There are times when I really do wonder if the (metaphorical) roulette wheel (actually just a random number generator) has a sick sense of humor. At first it was a cute coincidence that all of my October reviews dealt with shows that gave off a very distinct Halloween vibe, or that it actually came up with the CSI finale movie one the one week that it would be eligible. Now, though, things are started to get weird. One of the reasons I wanted to do TV Roulette was to free myself of the shackles of covering a series over the course of the whole season. I do still really like Teen Wolf, but man, reviewing the last two seasons has been rough at times, as the show has struggled to find real consistency. One huge bullet I dodged was deciding against reviewing season 2 of Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, because I realized that analyzing any show of that type super critically on a regular basis could only end poorly. This proved especially true for Sleepy Hollow, because man, did the show go off the rails, as the show exhibited difficulties in figuring out how to use its characters or finding its identity as a whole. Still, it seems that the roulette wheel really wanted me to get the reviewer experience at least once, so that is why this week I will be covering Sleepy Hollow. Has season 3 been able to recover from season 2’s missteps? Find out right after the rundown. Also, you know, Spoilers and such ahead.
TV Roulette Week 5
Sleepy Hollow Season 3 Episode 7 ‘The Art of War’
November 12th, 2015
Have I Seen This Show Before?
Every episode–including the Bones crossover episode, which as an idea was about the silliest thing I have ever seen. Though at least the Bones episode was actually a proper crossover, whereas the Sleepy Hollow episode was a glorified cameo. Mixing a supernatural and non-supernatural show never ends well.
Once upon a time in the distant past of 2013, the world was not prepared for the show it was about to receive. At the time, in dire need of creative content, Fox was deciding what to air by throwing darts at a board. How else would you explain a show that was going to center on Ichabod Crane (yes, that Ichabod Crane, played by Tom Mison) as a Revolutionary War soldier who awakens from a magical slumber in the 21st centry to fight evil alongside local cop Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie)? Did I also mention that much of the action would happen in Sleepy Hollow, and that one of the key elements of the show’s promos was the Headless Horseman wielding a shotgun? Misguided and doomed to failure, Sleepy Hollow had all the makings of a glorious trainwreck. Then it premiered, and guess what? It… was… awesome!
The two leads were great, and made even the most awkward dialogue work, because they (and everyone else in the show) were committed to being as earnest as possible with whatever was given to them. But at the same time, you never got the sense that the show took itself that seriously. It’s that delicate balance that allowed the show to work. That, and a crazy mythology combining magic and the Founding Fathers–one by no means held back by the show’s procedural elements. Overall, Sleepy Hollow was an unexpected delight.
Unfortunately, there is always a problem for shows like Sleepy Hollow, which burn bright and fly through plotting as fast as possible: once that flame runs out, what is the show left with? Inevitably shows like these use up all their plotlines and then struggle to figure out what to do next. Whether a show can recover from these lulls is always a question, and for Sleepy Hollow that lull came in season 2. The mythology began to eat itself, Ouroboros style, too many characters we didn’t care about kept being forced on us, they completely wasted John Noble’s talents, and the less said about how poorly they used Ichabod’s wife Katrina (Katia Winter), the better. By season end, limping toward season 3, the show was in ruins.
Luckily the show still had Beharie and Mison. If you have two good leads, you can always save a show that has gone off track by burning everything down and starting over (assuming the writers know what they are doing). So that is what Sleepy Hollow has tried to do. This season has been a soft reboot of sorts under its new showrunner, and they’ve done their best to pretend season 2 never happened, except when absolutely necessary. The results so far have been hit or miss. The leads are still great, but it’s hard for the show to escape its past mistakes. Sometimes it has the distinct feeling of a dead show walking (a sensation not alleviated by the soft ratings), so it is hard to get too invested in what is happening. It hasn’t helped that after struggling with Katrina, a character who existed mostly in flashbacks until last season, the show decided they should double down and do the same stupid thing all over again with Betsy Ross (Nikki Reed, and yes, I mean that Betsy Ross). Despite these issues, the show has done an admirable job so far of rebuilding some of the goodwill it squandered in season 2.
This brings us to the episode itself, the penultimate installment before the show’s winter finale. Penultimate episodes generally have one job: setting up whatever mayhem is going down in the finale. If the episode stands up on its own, that’s great, but it isn’t really a requirement, if we are being honest. More of a bonus. Luckily, this episode does a good job of balancing things, to the point where I didn’t even realize this was the penultimate episode until Fox told me in the promo for next week’s finale. So how did Sleepy Hollow pull that off? By making the conflict of the episode come directly from the event that sets up the finale—Jenny’s (Lyndie Greenwood) new condition, gained after she absorbed the shard of Anubis in last week’s episode. This leads to Atticus Nevins (Bill Irwin) getting desperate and summoning berserkers to hunt down the stone (and thus Jenny). Berserkers are always great mythological creatures to bring into any supernatural story (one of the few highlights of season 4 of Teen Wolf is that their berserkers both look and are awesome), and Sleepy Hollow is no exception. The visual design of the show’s monsters is generally one of the Sleepy Hollow‘s stronger suits, and this episode continues that trend. The berserkers are an exquisite mix between demon and man, towering figures that feel like actual threats. Now if only the choreography could do the same. Instead, much of the episode is simply the berserkers snarling threateningly and the heroes running away until they figure out how to stop them. The only exception is the very first encounter of the episode, in which Jenny uses her newly gained mystic strength to stab the berserkers in a flurry of blows. But sadly everything goes downhill from there.
