Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sleepy Hollow: The Root of All Evil

Wow, it's been a looooong week of watching things and reviewing them afterwards. I picked a bad time to pick up the second season of Arrow, as The Legend of Korra unexpectedly decided to return and now I'm juggling four shows even before getting to the premiere of The Flash.

But hey, at least I'm on holiday.

This week on Sleepy Hollow: the status quo well and truly reasserted itself. Okay, maybe not exactly the status quo. Several things are certainly different than from last season: Katrina is out of Purgatory (and in Headless's love shack), Jenny is out of psychiatric care (and into trouble with the law), Sheriff Irving has been replaced with Sheriff Reyes, and Luke has been replaced with ... that guy with the half-beard. I didn't catch his name.

Not so much the "status quo" as a "holding pen" then. We know that for the remaining ten episodes there aren't going to be any major upheavals in civilization as we know it; the season's arc will simply involve Henry coming up with various plans to (slowly) bring about the apocalypse, with our Witnesses thwarting them at every turn. The finale will no doubt involve another "game-changing" incident that actually isn’t – my money is totally on Abbie and Jenny's mother being a) alive, and/or b) a Horseman.

And this is the ole "artefact that brings out a person's dark side" episode, a storyline that's made its merry way through genre shows ranging from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Merlin, The X-Files to Angel, Farscape to Superman. Unfortunately Sleepy Hollow's take didn't really do much to explore the psychological underpinnings of this narrative trope, being far more interested in concocting a backstory that links Judas's thirty pieces of silver to Benedict Arnold's betrayal (who Ichabod knew of course).

As I've mentioned before, I know next to nothing about American history. The name Benedict Arnold rings a vague bell, but if anyone had asked me prior to this episode, I probably would have said he was a brand of cookie dough. But what I've also mentioned is my dislike of the idea that a human being's free will can be taken over by a demonic force without their permission, however slight that may be. If people are mucking around with Ouija boards? Fine. If they get tricked or blackmailed in submission? Sure. If they call on dark forces to help them overcome their silly human emotions? I'm on board with that.

But to pick up a coin and suddenly become a murderer? Sorry, but that's too easy. Like Ichabod said, people are stronger than that; better than that. Yet the episode didn't take any opportunity to prove these words. The woman in the bank got shot, the man who blew up the florist was arrested, and Jenny was tackled before Abbie managed to talk her down. And yes, Henry smarmily told Ichabod that the coin worked on "darkness that's already there", giving each affected character a sense of motivation that went beyond merely being Brainwashed and Crazy, it still didn't feel as though they were given enough agency to really fight the coin's influence.

It's good to have a hobby.

But that's just my pet peeve. For the most part, this was a solid episode, filled with the usual nonsense (Henry has painstakingly whittled a huge diorama of Sleepy Hollow for no apparent reason) and the surprising consistency in regards to Jenny having to perform community service after her arrest.

On the Katrina front, we're finally – finally – getting some slightly decent material for her. Which I know is damning with faint praise, but when you're sitting at rock-bottom you've got nowhere to go but up. By using the sophisticated technique of peering around doorframes while the bad guys are otherwise preoccupied, Katrina learns that there's some degree of tension between Death and War. Namely that one is Daddy's favourite and the other is being ordered to stay home.

No one will ever suspect...

Unfortunately I think this is all a lead-up to Katrina sacrificing herself to save Henry's life – because why improve a female character when you can just give up and kill her off? (As with the handling of Tamara and Greg over on Once Upon a Time, I'd hardly be devastated if Katrina is killed off, but I'd much prefer that the show actually address the problems with her and work to fix them).

But the most important element of this episode was the still-tense relationship between Abbie and Jenny, exacerbated by Jenny finding out that Sheriff Reyes was the woman who put their mother into psychiatrist care. She's furious that Abbie didn't share this information with her, and so when the evil coin is dropped at her feet, it compels her to grab the nearest gun and go shoot Sheriff Reyes.

The ensuing race against time was standard genre shlock (despite Jenny having a significant head-start, Abbie and Ichabod manage to get a piece of consecrated stained glass window to nullify the coin's power and make it out to the forest before Jenny reaches Reyes) but it ended with emotional sisterly bonding, so who am I to complain?

This is what we came for.

And for the record, I'm enjoying Sheriff Reyes. She's a no-nonsense woman in a position of power, and even though this episode largely involved her doing anything but her job, she's proving herself a reasonably interesting antagonist. And by "antagonist" I don't mean "enemy" or "bad guy", but rather someone preventing the lead characters from getting what they want. It makes for a nice chance of pace to have some moral density churned into the proceedings, so I hope she won't turn out to be another Henry Parrish-esque twist.

But a twist is definitely coming in regards to (the late?) Mrs Mills who (apparently?) hanged herself while in psychiatric care. There's definitely more to this story than has been revealed, though I was a little surprised that Abbie has only just twigged to the idea that her mother was not insane, but tormented by demons. You'd think that was a conclusion she would have drawn long before this episode, but hey – she's been busy.

Miscellaneous Observations:

Ichabod told Irving about his evil lawyer! A lesser show would have dragged this out for weeks, but these characters continue to be not-stupid about their circumstances. And Irving finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place. He desperately wants to get out of Tarrytown, but does he really want to enlist the help of a law firm that has the name Cipher in its name?

Cipher = Lucifer, you should know this by now.

The scene in which Henry openly appears at the police station was pleasingly reminiscent of Mayor Wilkins casually waltzing into Sunnydale High Library (never underestimate how disturbing it is when the bad guys effortlessly defile a safe haven with their presence), and John Noble has an understated sinister quality that makes his barely restrained amusement at Ichabod's attempt at a reconciliation ("are you going to take me down to the fishing hole?") so fun to watch.

I love this shot. Even if you'd never seen this show before,
you'd know that the man with the briefcase is a threat.

If there was one thing that marred the scene, it was that Abbie and Ichabod were just a little too blasé about his presence there. I want to feel as though the Horseman of War could destroy the entire building on a whim if he wanted to.

I'm not sure if anyone out there is familiar with the show Whitechapel, but its final season introduced the presence of a demonic force in the body of a little old lady. She was ten times as scary as a full-on demon simply because she was so innocuous-looking. The same logic applies here. Henry Parish is just an ordinary looking man in glasses and a knitted vest. That's what makes him so terrifying.

(Random plug: try reading Terry Brook's Running with the Demon if you want a book that encapsulates this feeling of "casual evil" and how disturbing it can be).  

On that note, perhaps the most (or only) interesting thing about Katrina is that her relationship with Henry is not at all what you'd expect. Similar storylines (I'm thinking specifically of the Gabrielle/Hope arc on Xena Warrior Princess, though I'm sure there are others) usually have the demonic spawn of a good woman openly mock her about what she gave birth to, flaunting the evil that emerged from her body.

Here however, it's Katrina who insists on calling Henry "my son" or "Jeremy", to his obvious discomfort. His decision to move into Frederick's Manor only to burn the bed he was born in seems contradictory behaviour to say the least, but I suspect Katrina was right when she told Abraham that Henry wants to be close to her, though he is so far scornful of his own subconscious desire (thus the bed burning).

Nice special effects on the "shadowing" that crossed the faces of those infected by the coin, and the cawing of the birds every time someone touched it.

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