Saturday, April 1, 2017

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (4x13)

What is the fight against evil really about? It's about freedom. Evil is often talked about in abstracts but when you get down to the nitty gritty, evil is understood as a lack of freedom and lack of choice. Evil can be seen in tyranny and oppression. It's what the colonists fought for against King George and the English; it's what Ichabod, Abbie, Diana, and Molly are fighting for against Moloch, The Hidden One, and Dreyfus. All three major antagonists of Sleepy Hollow had dreams of not just unleashing Hell on Earth, but forcing the peoples of Earth to live under their harsh and unjust subjugation. The concept of freedom is often equally ephemeral but it certainly becomes concrete enough when it is threatened. In this week's episode, "Freedom," Crane and his partners fight to stop a mad tyrant from taking over America. Grab your soul and don't sell it to the devil and let's go! 

The real crux of the problem this week isn't the Four Horseman or even Ichabod's long standing feud with his son, Henry. It's the fact that the main villain, Malcolm Dreyfus, is immortal and cannot be killed by any means that Ichabod and his team have here on earth. The key words there, by the way, are here on earth. Enter: Hell and all its minions. Sleepy Hollow has never shied away from a good journey to the Underworld; both Ichabod and Abbie have had to escape Purgatory and--come to think of it--both had to escape the Catacombs of Death as well. The katabasis, a regular staple on the shows I review it would seem, serves a good narrative purpose in that it reveals information to the hero or heroine of which they were previously unaware and it is usually the jumping off point for the next phase in their journey, defeating the villain. All of this fits comfortably in the this week's episode as Ichabod and Lara--who very much wants to be seen as a separate individual from Molly--travel down to Hell to strike a deal with the Devil. Every TV show pictures Hell differently; some simply add a red filter to their previously established locales, some create an entire new set and feel, and some create a landscape that is equally familiar and foreign. Sleepy Hollow took this last route and I have to say it was effective; both Ichabod and Lara have experienced a very mundane sort of hell. A war zone and an orphanage are both hellish in their own ways and having Hell look differently for each person is a clever move and avoids a lot of the cliches the show could have gone with like fire and brimstone. The information revealed in the katabasis is obviously useful; the Devil is willing to strike a deal with Ichabod because while an Apocalypse would grant him more souls to torment, Dreyfus snaking his way out of a deal irks the Devil more. In return, Ichabod is given the Philosophers Stone which can magically harm Dreyfus and allows a bullet to kill him. It's all neat and orderly and, yes, rather spaghetti-to-the-wall which is in the wheelhouse of this show. The larger issue I'm having this week is not with any plot device but rather the future of the show.

Quite a few threads were left up in the air; Henry is still out there, hating his father and still the avatar of War. Lara left Columbia, officially the new Witness because of some time travel explanation that leaves Molly un-Witnessed. Jenny decides, off screen, to stay and be a part of them team permanently without telegraphing to the audience if this is satisfactory to her; Alex and Jake kiss in the heat of the moment (not that I actually care about these two) and, the biggest cliffhanger of them all, Ichabod sold his soul to the Devil to gain the Stone to kill Dreyfus. I'm not sure if the show is getting renewed--ratings are rather dismal--but if it's not, which I'm sure the writers would have suspected given that this season was a bit of a Hail Mary pass to begin with, then several of these storylines were clumsily executed. What was the point of making a Molly a Witness at all if she was going to serve no purpose as said Witness? The show could have made Lara the new Witness at the start, have her be a woman from the future to contrast Ichabod being a man out of time. What was the point of having Jake swoon over Jenny for several episodes before moving on to a new girl if he and Alex were to kiss and have stars in their eyes? What was the point of Henry coming back to life if he was going to do a rapid fire about face in character just because Ichabod drops the word "freedom" a few key times? The main point of this season of Sleepy Hollow was to prove to me--and the audience at large--that the show deserved to continue to exist. It certainly had moments where I could see its argument but overall it didn't succeed in making its case. These cliffhangers leave me with the impression that if Sleepy Hollow got a fifth season, it would be still another new show, an amalgamation of the previous seasons--a new Witness, Ichabod versus his son, a quirky love story between a tough girl and a sweet guy, and a new approach to procedural over mythology. Being charming only gets you so far; you must also have an aim and the logline "the war of good versus evil" can only be spun out here and there if each season is simply a new threat, a new evil, lather, rinse, repeat. Wars end and progress--definitive progress--must be made. Last year, after Abbie's death, I said I probably wouldn't be back but I here I am, another season finale. If the show returns, I'll be here, hoping that Sleepy Hollow can find its way back to the crazy, surprising, heartfelt, purposeful show I know it wants to be.

Miscellaneous Notes on Freedom

--All season Sleepy Hollow has been making fun of the Hamilton phenomenon. So, naturally, they open with Ichabod and Henry having a duel. I half expected a "10 Duel Commandments" reference to be made.


--The scene in which Ichabod and Lara's journey to Hell was interrupted by a cable technician was classic Sleepy Hollow. I especially enjoyed that having to reschedule his internet hookup to some vague three weeks in the future between the hours of 8am-9pm was "the torments of the damned have already begun."

--If the show does return it can benefit from trimming the excess, meaning specifically Alex and Jake. No offense to their actors but neither one of their characters offers this show anything new or interesting.

--"Is this hatred worth sacrificing your freedom?" I'm always glad when the show works in John Noble but the idea that freedom meant more to Henry than taking down his hated father seemed pretty out of character. He was, after all, more than happy to be Moloch's plaything.

--"I have traveled back from Purgatory, the Catacombs....and New Jersey."

--If this is goodbye, then thank you all for reading. If not, see you next year!

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