation. Irving has been a difficult character to work into the series ever since his storyline diverted from Ichabod and Abbie’s, and while this new iteration at least avoids any painfully awkward family drama, it still doesn’t make all that much sense.

That may sound like a strange complaint, but the secret to this show’s success has always been a rock solid core, over which the crazy is layered on like confusing but surprisingly compelling lasagna. There was always a chance that the new season would try too much new tricks at once, and lose its sense of self. That hasn’t happened yet, but the strain is showing.


Stray observations:

  • Modern Things Of Which Ichabod Doth Not Approve This Week: Yoga, and, for a time, video games. In general, he’s critical of how we modern Americans spend our leisure time.
  • Ichabod knew Daniel Boone. Gasp.
  • So Joe got cursed, ate his platoon, was honorably discharged, and ended up back in Sleepy Hollow in less than two weeks? This seems fast.