“Sleepy Hollow” is officially on a roll. Two weeks in a row of first-rate episodes and everything’s coming together. I’d say “Necromancer” is as close to a perfect episode as the show has delivered so far. (Though some may consider it a misstep that we now have a backstory for Headless… more on that in a bit.)
Not a second feels wasted and there’s a striking confidence on display throughout — in the performances, the writing, the directing — that could be the result of any number of factors. The episode arrives deep enough into the season that we can safely assume everyone involved already knew the show was a hit when they were in production. It’s also possible the writers had been informed Fox was planning a 13 episode season and began to shape their arcs accordingly. Writers Phillip Iscove and Mark Goffman are the show’s co-creator and showrunner, respectively, and director Paul Edwards is a returning helmer (previously responsible for “The Lesser Key of Solomon”), and it’s possible this is an episode they’d been planning for some time. Or maybe they simply hit the groove that all good shows find somewhere in their run.
While the show is rarely slow or directionless, it’s never been quite this self-assured either. Whatever the reasons behind it, the feeling was palpable. For some people, “Necromancer” could be the episode where “Sleepy Hollow” graduates from guilty pleasure to flat-out pleasure.
One big difference that sets the episode apart: Every character mattered. The show may have finally solved its Captain Irving problem by turning Orlando Jones into a surprisingly badass action hero. He and Abbie’s sister Jenny made a formidable team heading up the episode’s B-story and tracking down the Hessian spies planning to blow up the power plant. They weren’t quite successful but landed a few great action hero moments anyway: Irving snapped a neck and Jenny got her (two) guns!
John Cho’s recently deceased Andy Brooks is always a welcome addition to any episode and here benefited from his meatiest material since episode two, serving as the vessel for Ichabod’s interrogation of Headless and reminding us that Brooks isn’t an entirely bad guy even if he’s a helpless slave to Moloch.
Even the flashbacks worked better than ever, revealing a heretofore unknown love triangle between Ichabod, Katrina and Ichabod’s best friend, Abraham Van Brunt. The Van Brunt character is a direct nod to Washington Irving’s original short story, but he pretty much comes out of nowhere on the show, which less forgiving viewers may find a little too convenient. However, making Van Brunt the Horseman (with a little help from Moloch’s demonic powers) is a playfully clever twist that both connects the show back to the source material (Irving’s story hints Abraham, nicknamed Brom, might have donned a Horseman disguise to frighten Ichabod and win Katrina’s hand) and deepens the series’ own mythology.
Anchoring all the stellar action, as always, is Tom Mison, whose performance as Ichabod has now fully blossomed into one of the season’s richest treats. He brings complete conviction to lines as goofy as “The Horseman’s not going anywhere Leftenant. Not whilst I’m still alive!” And “Necromancer” is the perfect showcase for his range of skills*. Ichabod shows off a darker side of himself here — taunting Headless with a mix of glee and rage — while the flashbacks convey the inner conflict he feels about betraying his friend over his feelings for Katrina. Plus, he proves mighty capable with a sword.
* – [I don’t think people are really talking about “Sleepy Hollow” as an awards player yet, and given the show’s inherent silliness and awards voters’ typical aversion to fantasy/horror genres that’s no surprise. But I wonder if Mison could at least be a darkhorse for a Golden Globe nomination, since the Hollywood Foreign Press love to embrace newcomers and are historically more open to genre shows. He has stiff competition, but it’s not impossible.]
Even if Nicole Beharie has more of a supporting role this week, the Ichabod/Abbie relationship still provides the bulk of the show’s heart and humor, whether it’s Abbie teaching Ichabod to fist bump (“It makes no sense,” he says) or Abbie talking Ichabod through the guilt he feels after he’s discovered the truth about Abraham/Headless.
“Sleepy Hollow” is definitely on a roll, and the closing line is a promising sign next week might address, and hopefully solve, another of the show’s problem areas: “Now more than ever we need Katrina.”
Odds and ends:
– It’s kind of adorable that Brooks was reading Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” poor guy.
– Katrina suggests one of the reasons for the American Revolution was so that couples could marry for love, which is an interesting thought.
– More lessons in history: Apparently the “Declaration of Resolve” was a precursor to the Declaration of Independence.
– Moloch’s hench-demons were creepy enough I can forgive how easily they were defeated. (They’re beasts from hell but shatter when hit by a bullet? Not so menacing, are they?)
– If you recognized the actor playing Abraham it might be from actor Neil Jackson’s previous roles in the UK revival of “Upstairs, Downstairs,” ABC Family’s “Make It Or Break It” or the short-lived “FlashForward” (also starring John Cho).
– Irving: “A dead guy, a mental patient and a time traveler from the Revolution.”
Abbie: “That’s our team.”