Saturday, February 25, 2017

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (4x8)

Modern technology is one of my favorite Catch-22's. I know that sounds weird but think about it. We do not need modern technology--by which I mean phones, computers, TV, and social media hubs like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, and even my dear precious Blogger--to go about our day to day lives. If I don't get on Facebook, my life is not in peril. And yet, go one day without being connected to billions around the planet by a quick click or finger tap and it certainly feels like your life might be over. You can feel starved for news and information (and forget that the printed words is still very much a thing). Over the course of the last twenty years (and, really, even less) technology and social media have become an integral part to the way we live our lives. There's a darker side to all that interaction, though. Just look at our current political climate; we have a President who tweets his policies and thoughts; rapid up to the minute news that we consume as soon as it crosses our timeline. All of this has led to a divided nation and deep antagonism. This is to say nothing of the way social media becomes a mindless time killer. And that's one of dangers explored in this week's episode "Sick Burn." A funny and creepy video designed as a way to kill thirty seconds that infests the human body until it burns them alive. Something so banal causes so much harm. It's a very literal way of showing how social media can consume the viewer. Grab your mobile device, even if it is a weapon, and let's go!

There's something ironic about the premise of this episode. After all, the writers who run the Sleepy Hollow social accounts are really hoping you are tweeting along, promoting the show, re-tweeting their thoughts and engaging in a conversation all while Ichabod Crane and Diana Thomas try to find a way to turn off the internet. Should we disconnect from all forms of social media? Put aside the fact that jinn are not real (or, at least, not likely to infest a YouTube video) and ponder what the show is trying to say here. I'm honestly not sure how to read the commentary in this week's episode which is a bit strange given that the Trump/Orwellian overtones of Dreyfuss are about as subtle as a two by four. In some ways the message is to steer clear of social media; you never know what may get inside your head and consume you (the conspiracy theory shtick in which you become convinced that the world is run by an oligarchy of Martians). However, at episode's end, it becomes a little more clear: stay engaged even in the face of grave danger. Yes, social media might not be the healthiest of activities and it can cause anxiety, stress, and depression as you scream into the void; but it's better to be engaged; it's better to be informed. Ichabod recognizes that his leadership might lead Jake or Alex or Diana or Jenny to an early grave--just like it led Abbie to an early death--but being informed, being dedicated, and being heroes is more important. Of course, there are vast differences between logging into Twitter versus going to war against a demon (though Twitter can often feel like a forgotten level of Hell) but the common theme is that engagement in the world, making the decision to show up, is the better option. After all, never doubt that a small dedicated group of passionate people can change the world. Why? Because it's the only thing that ever has.

Miscellaneous Notes on Sick Burn

--In case anyone was wondering where this season was going, we had quite a few visions of Ichabod in Dreyfus's America.

--Compare Dreyfus's speech about people being animals in need of shepherd to just about anything Napoleon says in "Animal Farm." Then cross reference all that with recent speeches or press releases from President Trump. Like I said: not subtle.

--Peter Pan continues to be evil no matter what show he's in! Though, it's always nice to see Robbie Kay.

--Of course Uncle Sam, Davy Crockett, and Sacagawea were genie and demon hunters.

--I would probably be more moved by Alex and Jake's blooming romance if they had been developed as characters at all.

--Molly is destined to be an Oracle. Cool.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (4x7)

Is it fair of me to compare and contrast Abbie and Molly as Witnesses? On the one hand, Molly is a totally new character who should be allowed to develop and thrive (or falter) on her own merits on this almost totally new show. On the other hand, the comparisons are ripe for the picking and to think the audience wouldn't be looking at both characters in tandem is equally unfair and a bit naive. There are a lot of differences between Abigail Mills and Molly Thomas, not the least of which is their age and situation in life. It's those two differences that are highlighted in this week's episode "Loco Parentis." If some beastie or creature of the night had Abigail Mills captive she could find her way out, Ichabod or no. Abbie would never need a parent to come save her from the big bad. In other words, her status as a grown woman lent her an independence that enhanced her abilities as a Witness that Molly, through no fault nor character flaw of her own, does not possess. In fact, since her introduction, Molly has stayed out of the fray while mother Diana takes the wheel dealing with the monsters of the week. However, instead of looking at Molly vis a vis Abbie, let's leave our Leftenant in her grave and look at Molly as her own character. How does the youngin' fair on her own as both character and mythological construct? Grab your red jacket and let's go!