Even that fight is disappointing, which is a shame because it starts out so well–Ichabod, Abbie, and Joe (Zach Appelman) scaling down from trees in order to trick the berserkers into fighting each other, because what is the best way to stop an unstoppable monster? Make it fight itself. Unfortunately, the fight between the three monsters is far too short, and the editing makes it look clunky and boring, which should be impossible. For the most part the fight choreography has been pretty solid this season (other than the fact that a lot of the fights feel far too similar for my liking, but I guess if it isn’t broke, no need to fix it too much), so it was a bit disappointing that the show wasn’t able to make the berserker fights more dynamic. Even so, the berserkers did add the right tone and atmosphere to the episode as effective threats.
One conflict I am continuing to take a wait-and-see approach to this season is Abbie trying to balance her role as a Witness and her responsibilities as an FBI agent. There hasn’t really been enough of this to work with each episode so far, but it seems like the show is finally willing to start really engaging with the conflict. Abbie finally gets a real taste of power when she is left in charge while Daniel (Lance Gross) heads off to Washington to have weird meetings that may or may not suggest that he knows far more about what is happening in Sleepy Hollow then he is letting on, and she is immediately forced to use it to interfere in Daniel’s operation against Nevins so that Ichabod can sneak into Nevins’ place and figure out what spell Nevins used to summon the berserkers. (If you’ve never seen Sleepy Hollow before, that sentence both won’t make much sense to you and should give you an idea of how crazy the show’s plotting really is.) It is likely that Abbie is going to have to do this sort of thing more often going forward, which really brings into question whether Abbie can be an FBI agent and a Witness at the same time. This conflict is also interesting in that it’s creating a fracture between Ichabod and Abbie, as Ichabod worries that Abbie will one day leave him and their mission in order to progress in her career.
For someone like Ichabod, a man stuck in a time not his own, losing Abbie is not something he wants to contemplate. Abbie, Jenny and Joe are about the only people stopping everything from overwhelming him completely. So his worries are a believable conflict that helps flesh out their relationship as friends. This is especially important because one of the things that has always been nice about Ichabod and Abbie is that their relationship has never been more than a friendship, something that has been so refreshing to see. Of course, declining ratings, a wrong-minded new showrunner, and Hollywood being predictable as hell means that it is likely that will change in a Hail Mary attempt to get the show renewed for another season (which is iffy at best right now). But for now such thoughts are far, far away. Ichabod and Abbie’s conversation about his’s growing concerns that he will never fully be able to adapt to the 21st century is a delight, and highlights the strong, easy chemistry between Mison and Beharie as friends who always have each other’s back.
It is likely that Sleepy Hollow may never be able to hit the heights of season one on a regular basis, but the show has righted itself this season so that it is at least consistently watchable week-to-week again. That’s a feat in itself, considering how bad a place the show was in by the end of season two. This episode is another strong effort that was entertaining and fun. Not exactly a home run or anything, but a strong double that the show can hopefully continue to build on in the winter finale and beyond.
Notes and Observations:
- No Betsy Ross in this episode. She was not missed.
- No Zoe Corinth (Maya Kazan) in this episode either, and she was missed. Her delightful flirtation with Ichabod this season has been a real treat, and I hope the show is able to keep using her in the future.
- Jenny and Joe kissed. A lot about their potential relationship really works. After two seasons of Sleepy Hollow not knowing how to handle its romances, it seems the show has at least realized how to make them compelling, which is a huge step in the right direction.
- Huh, turns out Sophie (Jessica Camacho) is an FBI agent. That is actually unexpected. Although it does explain why I should actually care about the fact that she is in this show.
- Also, the interplay between Sophia and Ichabod had way more chemistry than one would expect. Makes me wonder if the show has more than one romantic plan for Ichabod.
- Abbie is not happy to learn about Sophie. Daniel never told Abbie about Sophie’s role in the operation against Nevins, so the confrontation between the two over this should prove to be quite fun.
- I really hope the show does reveal that Daniel knows more about what is happening than he is letting on. Supernatural shows are always better when everyone actually realizes they are in a supernatural show.
- I have no idea what to think about Jenny’s predicament at the end of the episode: kneeling before Pandora (Shannyn Sossamon) and a mysterious figure who may be even worse. Jenny is basically the only secondary character the show has been able to flesh out in a creative and engaging way in the show so far, so I really hope that this doesn’t all end with her dead or turning evil.
- Finally, I think I may be over the ‘friend is actually a foe (or becomes a foe)’ storyline for a while. Or at least until a show is actually willing to commit to these turns the way Agents of Shield did. If you are going to make a character turn evil, make it stick. Waffling is so not a good storyline, and I am so tired of shows being afraid to follow through on a sinister turn.
Episode Grade: B
Would I Watch More?
Of course. I am in it until the end, or until the show ruins everything by making Ichabod and Abbie a couple. Considering the ratings, and the move to Friday for the second half of the season, this all may be moot.
That’s it for this edition of TV Roulette. It was nice to see what my life would be like if I was a Sleepy Hollow reviewer, but it’s even nicer that this was only a one-time thing. What will the roulette wheel bring next? Find out next week. Until then, I need to go coat my crossbow bolts with mistletoe, because it turns out mistletoe has so many more uses than Christmas would suggest.