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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Six Reasons Why "Sleepy Hollow," Episode 7 Was the Show's Best Yet ("Midnight Ride")

I rarely want to watch a TV show twice. Unlike movies, some of which I will watch over and over, TV is largely disposable, unless it's something like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Even rarer still is an episode of TV that is SO good I want to watch it again immediately.

Yet Monday's episode of "Sleepy Hollow" was just such an episode. "The Midnight Ride" highlighted everything that is so enjoyable about the series as a whole and immediately became the best episode of the series' brief history to date. Here's why:

Now I have a shotgun. Ho, Ho, Ho.
1) The Horseman is back!
"The Midnight Ride" featured the triumphant and kick-ass return of the Headless Horseman. In my last blog, I talked about how smart it was to keep the Horseman in reserve, as featuring him every week would quickly prove tiresome. After teasing his return for two episodes, "Sleepy Hollow" showcased just what a fantastic villain the Horseman really is. He used automatic weapons, threw his axe at a main character and -- in addition to taking several heads -- later used them as makeshift Jack O' Lanterns. He was intimidating, violent and scary as hell. I loved every moment he was on screen.

2) The humor was better than ever
Every episode of "Sleepy Hollow" has featured some stand-out touches of humor, most of them based around Ichabod Crane's adjustment to the 21st Century. But this episode, in addition to being both scary and exciting, was also laugh-out-loud funny. Ichabod's confrontation with a museum guide discussing Paul Revere's "Midnight Ride" was the highlight, with the 18th Century former soldier ranting, "He didn't shout 'The British Were Coming.' As we were all subjects  of the Crown, that wouldn't have been very helpful, would it?" Yet there were also terrific exchanges about the relative difficulty of getting to London, "That's a three month journey by sea" and his first accidental encounter with Internet porn. The conversation about Thomas Jefferson was also excellent, as was Ichabod's conclusion: "You never really know people, do you?"

3) John Cho returns
Dead Man Walking and Shining Flashlight
This episode featured two villains. While the Horseman was riding once more, John Cho's dead Officer Brooks was also back. In addition to frightening Detective Morales, "You'll have to choose a side," he also confronted Abbie Mills. What makes Cho's character great is his reluctant nature and the audience's inability to assess his true loyalties. He makes it very clear he doesn't want to work for the bad guys, but feels compelled to do so. He even justifies himself that he's trying to "save Abbie." Figuring out exactly what he's up to and why is an ongoing mystery, and one I hope we don't solve quickly.

Have severed head, will travel.
4) Captain Irving finally clues in
From the show's beginning, the writers have played it coy with Orlando Jones' Captain Irving. One minute he's insisting that none of this is possible and the next he's approving some crazy scheme by Abbie and Ichabod. I've always been secretly convinced Irving knows damn well what's going on, he just didn't want to admit it. But that guess turned out to be wrong. After dismissing the existence of the Headless Horseman, Irving later comes face-to-face with the Hessian cavalry officer -- and in the process becomes a believer. That changes some of the nature of the show, and undoubtedly will make Irving a more integral part of what's going on.

5) The Midnight Ride

Aside from the Headless Horseman and the names, "Sleepy Hollow" has little in common with the short story that inspired it. So it's nice to see an homage to "The Legend of the Sleepy Hollow" included in an episode. Ichabod's final ride against the Horseman was directly drawn from Washington Irving's story and even if it only lasted a couple minutes, it was still awesome.
"It's not my head, but I'll take it anyway."

6) The Ending

The showdown between Ichabod, Abbie and the Headless Horseman was expertly done. How do you defeat Death itself? The show wisely doesn't offer up a solution to the problem, but instead focuses on a way around it. The finale, which involved the Horseman trying to reclaim his head, was tense, funny and dramatic. Exactly like the show itself.

Shameless plug: If you like "Sleepy Hollow," check out my novels, which feature the Headless Horseman in an entirely new mythology.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Guilt and Monsters -- Review of Sleepy Hollow Episode 6 "The Sin Eater"

Half the fun of a show based around a monster is the anticipation of its arrival. Indeed, most horror movies and TV shows go right down hill once the monster actually shows up.

So the writers and producers of "Sleepy Hollow" have played it smart in letting the Headless Horseman -- whose presence is conjured up by the title "Sleepy Hollow" -- keep a relatively low profile. Beyond a feature role in the pilot episode, the Horseman has been seen only in dream sequences and one brief teaser at the end of an episode, which concluded with him strolling out of a river (maybe he needed a bath). This has frustrated a few fans, but overall allowed the series to establish one clear fact: this show is NOT about the Headless Horseman. He's the villain and he's not going to show up every episode.

"I'm just dying to get some new puns."

This is vitally important because familiarity is a poison that kills any sense of tension. Just ask any horror franchise villain, like Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees or Mike Myers. The more you see them, the less scary they get. Keeping the Horseman away has let viewers anxiously anticipate his arrival in a way they never would if he popped up all the time.

Since the finale of Episode 5, the writers have been teasing us, however, with the Horseman's return. In Episode 6, "The Sin Eater," we are told again and again that the Horseman will return "tonight," but aside from a brief appearance in Abbie Mills' dream, we never actually see him. Yet his presence hovers over the entire episode, letting it build an extremely satisfying narrative tension.

Perhaps just as important, "The Sin Eater" breaks with the rest of the series by forgoing the usual monster-of-the-week in favor of a more internal struggle. Technically, there's a new monster in the form of Ichabod Crane's British commander, but he's not the point of the episode. Instead, it focuses on Ichabod's guilt over the death of a freed slave when he still lived in the 18th Century. Ordered to torture Arthur Bernard until he reveals the name of the treasonous "Cicero," who is writing tracts calling for the Colonies to rebel, Crane reluctantly obeys before finally setting him free. What he doesn't count on, however, are the forces that are hunting both Ichabod and Bernard.

For a show normally about evil in an external form, like a witch or a Native American demon, it was an interesting twist for it to instead delve into the evil that lies in a man's heart. Ichabod's fate turned not on whether he could defeat an external force, but rather forgive himself for the choices he made.

This is Ichabod's really hot wife.
"The Sin Eater" was also notable, in addition to the appearance of Fringe's John Noble as a recurring character, for its spectacular acting. Simply put, this episode couldn't have worked without some forceful performances from Tom Mison (Ichabod) and Nicole Beharie as Abbie Mills. Abbie's efforts to save Ichabod, as well as convince him not to sacrifice himself to stop the Horseman, were incredibly moving. Technically, the characters have only known each other for a few weeks, so a scene like this could have been less than credible, but its due to the strength of Beharie and Mison that it works. Katia Winter also turns in a terrific performance as Katrina Van Tassel. My only wish is that the writers give her more scenes to appear in as when she does, she is electrifying.

Overall, despite the fact that the Horseman didn't show up yet, this was an excellent episode that ably showed off the writers and cast's ability to make us care about the characters even when they aren't fighting the Headless Horseman or other monsters. Or, more precisely, the show makes us care when they are fighting the demons inside us all.