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.

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