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Fall 2013 Review: Sleepy Hollow

23 Sep

Sleeeeepy Hollow

Most of what I know about the story of Sleep Hollow is that the main characters are Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman, it’s by Washington Irving, and the basics of whatever happened in the Tim Burton movie which I saw over a decade ago.  In this retelling, Ichabod Crane is a Brit fighting for the Americans under the direct command of George Washington. In the middle of a fierce battle slices the head off a mercenary with a mask in a fierce battle, severely injuring himself in the process.  He passes out, and boom, it’s a couple centuries later, there are cars, and black people are no longer slaves.  Oh, and he’s not alone. The man he cut the head off of is back as well, and killing people in the modern day much as he was two hundred years ago.  This is all I knew about the show from initial promotion, this was a series about a supernatural serial killer and a man from his time who would find him.  The next preview alerted me that it would be about much more, a conspiracy dating hundreds of years back. However, I had still greatly underestimated how quickly the scale of Sleepy Hollow would be ratcheted up and how far it would go.

Lieutenant Abby Mills is a Westchester police officer who is planning to leave in a week to join the FBI.  When she reports to what seems like a routine problem at a stable with her sheriff mentor, they find the owner dead, and the sheriff gets killed by a man with no head.  When Crane is found later by officers, and talks of working for General Washington, the police naturally suspect him of being the criminal, except for Abby, because some things Crane says ring true about his archenemy, the headless horseman. They spend a surprisingly little amount of time on the Crane-can’t-understand-new-things joke (he asks surprisingly few questions about cars or electric lights), which is probably a good thing.

Thankfully it takes us just the one episode to emerge past on of my favorite necessary early stages of a supernatural show – something strange happens and we the viewer knows its true, so we just want the characters to believe it, because it’s really boring when they keep fighting its reality forever while we know it’s true, but we need them to at least deny it for a while because that’s what anyone would actually do in real life.  Mills gets through this stage quicker for three reasons.  First, she has a prior experience with the supernatural which was uncorroborated, as she saw something super creepy which drove her sister nuts when they kids, and the sight still shook her to this day. Second, she finds a whole bunch of files her old mentor has been keeping about spooky events in the vicinity. Third, and most obviously, by the end of the episode, two other cops see the headless horseman as well, backing her story.

Sleepy Hollow reminds me of the Buffy universe.  Not tonally at all, but merely in the way that one location, Sunnydale in that show, and Sleepy Hollow here, is home to a ridiculously inordinate amount of supernatural activity, and even though it first seems crazy and hard to believe that all these supernatural events take place, in turns out half the people in the show already know about it and just don’t talk about it for whatever reason.

Also, like in Buffy, there is nothing less than the entire fate of humanity at stake right here in Sleepy Hollow, which we learn by the end of the first episode.  The headless horseman is quite literally death, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. If he gets his head back, which has been hidden, he may start the process of getting to the actual apocalypse.  Crane, whose blood is intertwined with the horseman since they almost killed each other two hundred years ago, could be the slayer analogue, though using the Book of Revelations, which is apparently some sort of field map to what’s going on, he surmises both himself and Mills may be chosen. Oh, and also witches exist.  Apparently, Crane’s wife was one, though he didn’t know, and she sends him messages through his creams. Oh, and there’s also a big scary demon that shows up at the end and leave through a mirror, or something.

And yes, it seems like just about every other character already knows about the insanity going on.  John Cho plays a seemingly innocent cop who it turns out is working for the evil Horseman.  The local reverend appears to be a witch who is in on things, before the horseman takes him down, and it turns out Mills’ mentor, the sheriff, had been studying these unexplained phenomena for years and suspected some supernatural explanations but didn’t know how to bring it up with Mills without sounding crazy. Orlando Jones played a police captain, who we don’t know is in on it, but gives one or two super sinister looks in the episode, which led me to believe he is, though I may be reading into things too much.

The writing is nothing stand out, and the acting is absolutely fine but not remarkable. If you watch this show, it’s for the whiplash insanity of the plot going forward, and you know, that’s not a bad reason.  It’s hardly an obvious much watch but I liked it better than I initially thought I would.

The usual problem with insanity in supernatural shows is that they often start off measured, like Lost, and then veer in a more insane direction only when they realize they’re cornered and have nowhere else to go.  When that happens, it’s extremely frustrating because it seems like the show is choosing to expand its scale because they’re out of other ideas. However, If a show chooses to start of insane, well, that’s a decision made on its own terms. In Lost, the possibility was held out that there would be explanations for each of the mysteries posed over the course of the first couple of seasons. In contrast, in Buffy, there were no explanations for why the hellmouth was in Sunnydale or why demons kept wanting to seek the end of the world; it just was, and as long as you could accept that as the premise of the show, that was okay. From the beginning, Sleepy Hollow is going to be about the fate of the entire world, and how it rests on a man with no head getting his head back.  As silly as it sounds,

Will I watch it again?  Maybe? I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, and man it’s fucking crazy.  It’s not a must watch and it’s not a priority with all the new shows coming down the pipe at once, but I kind of enjoyed the sheer insanity of it, so I don’t want to rule it out.