‘Sleepy Hollow’ recap: John Noble is ‘The Sin Eater’

It’s about time for a deeper dive into Ichabod’s past on “Sleepy Hollow” and that’s exactly what we get from “The Sin Eater,” the show’s first episode back after a two week hiatus. Unfortunately, it’s also an episode that highlights a widening gap between the complexity of the series mythology and the simplicity of its execution. “The Sin Eater” is a perfectly fine, workmanlike installment that does what it needs to do. But when you’ve been off the air for two weeks, you want to come back with a bigger bang than this.

The action kicks off with the requisite dose of Ichabod’s education about the modern world — in this case the grand old American past-time of baseball, apparently an obsession of Abbie’s. She explains how the game is all about teamwork and it’s a sport that doesn’t discriminate, and he agrees it represents the spirit of democracy. It’s a cute, funny, enjoyable scene that plays to their growing bond, which is important since they’ll spend most of the rest of the episode separated from each other.

“Sleepy Hollow” still works best when Ichabod and Abbie are together, so the necessity of keeping them apart for most of “The Sin Eater” was probably destined to be a drag. They each have important individual storylines: Ichabod is captured by vaguely menacing Free Mason leader Mr. Rutledge (James Frain of “True Blood,” “24,” “The Tudors” and “Grimm”) and forced to recount the story of why he abandoned the British army and joined the Americans; while Abbie is instructed by Katrina to seek out a Sin Eater to “sanctify” Ichabod and break his blood bond with Headless before the horseman returns. But even though Ichabod’s life is supposed to be on the line there’s not much suspense to anything that happens (although it’s a nice touch to have Ichabod actually drink the poison Rutledge gives him).

The stakes are simply too low, and too familiar, throughout. The revelation that Ichabod’s “sin” is his guilt over the death of freed slave Arthur Bernard is overly reminiscent of the Sandman haunting Abbie because she refused to acknowledge the truth about the demon she and her sister encountered as children. In each case, they need to make peace with the past before they can move forward, and both ultimately accept that fact so easily that it feels like a big fuss made over nothing.

Still, it’s a kick to see John Noble as the Sin Eater, Henry Parish. He only has a couple of scenes but the promise that he’ll be back for more, in an expanded role, remains tantalizing. It’s just not enough to elevate this episode, which is too bogged down in the clunky 18th Century flashbacks.

We see a lot of key moments in Ichabod’s life here: the first time he meets Katrina, the first time (presumably) that he sees a demon, the events that lead to him changing sides in the war (including seeing a father’s death by hanging in front of his child, and the relationships he develops with Arthur and Katrina), but there’s no real spark or sense of unpredictability to any of it. It’s still a mystery how exactly we’re supposed to feel about Ichabod and Katrina’s relationship — Tom Mison and Katia Winter don’t have much chemistry yet, but haven’t really been allowed to develop it either — and none of the other characters in the past, including Arthur, are substantially developed enough.

It’s also an installment almost entirely lacking in solid shiver-inducing moments, though the eerie atmosphere of Abbie’s vision comes close, especially when Headless enters the house. And thankfully the return of Headless in the final sequence offers the promise of more where that came from next week.

Odds and ends:

– Ichabod mentions that Mr. Rutledge is a direct descendant of Edward Rutledge, “the youngest signatory of the Declaration of Independence.” A quick look at Edward’s Wikipedia page brings up all sorts of “fun” facts: He wanted black soldiers kicked out of the Continental Army and his support of slavery made him ripe for a portrayal as the chief antagonist in the historical musical “1776.” (What a guy!) Also, oddly, one of his real life direct descendants is Goldie Hawn (!).

– Jenny was a fun substitute sidekick for Abbie tonight (maybe it’s time to bump her up to series regular status?) and nails Katrina’s biggest flaw: “The next time you see that witch in a dream tell her to be more specific.”

– “There are two things in life I believe a man should hold on to for as long as possible: virginity and skepticism.” Oh, Captain Irving, you still make no sense whatsoever.