Saturday, February 27, 2016

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (3x12)

Fathers, fathers, fathers. Their ghosts return to haunt us, don't they? In a great many ways, this week's episode of Sleepy Hollow, "Sins of the Father" is a "wrap up loose ends" type. There were certain threads hanging from the first half of the arc--like Nevins and Ezra Mills--that needed to be resolved before the bigger pieces of the story can really lift off--like whatever is going on with Abbie Mills. I have to be a little blunt this week; while treading water episodes are expected in shows that have to wrestle character development and an overarching mythology, this week's episode was entirely underwhelming in many ways. It's treading water in the worst way: when the story focuses on characters and threads that don't necessarily resonate with the audience because the focal points were never given space to becomce overly interesting. However, there were a few beats that do bear mentioning, so grab a beetle from inside your body cavity and lets go!

Now as you might imagine, this episode review is going to be fairly brief in scope. There is something I'm starting to fear but haven't bothered to voice until tonight. I am starting to wonder if there is still a conversation to be had about Sleepy Hollow in general. Fear not, I shall continue to blog each episode for as long as this show is on air, but Sleepy Hollow used to take great pleasure in subverting traditional hero stories while playing with religion, iconography, and genre. It was kitchy, but meaningful, and with more charm than you could shake a stick at. However, at this point, the conversation is starting to feel stilted. There are only so many times I can wax on and on about Ichabod and Abbie's bond and how deep it runs before I run the risk of parroting myself. In much the same fashion, Sleepy Hollow is starting to hit the same beats and themes over and over again without either pushing them forward to the next logical place or upending our expectations to go a totally different route. It's nothing to be too alarmist about, but it bears mentioning. Tonight's installment puts the focus on fathers, both the bad (Nevins), the good (Corbin) and the recovering (Ezra). It's interesting that Ichabod has very little to do given that his status for the first two seasons was a father trying to reach his son, Henry. Instead this week is very much an Abbie and Jenny centric (nothing wrong with that) and how their collective fathers have shaped their lives. At the risk of repeating myself, Abbie's tell-tale line "I have people for that now" is all we need to know about how the fathers affected our characters; they hurt them, yes, but the community formed between the Mills/Crane/Corbin gang sustains and endures. The episode isn't bad per se, it just has little conversation outside of plot points (symbol is what? Abbie is praying to whom now?) which I try to avoid. In that regards, I think we'll close by saying that while the loose ends may not have needed dealing with, the important factors--Ichabod and Abbie's bond, the teamwork feelings, and slow development of mythology--are all here. They just don't warrant a total analysis.

Miscellaneous Notes on Sins of the Father

--Of course the Hidden One sleeps on gold satin sheets. And of course he thinks Pandora should be as weak as him because that's "equality."

--Ichabod singing opera and cooking. Really all you need in life, right?

--Abbie is a diva with a gun.

--RIP Nevins? But now we have a new contender and some new McGuffins to chase; what are the 9 sacred sites?

--Fido. Credit where credit is to due Nevins. That was cute/clever.

--Really nice gender swap with Abbie being the moody sullen one and Ichabod doing the pampering with food and entertainment. The show doesn't comment on it, which is to its credit, but it's still there.

--Glad to see Abbie acknowledge that Ichabod gets what she is going through, something I wrote about last week.

--Yeah, I have no idea what that ending was.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (3x11)

Remember waaaaaay back in season two when a new monster arose like a cliche Frankenstein (or, Franklinstine as Ichabbie called it)? It was named the Kindred and it was rather fearsome. If you don't remember, here's my review of that episode. It has been a long time since the Kindred was brought back to Sleepy Hollow and the stories that involved him--that of the Headless Horseman and Jeremy/Henry Parrish/War Horseman--have been resolved and dismissed by the writers in favor of opening the mythology up to things other than traditional Sleepy Hollow iconography. Introducing (or rather re-introducing) an audience to a character long gone can be tricky. You have to make the audience care that this monster came back and make his reappearance relevant to the current narrative. Does it work in this week's episode, "Kindred Spirits"? Perhaps the emotions behind the episode do, though the plot mechanics are all over the place. We get some pretty heavy handed and clunky exposition from Sophia Foster that is designed to get everyone caught up on the Kindred; this is followed by an equally clunky exposition from Pandora that she summoned the Kindred thus tying him to the current arc, but I'm not sure this Kindred reemergence was warranted from a plot standpoint. However, the emotional story arc about relationships and different dynamics between the many couples and pairings of this show was something worth examining. Grab your dead monkey puzzle plant and let's go!

