Sleepy Hollow is a cool, refreshing drink of stale water that likely won’t make you sick. It’s okay, but not good. It’s fun, but not breezy. It’s well-acted, but clumsily written. Sleepy Hollow is decent by the bare minimum definition of the word. So why does everyone but me seem to be in love with this show?
I considered going back and reviewing the pilot, but upon watching “Blood Moon,” I realized there was no need. The episode begins with a recap of the show’s premise: Ichabod Crane is an American Revolutionary War veteran tasked by General Washington to kill Death; he sleeps for two hundred and fifty years, then awakens to continue his battle alongside a police detective with yet-unexplained ties to the arcane. And if the recap didn’t make it clear, the show’s stars explain it at least two more times throughout the episode through clumsy expositional dialogue.
If I had to pick one thing about Sleepy Hollow to complain about (which, thankfully, I don’t have to), it would be the show’s utter lack of faith in its own audience. The supernatural elements and skeptic/believer leads recalls The X-Files, Fox’s early hit by which all of their subsequent shows have been measured. Yet Mulder and Scully were allowed to explore the show’s ever-expanding mythos at a leisurely pace; The X-Files spent nearly a decade unraveling its mysteries, and still left us with unanswered questions. Sleepy Hollow instead force-feeds its premise and its mysteries to its audience, explaining it all twice just to make certain no one is confused. It explains everything through premature exposition, as though it’s terrified of the thought of us being confused for even a moment.
Take “Blood Moon.” Ichabod’s ethereal wife returns in his dreams, telling him point-blank that the spirit of a dark witch is about to rise and take her revenge. Ichabod has only to visit a single crime scene to realize what’s happening and who has risen. Kudos to the show for not simply following the glut of police procedurals on television, but it’s gone too far in the opposite direction: rather than watching the characters solve a mystery, we see them handed packaged macguffins that solve the issue for them: Crane’s ghost wife, Sherriff Clancy Brown’s extensive occult files, and a series of secret tunnels pre-loaded with witch bones and the enormous gunpowder cache necessary for the episode’s climax. It’s impossible to see Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie as capable when the story does all the heavy lifting before they get there. The experience feels akin to a Dungeons & Dragons module: everything is just waiting for someone to plug any old characters into a pre-generated story.
That said, if we had to have any old characters, I’m glad for the ones we got. Mison and Beharie have excellent chemistry, and watching them stumble from plot point to plot point is a treat. Mison embodies the time traveler we all wish we could be: fascinated by the progress of two and a half centuries, but not overwhelmed. His struggles to reconcile his values with the future (like the outrageous ten-percent levy against baked goods) would make a great character arc if Sleepy Hollow can find time to step away from its own plot for a moment. Likewise Beharie embodies a more practical Scully, hesitant to accept the occult mysteries as they arrive, but not obdurate. Her rationalizations work will work well in the show’s early episodes, but hopefully they’ll be gone by midseason. That goes for Mison’s fish-out-of-water gags too; they’re cute right now, but unless Sleepy Hollow wants to actually delve into the ramifications of being catapulted 250 years into the future, they have an expiration date.
“Blood Moon” can perhaps be forgiven, as many series’ second episodes must be. The pilot was tasked with making us buy into the show’s unusual conceit. “Blood Moon” is tasked with creating the show’s status quo, which will evidently be a monster-of-the-week format. There are more hints of the show’s future: the suspiciously spacious and well-lit police records archive which will probably serve as a recurring resource for Crane and Mills; John Cho’s return to play the devil’s advocate (wakka-wakka) for future monsters; Mills’ sister, who does her best Linda Hamilton circa Terminator 2 impression; and Mrs. Crane and Sherriff Brown watching over it all, ready to dispense ghostly advice to our two leads.
Even with its quick-on-the-draw exposition, Sleepy Hollow still has a few mysteries left to solve. Why is Crane’s wife in purgatory? What’s her connection to this rise of the occult? Did Washington have other soldiers in the war against Death? I just hope it has the patience to let these mysteries simmer, and not simply tell us the answers.
- “It has more?” Crane’s gun confusion is a funny joke, but it makes little sense for a man with an eidetic memory. Just last week he saw two police officers unload their pistols into an indifferent Headless Horseman.
- Speaking of which, can scriptwriters stop using “eidetic memory” as a characterization crutch? I know it’s an easy way of making your character smart, impressive, and a source of exposition, but enough is enough.
- Conversations that must have taken place during police station renovations:
“Hey, look at this secret door! I think it leads to some kind of tunnel.”
“Should we check it out? Maybe check with city hall to make sure we’re not blocking utility access? It looks pretty old. Maybe we should contact a historical society or something.”
“Nah. Just plaster over that shit.”
- When Frank Sinatra’s “Witchcraft” came on the car radio, my eyes rolled so hard that I saw my own brain.
- I neglected to mention Mills’ ex-boyfriend because I’m so completely uninterested in that storyline that I hope it quietly fades away.