I suppose sooner or later there needed to be a “Sleepy Hollow” episode dealing with Ichabod feeling out of place in the 21st Century, but I’m not sure it needed to be quite as clumsy or underwhelming as “John Doe.” Not that the hour was any kind of severe misstep, more like a minor stumble as the still-promising show continues to find its voice and build its narrative foundation.
While Ichabod and Abbie’s investigation into the missing colony of Roanoke probably pleased fans of the show’s dubious march through American history, this was an episode short on humor and utterly lacking in scares, two qualities which — up to this point — have been the series’ primary strengths. Instead of the customary creepy/fun touch, the whole installment felt overly burdened with cumbersome business: the proper introduction of one of Headless’ apocalyptic buddies, the Horseman of Pestilence, who was more of a minor annoyance than any true menace; finally giving Abbie’s ex, Detective Morales (Nicholas Gonzalez), something to do — which turned out to be investigating Ichabod; and allowing Ichabod a brief reunion with Katrina (who remains frustratingly coy about everything she knows) in purgatory where she’s being held captive by Moloch. The whole Roanoke business amounted to nothing more than a framework to deliver these necessary developments in the show’s larger arc, which robbed the episode of any sort of suspense or intrigue.
Even if this was the least exciting of the five episodes to date, “John Doe” at least provided a showcase for Tom Mison as Ichabod after two weeks of Abbie-centric Nicole Beharie showcase episodes. At one point, Ichabod not so subtly observed, “Seems the colonists of Roanoke and I share much in common.” But even when the writing was a little too on the nose, Mison nicely underplayed Ichabod’s quiet glee at possibly finding someone else lost in time, like himself. And it was a smart touch to underscore the bond Ichabod inherently felt with the Roanoke runaway by giving them a common language — Middle English — no one else understood. (Even if it seems unlikely that the actual Roanoke colonists would have spoken the arcane language. It’s pretty well established by now that no one should rely on “Sleepy Hollow” to study for a history test.)
Unfortunately, the outbreak threat made for a particularly dull adversary (as it turns out, the show really does benefit from a monster of the week format, at least when bigger bad Headless isn’t around) and the ultimate twist of the Roanoke colony felt like M. Night Shyamalan 101 (“It’s ‘The Village’ meets ‘The Sixth Sense!'”). Meanwhile, Pestilence barely had time to trot into the scenes before he disappeared in a cloud of dust. There’s no reason to worry about an apocalypse now, or possibly ever, with a harbinger as flimsy as that.
It was also a bit disappointing to see Abbie revert to the role of skeptic, apparently so she could have a teachable moment about the power of faith. Obviously skepticism has been baked in to her character from the start, and if she struggles with religion as a part of that it might be something interesting to explore. But considering the progress she made with her sister and everything she’s encountered so far, it had been a relief to see how quickly she was adjusting to supernatural possibilities up to this point.
Conversely, it appears that Captain Irving has next to no trouble believing absolutely anything is possible — based on how quickly he agreed to letting Abbie drive off with Ichabod and Thomas in the ambulance. Who knows how much longer the mystery of Irving will drag out, but it seems pretty logical that he’s on the side of good and not the obstacle he initially seemed to be. (It’s looking like that role now falls to Morales, who has a double agenda as Abbie’s ex and Ichabod’s biggest detractor.)
Maybe we won’t have too long to wait to find out about Irving, as it looks like the next episode is going to be a doozy. The bad news is it won’t air until Nov. 4. But there’s plenty more good news about what to look forward to: Headless returns! John Cho returns! Jenny returns! James Frain and John Noble guest star! Judging by the preview FOX aired tonight, it looks like a mythology heavy episode that could completely change the game as we head toward the second half of the season.
Odds and ends:
– Horror TV connections #1: Roanoke was also mentioned in the first installment of “American Horror Story,” and Sarah Paulson’s version of the story in the episode “Birth” was a good deal more compelling than what “Sleepy Hollow” gave to Ichabod.
– Horror TV connections #2: This episode was directed by Ernest Dickerson, who counts several terrific installments of “The Walking Dead” (including the Season 2 finale and Season 3 premiere) among his many TV directing credits. Plus, he directed the “Tales From the Crypt” movie, “Demon Knight.”
– Ichabod studied at Oxford and his father was a nobleman. “I had a rather regal upbringing,” he tells Abbie. But he doesn’t miss it.
– This week in Ichabod vs. the 21st Century: he doesn’t know what spackle is and gets frustrated trying to open plastic wrapping (join the club). Also, he’s moved out of the hotel and into Sheriff Corbin’s cabin.
– It seems like a missed opportunity we won’t have a new “Sleepy Hollow” the week of Halloween but that’s the way it works every October at FOX. Thanks a lot, World Series.