Disclaimer: This post contains spoilers for episode 1.06, “The Sin Eater,” of FOX’s Sleepy Hollow.
We return to the idyllic, but cursed, town of Sleepy Hollow, New York, after a three-week hiatus and a fandom that, in its infancy, was ready to start throwing a temper tantrum. And what a way to come back: Excellent guest turns from James Frain and John Noble; a meeting between Abbie Mills and Katrina Crane; and an utterly charming cold open that found our heroes at a local baseball game.
Five episodes in, the writers assume we have bought in to the premise: There is a reality where Ichabod Crane was not only a real, flesh-and-blood person, but a charismatic, attractive person at that. (No prominent aquiline nose, no fastidiousness in dress, no permanently pinched expression.)
In this reality, Ichabod won the girl; fought for colonial independence; beheaded a German Hessian mercenary; and was fatally wounded. But, in the tradition of both fairytales and horror stories, he didn’t die: Instead, he was blood bonded to Death, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and cursed to sleep until the beginning of the final battle of good and evil. (Insert your own joke about the state of music, TV, movies, fashion this year. Go on, I’ll wait.) At this point, the only concession to the uninitiated is a brief voice-over distilling the relevant points into a plotty little capsule.
The meat of this week’s episode lay in the ways the multiple, diverse threads are beginning to spin together as a single cord. We learn, through the longest flashback since the pilot, that Ichabod’s move from Redcoat to revolutionary was far from accidental, but still relatively spontaneous.
Likewise, Ichabod and Katrina’s meeting was as orchestrated as his meeting Abbie Mills more than 230 years later. Abbie and Ichabod learn there are unintended consequences of his bond to Death/the Headless Horseman, and that they may stumble over both Free Masons and Hessians as they continue to fight the coming apocalypse.
But the watchword of this episode is ‘change,’ and presumably, going forward, it will remain as such. Abbie explains to Ichabod that the appeal of baseball is how the rules never change: They are finite and immovable. Her experience of meeting Katrina in a vision changes her perspective on the urgency of their mission as the Two Witnesses.
Ichabod’s opinion of his abductors changes when he learns they are fellow Masons – then changes again when he learns men he considered brothers-in-arms wanted him dead in order to defeat the Horseman. He changes his mind about executing the political dissident he spent days interrogating, and changes allegiances when his superior
demon officer shoots the same dissident moments later. Abbie’s decision to include her sister early in the course of her search for Ichabod is a change from two episodes ago, when she was reluctant to accept her sister’s help. And, perhaps most notably, Ichabod changes the course of fate when he allows a sin eater to absorb his guilt and absolve him of his perceived sin.
There’s been a lot written in the month and a half since Sleepy Hollow premiered and became a surprise hit of the fall season about how ‘unique’ and ‘unusual’ this show is. (And if you’ve seen even one of the TV or Internet commercials for it, you’ll have noticed words like ‘craziest’ used by critics who don’t quite know into what category this show fits.) But change is more than the theme of this week’s episode: It seems to be the motto for this genre-smashing little show about the end of the world.
There’s a quote from show runner Heather Kadin concerning the diversity of the cast, and the way this show is unassumingly upending the trope of the person of color being the first to die:
It was not a conscious effort, but it was a conscious effort to have a diverse cast just to represent our world. I don’t think it’s realistic for the whole cast to be white. I also think when you are developing a show and casting it mostly Caucasian and you get down to the bad guy and the network is like, “You have to have some diversity,” then all of the sudden…that’s why the person of color is always killed. And because we have so much diversity in our cast and we’ve had the freedom to cast our villains and victims however we want, so we can kill as many white people as we want.
There’s been an article about Abbie Mills possibly heralding an end to media representations of ‘Strong Black Women.’ And Orlando Jones, who portrays the stoic Capt. Irving, has gleefully plunked himself down in the middle of the show’s burgeoning fandom, ignoring not only the Fourth Wall but the traditional separation between Show and Fans.
But even ignoring what amount to institutional changes in the way story is told and the show is run, there are perhaps more subtle forces at work. Shipping preferences aside, how quickly fans have embraced the equality of Abbie Mills and Ichabod Crane as partners is remarkable, even though it shouldn’t be. The eager response of fans to Jones’ request for slash fic flies in the face of the ‘two white guys’ trend in fandoms where slash is the predominant pairing type.
The surprisingly frank discussion of survivor’s guilt and mental illness by the characters is notable, particularly as a character’s mental stability is not the entire focus of an episode (I’m looking at you, “Normal Again.”), as a metaphor for some other issue or a plot point: It’s simply another facet of a character’s backstory. And Nicole Beharie is receiving as much, if not more, fan love as co-star Tom Mison, which runs counter to what seems to be the propensity of fangirls (and boys) to fixate on the men in popular media. (If I had a nickel for every time I scrolled past a photo set of one actor or another with tags amounting to “#His Stupid Face #It NEEDS TO STAHP,” I’d be able to fly Becca, Kerry and I to Vegas for a week and put us up in a nice hotel.)
Admittedly, I’m biased: I’m part of the target demographic for this show. I enjoy comedy horror and the occult. I’m a sucker for a British accent, and I like a good ensemble cast. (I think it was my love of British comedy and the Muppets combined.)
But my anticipation of this show each week is transitioning from a desire to watch attractive people fight ridiculous monsters to a vested interest in seeing how this show will quietly knock over tropes and obliterate them beneath its heel. That it’s able to snag guest stars like
Walter Bishop John Noble is simply icing on a very odd cake.