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Sleepy Hollow works best when it sticks with its heroes

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The good news is, the Jersey Devil is real. The bad news? He’s sort of a dick. Sure, he’s got the scorpion tale and the cool horns and all that, but when the guy starts talking, he’s a pompous, preening jackass—and, whatever the reason, it’s hard to be scared of someone that openly egotistical. Monsters need self-confidence, but they minute they start bragging, they turn into Saturday morning cartoon baddies; Megatron would be proud.


So, the Devil, nee Japhet Leeds, is another in an increasingly long line of not-all-that-scary Sleepy Hollow baddies. On the plus side, he still manages to be fairly entertaining; at the very least, he has more of a distinctive personality than any monster of the week we’ve had of late. He’s not sympathetic or even likeable, really, but he at least has a past and a reason for existing beyond, “Well, we need a creature this week, so let’s put some gray laytex on that skinny guy.” In best non-serious moments of the main plot, there’s a charm to the confrontations that borders on camp without ever entirely tipping over. The show’s mythology remains largely as something to give the characters something do when they aren’t being delightful, but if it’s not going to be gripping, it’s nice to have something that’s at least moderately self-aware of its own absurdity.

“Dark Mirror” is a largely goofy episode. The Jersey Devil is too much of a twit to be truly menacing (despite brutally murdering some nature parkour enthusiasts in the cold open; in general, the cold opens have become one of the most predictable, least interesting aspects of the show), and the subplot about Joe overstepping his bounds and buying Jenny a new trailer is basically something you’d expect to see in a family friendly sitcom, complete with important lessons about respecting the boundaries of the people you love. It’s not a bad subplot, exactly, but it does require Joe to behave like an idiot for no other reason than to fill the time.


All of which would be perfectly in keeping with the show’s general approach to its heroes and villains, were it not for a surprisingly effective look at Abbie’s PTSD. Last week, I expressed reservations about her obsession with a symbol she saw in the Catacombs, but this week faces the problem head on. Instead of keeping the obsession secret, showing Abbie’s corruption slowly increasing over time, the writers bring things to a head immediately.

In their quest to track the Devil down, Abbie and Ichabod wind up in Japhet’s laboratory (he was a scientist from Crane’s time who was a rival of Benjamin Franklin’s and experimented on himself with animal traits), and find, among other items, a necklace with Abbie’s precious symbol attached. This leads to trouble later on, when Leeds shows up, poisons Ichabod with his scorpion tail, and Abbie is distracted by the symbol while in the middle of making an antidote that will save her friend’s life. After the crisis is resolved, Abbie admits what’s going on, and she and Ichabod have a couple of frank conversations about just what it means to survive after a traumatic experience.

Look, this isn’t a super serious, psychologically complex portrayal of a real life issue. Abbie was trapped in some kind of hell dimension for a year, and it quite understandably messed her up, but I’ll be hugely surprised if this lasts much longer. Nor should it! This isn’t the context for dealing with these kind of mental scars, and the simple fact that the writers are willing to engage it as much as they do here helps raise “Dark Mirror” above an adequate but otherwise forgettable entry.

Nicole Beharie gets a chance to show just how good she is, and Tom Mison provides excellent support. Their scenes dealing with Abbie’s issues carry more weight than anything else that happens in the hour, and even if the surface details of the trauma are absurd, the core truth remains convincing. Which is really the heart of great genre storytelling, after all. I wouldn’t go so far as to call “Dark Mirror” great, but pretty good? Intermittently inspired? The show is still bogged down by a tedious overplot, and this week wastes its one attempt at making the Hidden One interesting again (Japhet invented the filmstrip! Only the “filmstrip” immediately fades into a flashback that looks like it cost all of twenty bucks), but its core of heroes remains compelling and likeable in adversity.


Stray observations

  • Modern Things Of Which Ichabod Doth Not Approve Of This Week: The man is not keen on Eggs Benedict.
  • Joe puts a spoon on his nose. Ichabod: “That was Franklin’s party trick. Not always on his nose.”
  • The Hidden One and Pandora end up with the Sands Of Life by the end, so that’s probably not good. I’m trying to keep up here, I really am.
  • “I went in first last time.” -Abbie
  • Is this the first time we’ve heard Ichabod actually praise Ben Franklin without reservation?
  • Abbie kills the Jersey Devil by jamming his magical lightning rod in his chest. Lightning hits him and he explodes. I laughed.