Friday, December 5, 2014

What's Confusing You Is the Nature of My Game - An Intro to Sleepy Hollow

Spoiler Warning for all aired season of Sleepy Hollow

I'm often wary of any show that gets an uncommon amount of positive press. I'm not really a bandwagon jumper - especially when the reasons that people give for liking something are tenuous at best and have little to do with the story itself. I'd rather wait and see if the show still has staying power - and that's if it's something I'd even enjoy at all. This was the case with Sleepy Hollow. The most often reason given (at least, that I heard) was that it had a diverse cast. And... that's all anyone ever wanted to talk about. Nothing about the premise or the story or who the characters actually were or anything else of interest. So, I chalked it up to fandom census-box-checkers getting overexcited about their one-note crusade (yet again) and found other things to watch.

Then at some point, I actually started hearing more about the show itself - that it was a loose re-imagining of Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Ichabod Crane is actually a Revolutionary Era soldier resurrected in the modern era and he and Officer Abbie Mills are trying to avoid the apocalypse. The Headless Horseman comes in to wreak havoc and mayhem. Oh, and there are witches involved as well. Not to mention the Founding Fathers were in on this eternal War Against Evil thing too.

Well, if you'd said that from the start, you might have had my attention sooner!

I started on with the pilot episode the week of Halloween - I think I was bored and wanted something to get me in the spirit of the holiday (YouTube didn't have a full copy of the Disney Halloween Hall-O-Fame special with Jonathan Winters, which kind of annoyed me. Why that isn't out on DVD... anyway...) So, I found the first episode on Hulu and gave it a watch.

There is nothing about the premise of this show that I do not love. It's got all the spooky/gothic aspects of Irving's original tales, plenty of great tie-ins with characters those stories and those from the modern world, some well-researched history alongside the legends (even if it's still played pretty fast and loose), and there is lots of great humor. There's even a fascinating love story running through the entire narrative. Sure, there are some flaws that I'll discuss in the more spoilery section of my review, but overall it's fairly well-constructed.

What's the basic premise? (Major Spoilers from here on out)

During the American Revolution, the armies of the devil were trying to break out of Hell in order to take over the world. The forces of good - which include white witches and Freemasons and the Founding Fathers (and those groups are not mutually exclusive, by the way) - were trying to stop it. General George Washington actually had a secret evil-fighting task force, which included Ichabod Crane, a former Oxford professor-turned British soldier-turned colonial American freedom fighter (that's how they got the teacher angle in). During one battle, Ichabod faces off with the British secret weapon - which turns out to be the Horseman of Death. Ichabod kills the Horseman by cutting off his head, but Ichabod is also mortally wounded and their blood mixes on the battlefield. His wife, Katrina, saves his life by performing a spell (she's a witch, by the way - but Ichabod doesn't know that yet) that bonds Ichabod's life to the Horseman's so when the Horseman returns to Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod will be resurrected as well and charged to be a Witness to the Apocalypse - and hopefully defeat the forces of Evil.

In the modern world, Abbie Mills is an up-and-coming police lieutenant. She's heading out with her mentor, Sheriff Corbin, to check on a disturbance on a local farm. That "disturbance" turns out to the the Headless Horseman, who kills the good sheriff, leaving the semi-little town of Sleepy Hollow not-so-little-and-sleepy anymore. On top of that, with the reappearance of the Headless Horseman, Ichabod Crane gets resurrected and his emergence into our modern world is, at first creepy, then it becomes hilarious (appropriately so for the tone this show is going for). Abbie finds Ichabod and brings him in for questioning - obviously the police don't believe him and think he's just crazy. But Abbie's had experience with weird, occulty stuff in her past - which leads to a fascinating path of discovery for her character throughout the first season (including being reconciled to her sister, Jenny, who's life has been affected by the same weird, occulty stuff, but in a vastly different way from Abbie). The bottom line of all this is that Ichabod and Abbie are to be the two Witnesses (yes, with a capital letter) to the End of Days as prophesied in the Book of Revelation. They're charged with defeating Moloch, the head boss in charge of Hell, and are to spend the next seven years doing just that.

