Here is a bad joke that I am not proud of, but I’m going to say it anyway. I swear to you that I have not been keeping this joke stashed in my back pocket for just such an occasion; I only came up with it right now, on the spot (which still doesn’t excuse it, I know). When I say it’s a bad joke, I mean it’s a groaner, for sure, but I also mean I feel bad for having thought it up in the first place. Okay, here goes:
This week’s episode put the “sleepy” and “hollow” in Sleepy Hollow.
I’ll understand if you all feel I’m the one who ought to be beheaded next.
Certain narrative weaknesses have been present in almost every episode of Sleepy Hollow to one degree or another, and watching the show, I’ve always harbored this low-grade urge to mark it up like I’m red-inking a tenth-grade English composition: too much exposition here. Strengthen this subplot. Show, don’t tell! In an episode that had many weaknesses, that last critique would be my pick for the most glaring: “The Golem” was all telling, no showing.
These characters stand in locations and talk a lot. They stand and talk inside dusty, old cabins and subterranean chambers and historical houses, trading information about why they’re there and what they want to achieve in that episode and what they know and don’t yet know about the latest supernatural goings-on. They stand and talk over dusty, oversize ledgers or curio keepsake boxes marked with various symbols that remind them of things, and then they tell each other about the information or experiences they’ve just recalled. They recap their flashbacks and memories and out-of-body experiences for one another. Even when we’re allowed to join Crane or Abbie on those trips through time and space, and not just hear about them, they often just entail Crane describing the action in voice-over or Abbie looking at things and asking questions so she can later tell Crane about what she saw.
There are mysteries to find out about in “The Golem” — what became of Crane’s son, and why did Katrina feel the need to hide the child’s existence from him? — but there are no real obstacles that our heroes encounter on their quest to solve those mysteries. Crane thinks he needs to visit Katrina in her netherworld purgatory in order to find out more about their son. He thinks he should ask the Sin Eater to come help him do that. So the Sin Eater comes and helps him. Even though the Sin Eater warns Crane that sending people to netherworld purgatories is not what he does (what part of “Sin Eater” don’t you get, Ichabod?), Crane convinces him within a few seconds of screen time to be all the freaky mountain mover he can be. And so Crane gets his visit with Katrina, who narrates a flashback, and now we know what there is to know about why she didn’t tell Crane about their son.
I’ve said in past recaps that I always look forward to the two or three audible-gasp moments I get from every episode, whether those gasps are borne out of a blindsiding plot twist, a bit of daredevil action or a jump-from-the-shadows moment of surprise. “The Golem” served up none of these. No shoot-out, no cut-to-commercial cliffhanger — just Abbie and Crane and the Sin Eater (sorry, I know he said to call him Henry) going to a couple different places to conduct more research. The fact that the dead librarian’s impounded belongings were conveniently delivered not once but twice, just when our protagonists were in need of more evidence to pore over, made me simultaneously snort and roll my eyes. And thank goodness the coven-lovin’ librarian kept all of her old carnival tickets and that Abbie once saw the four veiled women (now a carnival attraction) in one of her supernatural sequences and that there just so happens to be a carnival going on right now in a nearby Westchester village which is not at all unusual considering that it is December.
(Veiled-women side note: Perhaps the Four Women Who Speak As One were intended to hark back to the three witches from Macbeth — did anyone else make that association? Is that just my inner, sophomore-lit teacher talking? — but all it did for me was make it four times more obvious that this episode was a boring and near-constant study in exposition recitation.)
What I’m saying is, I laughed at and not with you, Sleepy Hollow.
Speaking of laughing with, was there even a Crane wisecrack worth mentioning here? Even one that was on par with his past persiflage about Amazon.com, Thomas Jefferson, or voice mail? His opening-scene musings on modern-day Christmas traditions were okay, but he never landed a real zinger, although he did say the word lumber when ranting on the “altogether nonsensical” custom of decorating a Christmas tree, and at least lumber is an always-funny word. (Same goes for nog, although I didn’t entirely follow the whole egg nog vs. egg grog point Crane was trying to make.)
Other problems I have to take points off for:
- Whither Abbie? Her character’s arc has become completely lost in all of this Crane backstory, and the show has made vanish her personal investment in discovering what’s up with the end of days. (The Grace Dixon connection seems to merely amuse her compared to Crane’s constant emotional thrashing.) I hesitate to say she’s merely Crane’s sidekick now, because she rarely walks alongside him (toward a crime scene, into a carnival tent) anymore. She just hangs back, trails him around the scenery, and calls out verbal warnings in his general direction, advising him to be careful and whatnot.
- The B story about Irving’s fractured family life and a sandman inhabiting a mortal’s body to issue him a vague warning? That’s just what it felt like: The writers needing to come up with some sort of vague B story, simply because you can’t have an all A-story hour of television. It was a scene of mild domestic strife between Irving and his wife, a scene of metaphorical foreshadowing between Irving and his pastor — which maybe hinted that Crane’s going to die, but I don’t think so, because then there’d be only three actors left in the main-credit sequence, which is another prime-time-drama no-can-do — and a scene in which he’s warned by a sandman person that his daughter might be in danger, but no time soon (i.e. in this episode).
I’m glad we’ve got a holiday break coming up before new episodes return. The fall semester ended on a disappointing note, Sleepy Hollow, but I’ll just grade you “I” for incomplete until we see if there’s any improvement come January.