Monday, September 15, 2014

Sleepy Hollow: Necromancer

Well, this is officially my favourite episode thus far. The plot was a change from the usual defeat-the-monster-of-the-week, every featured character had something interesting to do, we got a look at Ichabod's darker side, there was plenty of continuity, and insight into several key aspects of the show itself. So ding-ding-ding, we have a winner!

Picking up right off where last week's episode left off, Ichabod and Abbie have successfully trapped the Headless Horseman in the underground tunnels of the police precinct thanks to some hex candles, hefty chains and the power of UV light. Now they've got a chance to interrogate him and get some answers about the spooky goings-on in the town - but how does one interrogate a man without a head?

The answer lies with poor undead Andy Brooks, who they've realized is able to communicate with the Horseman and so who might be talked into aiding them (not least because according to Ichabod, he still has unrequited feelings for Abbie). Despite his reluctance, he's taken to the cell and acts as a mouthpiece for the Horseman, complete with black eyes and deep demonic voice, riling up Ichabod and revealing his hidden identity.

Meanwhile, Captain Irving is encouraged by Abbie to track down her sister, just released from the mental hospital, who ends up joining him on a call-out. One of her old contacts has been robbed of materials that will break the hex that surrounds the Horseman, and the two of them quickly realize that the Hessians responsible will attempt to cut power to the town, thereby shutting off the UV lights that hold the Horseman at bay.

Going into this episode, I had assumed that perhaps the Horseman would be kept in the cell indefinitely, that it was an easy way of keeping a powerful villain out of commission until the time was right to have him break free (probably for the season finale), and so I was impressed that the writers didn't take this easy way out. Instead, the bad guys waste absolutely NO time in trying to release the Horseman before Ichabod and Abbie can find out too much from him.

There was great continuity at work when one of the hunters that comes across "the pale horse" in the woods ends up being another sleeper agent of the Hessians, and they immediately leapt into action, giving our heroes a real run for their money. The battle was on two fronts: Irving and Jenny at the power station, and Abbie and Ichabod in the tunnels.

Plus, a more personal element emerged when Ichabod got in a bit over his head when it came to goading the Horseman.

At the beginning of this series I remember a few people stating that they felt Ichabod was too good to be true: too chivalrous, too open-minded, too knowledgeable. Well, we certainly got a look at his feet of clay in this episode. Pumped up by his victory and thrown by the appearance of Katrina's necklace, he gets increasingly erratic and snappish when it comes to trying to force answers out of his foe. It's consistent characterization with a man who has always been rather prideful; as we've seen plenty of times, he doesn't like to ask for clarification when it comes to modern lingo that he can't understand (I liked his frustrated "acronyms!" to Abbie).

But then we get into the real nitty-gritty of the episode. It turns out that the Headless Horseman was once a mortal man. Not just any man, but Ichabod's best friend and eventual rival Abraham von Brunt (a possible play on the name Brom Bones the original short-story?) After Katrina breaks her engagement to Abraham out of love for Ichabod, he makes a rather ill-timed confession to his friend as to the real reasons for Katrina's rejection. A duel ensues, the Hessians aren't far behind, and Ichabod has to make a dash for the woods.

What he doesn't stay to watch is the Hessians taking Abraham's dying body and converting him (either with or without his will; it isn't totally clear) into one of them. So this episode's big twist is that Abraham himself - Ichabod's friend, Katrina's one-time fiancĂ© -  is the Headless Horseman. After all their discussion on finding the Horseman's weakness, we find that it's the same as Ichabod's: Katrina, currently being held in Purgatory by Moloch either as a prize, a bribe, or a hostage for Abraham.

I'm in two minds about this development. On the one hand, it certainly clarifies a few things concerning the Horseman's vested interest in Ichabod and the reasons behind Katrina's captivity. On the other, it changes a couple of things about the nature of the show. First of all, I generally hate love triangles. A few manage to be sophisticated enough to pass muster, but we haven't been given enough background on any of these three characters and their bond with each other to derive any emotional impact from what was lost between them.

There are just too many gaps missing. How did Katrina get involved with Abraham in the first place? How and why did she fall in love with Icabod instead? What's it all got to do with her identity as a Quaker and a witch? How'd she get trapped in Purgatory? Sadly, making her captivity all about her relationship with Abraham and Ichabod makes her feel even less of a person and more of a plot-device than she did as the Exposition Fairy of the first half of this season.

And I can't help but feel that as Ichabod's apparent best friend, Abraham should have been mentioned, however briefly, before now - even if it was just to give us the sense that Ichabod was holding back on a guilty secret. And I'm sorry, but I'm STILL not getting much of a "true love" vibe between Ichabod and Katrina. He speaks more lovingly of Thomas Jefferson!

Second of all, something about the Horseman's mystique has been lost now that we know he was once a mortal man who was thwarted in love by Ichabod. How does that equate with him being the embodiment of Death? Does this mean the other three Horsemen were also once mortal men? Why did he of all people get picked for such an important role?

Perhaps answers are still forthcoming. Either way, this episode captured some of the eldritch quality that was so prevalent in the first three or so episodes, then sort of faded a little as the show went on. But this really felt like a quintessential episode of Sleepy Hollow, one that you would show to a newcomer to give them an idea of what the show is really about.