Diana's concern for her daughter Molly is understandable; Diana has seen the sort of terror monsters can cause. To some extent it's hard to argue against her logic that thus far she and Ichabod have made a perfectly adequate team, taking down the various monsters that haunt Columbia. However, on the eve of Molly's birthday, it is obvious that the larger story at play this year is Molly's own bildungsroman, her spiritual education and journey into adulthood. Surely it's no coincidence that her first encounter with the supernatural occurs as she enters her next year of life, a milestone as a woman and, as it turns out, a Witness. Molly, then, is what we might charitably call a young lady and when one enters that phase, one usually begins to fight ones own battles. Okay, to be fair those battles are mundane things like homework and cooties, but Molly ain't living a normal life anymore and if there was any doubt to that, the Big Bad Wolf taking the form of her father in order to eat her heart certainly settles the debate. So, how did Miss Molly fair against a very literal Big Bad? I'd say rather poorly; Molly had a few good moments with the pointed questions about the bicycle and the fake out with the red hood, but on the whole Molly simply hid, ran, and waited for Diana and Ichabod to show up and shoot the monster. I understand that Molly is 11 and Witnesses are not blessed with innate magical abilities, but if ever there was a time to make Molly feel more real and show her true abilities as a Witness, this would be it. What I think bothers me more, however, is not Molly's lack of agency in the story but what it means for Ichabod Crane. In this episode, Ichabod has a duel role--Witness and father figure to Molly. The writers could have made the Big Bad into any figure from Diana and Molly's life but they chose to make it Molly's long estranged and distant father in order to draw the parallel between the bad father (Mitch) and the good father figure (Ichabod). It casts Ichabod into a role that I don't believe he needs--the paternalistic savior of the fair maiden. It makes Ichabod appear like the real hero of the story while the other Witness is the submissive victim or sidekick, despite Ichabod's protestations that Ichabod and Molly are "in this together." And here's where my question at the start of this review comes back into play. It might be unfair to compare Molly and Abbie but when it came to the Witness relationship, Abbie and Ichabod were equals. The Leftenant saved Crane as many times as he saved her. Partners, true mythological and cosmological partners. Are Molly and Ichabod capable of that same partnership? The show has yet to prove it so; it's proving it has the ability to show it with Diana and Ichabod but Mama Thomas isn't the Witness. Molly is. I wonder if the writers realize this rather vital plot point.

Miscellaneous Notes on Loco Parentis 

--Honestly, who goes into a church graveyard in the middle of the night? You're obviously going to die.

--Ichabod is in awe of "dolls that talk, robots that transform. Putty that is silly..." This is because "all I had in my day was a hoop and a stick and woe the day the stick broke."

--So, Jenny spent the entire episode hanging out with a half naked demon. No judgement; Joeb looked good.

--I didn't even notice Alex and Jake were missing from this episode until someone pointed it out in the show.

--Dreyfus wants to help the world be reborn. I'm sure that will go well for all of us.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (4x6)

There's no place like home. There have been a few vital components missing from this new rebooted version of Sleepy Hollow; Abbie is the most obvious and the Horseman of Death comes in at a close second but the third elephant in the TV room is the quaint and charming--yet riddled with supernatural monsters--town of Sleepy Hollow. In this week's episode, "Homecoming," we finally went back to where it all began, to where Abbie watched her friend and mentor become a head shorter followed by meeting a man out of time who told her of her destiny. As you might imagine, it's an emotional episode, fraught with memories of days gone by and people who are no longer with us and likewise no longer with Ichabod and Jenny. The emotions of both Ichabod's homecoming and his betrayal at Washington's hands play so much better than the too broad monster of the week who is truly characterless. Often times rebooting a show means revealing new information previously unknown to the audience; in this case, taking another look at Ichabod's death in ye olde Sleepy Hollow works to propel the overarching arc forward. Grab a magic-finding-scepter and let's go (back home)!

You have to give Sleepy Hollow credit when it's due; it doesn't forget its past like other shows do when they hit the same reset button. It would have been easy for the writers to start over at square one this season; all they would need to do is never mention Abbie, ignore the mythology and characters of the first three seasons, and pretend that Jenny is simply some girl Ichabod knows from "somewhere." Instead, the first six episodes have tried to remember their past, even while they push their own new agenda. Katrina, Abbie, Henry, past missions, and past emotions were all touched upon in this episode proving that even the writers miss aspects of Sleepy Hollow, season one through three. The emotional resonance of missing Abbie and that past life compacts the weighted feeling of betrayal when Ichabod learns that George Washington, his commander and his dear friend, condemned him to die all those years ago. Ichabod keeps losing many dear people in this little village, but in both cases the loss is mitigated by the joy of having them in the first place. A few blogs ago, I discussed Ichabod's archetype as a solider; one of the most prominent aspects of said archetype is a willingness to sacrifice their life for the greater good and a just cause. Ichabod has never hesitated to walk into the fire when called, but being pushed into that fire by a friend has a different taste. A more bitter one. It's to Ichabod's credit that he does not resent nor hate Washington for the decision to send our hero into battle against Headless, knowing Ichabod's life would be forfeit; indeed he understands it and agrees with it. If Ichabod's life meant that the American Revolution was won and that evil was stopped for a short period of time, then die Ichabod must. What this sacrifice caused is two fold; a unique bond was forged between Ichabod and the Headless Horseman--a bond Malcolm uses to his own ends in this episode with the Philosopher's Stone--but it also forget a new life for our man out of time. Without that sacrifice, without Washington's machinations, Ichabod would never have met Abbie, never known he was a Witness, and--in the long run--never met his new teammates, a new family. Sacrifices can often feel like betrayals in the moment, when we cannot see the path that lays before us, but hindsight is 20/20. If given the choice, Ichabod would want Washington to make the same choices the General made the first time around. He's still a hero, our Ichabod Crane.

