Redcoats! Explosions! Dreamy British turncoat spies who look fabulous even when firing a pistol! Heeeyyyyy, it’s a battle in the USA — in Sleepy Hollow‘s 1776 series opener with British soldiers confronting colonial forces. But who can pay attention to the scuffle when Ichabod Crane (played by Tom Mison) is just so ridiculously good-looking?
Lucky for us the focus soon shifts from the larger battle to Ichabod Crane’s confrontation with a creeper of a Redcoat who wears a Hannibal Lechter-esque leather mask obscuring his face and has a weirdly distinctive mark on his hand. When a gunshot does nothing to bring down his foe, Ichabod Crane cuts off his freaking head. Revolutionary battles were hard-core, y’all. But Ichabod has also been hit, so when his enemy falls, he collapses in tandem with him.
Next we’re in a cave. I don’t know; just go with it. Jars full of scary bits and bobs burst. What the hell, is that a snake? Never mind, because Ichabod is clawing his way out of a grave, white markings on his body suggesting a supernatural solution to that pesky death business. He scrambles out of his prison so he can run through extremely foggy woods.
Seriously, let’s give a hand to the fog-machine team for this show, because they are working over-time to create a spooky atmosphere for you and you and you.
When Ichabod reaches the road, he leans down to touch the asphalt and double yellow-line markings, bewildered by this modern highway. Then he almost gets creamed by a car and a truck, because (a) it’s hella foggy (b) he just woke from the dead so cut him some slack and (c) sadly, no one stops for time-traveling hotass pedestrians even in cute little Dutch-country towns.
But say, what’s that striking bird doing landing on the town sign for Sleepy Hollow while “Sympathy for the Devil” kicks off our credits and Ichabod runs like hell? Being a cool augury of freaky stuff to come, no doubt. Hit it!
At the town diner, Lieutenant Abbie Mills chows down with partner/mentor/father-figure Sheriff August Cordin. He’s troubled by all the unsolved cases in the area, but she’s ready to skip town and move on to bigger and better things by starting in the F.B.I. feeder program. “You’re going to miss this, I tell you,” he says jokingly when the two of them are called to a scene to calm down some spooked horses.
“Something’s wrong,” Abbie communicates to Cordin when she discovers an abandoned shotgun. Whoops, there’s the stable owner on the ground, minus his noggin! But Cordin can’t respond to Abbie’s panicked information when the Headless Horseman has just obeyed his “step out where I can see you” edict to whirl his axe menacingly. By the time Abbie runs to the stable, she witnesses the Headless Horseman ride out and finds the sheriff beheaded inside. Goodbye father figure!
John Cho, I mean, “Andy,” gets Abbie’s “officer down!” call and promptly runs into Ichabod with his car. I’m imagining Ichabod’s been sprinting from intersection to intersection, spooking motorists all over the land with his wild-eyed appearance! Andy arrests him because, well, he looks dirty and suspicious. Crawling out of a cave-grave will do that to a guy.
“It isn’t him,” Abbie declares when she’s shown Ichabod; the man she saw wore a red coat military uniform, had something on his hand, like a brand: “Did he carry a broadaxe? The mark on his hand, was it a bow?” Ichabod interrupts, pretty much taking over the investigation. “Oh, no, no, it can’t be,” he mutters, because seriously, nerts! Bad enough to lurch back to life in the future, but to find out your nemesis came along for the ride? “When’s the last time you saw him?” “When I cut off his head,” he answers, AS ONE DOES. “Who are you?” Abbie asks disbelievingly. CUE DRAMATIC MUSIC AND CUT!
“The machine knows?” Ichabod asks dubiously as he’s hooked up for a lie detector test. “And what on earth is that?” he shouts (I love how Mison makes many of his encounters with present-day objects into accusations). We get the scoop on his past: Professor of History at Oxford, sent to America to fight patriots, defected when “the rule of tyranny” weighed on his conscience, and served as a spy “under the command of General Washington” BECAUSE WHY NOT?
