When last we left Sleepy Hollow, it was a show that had lost its way. The second season was a mess, full of frustratingly uninteresting character relationships, overly complicated plotting, and increasingly strained attempts to introduce new characters into a show where familiar and well-loved faces were already getting short shrift. All of this being just symptoms of a deeper, more troubling problem: somehow, the creative team had lost the magic that made the first season so much fun even when it was ridiculous. (And it was ridiculous on the regular.) For whatever reason, the core of Abbie and Ichabod kicking ass and researching demons was deemed not quite enough. So we get hunky black-market antiques dealers, suddenly evil estranged wives, and a frankly shameful waste of John Noble’s talents.
At least the season two finale made some steps to cleaning all of this up. Katrina is dead, Henry is dead, and Moloch is finally defeated. Frank Irving is gone, spirited away by a line of dialogue, this time hopefully for good. Which means we’re in blank slate territory more or less, an opportunity to get back to basics and recapture that old magic. Sleepy Hollow isn’t the first phenomenon to burn bright in its debut and then run hard into the sophomore slump, but that doesn’t mean the ship can’t be righted. Wow, that was a weirdly mixed metaphor. Let’s move on.
I’m, as is standard AV Club policy, cautiously optimistic about season three—I really want the show to work again, but I’m not sure if that’s possible—and after watching “I, Witness,” the caution and the optimism remain more or less in place. As premiere’s go, this one sticks to the straight and narrow, re-establishing Abbie and Ichabod’s partnership, giving them a new demon to fight, setting up a new Big Bad (Pandora, huh? Oh, clever, clever), and bringing back Jenny. Which is cool. Of the people left, Ichabod, Abbie, and Jenny are by far the most endearing.
None of this elegantly done, however, and the first fifteen minutes or so border on self-parody. There’s a “you thought this guy was scary? Get a load of this!” introductory scene, in which Pandora uses her witchy ways to trap the Headless Horseman’s essence in her box of monsters. (At least, that’s what I thought was happening, the FX weren’t done in time for the screener.) Then we catch up with Abbie who is now an FBI agent. While her going to Quantico is an idea that’s been with the show from the start, it’s a bit of a shock to see her tracking down drug kingpins. Even worse, the “drug kingpin” part of the story is ludicrously shallow—it reads like something you might throw together after watching a handful of cop shows which, to be honest, is probably exactly what it is.
Sleepy Hollow doesn’t need perfect authenticity, and the show’s take on law enforcement has always been questionable, even in its best moments. So long as the FBI stuff doesn’t get in the way too much, it’s fine. More troubling was the discovery that Ichabod had been jailed by immigration for attempting to smuggle an ancient stone table into the country. Well, that fact in and of itself isn’t troubling, but the desperate attempts to capture the old Ichabod magic were cause for concern. Even at its worst, Ichabod and Abbie have remained characters worth building a show around, but to see Ichabod prattling to a cellmate named Jesus solely for a bad joke—and then follow that up with a forced speech about how prison has taught him a valuable lesson about fellowship—feels like the writers pandering. It’s hollow, and dangerously close to suggesting the show has lost its way.
Thankfully, things pick up from there, and by the time Ichabod is wandering around Colonial Times, a Revolutionary War-themed restaurant which has Betsy Ross’s secret message to George Washington hidden in its memorabilia, the character’s outrage feels far more natural. “I, Witness” spends some time bringing Abbie to a decision to once more embrace her witness-hood; it’s an understandable arc, but not really a necessary one. The two of them back together feels so utterly correct that any pretense that she might have walked away is absurd. (Although, to Nicole Beharie’s credit, she makes “Lorenzo, the monsters are real. But it’s okay because it’s my job to stop them.” sounds pretty badass.)
This week’s monster, a beast that’s attracted the smell of gunpowder, doesn’t have enough personality to leave an impression, and it’s vulnerability is goofy, although the efforts to tie this in with “Don’t fire till you see the whites of their eyes!” is the sort of charmingly bizarre historical retcon that the show does so well. Betsy Ross, Super Spy, makes less of an impression, but then she isn’t given a whole lot to do. Pandora gets some more screen time, and it’s nice to see Shannyn Sossamon, but, right now at least, there’s not much of note to the character: another vaguely threatening baddy with mystical powers and an inscrutable (and probably evil) agenda. The result, then, is an episode that hits some fan-pleasing notes, but lacks any real urgency or momentum. All the boxes have been checked off, but without passion. Hopefully thinks will pick up soon, because a Sleepy Hollow without passion is far worse than a horseman without a head.
- Modern Things Of Which Ichabod Doth Not Approve This Week: He’s not keen on America’s overly harsh immigration policies, or tacky restaurants.
- Abbie’s first line: “Hey, Johnny—did you miss me?” Very cute, show.
- How long does it take you to become an FBI agent? For all I know, Abbie’s career track could be completely plausible.
- I like how Abbie is willing to believe just about anything, but gets all sarcastic when Ichabod mentions a prophecy that might give a glimpse into your future. I guess you have to draw a line somewhere.
- Re: the monster that’s killing people: “Meaning that someone summoned it here. Someone evil.” Gosh, really?
- “The corner goes in front! You’re not a pirate.” -Ichabod, fashion advisor