Three years ago, the Fox Network premiered Sleepy Hollow. There is no way to describe this series without it sounding monumentally stupid. Someone had the idea to combine the writings of Washington Irving, the Book of Revelation, and the American Revolution into one mess of a series. British scholar turned American revolutionary patriot Ichabod Crane woke up in modern day Sleepy Hollow, New York, where he teamed up with a local policewoman, Abby Mills, to stop the coming apocalypse. The Headless Horseman is there, and it turns out he’s the Horseman of Death. And everything was outlined in George Washington’s personal Bible.
Really, just describing the show makes it sound, at best, dumb. And, to be fair, it is somewhat dumb. In the first year, the series was actually rather fun. Then the second came around, and, well, it got kinda not good. Now, in season three, the show may or may not be working to fix the narrative problems of season one. How successful will it be?
To date, I am seeing an improvement from the second season. The show cleaned house of a few of its more problematic characters, and is re-embracing its goofy, fun roots.
Season one worked quite well. New monsters would routinely pop up in Sleepy Hollow, perhaps with the Horseman nearby. Crane (played by British actor Tom Mison) and Mills (played by Nicole Beharie) had great chemistry together. The relationship worked in part due to it being a non-romantic sort of relationship, and in part due to the show actually letting the two be roughly equal. Many shows of this nature (think Sherlock or Doctor Who) typically have one half of a partnership clearly smarter and more heroic than the other, but here Crane may be a very smart man with knowledge of history (heck, he lived through a good deal of it), but Mills as a modern cop had plenty of skills she could also bring to the table. The show may make Crane to be more of a hero at times, but Mills is hardly a damsel in distress.
The lack of a romantic angle between the two was important in part due to Crane being married. His wife Katrina was a witch, still alive, and trapped in purgatory with the demon Moloch. Her witchcraft bound Crane and the Horseman together. When the Horseman returned, so did Crane. Her life after Crane died on the battlefield felling the Horseman gradually unfolds over the season, as does Abby Mills’ own history involving demons and things, and her own troubled relationship with her badass sister Jenny. The identity of the Horseman, the fate of the Cranes’ infant son, and the true identity of a “sin eater” played by the great John Noble all made for a fantastic season. The show didn’t do a lot of episodes at first, but that worked in the series’ favor, as it forced the show to work at a fast pace. The audience wasn’t given time to think about much, and everything moved well.
So, what happened? Season two had Katrina rescued from purgatory, with the Horseman of War moving around, but the show had numerous problems. Spells allowed the Headless Horseman’s head to be visible to the audience and select characters, but the character came across as a big whiney loser, robbing the character of all the menace he used to possess. The writers seemed to have no idea what to do with Katrina, and her vacillating back and forth between Crane and the Horseman made her more of a dumb narrative roadblock. Despite Crane and Mills not being all that romantically linked, she still seemed to be more of an intruder to the pairing at best. Even Noble was wasted in a role that required little more than for him to chew scenery with some really awful writing. The monsters seemed less creative, and about all the show had going for it at times was good work from Mison, Beharie, and Lyndie Greenwood as Jenny Mills, plus some nice minor stuff from Timothy Busfield as Ben Franklin, Crane’s former master and the one Founding Father Crane just plain didn’t like.
Season three came back, without Noble, Katrina, Moloch, and a few other deadweight characters whose major arcs were either finished, or not that interesting to begin with. Even the Headless Horseman has been at least temporarily removed from the narrative. New master villain Pandora shows some promise, but can Sleepy Hollow reach the same level of silly fun it once had? Only time will tell.