Okay, so he admits he beheaded someone? “First I shot him,” Ichabod clarifies. Oh, well then. When he rose up, “Beheading him seemed to be the next logical step.” He remembers only seeing his wife Katrina (a civilian nurse) in triage before he lost consciousness, before waking in the cave with no explanation of how he came to be there. “I have questions, several thousand questions,” he snaps at the investigators, but he’ll spare them the indignity of strapping them to chairs.
“Now, where am I?” Ichabod asks angrily. Oh, you set yourself up there, dude. “The question isn’t where, but when,” the lead investigator announces in a cagey voice, because he’s been mainlining Inspector Spacetime episodes on his days off. Good news, the war Ichabod fought in was won (sorry, I forgot to spoiler alert anyone who hasn’t taken colonial history yet, DAMN), “but bad news, it was 250 years ago. Welcome to the twenty-first century, Mr. Crane.” BAM!
Hi Orlando Jones! When Captain Irving (author shout-out, though he’s “Frank” instead of “Washington”) hears there was “not one spike” on the readout of Ichabod’s detector test, he prepares to send their suspect to the local psych unit in anticipation of one hell of an insanity defense.
But wait, Abbie wants to interview Ichabod about the victims’ nearly-bloodless cauterized neck wounds. Such a blade would have to be heated to 500 degrees, but there was no trace of fire in the area (did you search for hellfire? Just a thought!). Questioning Ichabod might provide clues. When her captain refuses, Abbie asks if she can at least transport their suspect: “Maybe it’ll help me get some closure.”
“You’re just not going to break character,” Abbie observes when Ichabod asks, if she’s a lieutenant, in whose army does she fight? “You’ve been emancipated?” he asks briskly, because yeah, 1776-Ichabod Crane might not immediately accept an African American woman in law enforcement. When she sets him straight, he resents that “you’re insinuating I endorse slavery,” and tells her he’s offended because he’s totally an Abolitionist Movement member. “Wait, back up; you’re offended?” Abbie asks incredulously.
MORE OF THIS, I SAY! I know this entire series is the stuff of fantasy and legend, but let’s be realistic about one thing: Ichabod would betray lots of Revolutionary War era social attitudes, for he’s a man of his time no matter how individually educated and enlightened he may seem. Though even at this stage of the episode we have a sense of rapport between Ichabod and Abbie, I like how we see Abbie rightfully asserting her authority here (she threatens to shoot him twice — obviously an annoyed outburst rather than a harbinger of future actions, but also a real reminder that she’s the one packing heat — and reminds him she’s the one who gets to take off the shackles, not him). I want to see her show some exasperation and indignation at those rifts in understanding even as the two of them work together. Here’s hoping!
“Excellent, this day continues to bear gifts,” Ichabod says sourly as Abbie informs him they’re off to the mental asylum. Watching him up-and-down the automatic window and gawk at the multiple Starbucks on the street is a bit of a hoot, as is their banter: “The civil war didn’t wake you?” Abbie asks (and also establishes he never got up to pee). He calls most of her words “unintelligible gibberish” and manages to wedge in a complaint about ladies wearing trousers. They warily establish they each need the other’s help, so it’s off to the cave-grave they go (with a quick “what the dot dot dot?” sighting of the town reverend, who Ichabod recognizes from ye olden days).
While Abbie records her observations at the cave, Ichabod quickly unearths a book and scrapes the grime off it. “We don’t have much time,” Ichabod flashes back to the Reverend saying as he put the volume on Ichabod’s “dead” body. It’s a bible buried with him, the passage of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from Revelations marked.
Turns out the American Revolution was neither American not Revolutionary — discuss! No, no, it turns out the Revolution was really about the fate of humanity. George Washington called on Ichabod to kill a mercenary who had thee mark of a bow on his hand. When she puts the pieces together, Abbie asks, “The man who killed Corbin is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?” Looks like! “He is Death himself, and he’s returned to Sleepy Hollow to finish what he started,” Ichabod says ominously.
Just in case you didn’t think the Headless Horseman being Death was scary enough, check out his horse’s red glowing eyes, oooooooohhh! Devil!Horse!