That's the bare-bones premise of the show - and you really ought to just watch it. It's like any buddy-cop show you've seen, mixed with National Treasure and Blast from the Past and 1776 (no singing John Adams, sadly) and whatever-your-choice-of-show-dealing-with-the-occult-and-the-End-Times-you're-familiar-with-which-I-don't-know-any-so-I-can't-comment-on-that-sorry (okay - Supernatural. Never really watched it much, but I'll take people's word for it).

The characters are truly amazing and creative. I mean, I'm all for giving a twist on famous literary characters and I'll take any and all decent reimagings you can give me - but I never, ever, ever thought you could take a character like Ichabod Crane and actually make him cool. To be fair, he's still got that endearing awkwardness about him, which is compounded by the fact that he's 200+ years removed from his familiar time period (I enjoy a good Fish Out of Temporal Water trope as much as anyone). But he's also a soldier and a spy and married to a witch (I'll get there) and he knows just about anything about anyone from the Revolutionary Era, thanks to an eidetic memory and being given a mission by George Washington to kill the Horseman of Death.

Abbie Mills is a complete delight and she and Ichabod are perfect foils to each other. She keeps just enough skepticism at the beginning to create that obstacle of the hero resisting the call to action, but she's also smart enough to let go of that skepticism when it's painfully obvious what's really going on. She's got a fascinating backstory that weaves itself throughout the narrative in Seasons 1 and 2 - which also includes some absolutely heartbreaking family history, but it also works itself out in the end. I love Abbie's relationship with her sister, Jenny. Something happened to them both as kids that caused them to follow different life paths - Abbie eventually led her to becoming a cop, Jenny ended up in a psychiatric hospital. All of these past experiences obviously shaped Abbie's personality to where she is at the start of the show - but she's also formed personal connections to people like Sheriff Corbin, who was a mentor to her, and his death affects her profoundly. So much so that it becomes the catalyst to her accepting her role as a Witness.

I love the friendship between Ichabod and Abbie. So much so that this is the first place where I diverge from fandom. Even before I started watching the show, I'd heard of the "Ichabbie" ship - but I'll be 100% honest, I'd rather see them as platonic friends. I love the "buddy-cop" dynamic that the two of them have and there are so few male-female friendships on TV that stay friendships. I mean, as long as the show stays interesting and good, I'll go along with whatever The Powers That Be decide to do. But, in my heart of hearts, I'm secretly cheering for these two to stay BFFs. Simply because they are one of the best friendships on TV right now - and that'd probably be one of the most innovative storytelling twists that the Sleepy Hollow writing team could come up with right now (and in a show that's already chock full of narrative innovation - why wouldn't you want to keep the tradition you've established going?)

And, yes, I have another reason for wanting Ichabod and Abbie to stay friends - but hear me out before you start snarling at me. Because outside of the two main characters, the one other character that is the most fascinating to me is Katrina Crane. Admittedly, she spent the first season being trapped in Purgatory and away from the main action of the show, but that's precisely what intrigued me about her. And the fact that she's part of a coven of witches dedicated to the defeat of the darkness - even though her coven trapped her in Purgatory in the first place because of the spell she used to save Ichabod's life. There's a lot of potential in her character and a lot that I'd like to see from her - though I'm a little disappointed that she's either been kept prisoner or... not kept as a prisoner, but she's supposed to be a mole for Team Witness, but the Headless Horseman and Henry Parrish are savvy to what she's been doing? Look, all I know is that my absolute favorite episode(s) come when Katrina is actually working with Ichabod and Abbie. I love the interactions between the three of them - and I love the interactions between Katrina and Ichabod (which I'll get to) and also the interactions between Katrina and Abbie, though there aren't as many of those moments in the show, sadly. But the ones we do have - there is a friendship and respect between the two ladies, which is something you don't often see on TV. They both care about their respective missions in the fight against evil, and they also care about Ichabod in their own unique ways. There's no competition between them, no stereotypical cattiness, nothing that would suggest that they're working a love triangle into the show (thank all the angels in heaven and all the little fishes in the sea for that one!) Besides - who doesn't want a witch on their side?

