I'm aware that plenty of viewers will disagree with my assessment of the current trajectory of Sleepy Hollow on Fox but I'd like to think there are a few who might agree or at least see the reasonableness in my perspective. The first season far excelled my expectations, and that of ratings-watchers and became a highlight of my weekly watching. I loved the art direction, the humor, and the endless new strangeness each week introduced.
[*Mild spoilers for the Season 1 finale and Season 2, episodes 1 and 2 below!]
My reaction to the season finale was a little more circumspect. It seemed unnecessarily complicated, though I could give points to the way in which it involved characters fully, creating a large-cast feel and, of course, played up the action the show was capable of to a crescendo.
And so, I was quite excited to watch the return of the Fox series last week and see where things were headed. My reaction to the season opener was mixed, and so I held off writing about it until I could see the second episode. In some ways, the second episode reassured me, but still left me with some questions.
The season opener seemed to fulfill my worst fears about where the series might go, but very cleverly turned that impression on its head, and then…seemed to confirm that again before it concluded. For those who saw the opener, it dropped us right in the middle of a heady, superficial action sequence that in many ways was a parody of Sleepy Hollow playing out as if sleepwalking.
The major characters were there, Abbie Mills and Ichabod Crane had the humor and interaction of quipping about Crane's birthday, and they lamented their companions lost to destruction in the Season 1 finale. Then, they were on the run, and many of the elements typical of the first season seemed recapped—a dangerous town still, still struggling against ancient curses and threats. Murders, rampages, plots. I stared in horror, and then…that turned out to be exactly the point—it was a dream world reconstructed from the minds of the characters meant to make them believe they were living their real lives in order to get information out of them. Reality turned out to be far different, and not all the characters deemed lost were lost, for better or worse, but mostly for better.
And the "real" plot opened out and it was…essentially Part 2 of the Season 1 finale. Since I wasn't a massive fan of that finale, I stared a little blankly at the screen as the plot became more and more complex, something that I feel bedeviled the finale, but I was certainly interested to learn more about Purgatory and how Abbie might react to being there. It was a dark episode, that took Abbie at least, into more psychological zones than she had faced before. But as the episode progressed, and the action scenes became more and more relentless, I did feel a sense of loss.
Because what I had most been attracted to about Season 1 was the way in which the world of Sleepy Hollow was explored episodically while maintaining an overarching plot structure regarding the Horseman and Moloch. I enjoyed those explorations that took "monster of the week" to a new level. And what the Season 2 opener taught me was that the show doesn't have time for that anymore. From now on, it will be a non-stop thrill ride of combats and spells, characters running for their lives with everything against them. That, no doubt, has been a large part of the success of the show, but does it have to be ALL the show is?
It would be hard to argue for the subtle qualities that are "other" than this from Season 1, but I'd place my preferences on characterization, room to breathe, the value of unseen scary things lurking in the woods rather than constantly presenting the face of horror, and the like. However, I'm again on the fence about Episode 2 of the new season. It does make time for us to feel the characters are thinking and processing, and there are a couple things that are worthy of distinct praise.
These surround the fact that Crane has become a supremely amoral force in the story. That forms an excellent contrast to the fact that he's supposed to come from a more "moral" time in many ways and espouse old-fashioned gentlemanly values. The reason I say he's amoral is that the lapses in his judgment that increased over time in Season 1, largely centered around Katrina and how best to rescue her, came to a head in the finale with Abbie routinely questioning his decision-making and having to listen to his litanies of "trust me" that didn't always turn out too well. Now, in Season 2, he's a full-blown source of bad advice and we know it. Crane's gone from hero to verging on anti-hero, and though we can excuse, to some extent, his driven need to rescue Katrina, now from her loathsome former rich-boy suitor in a strange illusory world of 18th century memories, we cannot excuse the means he uses, justified by his ends.
Raising a monster to fight a monster? Since when was that a good idea in any mythology or folklore? The long conversations (relatively speaking) that surround this decision to raise "the Kindred" to fight the Horseman of Death nicely point out just how insane Crane is acting, how absent of reason and how over-confident in his devices. And he drags Abbie through this plot, though Ben Franklin's involvement in flashbacks is always diverting, for quite some time before fate, in a way, intervenes, and they fail in their monster-creating.
A one-liner delivered by Crane afterward confirms that they must be "better" than their foes and not raise a monster to fight a monster. At that moment, I have to say, I was hoping Abbie would lay into him for his sudden change of heart, but he doesn't get the tongue-lashing that was fairly well-deserved at this point. There's a mild possibility here that Abbie's getting a little too used to indulgently taking orders from the always self-righteous Crane. I hope in future she learns to say "No" to his wild schemes before all hell breaks loose. Perhaps that's her weakness in the way that Crane's weakness is his brashness. She's just too nice…so far, probably due to her soft spot for Crane's eccentricities.
The second episode of the season comes off with a bit more shine than the opener by allowing characters to continue to take the stage, and point out the ways in which personality affects choices on which the fate of the world may depend. More of that please. I'm still holding out hope that things will actually slow down a little, decompress, and give us a wider view of events rather than seeming to try to keep the pace of a season finale throughout the new season's opening volleys.
Pace is important to the success of any TV show, and while the general truism may be that this means action, action, action, I venture to say that not all viewers feel that way when it comes to Sleepy Hollow. We want logic, detail, and personal relationships to help us process this supernatural adventure series. Sleepy Hollow had those elements going for it in its inception, it's just a matter of keeping the faith, and well, having a little faith that viewers won't change the channel if things slow down between action sequences.
Hannah Means-Shannon is EIC at Bleeding Cool and @hannahmenzies on Twitter