Relationships, it turns out, are hard. This rather pithy statement of truth speaks to any and all relationships--romantic, familial, one with the self. We are all searching for a connection and, when we do find one, struggle to maintain them. Abbie is struggling in her relationship with the normal world; unable to sleep, unable to eat, unable to work, Abbie is trying to figure out how to live back in a world where time passes, she has friends to talk with, and one where her services are demanded both with the mundane FBI and in the magical cosmic battle. While it's obvious that nm,Abbie does a great job keeping her anger under the surface, it reads that a lot of her emotional arc right now is one of rage. Not at anyone in particular, mind you, but at the situation. According to her, she lost a year of her life and almost her sanity; the enigmatic symbol at the end of the episode suggests there were moments the audience was not privy to, opening up a--forgive me--Pandora-sized box of psychological possibilities. While she managed to survive--because Abbie is a total badass--no one could come out of that unscathed and unaffected by what was done to them. Ichabod, at the same time, is struggling to assure Abbie of their bond and their unwavering connection; in fact, one might even say he's trying a little too hard. Ichabod sits with Abbie when she can't sleep; he wants to go out for an "Early Burr" breakfast; he wants to buy her new plants to bring life back into his and Abbie's home. It doesn't work though. Abbie, as it stands, believes she has to face these many emotions alone. She can't openly discuss her memories, her pain, or her internal struggle because no one else experienced what she did--that unbearable loneliness--so no one can possibly help her work through her many layered feelings. This is a bit of a false assumption on Abbie's part. Abbie is correct that no one was trapped in the Underworld-Catacombs with her, but certainly Ichabod knows what it is to be extremely lonely and feel utterly alone. When he awoke from his 200+ year old nap, it was to a different world. Ichabod had no one who could understand him...except Abbie. Against all odds, The Man Out of Time found the one woman who empathized and helped him with his internal struggle, helping him find his place in the new world. There is no reason why Ichabod can't help Abbie find her place back in this world. At the same time, Ichabod is struggling to rekindle the romance he and Miss Zoe Corinth were embarking upon during the first half of this season. As we discussed in the first episode back, Ichabod became myopic in his search for Abbie; this caused his relationship with Zoe to fall by the wayside. These two were never developed in any truly meaningful way, largely because Ichabod and Abbie are the focal points of the show, as they should be. But it's nice to see Ichabod feeling guilty, to realize that he cares for Abbie so much that everything--and everyone--else was let go to his determent.

There is a narrative throughpoint this season that's all about couples and their various dynamics. I touched on this a bit last week, but this week it became even more apparent with the Kindred and the Kindress (yes, there's some serious eye-rolling here because that plot point is more strange than delightful spaghetti-to-the-wall but her appearance is one that fits the thesis of the season). Do we all have a partner and can monsters love, the show asks? We have the Hidden One and Pandora, an example of an abusive and emotionally depraved relationship. This week, we see Pandora hinting (rather strongly) that she'd like her box back, she'd like her powers back and that without it she feels less herself, less powerful, and less alive. The Hidden One (no, seriously, can we just name him already?) dismisses his "beloved's" complaints and internal hurt for the sake of his own concerns. He needs to be powerful; he needs his army; he needs everything she can provide because at some point in the near future, The Hidden One plans on ruling this puny world. His endgame is all that matters. It's not a relationship of equals, even though Pandora believes it was meant to be. You can't miss the anger in the Hidden One's eyes when Pandora dares to suggest that they rule as one. Contrasted to this relationship is our other monster pair--The Kindred and the Kindress. Theirs is a weird and strange union and I wasn't quite sure what I was watching during their oddly touching (but ultimately creepy) reunion/makeout session, but the show answers its own questions: yes, everyone has a partner and yes, monsters can love. Yes, monsters can be like us, the humans. They want connections and helpmates just like we do. But it's only when the relationship is mutually beneficial does it succeed. The Hidden One and Pandora? Not so successful because it's decideidly not a team effort of two equally placed individuals. The Kindred and Kindress? Successful, until they were blown up. And, of course, Ichabod and Abbie are the most successful of all because without one another, they wouldn't know how to survive this always odd and sometimes cruel world.

