I am starting to think that my relationship to Sleepy Hollow is like Pandora’s twisted relationship with her husband the Hidden One. Their power struggle can feel boring and lackluster and even a little passive-aggressively negligent one week. The next, the same push-pull might come off as juicy and fun and downright enthralling.
“Perhaps a small token of my affection is warranted,” the Hidden One admits to Pandora at the start of this week’s episode, emerging from his golden-fried bedding ensemble from the Chambre du Trump collection and joining her poolside (Pandora and that damn reflecting pool; every moment she skulks around that thing this season is like a sad desk salad) and acknowledging that she’s right to mourn the loss of the power she sacrificed to him a couple episodes ago. He spirit-vomits some power back to her, which is the most sexually Freudian thing that’s ever happened on this show. When she remarks that the stunt returned “only a fraction of my power,” he snaps back, “Now you know exactly how I feel!” Wow, Archie Bunker much?
This is just a deliciously dysfunctional duo right here — even if, looking back on their lone scene at the top of the hour last night, I couldn’t for the life of me explain how anything they said or did tied into the rest of the episode in any way. But that’s ok! Sleepy Hollow is very often (sometimes, it seems, entirely) about the narrative machinations of moving that week’s plot from A to B to Demon, with texture like Joenny’s flirtation or Jenny and Abbie’s absent dad employed in a way that comes off as mere filler or color. Team Ichabbie, Team Joenny, Pandora and the Hidden One: These personal intertwinings very rarely rise to the fore to become the reason a scene unfolds.
Last night, that was not what happened. Last night was one well-crafted, emotionally driven, subtext-laden sequence after another, almost all of them simultaneously integral to pushing the plot forward. Last night was, at times, downright Shakespearean; at others, downright Scorsesian.
If I haven’t made it clear yet, “Sins of the Father” was easily the best episode of the year — juicy and fun, but most importantly, enthralling — and probably the best of the series.
Our devoted Witnesses on Team Ichabbie, only a few weeks removed from the most intimate bonding moment they’ve ever shared (Abbie’s return), have somehow gone off-course. When Ichabod prepares a feast to the impassioned strains of “’O Sole Mio” (side note: I am retroactively lamenting that there’ll never be a Sleepy Hollow/Hannibal crossover) and Abbie rejects his gesture on the grounds that she doesn’t need pampering, it’s what’s not said that’s most engrossing. We’ve all had relationships, romantic or not, where the thing’s own internal compass somehow got jostled a few degrees out of whack, and though we may not be able to describe why things aren’t how they used to be, there’s no question (although there is lots of denying) that things have changed. Who needs another monster of the week when we’ve got inner demons like this?
And by my count, we actually get three monsters of a sort this week: 1) The Ghoul, a sickly-yet-robust-looking creepazoid treated to the best CGI effects the show’s ever had (buuuugs!!!). 2) Jenny and Abbie’s absentee father. Let me repeat myself from an earlier recap and just say: James McDaniel, DAYUM. Sleepy Hollow has had fun with guest stars plenty of times, but what a perfect piece of casting this is. Mr. Mills been a specter looming over SH since episode one; any actor playing the part needs to elicit instant gravitas and sympathy. When Jenny sat stone-faced opposite her dad while he explains his side of the story and says he’s “here to listen for whatever you need to say” — and calls her “Jennifer” (!!!!) — I may have dabbed my eyes a few million times.
“This isn’t just one of Pandora’s utility players,” Nevins warns the Scooby Gang about the Ghoul in one of the show’s meta-moments I love so much. He’s right, because this monster comes attached to what I consider to be Monster #3: Atticus Nevins himself. (What an evil-dude name!) Another frequent SH weakness has been bringing back old characters to bang about in new, who-cares story arcs. (See: Last week’s whatnot with the Kindred.) But again, here, this is just straight-up, A-plus casting. Bill Irwin can do no wrong, even when his performance kinda reads like one long Jack Nicholson impression. (Or am I just saying that because “Sins of the Father” had a slightly The Departed air about it, with its double-crossing plot twists and its mega-shock murder toward the end?) Because Nevins is a human Big Bad who can talk, his scene in the dungeon provides a change-up in the usual SH exposition; rather than Crane remembering things out loud and reading passages from dusty, leather-bound books, the backstory emerges when Jenny and Joe and Abbie and Crane grill Nevins and taunt him with roasted chicken. They even found a plausible way to throw back to a second old recurring character, Joe’s dad August Corbin, in Nevins’ exposition. (I’ll easily forgive the fact that this backstory kinda blatantly ripped off Three Kings.) I've longed for SH to find a way to stick to the bones of a procedural while finding new ways to put meat on them. And I devoured tonight's meat with the same joy that Nevins downed his winner winner chicken dinner.
Everything in “Sins of the Father” felt kicked up a notch: the tension between characters, the plausibility factor, the special effects (buuuugs!!!), the nicely played, slightly cheeky Randall cameo and especially the monster-thwarting fight at the end. That piece is usually just an assemblage of shootout footage, but this week, with Abbie’s possible PTSD and the fact that she's been haunted by that weird symbol, it actually meant something. (It also featured Crane trying to fend off the Ghoul with a garbage can lid as if he was in snowball fight LOLOLOL.)
Just as there were arguably three monsters this week, there were also so many unexpected codas at the end of the episode that I may have lost count. Coda #1: Nevins captures Jenny! I didn’t buy the way Jenny all but fainted at the end, but I LOVED Joe’s speech about August. Coda #2: Abbie visits her dad in an attempt to find out just how crazy she might be. Coda #3: We find out there’s still something afoot at the FBI with Danny’s higher-up, who definitely is into the supernatural and possibly knows Abbie’s a Witness. Coda #4: Nevins is murdered in a car. (There’s something about shooting someone in the shotgun seat that I find irresistible.) Coda #5: The usual bit of Ichabbie denouement banter segueing into … WTF ABS??!?!?! You’ve got your as-yet-unexplained symbol written over and over in a notebook like Jim Carrey in The Number 23 and painted on the wall of your garage (which was apparently constructed out of reclaimed wood and looks like you could buy it for $850 at Anthropologie)?! Literally, I wrote “HOLY MOTHER OF SHIT” in my notes when Abbie mimicked the symbol by crossing her arms in front of her and stating, “You saved me. I’m yours.” What in the holy hell?!?
Enthralling indeed, peeps. And fingers crossed (kinda like Abbie’s arms … gahhh!) that all of this tension isn’t popped next week by anything lackluster or boring or passive-aggressively negligent. (Speaking of… everything was so jaw-dropping last night that it took me about an hour to realize there was no Betsy Ross.) Please leave your best guesses for what the symbol might mean and where it might come from in the comments. For real, please do, because getting through this week until we get another episode is gonna be worse than going months without sleeping or eating in the netherworld.
Crane: E.T., which apparently concerns a diminutive being stranded far from home … perhaps a different suggestion.
Joe: Looks ghoul-sized to me.
Sophie: Can I ask you guys, are they all this ugly?
Crane: Actually, usually they’re worse.
Jenny: How are you?
Joe: You know, I fought a ghoul, so … horrible.
Abbie: Bologna on whole wheat. That is the Charlie Brown of sandwiches.
Crane: The bald boy with the bad luck? Good grief.
Crane: No poultry is safe in Sleepy Hollow on this dark night!
Abbie: Maybe that’s the way the Mills women kick off. Crazy and alone.
Crane: You, Leftenant, are a woman of infinite pride and unparalleled resourcefulness. [Not a punchline, but something I know I’ll one day recite to myself in a mirror for a little positive self-talk.]