Back at the town cemetery, the Reverend hears portentous neighing. Whassat? Whossere? Why, it’s the Headless Horseman swinging his broad axe. The Reverend shouts ancient curses! The Horseman throws his axe! The traffic sign indicating people on horseback crossing is cut off at the head, ho ho! “I’ll never tell you where it is,” the Reverend vows. “I’m prepared to die!” “Squishing thump,” says the closed captions, and there you go, headless Reverend.
“Who the hell would decapitate a reverend?” the Captain asks at the crime scene. Abbie tries to tell him the axe wound is cauterized — hellfire again! — and Ichabod Crane, with her the whole time, can’t be the murderer. “That man needs a straightjacket, and you violated a direct order by bringing him here!” the Captain reprimands. “You’re changing yourself for this guy, Abbie. Walk away, please,” John Cho Andy Dale adds. Meanwhile Ichabod of course has spotted his avian buddy and skipped off after him.
“As you know, I’m insane…and therefore impervious to simple commands,” Ichabod says in distraction when Abbie complains she told him to wait in the car. The bird leads them to Ichabod’s wife gravesite; her tombstone notes she was “burnt for witchcraft.” As if being in a graveyard wasn’t downer enough, now we have to go through everyone’s cause of death on their headstones?
After Ichabod flashes back to his wife referring to a secret she’s kept form him, he confronts Abbie for trying to deny what she saw back at the stables. She wants to leave, he realizes, but immediately objects, “No, you’re not…our fates are entwined now; running isn’t going to change that.” This is perhaps coming on a wee bit strong for Abbie, who decides to haul Ichabod off to the mental institution after all.
“What do you mean, again?” Ichabod presses when Abbie mutters she can’t have people doubting her again. At his cell at the asylum, Abbie reveals her secret: in high school, she and her sister Jenny were walking in a forest when four white trees suddenly appeared. They blacked out, and someone found them at the side of a road. “Everyone said we were crazy,” Abbie says, adding that Jenny began to believe it (her sister is in and out of mental institutions “battling demons”). So she knows what it feels like for him, to turn up with a tale no one else believes.
At the station, Abbie sneaks into August Corbin’s office. Along with his family photos, he kept a picture of Abbie in uniform (awww), and on the back of the frame, there’s a key. It unlocks the X-Files! Or, at least it lets Abbie find Sleepy Hollow’s version of them, a collection of documents and observations Corbin compiled over the years about the town’s struggle related to the conflict of “two covens, representing good and evil.” Abbie listens to Corbin’s recordings/observations as she pages her way through the evidence.
When Captain Irving shows up, she makes her excuses and leaves him to side-eye the room alone (Orlando Jones does a fine paranoid side-eye).
Hocrap, the bird shows up again to lead Ichabod from his cell at the asylum to a liminal world where his wife is trapped. Turns out her body isn’t at the cemetery; her grave hides the Headless Horseman’s skull, “guarded throughout time” by her coven. This scene is absolutely whackadoodle for a bunch of reasons; there’s a cool netherworld/transitory reality vibe with our view into Katrina’s existence, but at the same time we’re getting hit with a wall of information and world-building that barely lets us appreciate the ambience. Here’s soup-to-nuts condensed to pill form: Ichabod’s bloodline/being is linked/merged to that of the Headless Horseman; the Horseman must be kept from claiming his skull or the whole Apocalypse will rev up crazy Broadway style; Katrina wants to be freed; and the HH, much like pre-Twilight vampires, can’t be in sunlight.
A demonic beast growls and grips Ichabod; the scene transforms to a doctor and orderlies prepared to drug Ichabod back in his cell. Abbie yells for them to stop, waving around a court order for his release. “We’ve got about one minute before she realizes that court order’s a practice sheet from my academy exam,” she tells him, hauling him down the corridor to escape. Breakin’ the law, breakin’ the law!
In the police car, they examine the map of the Hudson Valley which just so happened to be surveyed by Washington himself. Corbin marked it up (totally destroying its auction value) with sites around town he thought had Apocalypse-y meaning. Abbie now realizes Corbin believed what she and her sister saw was real; Ichabod confirms he saw it as well in the vision he just had.