Miscellaneous Notes on Kindred Spirits 

--Along with the two aforementioned relationships, we saw another one that has been neglected and under developed and came to an end tonight: Abbie and Daniel. Whatever happened at Quantico was hinted at but never really given any space for us to get invested in it. It seems like the writers realized this and decided to cut their losses with whatever was planned.

--I really like Abbie's curly hair.

--Ichabod is bringing the desert climate to his and Abbie's Mid-Atlantic abode. Bless him.

--"You're my Wilson."

--"Well, that was odd." Ichabod was pretty much speaking for the entire audience with this line. Honestly, I couldn't decide if the Kindred/Kindress were super weird, super funny, or super sweet.

--Speaking of Ichabod, there is something that has been bothering me for awhile but I hesitated to say anything. The writers seem to be toning "Ichabod vs the modern world" down a bit, especially in his reactions to the world around him. I don't know if it's because Ichabod is now mostly assimilated (which takes away some of his considerable charm) or if the writers simply aren't interested in his quips anymore, but I miss them.

--I honestly don't know how to analyze the Betsy and Ichabod flashbacks this week. Yes, part of it was plot driven (the medical supplies) but other than that, the only thing I take away is the same thing as always: Betsy and Ichabod's relationship is not as significant as the writers seem to think it is. There's nothing exciting, fresh, or interesting about their interactions. The writers are relying on the flashback device as if the show can't survive without it, but this isn't true. They very rarely add anything truly important to the plot and Betsy has yet to make any sort of meaningful connection with the audience. Also, in a world where it took several days to ride from colony to colony, am I expected to really believe that Betsy had her finger in every spy-pie Ichabod was involved in?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (3x10)

Abbie Mills is a pillar of strength and I adore her. There, I said it. I feel better about the world. Abbie Mills is made of metal and iron and steel. She can cross deserts and wastelands; she can traverse Purgatory, the 1700s, some sort of hellscape and come out with her wits, her intellect, and her sense of self. Why? Because Abbie Mills is an empowered, strong woman and, honey, you should hear her roar. This, though, is not to say that she doesn't need support, love, family, friends, and even a partner. Oh no. Strong women need all that, but they also know how to direct the course of their own life. They know how to map out the terrain of the physical and the mental and soldier on even when it seems better to give up and given in. I kinda love Abbie, guys, in case that wasn't abundantly clear. This week's episode, "Incident at Stone Manner," is all about what has been going on with Abbie since she exploded in a tree, about her resilience, and about her ever evolving partnership with her fellow Witness. Sleepy Hollow always does a great job of letting the Man out of Time and his Leftenant take turns saving each other. While Abbie is holding her own in a strange mythical land, Crane goes in search for his better half. To seek, to discover, to find. But of course, Abbie doesn't need anyone to save her. With her own spirit and ingenuity, our girl has come home. Welcome back, Abbie Mills. We missed you.