Miscellaneous Observations:

Katrina. Okay writers, here's the thing. I don't dislike her. Heck, I want to like her. I'm ready and willing and able to be a fan of this character. But I have no idea what you're trying to do with her. First she was a secret witch. Then she was a Quaker nurse. Now she's a spirited Georgian lady. She seems to be a different person every time we meet her, and I'm still no closer to getting a fix on her character or a grasp of her relationship with Ichabod than I was at the start of the show. Now it seems she's going to be a crucial component in upcoming episodes, and I really need you to step up and give me a reason to invest in her beyond her importance to the plot.

According to the credits, there are three actors who play the horseman: Jeremy Owens, Richard Cetrone, and Craig Branham. The middle is credited as "weapons" and the third as "horseback", which means that it's probably the first who performed the cell scenes with Ichabod. And it's necessary to know this since I thought (as bizarre as it sounds) that it was incredibly good acting. Whether defiant, threatening or quietly biding his time, you could read the Horseman's attitudes simply from his body language. I mean, the guy has NO HEAD and you can still tell what he's thinking.

Of course, it helped that Andy Brooks was standing by in order to act as his conduit. I really want to get some more backstory on this character, namely how he got roped into this situation in the first place. Obviously he's having second thoughts about being an undead servant of pure evil, but his line "the decisions I made when I was alive" suggest that he entered this pact of his own volition.

Here's hoping he gets some redemption before the end; he did after all "save" Ichabod by calling Moloch's minions into the room to grab the Horseman, and his parting words were: "tell Abbie I'm sorry." I've got my fingers crossed for him.

Performance-wise, there was a nice parallel between Andy's gasping before he was used as the Horseman's mouthpiece and the appearance of the emerald necklace with the scene back in Blood Moon in which he regurgitates the necklace that was used to resurrect Serilda. Likewise, the strange talisman that was used to call up the sewer-demons had to be pulled from his own body. It's gross, but it's consistent: that Moloch is somehow giving him the tools he needs by placing them inside his own body.

It was a great prop too, reminiscent of the demons fought in The Lesser Key of Solomon: a circle of tormented faces that screamed and groaned.

Abbie teaches Ichabod how to fist-bump and it is the most wonderful thing in the entire world.

I hope Mr Adams the storekeeper turns up again. From what little we saw of it, he and Jenny had a brief but strong rapport, and as the show is called Sleepy Hollow, it would be nice to see more of its citizens.

The circular cell, complete with its round door, candelabras, triquetra symbol on the floor and criss-crossing chains holding the horseman was a beautiful set. It's almost a pity that he was able to escape it so soon!

The opening credits began fourteen minutes into this episode. I only mention it because - wow, that's late!

I liked that the necklace was an emerald: not only did it suit Katia Winter's red hair, but it also nicely symbolized the green of jealousy.

I loved the sequence of Irving and Jenny at the power grid. So often when a man tells a woman to stay behind, you'll inevitably see her disobey him only to end up getting held hostage. But this time it played out with Jenny being just as competent as she KNOWS she is. And Irving was smart enough to call for backup, even if they weren't in time to find the bomb. I really hope that next week's episode doesn't just forget that they arrested all these would-be terrorists, and though I'm glad that they remember and utilized the sleeper community of the Hessians, I'm still dying to know more about the two covens.

Nice (albeit brief) flashbacks to the dead Masons and Sheriff Corbin, as well as Katrina on the brink of telling Ichabod why she thinks she's stuck in Purgatory.

Great moment when the A and B plots converged; the explosion at the grid followed by Abbie and Ichabod reacting to the UV lights dying down in the tunnels.

Not calling for backup in the tunnels because they didn't know who to trust among the police force was a little iffy (surely it was more important to contain the Horseman and keep him from another rampage) but I'll let it slide for the sake of plot convenience.

Those sewer minions were great in regards to their speed and out-of-nowhere appearances (I jumped when they leapt down from the ceiling), but they were rather easily dispatched. One bullet and they just explode? Still, at least it was great to see the Mills sisters fighting back-to-back.

Anyone else notice the rubber wall that bounced when Ichabod was thrown against it?

Nice editing in the intercutting of sword fights between Ichabod/Abraham and Ichabod/Horseman. I'll confess, it wasn't until that moment that I realized who the Horseman was.

To end, my most pressing questions are currently: where is the Horseman's horse (having been found wandering in the wood by the Hessians) and where is Jenny staying now that she's out of the institute?

In Hindsight:

Watching the second time around made it clear that this episode raised more questions than answers.

Katrina's storyline still remains hopelessly convoluted. For some reason I keep thinking that her flashbacks are being shown out of order, though in fact we do see her go from meeting Ichabod to breaking her engagement to Abraham to (next episode) giving birth to Jeremy. Perhaps the reason I remain so fuzzy on them is because they're all so disjointed. Here she mentions that her betrothal to Abraham was "arranged." Okay, but arranged by who? Her family? The coven? The Quakers?

Though everything technically holds together in regards to continuity (this episode echoes the Freemason's assertion that Katrina angered her coven by saving Ichabod, and her own admission that she's being held in Purgatory for a specific reason) she remains more of a plot-point than an actual person.

Likewise, my hope that more answers on Andy were forthcoming were not fulfilled. We're still none the wiser as to how he got roped into this business, but having re-watched this episode I'm also rather disappointed that we never got any backstory on the Pale Horse either. Is it a real horse? The red eyes would suggest no, so ... evil spirit? Demon horse? Inquiring minds want to know.

I'm also sad that we never actually got to see Jenny and Abbie living together, despite the latter's claim that her sister had moved in.

And another reason to love Abbie: that she had it in herself to do this -


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