On that note - if you haven't figured out by now, yes, I ship Ichabod and Katrina. Even after those rocky moments during the mid-season finale - I'm still on board with them both. Again, like most things on this show, I like that we're getting something different with these two. A lot of ships in fandom have to do with a couple just getting together - hanging on every conversation between the characters involved, every look, every moment, waiting for all those fluffy little romantic events that mean they're getting closer and closer. Except - with Ichabod and Katrina, they've already had all that. They're married and have been so for over two-hundred years. They have a son - who's hell-bent on killing them both (ha ha - "hell-bent." I'm funny...) And, yes, there have been a lot of rough patches along the way for their marriage. But that's what makes it realistic! (she says about the not-dead Revolutionary soldier for God and his wife who's also the witch who cast the not-dead spell on him) I'm interested in how a TV show handles a mature marriage relationship and all the things that life throws at them. I want to see them both come out of all the secrets and lies their missions have forced them to tell and be stronger for it. It's obvious they both adore each other - even if this fight puts strain on their relationship.

(also - I need to see more of Katrina discovering the 21st century. I personally hate reality TV, but the reaction it got out of Katrina had me laughing for five minutes straight. I had to rewind and watch that part again. Oh - and Ichabod seeing her in a form-fitting blouse and jeans and admitting that he liked Katrina in that outfit? Yes. More of that, please).

(that's Jenny Mills, Abbie's sister. What? This was the best pic
for Irving I could find!)
I could go on about other things I love about this show, but I think you get the picture. The show is not without flaws, of course (what isn't?) The only thing that I'd even want to mention here (and - again - Major Spoiler territory here) is how the Season 2 fall finale turned out. Particularly how Captain Frank Irving's character ended up. Actually - I'm not sure that the writers quite knew what they wanted to do with the character (which... what's there to know?) Irving is the chief of police in season 1 and he's a wonderful character. He's the kind of guy that Gets Crap Done for Team Witness, as far as the authorities are concerned. He lets Ichabod and Abbie use the police archives for their headquarters, he gets clearance for various things and people that they need to talk to, he's the cavalry when they need extra firepower. And, honestly, he's an all-around cool guy. He's got a sweet daughter (played by the same girl who played Rue in The Hunger Games) and an amicable-if-a-little-loopy ex-wife. Of course, Moloch and his mooks target Irving's family and that is how Irving winds up confessing to a murder that his daughter committed while under possession from one of Moloch's demons. Thing is - Irving didn't need to confess to murder. Because I never would have thought that police could have connected Irving's daughter to the killings. But it happened and Irving ended up locked away. Sad thing is, the writers didn't seem to know what to do with Irving incarcerated and I think Season 2 (so far) has suffered a bit for that. Irving ended up being killed off, purely because the writers didn't have anything for him to do (as far as I can tell). But that was completely unnecessary because if Irving had stayed in place as chief of police, there was all kinds of great stuff he could have been involved it (the characters meant to replace his role have been ineffectual at best, annoying at worst).

Now - I could be wrong. The back half of Season 2 could have something very interesting for Irving really think Irving is dead for dead? I mean, I've only been following this show properly for a little over three weeks and even I dismissed that notion. And that's without looking up any behind-the-scenes teasers or interviews). But they've gotta do something with him quick because otherwise, it's a perfect waste of a good character (my theory is that he's going to be the next Horseman of the Apocalypse - seeing as the other two Horsemen have been important people in Ichabod's life. It might be that Moloch chooses his Horsemen based on the connections they have to the Witnesses. Again - just a theory).

I'm willing to wait until January and see the rest of the story. And I cut the show a lot of slack, seeing as this is the second season and sometimes shows have a hard time finding their footing after working so hard to make Season 1 awesome so they get picked up for Season 2 - and then they do get picked up and they're not quite sure where to go now that they've achieved their goal. But I'm still optimistic that there's something really exciting in the works - and all the angst and strife of the mid-season finale is just ramping up the drama so people come back after the winter break.

Flaws and nitpicks aside - I still love the heck out of this show. I've even started a casual re-watch of Seasons 1 and 2 because I'm finding I miss all these great characters and stories (two days after completely catching up. Well... that's what binge-watching does to you). If you're on the fence about watching (and sorry if you're reading this and have been all kinds of spoiled - I did put warnings out, to be fair) - you really ought to give it a shot (if for no other reason to see Ichabod Crane be introduced to skinny jeans).

Oh - and they play "Sympathy for the Devil" to open and close out Season 1. If that's not hardcore ballsy, I don't know what is.

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