Monday, February 2, 2015

REVIEW: 'Sleepy Hollow' - Ichabod & Abbie Battle a Warlock While Henry & Katrina Deal with Their Inner Darkness in 'Spellcaster'

FOX's Sleepy Hollow - Episode 2.15 "Spellcaster"

After escaping Purgatory, a warlock (Jonathan Schaech) who triggered the Salem witch trials returns to find a dangerous book of spells. Meanwhile, Abbie attempts to trust Frank Irving again, while Henry struggles to find his identity.

Sleepy Hollow has been in a slump all season long. It was bold, daring, fun and exciting in its first season as well as the first two episodes this year. However, the briskness that the show went through story was simply unsustainable - especially in a season with an increased episode order. The show's solution to this problem was to do more standalone episodes. Supernatural cases would be introduced and resolved in one hour while bigger, serialized stuff simmered in the background. And yet, that presented a new problem in that the show felt like it was lacking a strong direction.

In fact, being directionless in life has been a core part of the character arcs in the first few episodes of 2015. After Henry killed Moloch in the fall finale, Ichabod, Abbie and company weren't quite sure what their path was in life anymore. They are characters who are continually evolving. And yet, they don't have the call to action that stopping Moloch elicited. Now, they are left to battle various supernatural threats on a weekly basis in order to protect the people that they love. It's a powerful and thematic idea to having the ideologies of the core duo change from fighting against something to fighting for something. That thought has been on the show's mind but it doesn't really know what to do with it in a meaningful way that can still drive story, tension and action.

Instead the show is presenting the idea that there is lightness and darkness inside everyone and it's a choice each person has to make with which side to embrace the hardest. Ichabod and Abbie are always going to be the pillars of good. Their partnership is the thing that makes the show so amazing even in its weaker aspects. Their actions are always wonderful. But this discussion still extends to them as well. Abbie makes an off-handed comment about Ichabod being similar to the bad guy they're dealing with this week - a warlock who started the Salem Witch trials and had a tumultuous relationship with Katrina's grandmother. That fuels him to fight to protect his wife and all the good things about him. But it also leads him to beat the warlock too many times once he finally is victorious. It's a small thing but it is apparent. While with Abbie, she still has to decide whether or not she can trust Frank Irving again after his resurrection. She ultimately does because she values their relationship too much. It's small things like this but neither of them are asked to carry big uncertainties on whether they should be good or bad.

Those stories then fall onto the supporting characters - specifically Katrina, Irving and the welcome return of Henry. Katrina has never appeared as powerful as so many people claim she is. A lot has been said about her powers and skills but her actions haven't defined her all that well. This is the first mention that we get that her witch problems are connected to nature. That would have been helpful information to have awhile ago and we are just getting it now. This episode's story should be a very big deal for Katrina. She is a witch and this warlock did horrible things to her kind. Instead his presence only seems to service putting a thread of doubt into her mind about her powers. She is getting stronger. But now, she has a side of her powers that she has never explored before and they could be very dark and dangerous. She does give in by hour's end. But she only takes it out on a harmless flower. This character arc isn't deeply rooted in anything. The valiant attempts to keep giving Katrina something to do have grown tiresome this season. So, I'm not expecting much from this latest development.

Elsewhere, Henry has always worked best as the human personification of evil. His slaying of Moloch was a shocking moment. And yet, one that I didn't completely believe despite all the increased focus on the Crane family drama this season. His uncertainty in life was the most entertaining plot of "Spellcaster" even though it was only a handful of scenes. He did this big thing and turned against the only father figure he's ever known. What's his purpose now? It takes a few episodes away and a stay at a hotel, but he realizes that he'll always be evil. Now, he just has to start acting on it again.

And that leads into the big twist at the end of the episode: Irving is working for Henry. The uncertainty on whether or not Henry had a claim on Irving's soul could only generate tension for an episode or two. Teasing that he could no longer see his reflection simply wasn't that enticing. However, this reveal doesn't really track with everything else that was happening with Henry in this episode. He was brought back to life way before Henry pulled out of his funk. And yet, they already had a plan in motion to retrieve the spell book from the evil warlock? It seems like the show thought of this big twist and then added it onto the end to excite the audience even though it didn't completely track with everything else that happened. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Spellcaster" was written by Albert Kim and directed by Paul Edwards.
  • So if Katrina and Irving are turning to the dark side, Ichabod and Abbie - plus Jenny who's absent this week - are the only symbols of good. The good side needs more people on it.
  • Speaking of Jenny, she was away searching for some supernatural artifact. She was missed - again because the team simply needs more people on it.
  • Ichabod went house hunting and got a crash course from Abbie about what realtor speak actually meant. Plus, he was amused by a rubber banana.
  • If Irving is really working for Henry, then why was so much time spent on him and his wife and their plan to leave the past behind them?
  • Love that Ichabod can quote Edward R. Murrow now.