Four score and seven years ago (roughly-ish), Sleepy Hollow had nothing to fear but fear of the Apocalypse. While the prospect of Armageddon has always loomed over the series like a wisp of Westchester County morning fog, its threat level has vacillated as the show continually changed its mind about how much the End of Days really mattered and which enemy would make it happen. Moloch was supposed to usher in the end of days; now, the Hidden One is doing that. Katrina was an ally stuck in a netherworld; Katrina and Henry became an evil duo that took several episodes to eradicate. And so on.
Through it all, Sleepy Hollow asked not what its writers could do for you — requests off the top of my head: fewer monsters of the week, less Crane reading aloud from books, MORE ICHABBIE FEELS — but what you could do for them, like ’shipping the shit out of Ichabbie or accepting that Sleepy Hollow to Boston is a two-hour drive.
What I’m getting at is that Sleepy Hollow set a very high bar for itself with its wackadoo, genre-bending premise, a bar it’s only ever managed to reach in a few episodes here and there. Usually, SH will hit certain notes one week and different ones the next. Some episodes impress with their monster-thwarting machinations, others delight with genuine shocks, while still others deliver a gut wallop when there’s an emotionally driven plotline. The note that SH hits most rarely is the one that was integral to its premise: Its cheeky take on supernaturally revisionist American folklore known as “twistory.”
“Dawn’s Early Light” came as close as any episode has to reaching that aforementioned very high bar precisely because the hour was steeped in twistory. In fact, it was even steeped in straight-up history: Did anyone else not know (or at least not remember from high school) that Washington crossed the Delaware after the Declaration of Independence was approved? Class is in session; let’s get to cramming!
Our Witnesses find out they need to return to the catacombs to re-energize Pandora’s box (that’s what she said), and with THO’s tree of evil (treevil) destroyed, their only clue is to figure out how Betsy Ross got to the catacombs eons ago. (Because Crane recognized her cutlass that time he weekended there.) Crane tries to remember the last time he saw Ross in the flesh. It was during river-crossing prep in 1776 and he was mad at Washington for not letting him get on the boat, while Ross seemed flustered and preoccupied as she finished whip-stitching the American flag. Then Sleepy Hollow goes full National Treasure/The Da Vinci Code: Crane realizes that a particular hat depicted in the famous Washington Crossing the Delaware painting belonged to Ross. Then something-something about the gold thread she was using to stitch the flag, and how that’s got something-something to do with Orpheus’ lyre and with golden jugs being the price of admission to the catacombs, and: “What if crossing the Delaware was actually … a journey to the catacombs?” Yowza!
As Ichabbie discovers that Betsy’s flag at Paul Revere’s house is actually a fake, Joenny gets in on the National Treasure hunt by filling in the next piece of the puzzle. The holes on the faux flag represent notes on a musical staff that correspond to the melody of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” What if Betsy’s actual flag … “was still there” where Francis Scott Key composed the anthem at Fort McHenry in Baltimore? (Yowza!) Abbie and Crane visit the landmark, play the song’s opening notes on the lyre of a huge Orpheus statue (fun fact if you haven’t already Googled it: There really is an Orpheus statue at Fort McHenry), gain entry inside the monument and find the flag. The next morning, Crane turns to another “Star-Spangled Banner” lyric — “by the dawn’s early light” — to figure out the last piece of the puzzle: Sunlight hits Betsy’s flag and a path back to the catacombs materializes. Did I say “Yowza!” already?
Three things: 1.) I could feast on all that twistory like a lady hidden inside da Vinci’s The Last Supper. It was all just so clever and fun and perfectly pitched. 2.) My only complaint, in fact, would be that it was almost too much twistory to gorge on. Inconsistencies like this have always plagued SH (see above about hitting different notes every week), but are some of SH’s writers just more into the show’s twistory than others? Because that’s what I kept thinking. We are usually twistory-starved and then last night was a twistory feast. (Sorry for saying “twistory” so much.) 3.) Luckily, “Dawn’s Early Light” delivered the goods, and also managed to hit on so many other things. Now, let’s recap the rest of the hour.
Pandora, in a small but key role this week, finally gets fed up with her emotionally abusive life partner. Good on her for wising up to the Hidden One before he freaking tries to drown her. (Turns out, he’s just drowning her hologram self.) She goes full Team Ichabbie, joining the ’shipping chorus when she remarks that they work so well as a team because they love each other. (Zing!) Pandora has sort of become the anti-Katrina, no? She started evil but did a 180, except her 180 was a nice, slow burn. Also, no offense, but Shannyn Sossamon has wicked skills when it comes to fully embodying an underwritten part (which is a handy skill to have when so many supporting characters here are underwritten). I’m hoping we see more and more of her through the season finale and I’m tickled to see more Pandora partnerships unfold now that the Scooby Gang can trust her intentions.
Another key “finally!”: Danny finally gets hip to what’s really going on in Sleepy Hollow, a discovery I found much more touching than I thought I would, especially considering it was telegraphed in last week’s preview montage. How cute of Danny to think that shouting, “Freeze! FBI!” and shooting a few bullets would actually stop this week’s (or any week’s) monster. His scene in the car after they dodge the undead soldier was Lance Gross’s best work so far, and his delivery of lines like “That doesn’t sound good,” and, “In his hands he created fire!” slaaaayed me — as did Sophie bouncing a tennis ball against the wall at FBI HQ, because seriously what else is there to do in this town when you’re not slaying demons??
As for the elephant in the glass-walled FBI office — the DanAbbie kiss — well … A for effort, D for DanAbbie? I’m not sure how many #Sleepyheads out there buy them or care for them as a couple at this point. Their relationship’s been badly treated on this show. Maybe not trying-to-drown-someone bad, but definitely not good. I don’t feel like the show has earned this, is what I’m trying to say. But I’m willing to remain open to what might happen.
Likewise, I hope Abbie and especially Jenny are willing to remain open to what might happen with Papa Mills, who once again melted my heart from the moment he showed up bearing childhood photos. I simply must say again that James McDaniel is the greatest and as much as he turns me into goo, I also suspect that his character is harboring some sort of supernatural secret. In fact, I have a huge gaping question for you: Didn’t he say he was headed down to Maryland on business? And isn’t Fort McHenry in Baltimore, which is in Maryland? That has to be more than just a coincidence of geography. Most importantly, who in their right mind loves taffy? Just kidding on that one, but please sound off on these questions and other below, ideally before the twilight’s last gleaming.
So now I have to spend hours rifling through my DVR finding out if Nikki Reed was ever outfitted in her signature hat prior to this episode … unless one of y’all has already done it?
This probably doesn’t need to be said, as I’m sure you’ve all thought the same thing at some point, but how ridiculous is it that bullets don’t stop demons but pretty much anything else — a car, a sword, etc. — does?
Crane: Here endeth the reign of the house of burger. Long live the new fast food king: A poultry-farming Kentuckian colonel!
Betsy: This [flag] may very well be how I’m remembered.
Crane: Betsy, I’m certain you’re wrong.
Crane: A musical about Alexander Hamilton? Unbelievable. The man had a voice like a stuck goat.