No pressure or anything, “Sleepy Hollow” show runners, but the fate of this wacky genre-bending series may depend largely on what happens in these next few weeks.
The supernatural sci-fi buddy cop drama, after a compellingly oddball, anything-goes premiere season, has been suffering through a sophomore slump. Its ratings have dipped — from an average of 7.5 million total viewers an episode in Season 1 to the current 4.7 million — and its cult-favorite status has cooled. It didn’t get the early renewal that the network gave a number of its other dramas.
Fox executives promised a slightly lighter, more freewheeling, less serialized “Sleepy Hollow” going forward when they spoke to TV writers in January at the semi-annual TCA meetup.
But as numerous critics have already pointed out, there’s nothing quite like “Sleepy Hollow” on the entertainment landscape, with its rewritten history, famous figures in and out of context, good-vs.-evil mayhem of the week and overarching End Days threat.
Maybe that makes it tougher to sell to media-saturated viewers, but it provides one of the few interesting risks on network TV. Why remold it into just another crime procedural?
Even with a rocky Season 2 so far, it’s been a joyride largely worth taking. Does this week’s episode, called “What Lies Beneath,” give us a Hail Mary for the series? Would it sound too noncommittal to say, “Sort of?”
It’s a tough episode to love because there’s a big fat downer development — a major flaw in storytelling, some may say — one that goes boom and obliterates 200 years' worth of painstakingly gathered intel on the Witnesses’ mission.
Who’s responsible? Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) and Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), who really should know better. Witnesses, please, you can’t even grab some books and diagrams on the way out? Rescue hologram Thomas Jefferson and his magic light cube? What are you thinking?
On to the nitty gritty, which involves the aforementioned incorporeal version of our third U.S. president, subterranean chambers with mini-Nosferatu guards, a new civilian character, perhaps to fill the handsome void left by the MIA Nick Hawley, and Jenny Mills’ return.
Speaking of Jenny (Lyndie Greenwood), it makes perfect sense that she’s back in town only long enough to do a few shots in her neighborhood dive when she realizes something’s seriously amiss with Frank Irving (Orlando Jones). More on that shortly, but again, Jenny, props to you, sharp grrrl.
Three construction workers poking around in the tunnels below Sleepy Hollow stumble upon an ornate manhole cover and decide to open it and stick their heads inside. What could go wrong? Enter some zombie-vampire hybrids that don’t like guests, but will make an exception for these guys because they’re all kinds of hangry.
The missing persons report quickly falls to Abbie, and she and Ichabod take a merciful breather from their “where are we going with our lives” musings to begin the search. In a jiffy, they’re at the fancy manhole cover that Ichabod somehow knows right away is a Thomas Jefferson design.
Back to the archives, also known as Good Guy HQ, for research, research, research, Grace Dixon’s journal, etc. and so on, until they figure out that the manhole leads to an underground secret chamber (fenestella for your Italian speakers). It’s another of Jefferson’s safe places, this one built to stow important Colonial battle secrets. It must have some fairly nasty protectors, then, because the Founding Fathers didn’t mess around with their stash.
Small aside: Fans of this show have made it clear that they want Ichabod and Abbie to spend as much time together, sleuthing or not, as possible. The characters have made it a point lately to talk about being able to rely on each other, almost to the exclusion of anyone else. “What Lies Beneath” takes that a little too far, with Ichabbie not bothering to ask for help or consult anyone in the A-Team about the task at hand, which is probably a life-changing mistake.
They do, unwillingly, pick up a local photojournalist named Calvin Riggs (guest star Sharif Atkins) who’s handy with a creature-blinding flash. His brother is one of the missing workers, and since he’s a hardened war correspondenthe’s not afraid of a little tactical engagement.
Back through the portal to fight the “pumped-up sentries,” as Abbie calls them, and Ichabbie ends up in the fenestella with none other than Thomas Jefferson. He’s been waiting two centuries for them, it seems, brought to ghostly life by a mixture of “science and witchcraft,” he says. And there’s some giant light cube that’s “a source of endless power,” that makes everything hum along.
Jefferson (guest star Steven Weber) throws around some heavy-hitting names like the Order of the Sacred Heart and tells Ichabbie that the room contains answers to all their questions. It’s the Witness version of Google, basically, and it’s the reason he’s been shuffling around under the city since 1826.
But those workers — two alive, one eaten — must be saved, Ichabbie says. So there’s really no other choice. Fire in the hole!
Go ahead and pick this apart. It’s ridiculous, and not in a good “Sleepy Hollow” way, but in a strange, almost unforgivable way. Ichabbie saves the workers but sacrifices a world of supernatural smarts and answers to their most basic questions about why they were chosen to be Witnesses. Fair trade? Um, no.
As a salve, let’s get back to Jenny. She agrees to help Frank retrieve some “personal belongings” from the police evidence lockup. Of course that’s not what the former top cop wants, and she catches him snatching a ledger and a flash drive belonging to the Hellfire Club. That evil organization, fans may recall, has Henry Parrish ties.
Frank comes clean, so to speak, confessing to Jenny that he’s been walking on the dark side since his “rebirth.” He tricked Katrina (Katia Winter) into thinking he’s free of the soul-owning power of the Horseman of War, but he’s living on borrowed time. Bad Frank is going to take over soon, so as one of his last human acts, he wants to steal a bunch of dirty money from the Hellfire Club and set up his family.
Henry Parrish (still alive!) appears to Katrina in a dream, saying he killed Moloch for her sake and that he has no intention of harming her. There’s a rose, thorns, blood. But Katrina’s not really asleep? This unholy reunion is just getting started.