Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Sleepy Hollow: "Necromancer"

Illustration for article titled Sleepy Hollow: "Necromancer"

Poor doomed Andy Brooks is arguably the best secondary character Sleepy Hollow has right now. If you accept Abbie and Ichabod as the leads (which, duh), and Katrina and Irving as existing in some elevated position between protagonists and bystanders, Andy doesn’t have a lot of competition; there’s Abbie’s bad-ass sister Jenny, the blank that walks which is Officer Morales, the Sin Eater, and a few others, but by and large, there’s so much stuff going on that there’s no room for a lot of regular support. Jenny has potential, and this week’s episode has her teaming up with Irving for some general bad-assery, an unexpected pairing that works quite well. Jenny’s relationship with Abbie creates solid drama because, while the two are now basically reconciled, the wounds between them aren’t completely healed.

But Andy… man. We don’t even know why he decided to work for Moloch (which is a flashback I dearly hope the show offers up sometime); we just know that he’s basically screwed at this point, a dead man whose death failed to invalidate a painfully binding contract. His decision last week to give Abbie and Ichabod tips on dealing with the Horseman seemed at odds with his evil henchman shtick, but this week, we learn that he’s in a complicated bind. His efforts are, ultimately, designed to help free the Horseman, even going so far as to bury the Thracian Phale (a magical relic stolen earlier in the hour, around the time our heroes were looking for Andy and not finding him) in his stomach in order to break the hex spell Ichabod and Abbie are using to keep Death trapped. But when Abbie asks him for help, Andy warns her repeatedly that no good will come of this. While this could turn out to be yet another long con, or just a momentary spot of weakness from an otherwise unconflicted walking corpse, in that moment, he sounded sincere. Which makes him that most interesting of villains: a monster who wishes he wasn’t.

And really, Andy’s just a minor part of the hour. “Necromancer” keeps up the pace and intensity of “The Midnight Ride,” taking yet another ludicrous premise—how do you interrogate the Headless Horseman?—and making it funny, freaky, and even a little bit sad. Sleepy Hollow has made so many changes to its nominal source material that it seems impossible for any further twists to surprise, but this week had a doozy: The Horseman isn’t just an anthropomorphized demonic representation of death. He was, once upon a time all 200 years ago, a man named Abraham, a friend of Ichabod’s and Katrina’s former fiancee. Back in the past, Katrina ended the engagement (which was an arranged marriage, which is kind of weird since it was very clear that Katrina was supposed to be marrying up, but maybe her dad was wealthy?) when she fell in love with Ichabod. This was a good call on her part, but it had the unfortunate effect of sending Abraham into the dumps whilst he and Ichabod headed off to deliver the Declaration and Resolves to the colonies, a sort of precursor to the Declaration of Independence. Ichabod, being the honest idiot that he is, decides this would be a good time to tell his friend that Katrina loves another man, i.e. Ichabod, which leads to some light dueling. It’s important to note that Abraham wins the duel rather handily (albeit after Ichabod spends a minute or two frantically refusing to fight); Ichabod gets away only because the Hessians show up, shooting Abraham and, to Ichabod’s eyes, killing him. But it’s not so! Moloch shows up after Ichabod flees, and Abraham sells his soul for revenge, being thus transformed into the Horseman (soon to be headless) whom we know so well.

This is kind of a big deal. It’s also a relationship that’s entirely invented in this episode—I can’t remember ever having heard of Abraham before, or even that Katrina was engaged when she and Ichabod met (I could’ve missed both, but I don’t think either idea got a lot of screen time until now), which means that the reveal itself doesn’t have a huge amount of emotional weight. Pre-Horsemanization, Abraham was a dud; even though his feelings were justifiably hurt over losing Katrina, he’s such a priggish, generic rich dude that getting turned into a nightmarish personification of humankind’s greatest fear is really a step up, charisma-wise. What makes this interesting is Ichabod’s horrified response and the way the writers manage to personalize a threat without making it less imposing. While the Horseman may have been an impotent fop in his previous life, he’s still a furious, headless monster; the voice that comes out of Andy’s mouth when the Horseman uses him to to speak is low and inhuman. The value of the twist is that it makes Ichabod’s relationship with his enemy more complex. From now on, there’s always going to be just a bit of guilt mixed in with all that anger. But then, the anger itself will be all the stronger, because our hero finally knows what force is keeping Katrina locked inside Purgatory, and why. The Horseman is keeping his former love captive with an eye toward… well, something pretty damn unsavory. So if staving off the end of the world wasn’t enough, Ichabod now has to save his wife from an ex with no head.

