It’s taken me five episodes to figure it out, but I finally understand what bothers me so much about Sleepy Hollow. Crane sums it up at the episode’s climax, explaining to Mills that it was her faith as a Witness that defeated the latest Horseman escapade. Their path has already been determined, and now they simply have to possess enough faith to walk it.
This theme of “faith over all” has permeated the show thus far. Sherriff Clancy Brown already gathered up occult information for them, as well as some handy artifacts to help them along the way; Captain Irving, despite some sarcastic barbs flung in Crane’s direction, demonstrates a baffling level of trust in a detective and a time-displaced consultant, both of whom would be psychologically evaluated before they were let anywhere near a crime scene on literally any other show on television. Time and again, Crane and Mills simply have to have the courage to stick with their mission, and the answers unfold for them through macguffins, through guest stars, through psychic purgatory wives, or convenient black powder caches. They are Witnesses in every sense of the word: passively observing the tribulations that unfold before them.
It took me until this episode to fully realize my gripe because this episode withdrew the last of its cudgel-like subtlety to outright state its theme. A plague comes to Sleepy Hollow courtesy of another time-displaced colonist, and medical science is powerless to stop the hell-bent disease as it runs rampant through a hospital. Crane and Mills track the boy’s path back to an island isolated from time and space, where the relocated denizens of the lost colony of Roanoke have been living with the plague for hundreds of years.
The religious symbolism hits like a punch to the face. Even Mills hangs a lampshade, scoffing “Really?” when she finds herself hiding in the hospital chapel. Then she prays anyway, hoping for the answer to be handed to her, and receives the realization that the waters of Roanoke are what keep its people protected from the horseman Conquest, and that maybe the waters could cure Thomas and Crane of their mystic affliction. The scene blocking, with Mills dipping her fingers into a basin of blessed waters, and the silhouetted person in the background praying before the altar, leaves absolutely zero doubt that this revelation is meant to be seen as divine inspiration. The “cure” turns into a metaphor for baptism as Crane throws himself and Thomas into the purifying waters, banishing Conquest and freeing the people of Roanoke, who were dead all along. This pious act also instantly cures the infected in Sleepy Hollow. The ending is so pat, so convenient, that Crane is forced to explain it away as faith; the whole plague was nothing more than a test for our Witnesses, which as you’ll recall from last episode probably doesn’t include Crane anymore. It’s Mills’ faith that saves the day in one big, clumsy Christian metaphor. Time and again this show frustrates Mills’ rationality with evidence that it has no place in her new role as a Witness. She’s a detective, trained to use reason and logic to solve problems. Those skills are now useless, supplanted with convenience and coincidence. If you’re not down for that, then Sleepy Hollow isn’t the show for you.
Thematic/theological problems aside, Sleepy Hollow is still a good-looking show. The initial symptoms of the plague—the black veins—are subtly terrifying, and its full-blown horror, as seen in the unlucky EMT, looks pretty damn scary. New Roanoke looks pretty good too, although we only really see it from one angle; probably the set designer didn’t have time to recreate an entire pioneer village. And the amicability between Mills and Crane continues to be the highlight of the series. Mills’ doubt is gone, allowing her to ask funny questions about America’s founding fathers. I thought the police archives were going to be their secret headquarters, but evidently that set wasn’t working, because now Crane’s moving into Sherriff Clancy Brown’s old cabin. The rustic, antiquated look fits much better with the show’s themes than does the inexplicably well-lit archives do.
I’ll be honest: Sleepy Hollow’s take on faith is a big fat issue for me. I much prefer the representations of faith from J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5: Faith and Reason are like two shoes, wherein one or the other on its own isn’t sufficient to let a man move forward. The kind of faith here skews much harder toward fatalism, which takes a lot of the drama and tension out of the show; if all the main characters have to do is pray and believe, how hard will these tribulations really be to overcome? But I’m going to stick it out and see where it goes, hoping that the show gets better. I guess that’s a kind of faith too, isn’t it?
- The clunky expository preface is still there, right alongside the “previously on” segment. Why even bother watching the show week-to-week? Just tune in for the season finale, and you’ll understand everything that’s happening.
- Crane’s fish-out-of water joke: he doesn’t know what “spackle” means. Or how to get through a plastic package. A little weak this time around…
- Mills’ ex-boyfriend returns to bland his way through a new subplot of investigating Crane’s background. Crane—who I guess is now officially a consultant for the department—is getting all of the attention, and ex-boyfriend pouts about it. Snore. More interesting: who at Oxford is lying on Crane’s behalf to legitimize his cover as a professor on sabbatical? Because I seriously doubt any tenure he might have had would survive his treasonous emigration followed by a 250-year absence.
- Crane on medical quarantine: “This is the stuff of nightmares.”
- Roanoke: a lazy writer’s answer to colonial American mysteries. I can say this with the knowledge that I’ve used that shortcut myself once or twice. But I think I prefer it when Sleepy Hollow rewrites history in crazier, less-predictable ways.
- And now Crane is a former British nobleman and expert tracker. I should keep a spreadsheet on each new amazing talent or background trait he manifests.
- Crane and Mills walk on water. Subtle, Sleepy Hollow. Real subtle.
- Psychic wife is trapped in purgatory. I feel like we had already been told that in an earlier episode. So why does Crane seem like he’s surprised to learn this
- Wait, seriously? Captain Irving believes Mills’ story about Roanoke and the water? I’ll say it again: he is a wildly inconsistent authority figure.
- “What was that?” “Adrenaline.” “I like it.” At least modern medicine has some part to play in the solution.
- “We will require much more than faith if and when the Horseman of Death returns.” Right. You’ll need sunlight.