I’m not sure I buy Orlando Jones; I keep waiting for him to start shilling 7-Up, or maybe go on a run through old MadTV bits. But then, given his character at his point, I’m not sure that’s really Jones’ fault. I could be uncharitably blaming shallow writing on the performer who’s been stuck with it, because right now, Captain Frank Irving (sigh) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. He’s positioned to be the ADA Skinner to Ichabod and Abby’s Mulder and Scully, but the amount of leniency he gives Abby to hang out with a dude who claims to be a time traveler from the 18th century is bizarre even by this show’s standards. So Abby’s on permanent “weird shit” duty now? And Ichabod is, I dunno, a civilian consultant? Irving seems ready to roll with just about anything. While I’m relieved the guy hasn’t turned into an irritating obstacle for our heroes, I’m not sure I buy his apparent willingness to allow his subordinate leeway to bust demons without any follow-up paperwork.
The central problem right now isn’t just Irving, exactly, but the center of the show’s narrative. There are lots of good pieces in place, but there needs to be just a little more solid footing to lock everything into place. It doesn’t need to be super plausible; we’re not talking docu-drama realism. But take a show like Supernatural. Its first season had some substantial problems, but it managed to get by both on the chemistry of the two leads and the fundamental soundness of the premise. Sam and Dean are brothers who travel the country fighting demons. That’s pretty much perfect—there’s room to attach backstory as needed, but the basic concept doesn’t need a lot of effort to make sense. Sleepy Hollow has a harder job ahead of it. Abby is, after all, a cop, and cops have to follow certain rules if they want to keep being cops. More, there needs to be a good reason for her and Ichabod to keep working together. The set-up is largely there; there’s some mythology to justify their team-up, and the two actors have that chemistry so that it doesn’t seem like they’re forced to be around each other. But there needs to be just a little more. Irving’s blase willingness to accept everything they do makes him look like either a dullard or an enemy agent, and that might be Jones’performance; but I’d say it’s more the fact that he, and any other regular character on the show who isn’t one of the two leads, is going to suffer until this gets settled.
Thankfully, there’s still a lot of great banter and terrific monster design to keep things humming for now. “For The Triumph Of Evil” worked a little better than last week’s episode, although John Cho’s sullen henchman was sorely missed. The plot revolved around a guilt-based demon, which helped to make the danger more immediate for our heroes, and the thing itself just looked fantastic, a kind of riff on the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth that fits well on the small screen. So far, the two biggest reasons this show is worth watching are the back and forth between Ichabod and Abby and the scares. The show is probably too goofy to be outright terrifying, but the horror sequences have been well-handled so far, and this episode is no exception. The Sandman was an unsettling presence from the start, and the decision to open with yet another dream sequence actually worked in the hour’s favor, setting things up off-kilter right from the start. (Although it wasn’t a good sign that having Ichabod interrogate a suspect didn’t immediately tip off that the whole thing was imaginary.) The final confrontation in the dream world wasn’t incredibly intense, but it was spooky and fun, and while the Sandman was never much more than a scary suit and some cool CGI, that felt appropriate. The real drama was in Abby admitting how much she’d betrayed her sister.
Abby and Jenny’s demon-spotting adventure remains an odd lodestone to bear as much plot weight as it has (apologies if my architectual metaphors are worse than usual); there seems to be some crucial element missing in justifying the way the event has so thoroughly marked both their lives. But at least “For The Triumph Of Evil” gave the sisters a plausible, and legitimately emotional, justification for their split from each other. Abby’s decision to lie about what they saw takes a goofy scenario—no matter how triumphantly she says “I saw a demon,” the line is always going to sound loopy—and gives it real weight. Intentionally or not, she turned her back, and when the system went apparently apeshit on Jenny, Abby has to take some of the blame for that. Which is why the Sandman targets her. It’s a good twist, and even if it’s resolved without much suffering, it helps to make the monster stand out even more. And when Abby goes to finally confess her sins to her sister, Jenny is already gone, presumably to resurface and cause trouble next week. I’m not sold on Jenny yet, but the familial connection does give some resonance to all the craziness.
I haven’t said much about Ichabod, but he was his usual delightful self; it sounds like the writers love giving him old-timey speech as much as Stan Lee loved writing faux-Shakespearean dialect in his Thor comics. Where Abby is generally stuck being the “serious” one, Ichabod gets to play up the campier aspects of the show, yet the character has yet to fall into self-parody. The relationship between the two leads, and the way it enlivens even the most clunkily constructed dialogue, is a great gift. It turns the show into something it’s easy to want to succeed. As with last week, the structure here is classic Monster Of The Week style television. It’s still rough, but at least this episode wasn’t as lopsided. Ideally, the writers will find a way to better balance the contained stories against the larger serialized narrative as the show goes along. The pieces are there, for the most part. They're just not quite fitting yet. You can see it in the scene back at the station with Irving confronting the staff room with a “headless horseman” sign. This scene has nothing to do with the rest of the episode, and it provides us with no new information. It exists solely to remind us that there is a police station around our heroes, and to convince us that Irving isn’t a total hard-ass (which makes him even more suspect, really). Oh, and also to bring back Abby’s ex. It’s not a great scene. But it’s part of a process that, hopefully, might lead to something better.
- I don’t know if it’s racist, but I do know the “Native American who has a hilariously mundane or slightly sleazy job but turns out to have a secret building where he does all his shaman magic” is as big a cliche at this point as if they’d just gone to a dude in a tent.
- No new appearance from Ghost Clancy Brown, thank goodness, although he did pop up briefly in a flashback to last week’s appearance, seemingly for the sole purpose of assuring us that the writers totally weren’t lying with that “49” thing.
- I wish the show had done more with the fact that the Sandman targeted its victims through guilt. It’s a potent concept, but it was under-served here, even if it was the crux of the story’s climax. That’s another reason the writers need to get a stronger sense of structure—all the cul-de-sacs and wandering cut down on screen-time for the story beats that really matter.
- Ichabod Crane does not like faux-Red Bull.
- “Is he perhaps a, how would you put it, faceless nightmare monster?”