The Abraham reveal is also cool because it leads, quite logically, to a fencing duel between the Horseman and Ichabod. Mere words are not adequate to express the glee such an event inspires, and that fight (which ends when a pack of demons arrive to spirit the Horseman and Andy away; apparently Moloch has plans for Ichabod that don’t involve him getting stabbed to death just yet) is the tip of yet another delightful iceberg. There’s Irving and Jenny running around in their own little spin-off episode, setting up the theft of the Thracian Phale before heading to the Sleepy Hollow power plant to almost, but not quite, thwart the Hessians’ attempt to cut the city’s power. (Thus shutting off the UV lights which are helping to keep the Horseman in check.) The writers are hellbent on pumping up Irving’s heroics, and Orlando Jones’ odd, somewhat mannered line deliveries seem less and less like a mannerism and more like the basis of an actual character—someone who is working very hard to take all of this as sanely as possible. The only thing to really ring false here is his pep talk to Jenny when he has her pulled into the station. The idea is simple enough—step up and join us in our fight against darkness, and so forth—but there isn’t much context for it. Jenny’s journey from mental patient to warrior wasn’t an arc so much as a straight line, without any sense of turmoil or instability. She’s angry, and that’s about it. Which is cool: We just need everyone else to stop pretending like she hasn’t been up on all this shit for years now.

But as ever, Ichabod and Abbie owned the stage, debating the fine points of interrogation (note the complete lack of torture! Not that torturing a headless manifestation of ancient evil would be a thing you could do, but still) and practicing their fist bumps. Oh god, the fist bumps. The show’s ability to mix adorable (and funny) bits like that alongside melodramatic but sincerely felt heartbreak and scary action set-pieces is as impressive as ever. When Ichabod and Abbie find Andy in the tunnels and enlist his help, there’s a lot of serious discussion about the consequences of such a choice. Andy confesses that his soul “doesn’t belong to me anymore.” And then Ichabod attempts to lead them out, only to pick the wrong direction. It’s a goofy bit, and in a clumsier series, the juxtaposition of silliness against a damned man pleading for mercy would be forced or distracting. Here, it just fits. Sleepy Hollow’s knack for mixing endearing character moments with thrilling, and increasingly gripping, set-pieces, more than makes up for any clunky plot. And while its focus on serialization has meant under-developing some side characters, that trade is worth it for the kind of crazy momentum the show has going right now. I’m already looking forward to marathoning the whole season when it hits Blu Ray. It’ll play like gangbusters.


Stray observations:

  • Not sure if it was just the screener copy or not, but the “Previously on” segment was shorter than usual this week. Also, it took 15 minutes to get to the opening title sequence.
  • French joke! Though I forgot to write it down, so just use your imagination.
  • “Dead guy, mental patient, and a time traveler from the Revolution.” “That’s our team.”
  • Ichabod finds a copy of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Abbie tells him there’s a lot of great American literature he needs to catch up on. Um.
  • “This isn’t about you, my dear Ichabod. This is my life.” -Katrina, in regards to breaking off her engagement with Abraham. Which is very cool. We haven’t spent a huge amount of time getting to know Mrs. Ichabod (most her screen time is spent delivering breathy warnings of impending doom), but there’s something refreshing about her statement here; it continues the show’s subtle but determined approach to giving all its characters a voice.
  • “Then we’ve found the Horseman’s weakness: my wife.” Yay?