There was a ton of plot going on this week. We had gargoyles that came alive, astral projections, Pandora and the Hidden doing whatever they are doing, and a brief aside of Betsy Ross (of course) playing some sort of role with a Frenchman. As per usual, it was all rather spaghetti-to-the-wall, but, at the same time, it was so much fun that I care not for the over abundance of plot lines. This episode really had one focus--something that is pretty much true of any outstanding Sleepy Hollow piece--which was Ichabod going to save Abbie from The Catacombs. This netherworld in an isolated landscape where you may not need to eat, drink, or sleep, but the boredom and the lack of human contact will kill you before malnutrition. Not a very happy place, in other words. And yet, there's Abbie playing chess to keep from going crazy and making hourglasses to figure out how her new world operates. The reason behind this is not only Abbie's own spine of steel, but also the fact that she is never alone. Not really. As she explains to Ichabod's astral projection (gosh, what a sentence) Abbie carries him with her, hears his voice, sees his point of view on anything that is going on. Separated not only by time but by existence, Abbie survives with Crane's help. And here's the truly beautiful thing, when Abbie explains this to Ichabod, he acknowledges that this is how he would have survived too, with Abbie's voice rattling around inside his head, being a helpmate in the dark. Even when Ichabod's astral projection is "cut" by Pandora, Abbie refuses to give in to saving herself and handing the magical Eye over to Pandora; she'd rather face potential madness and lose herself than let evil win. Why? Is she self-destructive? No; rather Abbie knows that she'll never be alone so Pandora's threats of madness mean nothing to her. It's called a heroic sacrifice and it's exactly what both halves of Team Witnesses would do. I know I say this a lot, but the relationship between Abbie and Ichabod is the central focus of the show, even with all the monsters and the doom and the death, it's about these two souls who are, as Abbie says, "as different as two people can be. But we work things out together. Always." Abbie has always been the pragmatist; she sees the world in black and white and puts her duty before everything. Ichabod romanticizes and questions his role in the world and cosmos. His duty is foremost but it's always more emotionally felt, more personal. I suppose that is what happens when your head is almost lopped off by the Horseman of Death.

Different though they may be, it's their combined strength that always saves the day. Ichabod came to rescue Abbie, but it is Abbie who carries Ichabod's soul across time, space, and astral planes because they are always together. Wither one goes, there too goes the other. Abbie isn't just getting out of Purgatory, she's taking Ichabod with her. It all leads to a truly beautiful moment when Ichabod comes back to his body and tells Abbie "I heard your voice. I followed it." There are, I believe, two dynamics being compared and contrasted to this Witness relationship in our other more-romantic pairings. Joe and Jenny are still figuring things out. Jenny has a hard time letting people in because of her Emma Swan-esque walls and it prevents her from letting Joe be a support system when she needs it. Joe and Jenny are more or less a human (read: less cosmic and fated) version of Ichabod and Abbie. While Joe and Jenny are trying to learn how to be partners, they look to the best example they can find: Ichabbie, of course, working together and being each others backbone. It's really nice to see Ichabbie be such a positive role model and influence for these two. However, on the other end of the spectrum, are the Hidden One and Pandora, a seriously messed up and perverted relationship with a horrible power dynamic. Pandora believes herself inferior to her "god" lover. The fact that he hasn't returned to full power is her fault and one blame she is willing to shoulder. In an effort to appease him, Pandora lets the Hidden One take her own life force after he has a fit of man pain. It's the exact opposite of Ichabod and Abbie. Ichabod and Abbie work together so that the partnership is mutually beneficial. The Hidden One takes what is important to him and lets Pandora suffer the consequences. Can you ever imagine Ichabod agreeing to take Abbie's life force just so that he can feel virulent and powerful? Certainly not. It's a really nice contrast between the human-cosmic team and the divine-cosmic team. Because I could never believe that Sleepy Hollow would have Ichabbie lose in a cosmic good versus evil battle, it will be very highly enjoyable to see a manipulative and damaging relationship squashed and shown for the failure that it is while affirming that a respectful, considerate, and equally balanced relationship like Ichabbie is held up on a pedestal.

Miscellaneous Notes on Incident at Stone Manor

--As usual, the makeup and graphics team deserve a round of applause for the gargoyle.

