Tuesday, September 17, 2013

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (1x1)

Anyone out there remember Wishbone? Adorable dog, big imagination, plays out famous storybooks in his head when his adolescent owners and friends get into trouble? It's super cute. Anyway, one of my childhood memories is of watching Wishbone's take on the Sleepy Hollow myth. That was my first introduction to Washington Irving's classic 1820 short story. Since its inception in 1820, the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" has become of the most popular and enduring American mythologies. The headless horseman and Ichabod Crane are well known characters and Hollywood has done well by them. The original story is fairly well known but it deserves mild attention here: Ichabod Crane is a schoolteacher in early America and vying for the hand of Katrina, who is also pursued by "Brom Bones". After a party, Crane fails to secure Katrina's hand in marriage and on his walk home is overtaken by the mysterious Headless Horseman and spirited away. This horseman is a Hessian spy from the American Revolution who lost his head via cannonball.

Fox's newest foray into this well known story takes a different approach, an updated revisionist piece of alternative reality where Crane and the Horseman are real (and apparently Irving never wrote the story). Set in the town of Sleepy Hollow in 2013, it explores the origin of the Headless Horseman and why it and Crane are so linked. Fair bit of warning: there is some headchopping. The show is done by the same people who brought us Fringe (a personal favorite) so you can expect a huge over arching mythology coupled with monster of week weirdness. Let's just dive right in with our characters and attempts at fleshing out the narrative.

Ichabod Crane
The episode begins with Crane on the battlefield in the Hudson Valley in 1781. He is clearly fighting for the colonists (no red coat). During the battle he sees an approaching figure, a man riding a horse whose face is obscured. Crane notices a mark on his hand and there is a sudden dawning realization on his face. He and this nameless figure engage in hand to hand combat, Crane first trying to shoot him and then eventually beheading him. This is when Ichabod passes out and the next time we see him, he is rising from an underground cave, emerging in Sleepy Hollow in 2013. Over the course of the episode we are given a ton of exposition to help us establish who this man is. Basic run down: former member of the British army who grew dissatisfied with the tyranny and switched sides becoming a spy for one George Washington. While in the short story, Crane looses the hand of Katrina, in our version he is married to her. Through some magic hocus-pocus, Crane is kept alive but sleeping and buried deep within the earth for his own protection.

Abbie Mills 
Abbie Mills is our young police officer in training. At the start she is the partner of the soon-to-be-dead Sheriff and has also decided to leave Sleepy Hollow for greener pastures, namely Quantico. We later learn that Abbie has a troubled past; as a young girl she and her sister were walking through the woods when suddenly four white trees sprang into existence before them and they heard a voice. A creature rose from the ground and then they inexplicably woke up on the side of the road. No one believed them and while Abbie's sister went crazy, Abbie joined the police force but never forgot what happened to her. She is among the first to see the headless horseman after it reappears on the earth. She is also the first to believe Crane's story when he says he is from the past and that the Horseman is Death (yeah, Death. We'll get there). During the course of the episode, she uncovers what is to be--I assume--the driving narrative of each episode, namely that there have been a lot of occult/magical happenings in Sleepy Hollow over a few hundred years and the event of her young life is tied to that.

The Headless Horseman
In the original tale, it is alluded that the Horseman is Crane's rival for Katrina: Brom Bones, however it is left deliberately vague as ghost stories often are. This is where Kurtzman and Orci (the creators) stray from the original by leaps and bounds. This is not some random Hessian soldier. It is Death. With a capital DEATH. And being Death, he is one of the four horseman of the Apocalypse. He sits on a pale horse and he has a bow and arrow brand on his hand (Revelations DEATH carries a bow). In losing his head, he's been asleep and his body buried in a lake. He was awoken and is now on the prowl for his missing body part.

Katrina Crane
 Ichabod's wife who also worked as a civilian nurse during the War. We are led to believe that she was burnt at the stake as a witch and buried in the local Church courtyard. We also learn that she is a member of a "coven"or as she calls it a secret order bent on keeping the darkness at bay (don't care what you call it, you're a witch). She and her coven are responsible for keeping Ichabod Crane alive through some magical spell. Since her death she has been trapped in some sort of nether world though it is strongly implied that she can manifest herself as a bird to help out and lead Crane to what he is supposed to be doing.

Those are our major players, though there are a few more, including the head of Abbie's police force, Detective Irving (get it?) and her fellow officer Sulu Andy Brooks who appears to be fighting for the wrong side and in league with (maybe) the Devil. Let's run through the story and various pitfalls I'm already sensing.

The Story
Mortally wounded in battle versus the soon-to-be Headless Horseman, Ichabod is saved by his wife Katrina and fellow coven member, a Christian priest. As he lay dying, Crane's blood mixed with that of the now headless horseman and they were linked together. If the Horseman is awake, so is Crane. The head of the Horseman was buried where it says Katrina's body is (she was never buried) and if body and head are reunited, the Horseman becomes whole and will be reunited with the other three Horseman of the apocalypse and the End will come upon us all. It is unclear who woke up the Horseman, but let's face it: it's probably Satan. Ichabod Crane is also the "first witness" as foretold in the Book of Revelations; Abbie is the second. Various mysterious things have happened in and around Sleepy Hollow for years. These instances have been carefully documented by the former Sheriff (Abbie's partner) including the idea there are two covens: one for the good/light and one for the bad/darkness. Together Ichabod and Abbie must keep the head from the Horseman and probably try to solve the mysteries that will pop up in Sleepy Hollow.

The Pitfalls
 Let's start with one that is probably most obvious: Death as the villain. I'm fine with Death being a character but I am tired of Death being portrayed as some end all be all evil. Death has no moral judgement. Death is neither evil nor good, it simply is. We ascribe morality to Death because of our fear of it, but it itself is absolutely neutral. I understand the rather romantic notion of casting Death as a bad guy, one that we can fight and even conqueror but it's supercilious. Along with that, I have issues with the fact that "Death flees from the light." Why? Is it impossible for someone to die in the daytime? Is Death a vampire? This has less to do with any solid understanding of reality and more to do with storytelling.  I also have issues with a few logistical things: how did Death sleep for 250 years? Did no one die in that time? How can Death bleed? Death is not an actual living being, with flesh and blood and musculature. It's not enough to deter me, but it is enough to give me pause. These are classic mistakes.
Secondly, monster-of-the-week problems. MotW can be done well. Fringe is a great example of this. It may be a different case each week but it kept the overarching myth and storyline in mind with each case. If not done correctly, the show can quickly fall into boring procedural cop show that only remembers it has an actual arc when prodded. I don't expect to see the Horseman every episode, but we can't go too long without seeing him or we lose what makes the show what it is (it is Sleepy Hollow after all).

Miscellaneous Notes on the Pilot 

--The casting of Crane is spot on, even if he deviates wildly from the original story. He's quirky and funny without being obnoxious. His banter with Abbie was exactly what it needed to be, lighthearted and fun but very real for someone who just woke up after 250 years. I'm sensing some Peter Bishop like qualities in him. There might be some Olivia Dunham in Abbie, but I sort of hope not. Olivia was very special and I'd hate to see Kurtzman and Orci try to replicate her.

--I want to know how much Captain Irving knows about everything. He seemed very hesitant, initially, to allow Abbie to do anything.

--The Starbucks conversation was brilliant. They really are on every corner.

--Impressive visual effects. Loved the walking Horseman. However, please give him back his broadsword. A Headless Horseman packing a rifle is a touch on the silly side. 

Overall Verdict: check it out. I think it will have an interesting mythology and storyline. Abbie and Ichabod have a nice working chemistry.


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