The thrilling end of the first season of "Sleepy Hollow" made me optimistic about Season 2. Several months after that finale aired, I spent a day in the "Sleepy Hollow" writers room and heard about the plans for the mid-season finale of the second season (and of course I won't mention anything about those developments here).
What I heard that day -- in the writer's room and in an interview later that day with showrunner Mark Goffman -- made me excited about where the show might go this fall. On top of all that, the first two episodes of the season were zippy and fun. All things considered, it seemed as though "Sleepy Hollow" was set to capitalize on the many strengths of Season 1.
It pains me to say this, but as Ichabod Crane might put it, I cannot in good conscience bestow felicitations on the program as it stands now.
As the season has progressed, a fair bit of the zip and the fun and the excitement have drained away from "Sleepy Hollow." What's mystifying are the choices the show has made about what to prominently feature and what to exclude. As Ryan McGee asked in a recent post, why fix what wasn't broken?
Why is Frank Irving mostly gone? Where is Jenny Mills? Two key Season 1 characters I'd been hoping to see more of have been frequently sidelined so that we can have a lot of screen time for the show's most problematic character (Katrina) and a new guy who hasn't added much (Hawley).
I know Jenny's returning next week, and ideally we'll get lots of Mills family drama, but it's taken far, far too long to get to this point. Ryan and I wondered on the most recent Talking TV podcast whether the longer season order is to blame: A lot of the last few episodes comes off as wheel-spinning, and it's discouraging to think of all the time that could have -- but often was not -- spent on building up the Anti-Apocalypse Dream Team (which I'd envisioned as including all the key players -- including enjoyable incarnations of Hawley and Katrina -- as well as Jenny and Frank, in addition to the two Witnesses).
At this point, though, Hawley is not working. I see the show trying to turn him into the scoundrel you love to hate (but secretly love), but the Han Solo thing just isn't happening, and in general, there's not much to latch on to with the character. Hence I don't care about his alleged attraction to Abbie. I'm indifferent to his history with Jenny. The show clearly wants me to think he's roguishly attractive, but I'm not feeling it. I just find the character bland, predictable and not worth the effort.
The problem is, you can see the strain with both Katrina and Hawley -- a strain to make them fit into this world and matter to the ongoing narrative. But why did we need Hawley at all, and why did we need so much time with Katrina? I suspect the writers want to put obstacles in the way of an Ichabod-Abbie pairing, but those weren't necessary, in my opinion.
We know -- and Abbie knows -- that Ichabod is a married man, and she's quite understandably guarded with her emotions in any case. Regardless of all that, why can't their bond revolve around their friendship and their status as allied Witnesses? There are plenty of male-female relationships on TV -- and in real life -- that don't revolve around sexual or romantic connections. That kind of bond may develop for Ichabod and Abbie some day, well down the road, but I don't think anyone expected that to develop in Season 2, for goodness' sake.
Clearly "Sleepy Hollow" wants to make Katrina matter, but why is she suddenly so important that she's practically a co-lead? Was there a subset of the audience that has been incredibly keen to see that happen? Most people agree that she was more or less useless in Season 1, but what we've seen in Season 2 is a case of overcorrecting gone awry.
There have been a few good Katrina moments -- notably, when she's helped out in a substantial way (and not fainted while doing so). But to me, the most interesting Katrina moment of the entire show was when Ichabod turned on Katrina for having betrayed him with so many lies and deceptions. It was one of the most charged moments in the entire history of the show. Suddenly that relationship had real stakes and possibilities. As "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has found in its second season, making characters less likable can often make them more interesting.
Why undo that conflict between Ichabod and Katrina almost immediately? Why not explore his sense of betrayal and her pragmatic decision making in more depth? Why introduce a predictable magic-pregnancy plot -- one that may have turned Katrina to the dark side? (Sorry, but I just don't have a lot of patience for story lines in which pregnancy and babies render women unable to make rational judgments.)
What about Headless? Let's face it, he is so much less interesting as a guy who apparently mopes around all day feeling annoyed about his past romantic disappointments. Where's the sense of danger? Excitement? Headless is just a whiny ex of Katrina's now, and as such, he is not all that compelling. As Tom and Lorenzo put it in one of their spot-on recaps, "Hey, remember when the Headless Horseman rode around on his hellhorse with a machine gun? What the hell happened to that show?"
There are still "Sleepy Hollow" moments that make me laugh -- Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie are so charming, nuanced and compelling that I am likely to stick with this show until the Apocalypse dawns in our reality. But the layers of deeper complication and the shadings of emotional complexity that marked Season 1 aren't often present at the moment, and that's because the show feels overstuffed with plot machinations and underfed on character and relationship development, partly due to an array of repetitive plots.
