Roughly two-thirds of “Pittura Infamante” is a very good episode of Sleepy Hollow. I hesitate to say great because this show has made me skittish, but very good? Sure. On their date night, Ichabod and Katrina have to team up to solve a hideous murder by a devil-worshipping painter who hides inside his own art. That is an excellent premise, and by and large, the episode makes the most of it; there were at least two moments that made me gasp out loud, and the general sense of creepiness whenever the Cranes started looking at the Painting Of Secret Doom was gratifyingly effective. I’ll admit to being a soft touch at this sort of premise, but there’s something about a supposedly static image that moves when you aren’t looking at it that’s inherently terrifying. Plenty of horror stories have exploited this, but the idea still hasn’t lost its potency, at least not for me.

Which means that I should’ve been a soft touch indeed for this hour, especially considering it does a decent job of making Katrina actually useful and interesting for once. She gets the flashbacks this week, revealing a friendship with Abigail Adams (Michelle Trachtenberg, who doesn’t get much to do apart from being recognizable) that turns out to be surprisingly relevant to the case of the week. Even her magic proves useful, as her insistence on accompanying Ichabod into the easel of darkness turns out to be of crucial tactical advantage. This isn’t enough to make up for the whole “Oh right, I released one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse on his own recognizance” incident, but honestly, it’s not atonement we’re looking for here; just a sign that the writers understand that Katrina can’t spend all her time whining in the background and getting in the real heroes’ way. Make her a hero, make her a villain, or kill her off. The weird, ineffectual gray area she was living in before now wasn’t doing anyone any good.

Tonight’s episode doesn’t fix the problem, but it’s several steps in the right direction. Katrina and Ichabod are fun together, and it’s gratifying to see them behave with the same affection and simpatico thinking that defines the Ichabod/Abbie partnership. The romance may still seem a little forced, but at least there wasn’t the constant distraction of forced obstacles getting in the way of things, and by the end, the idea of the two of them having more adventures together didn’t seem completely horrible. Katrina still isn’t Abbie, but she can be clever and fun, and it helps the show considerably if one of its female leads isn’t reduced to a tedious, plot-blocking fool whenever the writers can’t decide what to do with her.

Plus, the case was so cool! While the cold open (featuring Ichabod’s friend, painting restorer Grant Hollister; apparently being Ichabod’s friend is like smoking heavily, only with more immediate results) wasn’t quite as terrifying as I was hoping for, the remainder of the episode manages to make quite a lot out of the creepy painter’s presence, and the idea of Katrina and Ichabod trying to solve the case while the police blunder around them is not a bad premise. The final confrontation was unexpectedly intense, and while I would’ve prefered Ichabod and Katrina figuring out their own way to defeat the villain, it’s nice to see Abbie once more rescuing the endangered Cranes—she’s a badass, and it’s good that the show takes some pains to remind us of this.

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Unfortunately, there’s that other third of the episode holding us back; namely, the return of Frank Irving, and Abbie’s efforts to find an insurance policy in case Irving turns out to be a bad guy. This is busy work, pure and simple, and while some scenes are better than others (Abbie and Irving, talking in the police station: good; Abbie and Irving’s wife: not good), it’s still tedious serialization that serves no greater purpose than reminding us these characters exist, and their existence will probably have some ramification in the future. I get wanting to give Abbie something to do while the Cranes fight supernatural crime, but why not have her just serve point for once? Every time “Pittura Infamante” cut away from the painting story, the tension flagged. The curse of modern serialization is the presumption that every episode needs to at least pretend to move the greater story forward, when really, serialization on a show like this works best when it’s an occasional event. If the hour had stuck to the killer painter, we could’ve had something great. Instead, we get a better than average muddle. It’s a step in the right direction, but we’re not walking fast enough.

Stray observations:

  • Modern Things Of Which Ichabod Doth Not Approve Of This Week: He’s not big on “modern dress.” “How can one be both business and casual?” He is, however, a-okay with PDA.
  • I don’t mind finding out Ichabod has friends we haven’t met yet, but if they keep dying right after we’re introduced, it could get awkward.
  • The DA has received evidence that could vindicate Frank. Who was, by the way, lying to protect his daughter. So that could be bad.

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