Sleepy Hollow follows up last week’s impressive episode with an enjoyable hour of television, though this one has some problems.
This week we get a monster-of-the-week case that simultaneously helps build and further confuses the series’ mythology. In John Doe, it’s up to Abby and Ichabod to prevent the spread of a demonic disease spread by one of the Four Horsemen of The Apocolypse. This time it’s, appropriately, Pestilence, rather than Death that is the perpetrator of evil doings in sleepy hollow. And while I welcome the return of one of the Horsemen into the picture, his appearance in this episode muddled my understanding of the Horsemen’s modus operandi in a rather unhelpful way.
My previous understanding had been that Death was busy riding around looking for a way to help unleash the rest of his brethren upon Sleepy Hollow, and then, the world. But given that Pestilence is off apparently doing his own devilish business, my big question is: what are these guys doing and why? Yes, I understand they’re trying to bring about the Apocalypse but is it really just as simple as spreading a worldwide disease? Do they have a checklist of “possible apocalypses” that they’re just sorta running through? How exactly does this relate to the Biblical understanding of the Four Horsemen? I find it both confusing and slightly obnoxious that the show went out of it’s way to base itself on Christian theology to only then largely ignore how it operates. It would be fine if the series took those ideas as a starting point and went in it’s own direction, but it keeps coming back to those concepts of faith and theology which are very grounded in said belief system. The writer’s inability to commit to Christian theology or a mythology of their own invention makes the whole affair rather murky. Entertaining, certainly, but messy and confusing regardless. The constant references to the Book of Revelation really seem to highlight just how unlike the Book of Revelation these proceedings actually are, so the question is: are we talking about the same thing here writers? Or, even more importantly, do you know what you’re talking about? I’m fine with Sleepy Hollow diverging from established theology, but please, for heaven’s sakes make that clear to the audience.
Speaking of theology, the idea of faith plays a central role in this episode, though the manner of it’s handling was a source of frustration for me rather than an interesting talking point. As a series based off of spiritual concepts, faith is very much an idea that would have to be come to eventually in Sleepy Hollow. But I can’t help but shake the feeling that it really isn’t a show that’s equipped to deal with and explore these ideas in any satisfying way. In this episode, Abby is still skeptical leaning toward agnosticism (after five episodes? Really? Is she blind?), but when she reaches a point where she doesn’t know where to go, she reaches out to God in the hospital chapel. In the scene in question, after expressing bitterness towards a lack of heavenly aid in years past, she demands a sign from God in order to affirm a theory Ichabod has about the nature of the disease. As is common with television shows, faith is a tool or lucky charm as opposed to a way of living. It’s a card that the characters play to coax the God-genie out of the bottle and sprinkle fairy dust on them to give them good fortune in achieving their goals. Now, given that most people’s understanding of faith (religious people included) only stretches that far, I can understand when most television shows deal with the subject on those superficial terms. But given how immersed in the supernatural and spiritual this show is (I mean, it’s based on the Biblical Apocalypse), I suppose I had been hoping for a more nuanced exploration of faith and belief as concepts. A wish that seems rather foolish in hindsight, given how consistently the show glosses over nuances in it’s own mythology. But still, it would’ve been nice to see something that’s clearly so essential to the series’ story be given a little more thought.
Another concern that reared its head yet again, is how exactly the show’s internal logic works. What gives these spirits their powers? How do dead spirits relate to the living world? The revelation at the end of the episode that the Lost Colony had all been ghosts the entire time seemed to make little sense to me. The Horsemen can summon spirits of the dead into living form at will? Ghosts carry diseases into death? What happened the the Lost Colony exactly? I’m still confused as to who and what they were, and how they ended up where they are. It doesn’t put a major dent on the entire episode, it was just a weirdly illogical, and seemingly needless way to cap off that particular story. If the writers want people to continue to tune in for reasons other than Abby and Ichabod’s banter being really entertaining, they need to set down some ground rules for how these demons and ghosts work. What they can and cannot do.
For all my complaints, I did actually enjoy John Doe for the most part. From a narrative standpoint it benefits from the same structural freedom that made last week work so well. Sure, we all knew the virus wasn’t going to wipe out the earth, but the journey was legitimately interesting and fun. Shaking up the dynamic by removing the element of a serial-killer type antagonist also contributed to giving this episode a fresh feel. Procedural television suffocates on laziness, but the writers have managed to strike a really solid balance between familiarity and variation these past two episodes. As usual, Beharie and Mison have wonderful chemistry together. When it comes down to it, it’s these two that really keep the entire ship afloat. When the show verges on laborious, the charm that these two have together really nails home the lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek atmosphere that the best moments spawn from. My problems with this particular episode are largely overshadowed by the good elements that Sleepy Hollow has consistently brought to the table. Even when it doesn’t really work on every level, it’s always enjoyable. Casting is really the essential element to making a television show with long term viability, even the most ridiculous script can be fun when the right people are saying the lines.
It’s not the best episode we’ve seen yet, but it’s also not the worst. The charms of the show have not yet worn thin and I’m still having fun. Also, The Headless Horseman is back! (after chilling in a lake? I preferred my satanic studio apartment theory) Which makes next week an episode to look forward to. (EDIT: apparently the show is on hiatus until November, so it would seem that we have a month to look forward to the Horseman’s return.)
They really need to figure out what they want to do with Orlando Jones on this show. I’m enjoying him for the most part, but his constantly looking suspicious is becoming humorous rather than mysterious.
Now we have purgatory in on the action in case this show wasn’t confusing enough without throwing Catholocism into the mix. That being said, there was some pretty solid imagery going on there with those dead souls wandering around. I’m still highly anticipating when we’ll get our first good look at Moloch. Also, Moloch’s in charge of Purgatory? Or is this just a purgatory? And if the latter, what decides who goes to this place as opposed to some other purgatory? All questions I expect no actual answer to. But that’s okay because it’s cool anyway.
Where is John Cho at? Is he at the bottom of a river too or does my undead bachelor pad theory still hold water?
Fringe‘s John Noble is coming to Sleepy Hollow! Yet another future development to be very, very excited about.
Andrew Allen is a television (and occasionally film) writer for Action A Go Go. He is an aspiring screenwriter and director who is currently studying at the University of Miami. You can check him out on Tumblr @andrewballen and follow him on Twitter @A_B_Allen.