American network Fox’s drama Sleepy Hollow returned to our screens on the 15th October; renewed for its second season after just four episodes of its first, the critically acclaimed show was eagerly awaited – even if some had to hide behind their covers to watch it.
Straddling the line between supernatural horror and crime procedural, Sleepy Hollow is a modern retelling of ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’. A British solider defected to the American side during the Colonial War, Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) and the mysterious figure of the Headless Horseman kill each other in 1781. In a tomb in the present day, Ichabod is resurrected when the Headless Horseman is summoned by the forces of Hell. Police Lieutenant Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) begins investigating when her partner is murdered by the Horseman, and ends up forced to work alongside the adorably confused Ichabod. Their fates tied together as ‘the two witnesses’ of the Apocalypse, which has been set in motion by the return of the Horseman, Abbie and Ichabod must together navigate ghosts, demons and all other manner of evil set upon the small town of Sleepy Hollow by forces that seek to end the world.
Ichabod himself, meanwhile, must learn to navigate Starbucks, skinny jeans and pop-up ads.
The show thrives off of the interplay between its leads and is full of detailed history and mythology, and richly developed supporting characters including Captain Frank Irving (Evolution’s Orlando Jones), Officer Andy Brooks (Star Trek’s John Cho), Ichabod’s wife, a witch released from Purgatory after 200 years (Arena’s Katia Winter) and Abbie’s ex-convict sister Jenny (Nikita’s Lyndie Greenwood) continue to shine.
To say season one ended on a cliffhanger would be a grave understatement – viewers were left with Jenny presumed dead, Katrina kidnapped by an unexpectedly shirtless Headless Horseman, Abbie in the ghostly realm of Purgatory, and Ichabod buried ten foot underground in a plain pine box. In response, season two opens with everything seeming far too perfect. Abbie and Ichabod are alive and well celebrating his 251st birthday (“Make a wish!” “Is there no end to this madness?”). However War – one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – seeks to find a key to open the doorway to Purgatory and unleash an army of the undead, lead by the powerful demon Moloch. He creates a dream world to discover what they know and though there are hints from the beginning that all isn’t quite what it seems, this would certainly isolate first time viewers and does render the first third of the episode somewhat inconsequential.
Throughout the tribulations of the episode – that take us from the real world, to Purgatory, and back again in an effort to follow clues left by Benjamin Franklin to find the key before War – it is Abbie and Ichabod’s unwavering loyalty that anchors the audience. Superb acting and wonderful chemistry from Mison and Beharie both lightens the mood and reaffirms its intensity. They promise to die for each other on no less than five occasions, and the day is essentially saved due to their nicknames for each other and an in-joke about fist bumping. Their relationship has a wonderful innocence and free of will-they-won’t-they due to Ichabod’s nature as a faithfully married man, it highlights the unexplored joy of deep platonic relationships on screen today. Pleasantly, Greenwood receives what may be her first chance to command her own scenes. Her sister temporarily trapped, she takes charge and plays off Ichabod with a dynamic we will hopefully – but sadly may not – see more of.
The episode ends with our heroes safe and their enemy subdued. Katrina still missing, Abbie and Ichabod ready themselves for a long fight against darkness. It is in this that Sleepy Hollow has succeeded where others of its kind have failed. Able to create and resolve issues within an episode in addition to orchestrating overarching plots that span seasons, the show is at once rewarding to watch and compelling enough to keep you coming back for more. At times the culmination of these plots is overly confusing – take the identity of War, who is the Second Horseman, but also the Sin Eater, and Henry Parish, and Jeremy, Ichabod’s son – and the show seems to be trying too hard. Despite this, care is always taken to deconstruct the mysteries, and despite alternate dimensions and characters two centuries old everything makes surprising sense.
This carefully constructed plot is but one of the reasons why any fears of a second season slump should be vanquished alongside Moloch’s chances of escaping Purgatory. The remarkable chemistry between Mison and Beharie is the show’s heart and, if this premier has lead to any hopes for the coming season, it is that both leads will continue to contrast the undeniably human to the spooky and supernatural.
Sleepy Hollow is broadcast on the Universal Channel on Wednesdays at 9pm.