Tuesday, September 24, 2013

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (1x2)

The first episode after a pilot is tricky, especially for a mythological show. Only one episode to set up arc and character narratives but also manage to entice your viewers to come back. You can't just hit them over the head with a complex mythology in one episode. You build it, brick by abstract brick, laying your hints and clues over your framework. For instance, LOST did not give you a vision of the Smoke Monster, Jacob, or even the Others in their pilot. Fringe did not show you the Observers or the Mirror Universe in theirs. Sleepy Hollow is a fantasy show with a mythology but as I said last week, it's obviously going to be a lot of Monster of the Week. 

The problem is balance. This weeks episode, "Blood Moon," starts off with what promises to be a mythic centered episode but quickly falls into MotW when Ichabod reminds Abbie that the Horseman has vanished and is nowhere to be found. Sentiments like this are a giant red pointing arrow that you're not going to get a great deal about the mythic arc of the show. So, in our first non-overarching story of the week, how did Sleepy Hollow do?

Dreamscape moments are hit or miss for me. Too often, writers will put in clues that what you're watching isn't real but is happening inside the subconscious of the dreamer--discordant noises, odd jump cuts, high pitched whispers, people vanishing and then coming into frame--these are all points of reference that the person is dreaming.  It's meant to build anxiety in the viewer because most of the time the dreams are trying to be billed as realistic. So when Ichabod Crane is running through the woods from four horsemen, one of which is headless, it's supposed to feel real given the narrative of the show. And then he gets sucked into the ground by vines and you go--ah. Dream.
Dreams are also problematic if they are over utilized or overly convenient. The former I'm open to thus far but for the latter this is the second time a dream has held important episodic and mythic information that otherwise our main characters would have been without. If Katrina were not popping into Ichabod's mind to give him frustratingly vague clues, would he and Abbie have ever figured out this week's mystery? And when Katrina does pop into his head why can't she just say, "you're looking for a witch who is trying to resurrect herself using the ashes of the family of those who burned her at the stake?" See the frustration? On the one hand, I--as a viewer--have to suspend my disbelief that Katrina can't just outright tell Ichabod what he needs to know for the sake of a 42 minute long episode, but on the other hand the circuitous speaking is annoying.

So thus, this week's MotW: a Dark Magic witch by the name of Serilda of Abaddon who was burned as a witch many centuries ago but promised to come back to life is burning people alive and taking their ashes. Also apparently her power were bound by Katrina. Or something. I'm not actually sure because if her powers were bound how did she manage to cast this spell in order to bring herself back? Either I missed something or we needed a way to tie Serilda and Katrina together. (Head theory: I get the feeling Katrina is not an agent of the "good coven" and the light because she wears way too many black diaphanous dresses. Black diaphanous robes are a trigger for "there is evil afoot.")

Along the way we have an extraordinary amount of secret places and secret information that have somehow been kept from the public knowledge, despite Sleepy Hollow now being a bustling town with several Starbucks. Secret labyrinthine tunnels with the bones of witches who were not allowed to be buried on consecrated grounds. A room full of old books and police files, stashed away out of the precinct (I'm fairly confident this doesn't happen in real life).  Chambers inside of chambers that hold gunpowder left over from the American Revolution. It's all a little...tv structured. Overall, I had to keep telling myself that in TVLand the characters need access to this type of stuff in order to "win" the day but it was slightly hard to remember that when there's an entire room full of old helpful books (in Romani Greek) stashed away somewhere.

The monster herself had moments of being scary and moments of me just wishing they'd kill her already. Brava to the SFX and makeup teams on the show for making Serilda look burnt to a crisp and then like she was glowing embers within. But she had very little to do besides move creepily, spout threats in Romani Greek and then die. But she is only the first of the dark spirits that are said to arise. In Ichabod's opening dream, Katrina did say that it was "an army of evil" that must get sent before the Four Horseman and the Apocalypse. So, in other words, about 12-13 different types of evil, maybe 21 if Sleepy Hollow gets a full season contract.

Of course, Abbie had to have her own more emotionally charged dream at the end to bring the episode full circle. Instead of dreaming of the Horseman (which Ichabod fears), Abbie dreams of the Sheriff who recently died (thus showing us her fear of being without her father figure). They exchange heartfelt words before he gives her a cryptic message: "don't be afraid of number 49." We then flash to Room Number 49 which is in an obvious psych ward to see a woman doing push up, fooling the medical staff into thinking she's taking her pills, and overall looking like she's preparing for battle. We learn her name is Jenny. I suppose this is supposed to be some sort of denouement but unless you've been extra close attention, you'll forget that this is Abbie's sister. The crazy one. The one that has been in and out of asylums for years. She's refusing to the take the meds and the mirror demon (the horned one) is apparently watching her. I can only assume Abbie and Ichabod will find themselves needing Jenny's help sometime in the near future.

Miscellaneous Notes from Blood Moon
--I sound overly critical this episode but I'm not meaning to. This show is still good fun, but I can't see myself becoming an active member of the fandom or trying to suss out all the evidence. It's a bit too "black and white" for me. Black and white is child's play. The fact is, evil for the sake of evil is dull. This is why two of my favorite characters of other mythic shows (LOST and Once Upon a Time) are the grey anti-heros, Ben Linus and Rumple. Deliberately setting up a binary of "good" and "evil" is predictable and dull. Good will always win in TV. They may take a few hits along the way, but do you honestly see this TV show ending with Hell on Earth? When you make your villains more of a delicate grey, then you give them room to grow, to achieve development. But you can't do that when you've set up your main enemy to be Death and the other Horseman of the Apocalypse, now can you?

--I came for the mythic storytelling, but I'm staying because of Ichabod and Abbie. These two work so well together as partners, it's great. Ichabod is hysterical. Perfectly dry British humor. Watching him try to figure out his hotel room with the help of Post-Its was the highlight of the episode. I also really enjoyed his incredulity over the amount of money it costs for a bag of doughnut holes.

--Sulu Brooke's head snapping back into place was icky but again, well done makeup and SFX.

--Let's hope the Headless Horseman comes back next week. MotW is fine but you gotta give me what I came for if you want me to stick around forever.


  1. I agree that they threw an awful lot out with the first episode, and there are several plot holes (which I tend to find and stress over and then you tell me to overlook them). For a while, I had assumed that the Sheriff coming back to Abbie was a sign that he was one from the Light Coven; but the way his notes and audio were portrayed, he does not seem to characterize himself as a good witch. I would also agree that Ichabod and Abbie have good chemistry. As earlier mentioned with the plot holes, Sulu is bothering me. I hope that next week's episode is not a let down; and maybe get a bit more history on the Covens.

  2. The Sheriff seems to know a ton yet his boss, the Captain, seems to be pretty oblivious. I have two thoughts: 1) The Sheriff is part of the light coven, maybe a sort of record keeper. 2) The Captain is part of the Dark Coven and is looking the other way about all the reports. He also recruited Sulu.