Abbie contacts Andy to call an “all units” alert; what the murderer is after is at the church, and she needs backup. “Because of that whack job?” Andy asks disapprovingly. Though he at last promises to call it in, he arrives at his apartment door to see someone’s forced their way inside. Past the threshold, we see his weapons’ cabinet has been raided. Man alive, it is SO FREAKY to see the Horseman stand up collar-first! Though some of the CGI in this episode is a little shaky, the headless stuff = A+. “I know where it is,” Andy says to the Horseman as if placating him, and Andy, WE TRUSTED YOU!
Abbie and Ichabod hack right through the coffin, finally opening a container to reveal: it’s a head in a jar!
Oh no, there’s an ominous neighing (I’ll just trademark that line right now for future recaps of this show, okay?)! The Headless Horseman begins firing off rounds, and what the, is that a fireworks launcher? Abbie fires at the HH, making him reel and buying her time to run to Andy’s patrol car. “I need a rifle from your trunk,” she explains as he confirms he called in backup; once the trunk is opened, he knocks her out cold.
“I told you to stay away from him,” Andy says soothingly as he lifts Abbie into the back seat. “I’m going to protect you.” Yeah, Abbie isn’t anyone’s fainting maiden, and she proves it by BITING THE HELL OUT OF HIM and immediately grabbing his gun to train it on him. “Cuff yourself to the door,” she orders even as he warns her the HH can’t be killed because “he is Death.” Yes, yes, we got that already, John Cho Andy!
Two more cops join the scene to witness the Headless Horseman with their own eyes. “Do you think he can hear us?” one asks the other mid-boggle. “I mean –” This is an excellent question. Though the HH fires at the police car tires, we see light begin to dawn behind him, and he’s compelled to ride away. Abbie calls off the officers too keen to fire at Ichabod, and as more patrol cars join them, they secret-smile at each other. Aww, we know something Apocalypse-y! I really do love their dynamic so far, seriously.
“I ought to throw you in jail, except I have a preserved head in a pickle jar,” Captain Irving complains. Hahaha, isn’t that ALWAYS THE WAY? With the two other cops backing up Ichabod’s and Abbie’s stories, and John Cho Andy now saying he’ll plea bargain if he can talk to Abbie and Ichabod, the two of them get dubbed legit lickity-split. In fact, Abbie’s going to stay in town, giving up her chance at the F.B.I. “That man is our only lead,” Irving says of Andy. “He has answers. Go get me something I can understand, both of you.” You’re on the police force now, Ichabod. BOOM!
As Ichabod and Abbie make their way to Andy, Ichabod mentions Katrina called him the first witness. Revelations speaks of two witnesses, brought together for a seven-year period — *blinks rapidly* Say, did the show runners just slip in that they plan to spin this thing out for seven seasons there? “After the woods, you lost your way,” Ichabod tells Abbie. Perhaps she’s called to finish the work her sheriff started; perhaps they both were. Now, off to question the only person who can provide answers in the battle against an ancient evil; there’s no way nothing can go wrong before they get there!
“You failed,” a freakish devil figure tells John Cho Andy. “Please, give me another chance,” Andy pleads, but the devil lands a blow on his head that snaps it ALL THE WAY BACK.
Ichabod and Abbie run into the cell, and in the mirror — just like at the mirror back at the asylum — they can see the netherworld, where the demon is stumping away. “And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder,” the voiceover intones. “One of the four Beasts saying, ‘Come and see.'” The demon, seeing Ichabod and Abbie, rushes at the mirror, cracking it from his side, and leaving us with the shattered glass reflecting Abbie’s frightened face. Time for more “Sympathy for the Devil?” Crank it up!
Okay, I personally feel this was an EXCELLENT BEGINNING. Yes, this episode felt a bit creaky at times with information/backstory overload, but that’s hardly unique to this particular show (hello, Pilot Episodes, my old friends). It’s a fantastic looking show, scenery and actors included, and Beharie’s commitment to playing Abbie with genuine feeling even in the face of all sorts of crazy plot twists is seriously endearing. And you know, I can’t help but love any show that embraces its crazy; this fall, my friends, Sleepy Hollow is that show. Hey, did I mention Mison is ridiculously good looking? Really, that the entire cast is quite easy on the eyes?
That too. I’m looking forward to more!