Season 2 of "Sleepy Hollow" reminds me of Season 3 of "Fringe," when Walter, John Noble's character, built a terrifying doomsday device that his son eventually had to operate. Many "Fringe" episodes revolved around the discovery of the device's plans and the recovery of pieces of the machine. It sounds dry, but that sequence of events was exciting to watch, because by that point in the show's history, I cared about the relationships and timelines that the machine put in danger. The MacGuffins mattered because of what they might do to the people the show had made me care about.
The relationships on "Sleepy Hollow" -- aside from the one between the two Witnesses -- are either undercooked or not being depicted at all. For instance, how cool was it when Jenny helped Ichabod in the season premiere? How cool would it have been to see that relationship develop? Instead, we've watched Moloch use Henry as his Apocalypse-assembling minion, which, aside from the occasional terrifying performance review, isn't tremendously involving on a weekly basis. In general, this is a much weaker version of what occurred on "Fringe."
In Season 2, the dynamics have been fairly predictable: Henry comes up with a diabolical plan, and Ichabod, Abbie and possibly Katrina foil it. Or they partly foil it, sometimes. And apparently only this core group is needed to complete these tasks, because, once again, Jenny and Frank suddenly do not matter and other people in town -- including law enforcement -- are often barely aware of what's going on.
As someone who's seen every episode of "Supernatural," "Buffy," "Angel" and many other shows in this ballpark, I must say, as Apocalypse-pursuing evildoers go, Team Moloch doesn't seem all that formidable -- or even all that smart at times. I can see Moloch deploying a succubus to give him a power boost, but maybe Henry or Moloch should have prevented her from targeting the residents of one small town over and over? Maybe have her go to a few locations so as not to raise the suspicions of the authorities (who don't seem to be overly concerned in any case)? Maybe Team Moloch could not just be a largely off-screen boss, Henry and a guy who occasionally squabbles with Henry through a mirror?
I couldn't love John Noble's work more, but Henry has not been well served by the repetitive plots, the focus on the Crane family and Katrina's demon-baby mama drama. Having Henry cackle while doing Moloch's bidding doesn't necessarily feel like actual character development. A recent confrontation between Ichabod and Henry was interesting, but it was almost overshadowed by the complicated machinations required to make that week's plot work.
As for Team Anti-Moloch, I just flat-out do not understand why it has been deployed this way this season. Despite the extra screen time, Katrina, as Genevieve Valentine has pointed out, is more problematic than ever, and Hawley is no Peter Bishop. Part of the problem is, there's no chemistry between Hawley and anybody else on the screen. Maybe hook him up with Moloch? Or Headless? Because at this point, the other potential pairings do nothing for me.
As Tom and Lorenzo noted, right now "Sleepy Hollow" feels strangely constricted. It has not built up a credible and compelling array of supporting characters and the town is largely undeveloped. Ichabod's friendship with Caroline was cute -- why kill her off? Why not make his re-enactor pals part of the action occasionally? Sheriff Corbin's son would have been an interesting addition to Team Anti-Moloch, given his complex history with Abbie. Why ship him off to parts unknown? I don't mind if most episodes revolve around blatantly convenient MacGuffins, but a show can only do that if the characters, their relationships and the overall stakes matter. I can't say that's consistently been the case in the most recent batch of episodes.
Of course, "Sleepy Hollow" still possesses a number of the enormously winning attributes that made it special in Season 1. It has Tom Mison, it has Nicole Beharie and it has the terrific chemistry those actors share. At times, the way the show has woven together Revolutionary War history with its supernatural mythology has been a kick, and when it does action, it often does it really well. When the show is cooking, there's nothing else like it on TV.
But Mison and Beharie's chemistry, as many have pointed out, is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because it is, of course, one of the show's biggest draws. It's a curse because if the show wants us to buy into other pairings for Ichabod or Abbie, there has to be chemistry with those alternate characters. Hawley and Katrina are not supplying it (and to be clear, I don't fault the actors for this at all). Story-wise, the last few episodes haven't been compelling enough to disguise what the show is lacking, which are relationships that pop and a Team Anti-Moloch worth rooting for.
I spent a little time poking around the #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter hashtag the other day, and I relate to a number of the frustrations that those fans have. I also believe Nicole Beharie deserves better, but the show's problems, while not catastrophic, are bigger than that. I think the show's fans deserve better. "Sleepy Hollow" offered emotional connection and adventure in equal quantities for a long time, and the smart moves it made in the past helped make its fans rabidly loyal.
I'm still a fan, and I'm still loyal. But at this point, I'm concerned. "Sleepy Hollow" has used up a lot of credit it got for amusing scenes of Ichabod doing doughnuts in a parking lot or fulminating about modern banking. If I'm being honest, the show's account with me is dangerously close to being overdrawn.
I will admit, my concerns are tempered a little by having some knowledge about what will happen in the mid-season finale (and I'll post a story about that episode after it airs). I hope "Sleepy Hollow" can pull off what it has planned and I hope those moments, which sounded truly exciting in the room, explode off the screen in all the right ways.
But we shall have to see, Leftenant.