Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Sleepy Hollow: "John Doe"

Illustration for article titled Sleepy Hollow: "John Doe"
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

So Irving has to have an agenda we don’t know about, right? It isn’t just that he tells Morales, who is more than a little suspicious about his ex-girlfriend’s hunky new partner, to stand down. While Morales’ questions are basic common sense, they’re only really common sense if this show was based in actual reality; in the world of Sleepy Hollow, the guy (who seems like a decent sort, if a bit stiff and overly possessive) is operating out of jealousy and misguided paranoia, and Irving’s “back off” makes okay sense. But there are all these little details that don’t add up. Even if Morales is motivated for the wrong reasons, and even if Ichabod really has been assisting Abby in her investigations, surely the chief should be a little less laid back about letting a man who thinks he was born over two centuries ago—a man who is in fact still wearing the presumably filthy outfit he was buried in as he wanders around town—hang out at the police station? Then there’s the fact that Morales checks in with Oxford and is told by a help lady over the phone that yes, Ichabod is one of their professors, and yes, he is in fact on extended sabbatical. There’s no direct evidence of a connection between Irving and that phone call (hell, maybe Morales’ partner set the whole thing up), but maybe… who knows. Irving just seems a little too willing to go along with Abby’s crazy plan at the end, and his name is a bit of a give away.

Sleepy Hollow’s debt to Supernatural has been obvious from the start, but “John Doe” has the show putting on its X-Files hat, as Ichabod does his best Mulder routine to Abby’s snarky Scully. Their banter is a little less quotable this week (although their discussion of sarcasm wasn’t bad), but it also comes more clearly from a place of character; Ichabod isn’t just marveling at the weirdness of the modern world; he’s pushing Abby to expand her horizons and her beliefs. Most anyone who’s watched a genre show in the past decade has probably seen a variant on this dynamic (the Winchester brothers like to swap roles each week) (oh god, I just started a Tumblr, didn’t I), and it feels a bit tired here.

By now, Abby’s seen such a wealth of baffling shit that the idea that she’d be resistant to any new idea, however insane, strains credibility. But this structure does at least create a stronger sense of stability. It’s been there in the background since the first episode, but here, it takes the focus, as Abby has to first learn to accept that the colony of Roanoke, North Carolina which disappeared in 1590 (the people, at least) has somehow reappeared on an island in Rockefeller Park, then cope with the idea that those people are all infected with a plague caused by Pestilence (aka Conquest), then roll with the notion that the people have been existing in stasis for centuries, but now a little boy has inadvertently let the plague loose in Sleepy Hollow, and she’s the only one who can stop it.

She gets through, and there’s even some prayer involved, although the show maintains a gratifying level of ambiguity when it comes to divine involvement, proving once again that you can show literal demons, but need to make sure your “miracles” come with footnotes. As plots go, it’s no more loopy than anything else we’ve seen, but there’s something mildly disappointing about it nonetheless. Apart from a few odd potshots at the CDC (those callous scientific bastards, referring to suffering children as “vectors”) that once again remind us of the show’s problem with certain kinds of authority figures, the plague at the hospital never really hits the claustrophobic intensity such a threat would need to achieve in order to be effective. This show doesn’t really have the focus or patience such a threat would require—it’s more about stacking twists on top of each other to see how high we can get before the whole thing collapses. For that approach to work, you really need a monster lurking around to keep things moving along. “John Doe” has Pestilence lurking around the shadows—the whole plot with Thomas, the little plague boy, is the Horseman’s attempt to free himself on the modern world—but he never gets much beyond the spooky shadow phase. There’s no personality to him, and that means no personality to the threat, which means the whole thing lacked a certain tension. This is not a show designed to do medical drama, even if the “medical” is a 400-year-old (and change) sickness created by an anthropomorphized concept of human suffering.

But even if “John Doe” wasn’t as fast-paced and exciting as the show can be, there was a stronger sense of stability throughout. It’s hard to say if this can ever be a truly stable series; the basic concept really is ludicrous. Yet it wasn’t hard to see the bones of an actual series going through this, from the way the episode’s plot tied into the serialization without being directly dependent on it, to Ichabod moving into Corbin’s cabin from last week to allow the show another base of operations, to Ichabod and Abby’s developing friendship. Hell, even the stuff with Morales and Irving didn’t seem nearly as extraneous as it once did. Sometimes it can be a little tedious to watch the building blocks get slotted into place, but it’s necessary work if if Sleepy Hollow is going to survive past the “holy shit!?!” phase. Sooner or later, crazy plotting isn’t going to be enough; there need to be actual characters, and (relatively) grounded stakes. Here’s hoping the continued signs of growth in that direction aren’t just a fluke.

Stray observations:

  • I was going to make a snide comment about all the Roanoke colonists having one hell of a dry cleaner, but then it turned out they were all dead. So there you go. (But if they’re all dead, why are they still affected by the plague, even if the effect is harmless?)
  • That banter about sarcasm was so close to being witty. It sounded like awkward we're-both-at-this-party-so-let's-make-the-best-of-it chitchat.
  • “Witnesses said he was unaccompanied. Wish I could say the same for you.” Oh screw off, Morales.
  • Katrina is trapped in Purgatory, and there’s something she’s not telling Ichabod. Oh, and Ichabod had “regal upbringing.” He also struggles with plastic and doesn’t know what spackle is. There are your Ichabod Updates for this week.
  • See you in November, folks! ps. John Noble’s coming!