--While I like how the writers are contrasting Hidden One/Pandora with Ichabbie, the former are really ineffectual villains. They haven't done anything overtly threatening to the town as of yet except planning some sort of Demon Conclave? Pandora is more threatening than her male counterpart, who simply broods and speaks with a deep voice thus far, but that's mostly down to her doing more to our regular cast of heroes.

--I hope we haven't seen the last of Ezra Mills. It would be a shame if Abbie and Jenny's father was introduced on screen just for this one scene.

--Ichabod is able to manifest in the Catacombs because Abbie focuses on their bond and holds it tight in her mind. These two, I'm telling ya.

--Betsy Ross was also once stuck in the Catacombs. The writers are trying to give her more flavor and make her seem interesting, but she remains as dull as dishwater because she's had absolutely no role outside of the plucky ye old girl who helps out Crane.

--"If this is the way out, then you're coming with me."

Saturday, February 6, 2016

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (3x9)

Time moves on. Unceasing and with neither restraint nor bias, time marches forward. It's one of those inevitable facts of the universe--much, I suppose, like death and taxes--that time waits for no man and does not care about your own personal stake in the grand narrative. In other words, life can be miserable and bleak but you still have to make your crappy TV lasagna dinners. A lot of the smaller emotional arcs in Sleepy Hollow deal with loss, perhaps a remnant of the original short story in which people lose their heads (literally!), or maybe just a commentary on how humans find themselves losing loved ones and meaning everyday. Be it Ichabod losing his place in time, his wife, and his son; Abbie losing her mother, her sister or even the world as she knew it once a headless demon on a red-eyed horse began to terrorize her little hamlet, the show weaves the themes of loss into its cosmic, apocalyptic, and mythological narrative as easily as Ichabod quotes dead founding fathers. Neatly swimming alongside that smaller story of loss is one of healing, particularly with regards to Ichabod and Abbie. Ichabod may have started off this series by losing all that he held dear, but he found a new place in a new world with a new partner. Abbie may have lost the sense of normalcy she so adamantly and rigidly tried to maintain, but she found a way to combat the weird shenanigans with her fellow Witness. So what happens when your support system, that which keeps the overwhelming sadness of loss at bay, vanishes (or, you know, walks into a tree and is blown up)? The season began with Abbie and Ichabod reuniting after several months apart, the audience being spared having to watch their separation, only getting the joy of their togetherness. But now we are faced with something far darker: Abbie's sacrifice and how to go on living without her. As I said in my Winter Finale review, I very much doubt that Abbie is dead for long (heroes journey, y'all), and indeed we got confirmation of that tonight, but first, we have to settle into that loss. We have to walk that lonely path with Ichabod who is trying to relearn his role not only in the cosmic story but also in the mundane world without his Leftentant. It may be a sad corner of the universe our heroes are living in with this week's episode "One Life," but to quote the man himself: "Your spirit and mine are made of far heartier stock....come what may." Let's go! 

When confronted with overwhelming loneliness and grief, what do people do? They get reckless. Us mere mortals might drink too much or make poor life choices and decisions. We might wallow in self-pity and self-loathing. We could snap at those around us; we could get selfish and myopic. We respond as human beings with wounds on their souls are wont to do. Ichabod, though he be a Witness and a cosmic player in the great game, is still human and prone to all of these things. Ichabod's life in the month since Abbie's magic vanishing act has had a singular purpose: to find his missing friend. He'll steal valuable objects, speed away on motorbikes, play a game of cat-and-mouse with the FBI, and even snap at Miss Jenny, the only other person who has the same wounds on her soul in the wake of Abbie's demise. Ichabod has always been the more faithful of the two Witnesses; he fought evil on a grand scale before Abbie Mills was even conceived. Ichabod rose from the grave and knew that such magical resurrections were possible. If Ichabod could get so many chances--saved from the Horseman and then saved from Purgatory--then couldn't Abbie? Couldn't this Orpheus find his Eurydice and bring her back to the land of the living? This is, undeniably, one of the--if not the-- strongest aspects of Sleepy Hollow. While its spaghetti to the wall style of mythic writing can take some seriously campy turns, the heart of the show remains Ichabod Crane and Abbie Mills with their unlikely but very believable friendship. They might battle the forces of evil on a weekly basis, but there is something human in the way Ichabod and Abbie's characters are drawn. Not caricatures, but character. While few, if any of us, can relate to losing one's partner in a magical tree that leads to the Underworld, we all know what it is to lose someone we love and feel helpless in our inability to bring that person back from the great beyond.

