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Sleepy Hollow: “Awakening”

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Katrina’s turn to the dark side has been a long time coming. No, wait. Not that. The exact opposite of that. It’s possible to imagine a version of this show where the character’s switch to villainy made organic, emotional sense. Other shows have pulled this trick before, and there’s a certain degree of precedence to a powerful witch being tempted by the strength of her magicks to give herself over to a less morally-conflicted lifestyle philosophy. And sure, Katrina’s time with Abraham and Henry at the start of the season could’ve been trying to suggest some kind of character complexity; her willingness to show sympathy towards her psychotic son and headless ex-fiancé maybe implied some level of uncertainty towards fighting for the side of good.

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That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, Katrina never had enough character for any sort of arc—it’s like trying to get invested in which way rain flows down glass. There’s some novelty in the direction, but no real surprise. The scenes of her siding with Henry have almost no dramatic impact whatsoever; they make sense, vaguely, but only because the character is such a cipher that she could do almost anything and have it make some sort of sense. Besides, John Noble is a great actor, and he manages to make Henry far more interesting than the character deserves at this point. (Not that Katrina’s problems are Katia Winter’s fault. She’s fine. But John Noble is something special.) The emotional climax of the episode, when Henry’s death turns Katrina vengeful and she casts a spell that sends her and Abbie hurtling back into the past, is thrilling only if you discount the hours of muddled motivations that led up to it. Katrina’s attachment to Henry has always been something that’s been told and not shown; and while that isn’t always a bad thing, here it robs her fury of any recognizable conviction.

But these are things that’ve been problems for most of the season. While Katrina’s heel turn is new, the fact of her fundamental opacity is not, and any serious consideration about where Sleepy Hollow went wrong in its second year would have to deal with the writers’ inability to craft a convincing, necessary character for her. “Awakening” doesn’t make any of this worse, exactly, and her rage at Ichabod after Henry’s death is convincing enough that it’s briefly possible to imagine what this story arc might have looked like if it had been handled better. The sundering of Ichabod and Katrina’s relationship should’ve been a major catastrophe. Instead, it’s a moderate relief, because it most likely means that Katrina won’t be on the show for that much longer.

That may be overly optimistic of me, though, given how long Frank Irving has stuck with us—and speaking of Frank, we should probably, um, speak about Frank. I’m sure there are audience members who are invested in Irving’s struggle to protect his family against his dark side, but to me, it’s another clumsily delivered idea which tries to provide a twist without doing the necessary narrative legwork to make that twist more than just “and then this happened.” Stories aren’t about throwing out semi-random events because they’re vaguely related to similar events in other stories. There needs to be some kind of thread holding everything together, and while Sleepy Hollow isn’t purely surreal (and it’s never been a show that took its time to establish things), the cohesion is largely missing. It’s just a bunch of stuff.

Still, as far as stuff goes, throwing Abbie back into the past is not a bad idea at all. While it means temporarily separating her from the Ichabod we know and love, it creates a real sense of tension in a show that has slowly but steadily lost its sense of danger. For once, I find I’m legitimately interested in what happens next. I’m not overly optimistic that everything will turn out okay (I mean from a critical standpoint; I’m pretty sure everything will turn out okay for the heroes), but at least this is a new direction that offers a bunch of different story possibilities going forward. And next week’s the season finale, so… who knows?

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Stray observations:

  • Big thanks to Les for covering for me last week. I think I liked the episode slightly less than he did, but he made his case well.
  • Whoa, I got through the whole review without talking about the main story. There’s a bell that can turn people into witches. It’s a neat idea that doesn’t really go anywhere, but there’s at least a decent sense of momentum throughout the hour. If this had been properly framed, it might’ve been something.
  • Jenny’s reluctance to turn the gorgon head on Evil Frank is absurd, and it reduces his threat level almost to nothing. Sure, she has to hold off so Henry can be defeated, thus releasing Frank, but it kills what little suspense that subplot had. (And, really, there wasn’t a whole lot. If we suddenly discovered Frank’s entire family had been murdered off-screen, it would not affect my enjoyment of the show in any way.)
  • “You’ve given me back my soul.”—Katrina to Henry. I kept hoping the whole thing was some kind of long con on her part, because that line does not make a damn bit of sense otherwise.
  • Modern Things Of Which Ichabod Doth Not Approve Of This Week: He’s not big on “the cloud,” house decorations, or lighters.
  • The fiddle-heavy version of “Sympathy For The Devil” at the end was not too bad.
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