Miscellaneous Notes on Homecoming 

--Ichabod with a giant blue Slushie (and then a brain freeze) feels very much like classic Ichabod.

--Jenny, regarding Ichabod and Abbie: "They had something special."

--Jenny's emotional journey this episode was also well done. She's right that there are "lots of ghosts in this place, but all ones I adore." In the end, she's able to see Alex and Jake as valuable teammates, who will fight by her side just as much as Abbie and Joe did.

--Making a Faraday cage is a total shout out to LOST, right?

--Look, I'm pretty familiar with ancient Egyptian mythology and that wasn't a sphinx.

--Ichabod at Abbie's grave was an emotional gut punch but it was perfectly acted and written. The Headless BobbleHead was a nice touch.

--I'm not sure I'm on the new #TeamWitness all the way yet but damn it if the show isn't selling it to me slowly, week after week.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (4x5)

Predictability can be a good or a bad thing in TV--and all other--writing. On the one hand, if the story crafted is predictable it might be an indication that the writer did a good job of laying clues, of developing their characters, or building the story to a logical end. On the other hand, if the story is predictable, it's more likely that the writer has not attempted to stretch themselves, that they've done the bare minimum in creating a beginning, a middle, and an end. The twists can be seen a mile away and nothing learned is surprising and, more importantly, is something the reader of the text guessed or knew several pages/chapters/minutes before the story itself made the reveal. The second this week's episode, "Blood From A Stone," showed that Malcolm Dreyfuss once had a partner who apparently died, it was painfully obvious that the same former partner was the Hooded Warlock gunning for Malcolm and laying siege to his building. When Sleepy Hollow had Dreyfuss playfully say that he sold his soul to the devil it was a giant neon sign that he really had made a deal with the demonic forces for wealth, fame, and recognition. Rich, egotistical men: they are all fragile and insecure little boys. Is this message relevant, a little more than meta, and pertinent to the plot? Sure. But it's also pretty gosh darn predictable. Grab your sigil and let's go!

It's not fair to say I didn't enjoy this episode. As I said above, predictable can be good. All the pieces fit together nicely; but, rather, none of it makes any lasting impression because I had guessed the majority of it several episodes ago. This is somewhat of a narrative paradox; the story progresses in that we get our main villain fleshed out and given a proper motivation, but at the same time the story doesn't move forward at all since the audience is already in on the reveal. It's a plot heavy type of episode that does not lend much in the way of analysis so a brief rundown is needed. Malcolm Dreyfuss felt like no one saw him when he and his friend and partner, Ansel, were trying to get their business started. Malcolm believed he deserved more credit because, after all, he was "the brains" of the operation. His genius went unnoticed while his partner's charm and charisma were noticed in spades. Enter, predictably, a wish, a magical place, and a demon with a contract. The forces of the Underworld would grant Malcolm the life he wanted, in exchange for his soul, and Ansel would be cast down into the pit to suffer so that Malcolm's star could rise. In an effort to cheat his eventual death, Malcolm has been collecting pieces of the Philosopher's Stone (side note, the show didn't even give us one good Harry Potter joke about this!) All of this plot is necessary for whatever is coming up. That doesn't make it any less predictable, rote, and a touch boring. The only real emotional and character push here occurs at the end when Diana tells Molly she's a Witness, like "Mr. Crane." There is a throughline about good versus bad partners in this episode, the narrative takeaway point being that good partners are equals and are there for each other while bad ones are egotistical, self-centered, and will--literally!--damn the other to Hell to get ahead. Molly appears to have a lot of emotional maturity for one so young but the show needs to spend more time with her, and quickly, because right now she comes across as a Wesley Crusher-Wudnerkind sort of character. And those are always annoying. Surely she's got some spunk, some pizzazz buried somewhere in that mystical kid shtick. All of this is to say that this was a groundwork episode, neither good nor bad. But hey---next week? We're going home!

Miscellaneous Notes on Blood From A Stone

--Ichabod gave a rather rousing speech on the very bloody history of soccer. To a bunch of 13 year old girls. Bless.

--"A Witness is no different from any other person." Is that actually true? I would say the three Witnesses we've met--Ichabod, Abbie, and Molly--defy that rule.

--Apparently Dreyfuss was trying to drain a literal swamp at one point. Once again...subtle, writers. Subtle.

--I am a broken record but when it comes to Jake and Alex, I'd rather the show just...not. Surprisingly, Alex was more likable this week as Jake got creepy in his instance that the only reason why Jenny isn't "in to him" is because she doesn't know him. That's not okay! Also, Jenny not only lost her sister but also Joe. Do the writers have to force a romantic relationship on her so soon?

--"We will not stand idly by while innocent men suffer for your sins."