However, if you are in possession of certain magical objects (and not, say, the blood of a man who has been to hell and back--what, too early for OUAT shade?) you can make an attempt at bringing back your lost partner. But is that the best idea? Is there not some sort of argument to be made about undoing a heroic act and the consequences you potentially unleash upon the world because of your (understandable, but ultimately, selfish) desire for a reunion with your lost loved one? In other words, does Ichabod have the right to bring back Abbie, no matter the outcome? Like, say, a demon mirror monster who murders people. Sophie (whom I am tempted to call Abbie-Lite given all the parallels the show painfully laid out like breadcrumbs over this first hour back, but more on that in a moment) pointed out to Crane, "you wanted to find Abbie so badly that you let a demon into the world." Ichabod is reckless; he's hurt. He's lost his "better half," the person who was his true partner because Abbie made him better simply by virtue of standing next to him. But Ichabod still has a duty, a mission, one that centers on stopping the demonic forces. So while his pain and desire are understandable, there are other considerations that must be taken. Like, again, not letting a vengeance demon into the world. That much is laid bare and given narrative weight in the opening hour but, let's back track and talk about the new "partner" in Ichabod's life: Sophie. We met her rather briefly in the last arc, but she was given some more depth in this episode, and unsurprisingly, her backstory is reminiscent of Abbie's. It's a fairly common narrative tactic; in order to reduce the audience's anguish over the loss of a beloved character, you give the new character who is replacing the lost one a similar story, background, or hallmark characteristic. In this case, Sophie's family was taken from her by demons. Abbie's mother went crazy because of spirits and her own fragile childhood innocence was lost because of Moloch and Henry. Since that moment, Sophie has spent her life trying to prove the existence of the other worlds to avenge her parents; Abbie, while having more mundane pursuits, fought to make the world safe from "monsters" because of her own haunted past. Much like Betsy Ross being the new Katrina, Sophie is the new Abbie and it fails to make any impact on me, but unlike in the former situation, it's because no one can replace Abbie Mills. Katrina and Betsy were (and are) both problematic characters because they dulled down an otherwise exciting (crazy?) show but Sophie reminds me that Ichabod needs Abbie. Crane and Mills are the only makeup of Team Witnesses. We accept no substitutions or exchanges.

Miscellaneous Notes on One Life

--The show always manages to incorporate historical figures well and the famous execution of Nathan Hale is no exception. The flashback was one of those rare ones where the themes match the present day, instead of the artifact or McGuffin being vital. In fact, the flashbacks this week bothered me so little that I'll even refrain from discussing the uselessness and pointlessness of Betsy Ross for the 50th time.

--"You have but one life---do not indulge in recklessness." Theme!

--"[Abbie's]alive and it's up to me to find her!"

--Jenny and Joe finally gave in to their feelings. While I'm glad they admitted their growing romantic relationship, it was really Jenny's guilt over Abbie that made the whole scene.

--Ichabod should be arrested for "crimes against fashion." Sophie, take a good long and hard look. Ichabod in his coat is a (sexual) revelation. However, points for acknowledging that Ichabod "talks like a Jane Austen novel."

--Ichabod going through the mirror to recuse Abbie recalls the Season 2 Purgatory arc in which the world was conceived of as through a glass, darkly. The writers subverted our expectations of visuals past. Nicely done.

--The Japanese vengeance demon was properly creepy.

--Abbie lives! Come on, Mills. Save yourself. Your boy needs you.