Recap: Sleepy Hollow, “This is War” (2×01)

Hello SleepyHeads! Welcome back to Sleepy Hollow, our favorite (surviving) new show of last season, and to our weekly coverage of Crane, Abbie, and their battles against the demon Moloch and his Four Horsemen. And, as an added incentive to follow along with us, I promise I’ll never refer to us collectively as SleepyHeads again.

The only reason I even tuned in to the Sleepy Hollow premiere last September was because it was one of the first new shows to hit the air, and I was craving new television. (Summer 2013 didn’t offer nearly as much good content as summer 2014 did.) The premise looked absolutely ludicrous: a headless horseman is menacing the hamlet of Sleepy Hollow, and a long-dead Ichabod Crane is resurrected and teams with a local detective to help stop it. Poorly constructed promos prominently featured the absurd line, “The answers are in Washington’s Bible!” Before watching the pilot, the idea of the show elicited only eye rolls and disinterest from me.

Here’s the thing: I wasn’t wrong. The premise was – and continues to be – absolutely batshit crazy, but the show commits. And yes, the series is full of the most MacGuffiny MacGuffins to ever MacGuffinize this side of a Marvel movie (in this episode, it’s a single-use key to purgatory that can free people without a pesky one-for-one soul exchange). But none of these wacky devices really matter, because the show has one card that trumps them all: the electric chemistry between co-leads Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison, Parade’s End) and Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie, Shame).

The show’s creators, which include former J.J. Abrams collaborators and Fringe helmers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, surrounded the central duo with other strong (and diverse) characters, all of whom luckily return this season. But most importantly, the show has a plan, and within its own twisted world of magic and mayhem, it makes sense. The cast is energetic, the pacing breakneck, characters make reasonable decisions, and the effects are usually skillful. Don’t look too closely at the details, because they aren’t the point, and that’s okay.

At the end of the first season finale, every last one of our Scooby Gang was in peril – except Henry (the always extraordinary John Noble, Fringe), who revealed himself to be both War, the second horseman of the Apocalypse, and Crane’s presumed-dead son Jeremy. With Abbie stuck in purgatory, Henry buried Crane alive (as he himself had been) and turned Katrina (Katia Winter, Dexter), finally free of purgatory and reunited with Crane, over to the headless horseman, aka Death, aka her former fiancé Abraham (whew). Death had just left Jenny (Lyndie Greenwood, Nikita) unconscious in a car wreck after preventing her from revealing Henry’s true identity to Abbie and Crane. And Captain Irving (Orlando Jones, The Replacements) had been hauled off to prison after confessing to murders he didn’t commit to protect his daughter, who committed one of them while possessed.

Got all that? Good. Onto this episode.

Wisely, writer Mark Goffman (who also wrote last season’s excellent “The Necromancer”, among other episodes) focuses on what’s really important here: Crane and Abbie, and getting them back together as quickly as possible. This is first accomplished when Abbie gives Crane a surprise 251st birthday party, one year after the events of the finale. “Why must your era celebrate terror with dessert?” laments Crane, as exasperated with modern customs as always, and loathe to celebrate anything.

Everything about this sequence is just enough off that, despite the typical banter between Abbie and Crane, you know something isn’t right. Jenny and Katrina both being dead seems unlikely. The emotional beats about their losses are overwrought and somehow empty at the same time. Crane gets woozy for no reason. Sure enough, the whole thing is a deception by Henry to gain intel on the location of a key that will release Moloch and his demon minion army from purgatory, fast-forwarding the advent of apocalyptic destruction on Earth. Abbie’s still in purgatory, and Crane is still underground, but somehow they need to stop Henry.

Crane blows up his grave (because science) and finds Jenny, who survived the accident only to be dragged into Henry’s lair, since she has memories pertaining to the key. (Henry’s sin-eating ability basically makes him the most effective lie detector/hypnotist in the world.) They race to find the key before Henry’s Hessian troops can, using a series of encoded clues laid down by Crane’s former mentor, Benjamin Franklin (guest star Timothy Busfield, The West Wing). Jenny and Crane are an infrequent pairing, and while they don’t spark like our two witnesses do, their shared determination, resourcefulness, and general badassery make them an effective team.

While Crane is trying to find a way into purgatory, Abbie is trying to locate a communication channel out, and does with the help of still-conflicted Andy (John Cho, who clearly still has a home on this show if Selfie gets canceled). She finds one in the form of a mirror in Moloch’s lair, which looks like a cross between the Paris catacombs and the caves under Wayne Manor. During their emotional reunion, Abbie worries Crane’s proposed rescue mission might be a trap; maybe it’s best if she just stays. Crane remains steadfast, and refuses to abandon her. If all the rest of the hour fell away, and we were left with only this scene, it would tell you all you need to know about the bond between these two souls.

Abbie is so confident that Crane will return that when he does, offering water, she nearly drinks – until the real Crane appears in purgatory in the knick of time. Real Crane and Demon Crane get into a fist fight, and Abbie watches, the blurriness of purgatory serving to save on special doppelganger effects AND to confuse which man is which.  Until, of course, Demon Crane calls Abbie LOO-tenant instead of LEF-tenant. Abbie and Crane’s bond saves her once again, as she seizes a handy demon sword and, emphasizing her own badassery, uses said sword without hesitation to cut off Demon Crane’s demon head. The real Crane and Abbie celebrate with a fist bump and a swift exit from purgatory, leaving Moloch trapped behind.

Trapped, but still dangerous. While Jenny, Abbie, and Crane try to regroup and prepare for war, War is preparing to come to them. Moloch gifts Henry with a horseman of his very own to fight as his proxy. The empty suit of armor, as black as the soul of the man who controls it, has a flaming sword and probably a general imperviousness to destruction like Death before him. Our gang has their work cut out for them. Bring on the rest of season two!

Odds & Ends

This week in revising American history: Benjamin Franklin wasn’t really trying to discover electricity; he was trying to destroy the MacGuffin key to purgatory, sometimes naked, helped by his reluctant apprentice Crane. However, Crane’s description of Franklin as a “blowhard, braggart, blatherskite, and gasbag”? Probably pretty spot on.

-The Hellfire Club in London was a real thing. Gee, do we think this is going to pop up again?

-Katrina also gets her badass moment when she stabs the hand of her captor, the headless and sometimes shirtless horseman, who has a distinctly different sartorial sensibility at home. Headless once again gives her the necklace Crane picked out, which is now a charm that lets her see and talk to his missing Abraham head.

-Crane had some great lines as always, and his proficiency with modern weaponry and tactics (“Clear!”) in the purgatory sequence was great, but the best was Crane’s flowy flashback locks.

-How great was the set dressing for Henry’s fake prison? I’m actually bummed we don’t get to see that again.

-I wasn’t a fan of the song playing over the “previously on” recap; thank god the addition of angst-ridden pop music was limited to that.