The name of tonight’s Sleepy Hollow might be “This is War,” but it also could have been titled “This is Disorienting.” With more twists than a Chuck Palahniuk novel, the season two premiere does a solid job of keeping viewers off-kilter while it spends the near whole hour undoing the devious knots left by last season’s epic cliffhanger.
I am aware that there has been some malcontent in the ranks of Sleepy Hollow fans over that season one finale, and for more than just Ichabod choosing his wife over everyone’s favorite shipping partner. Yes, season one concluded on what is perhaps the biggest rug-pull on network television since Lost ended up about being about a Transatlantic Church—except Sleepy Hollow’s gut punch was terrific. Much like the season one premiere, it left audiences bewildered and a bit punch-drunk when Henry Parrish revealed himself to be not only Ichabod’s son, but the Second Horseman of the Apocalypse: War made Flesh.
It was a great way for Sleepy’s creative team to keep viewers as bound with tension as Ichabod Crane’s vines when underneath the earth at the same moment Death/Brom Bones/the headless guy took his wife courting, and his best friend and joint biblical Witness, Lt. Abbie Mills, remained trapped in Purgatory.
However, the hangover after such a buzzed about ending did wreck some havoc on this season two premiere. Essentially designed to reset the board for this year’s new status quo, “This is War” fails to emulate the madcap hysteria of season one’s pilot episode. While that kick-off was loopier than a freshly decapitated rolling head, “This is War” feels more like a table being meticulously set. Albeit, one with a clever trick or two, compliments of writer Mark Goffman.
Beginning with a long recap of the season finale and cutting to Ichabod Crane in a box we then immediately…jump a year into the future?! No, loyal viewers, do not fret that Fox inadvertently aired the second episode a week early (though the thought certainly crossed my mind, I’m ashamed to say). This is all a clever ruse by Moloch and War to manipulate both Ichabod and Abbie, as well as viewers, into a false sense of security. It’s also a nifty trick that allows an exposition dump for the hour to unspool in the traditional procedural format when Ichabod and Abbie find a headless body that triggers a memory in Ichabod of a time gone by.
The memory of importance for the premiere though is an especially rich one when it is revealed that Ichabod Crane, among his many marvelous endeavors, was also once Benjamin Franklin’s apprentice! Of course the timeline of all this is beyond fuzzy since:
1) Benjamin Franklin (possibly) conducted his electricity experiment in 1752.
2) His experiment was accredited in 1767.
3) And Ichabod Crane did not arrive in America until the Revolutionary War had already commenced in some New England form in 1775.
But hey, we get to see Benjamin Franklin go fly a kite! Plus, Ichabod hates him like he’s John Adams in Paris (this is a guy who crafted his own alphabet, after all!). What’s not to like about this development?
Apparently, this experiment was all secretly conducted not to test a theory of electricity, but rather to destroy a key that holds the power of gateway control between Earth and Purgatory. It is also the macguffin of the episode since it is Moloch and a demon army’s ticket to Upstate New York.
This comes tumbling out during a lengthy cold open that sedates the audience into thinking there was a massive time jump since it’s Ichabod Crane’s birthday again. And indeed, I too was lulled into smiling with his latest Rip Van Winkle-ism after Abbie surprised him for a birthday cupcake, “And why must your era celebrate terror with dessert?” But just as I accepted the new seeming status quo—which had Abbie/Ichabod shippers likely dancing when it’s revealed that the Hessian had killed Katrina at some point—the rug is pulled again. This is just another distortion so that War and Moloch can learn where Benjamin Franklin’s magical key resides.
The rest of the episode cleans the slate of that cliffhanger with one important exception (more on that later). Ichabod, returned to his pine box prison, escapes with the greatest of ease in a gunpowder plot while Jenny Mills, who had been mysteriously taken by the Horseman in the season one finale, easily escapes Henry’s Hessian thugs so that she and Ichabod can team up for some rather generic shootouts with the German baddies.
Abbie’s side of things moves smoother as she learns of a real threat when Moloch’s plans of a demon army are revealed. But as welcome as it is to see Andy once more helps Abbie, likely the last time for a while since John Cho is on ABC’s soon-to-be-cancelled Selfie, but it feels a little too familiar when she distrusts him even after he died for her for the umpteenth time during his last appearance. He subsequently proves that he is not an all bad Satan worshipper when he shows her a way to communicate with Ichabod from Purgatory.
The real narrative highlight came, nevertheless, with the true reunion of Ichabod and Abbie when Ichabod goes through the looking glass to Moloch’s Purgatory land. Last season, I suggested it looked like the set of one of the Twilight movies, but it now has plenty of WWI era styled trenches as well to get lost in. But the most interesting development is that a fake Ichabod Crane appears to seduce Abbie into staying there forever with a drink of water. Abbie’s ability to differentiate between the Cranes through the pronunciation of “lieutenant” was also adorable.
They quickly escape Purgatory again and the macguffin key is conveniently destroyed, thereby ensuring this plot device cannot be used in another episode. Fortunately, since Abbie and Ichabod are reunited now and are in full-on “War” mode, the takeaway is that next week, we may get to move the needle forward. For example, whatever happened to Frank Irving?
But do not let my criticisms diminish what is the very welcome return of Sleepy Hollow. The show’s greatest advantage is when it can manipulate and deceive the audience as if it were a Horseman of the Apocalypse itself. But right after that is the winning combination of Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie, who are both hitting completely on point throughout the premiere. Each delivers a number of endearing line readings and chemistry banter that made the show a hit in the first place, be it about the number of candles on a birthday cupcake or the threat of world annihilation from demon tyrants.
We also were glimpsed two new narrative developments this week. Having been freed from Purgatory, Katrina Crane is now a prisoner of Bron Bones, who through the use of a magical amulet can deceive her into thinking he is really ahead of the game in some way. Good luck with that, buddy.
The unintentional comedy of seeing the Headless Horseman walk around with his shirt off, like the cover of a dime store romance section’s woefully misguided Halloween selection, was worth a viewing alone. Still, witnessing Katrina go from one prison to another has the air of “Your princess is another castle” about it.
The other development is that War is not going anywhere. Despite his plan (which played out flawlessly on both the heroes and the audience of season one) falling to ashes at the last minute, Moloch is not angry. In fact, he appears to giving War a promotion with a new set of armor. The prospect of John Noble sticking around as the season heavy is enough to go to one’s head. But don’t worry, Sleepy Hollow has amulets for that.