This Sleepy Hollow review contains spoilers.
Sleepy Hollow: Season 3, Episode 1
Sleepy Hollow is back and, though there has been much worry over the many, many changes that took place behind-the-scenes of the genre drama, I am happy to report: this show is just as magical as ever. Maybe a little too magical, but I’ll get to that later…
For those who were unaware, Sleepy Hollow went through some serious changes over the hiatus. It changed showrunners. It changed filming locations — from North Carolina to Georgia. It lost much of its main cast. Fox freaked out about diminished ratings and told press gathered at the TCAs that the show would be dropping its more serialized components and transitioning to a more episodic structure. Which, in my opinion, sucks. But the thing that has always made this show delightful — the chemistry between Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) and Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) — remains and, so far, that’s enough.
An Ichabbie reunion.
So, what went down in the season 3 premiere? Well, we pick back up nine months following the deaths of Katrina and Jeremy/Henry in the season 2 finale. Abbie has recommitted to her goal of working for the FBI, and is now an agent, rising in the ranks. Meanwhile, Ichabod has disappeared, only to turn back up when Abbie gets a call from custom agents who have detained him for trying to smuggle an ancient Sumerian tablet into the country.
Ichabbie’s reunion is less fraught with drama than other shows might try, and it’s refreshing. These two have never been ones for unnecessary drama. They have enough unavoidable drama in the form of horsemen of the apocalypse, wendigos, and homicidal wives to invite any more into their lives. Their open, communicative relationship remains intact, even after nine rocky months apart. It’s nice to see the team dynamic fall back into place again with Jenny, too. Her explanation of Irving’s disappearance might be convenient, but it’s not out-of-character and it leaves the door open for a potential return.
Committing to the witness life.
Ichabod’s not-so-smuggled tablet was recovered from his family’s tomb in the U.K. and depicts what he believes to be a prophecy of the witnesses’ second tribulation. (Defeating Moloch was Ichabbie’s first tribulation.) He seems ready to recommit to their life as witnesses, but Abbie is not. She doesn’t want to put her life on hold for something that might not come to pass.
The episode chronicles Abbie’s return to the realization that she is still a witness. That her mission is not over. And that she and Ichabod are in this together. Ichabod’s realization is more subtle, but no less powerful. As a man out of time and now without family, his mission as a witness is one of the only things he has to hold to. One of the only things that gives him purpose in this strange, purposeless world. Other than the whole time travel thing, that’s an incredibly easy existential crisis to relate to.
And, of course, what would this show be without a comment on our national identity? One of the chief tensions at the heart of this story and one that has thankfully weathered the transitions this show has undergone is the one between the country of our past and the country of our present. Or, perhaps more accurately, the country of our present and our idea of the country of our past. Because, let’s be honest, Sleepy Hollow is not the most faithful rendition of the past to ever grace the screen.
That isn’t a complaint. Sleepy Hollow’s portrayal of the past has never really about the past. It’s about our current cultural identity. It’s about the stories our country tells itself about who we are and who we have been. And, retroactive spoiler alert if you haven’t figured this out yet, many of those stories are lies — or, if you’re feeling generous, half-truths. This is why it doesn’t bother me when Sleepy Hollow throws headless horsemen and witches into its retelling of Revolutionary America. Our narrative of America’s past is already so fraught with embellishment and erasures and contortions, why not throw in Zombie!GeorgeWashington? And, while we’re at it, why not escalate the stakes of the Revolutionary War to biblical proportions? Because what happens in America is and always has been THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD.
This theme of our country’s relationship to our past gets some attention in “I, Witness.” The beautiful, historic archives are being demolished and turned into a mini-mall (please, say this fate will averted!), and Ichabod gets a chance to visit his first Founding Fathers-themed restaurant: Colonial Times. Abbie more or less explains our country’s relationship to the past: If we can’t make money off of it, then we destroy. But Ichabod remains optimistic: “It may not be the country I want, but it’s the country I have.” Fair enough. Also, he has Abbie, who tells him: “You might not have family, but you are not alone.” Aww.
Some new faces.
Elsewhere in the episode, a new villain is rising. She is Pandora (Shannyn Sossamon), and she is a witch with a box and the ability to pull off a makeover at a moment’s notice. So, yeah, not really sure what to make of her yet. I like that Sleepy Hollow is committing to a female Big Bad, and that she is directly in contact with Abbie, Ichabod, and the town of Sleepy Hollow.
That being said, I am getting nervous that Sleepy Hollow might try to rely too heavily on magical elements without grounding them in some kind of setting or reality. Right now, Pandora seems like a context-less magician, more mysticism than history. Sleepy Hollow’s historical elements have always been quasi-magical, I just worry that the show will tip over that fine line between history with a magical twist to magic with a historical twist. But, I’m an anxious TV watcher, so feel free to ignore me.
We’re also introduced to new character Betsy Ross (Nikki Reed) in some flashbacks. Apparently, in addition to flag-knitting, she was some kind of badass spy who undertook missions with revolutionary rebel Ichabod. Still not sure what to think of this narrative move yet, but it’s nice for Ichabod to have someone consistent to play off of in the flashbacks. Let’s just not fall into The Katrina Trap again, show, OK?
All in all, the Sleepy Hollow premiere was a solid start to the new season after a summer of worrying. It’s hard to tell if the show will reclaim the delightful heights of its first season, but as long as the dynamic between Ichabod and Abbie continues to work, this show will be worth watching for me.