Three-quarters of “Sanctuary” is Sleepy Hollow in fine form, as Abbie and Ichabod struggle to defeat a demon that has them trapped in the home of one of Ichabod’s former friends. It’s fun, well-paced, and impressively creepy; there’s at least one moment that made me shout “Holy shit” at my TV screen (actually, it was at my computer monitor, but you get me), and the monster is very cool. But the remaining quarter of the episode was spent back at the station in an attempt to fill in some of the blanks of Irving’s personal life, and this was significantly less effective. Irving and Jenny flirting over missing guns? Sure, that works; it’s surprising their relationship is developing this quickly, even if Irving doesn’t seem entirely on board yet, but this is not a show to waste time. Besides, better to watch the two of them banter than see Morales try and glom onto Abbie again. Jenny and Irving are consenting adults, and if they want to do a little will they/won’t they, there’s no law against it.
There’s also no law against Irving’s ex-wife showing up with their handicapped daughter in tow, but maybe there ought to be. Macy, the little girl, is fine, if a bit too aggressively cute; her only major scene is when she corners Jenny in a hallway and they start chatting about her dad. Already, trouble is brewing, because while Irving is a good character, his personal life is near the bottom of a very long list of things I want to see on this show. It makes sense that the writers would want to develop the characters, and for the most part, the efforts to give Irving a stronger, more involved role have worked. But having to sit through a cute kid being upset that her dad isn’t around more often has so little to do with the main story that it threatens to kill the episode’s momentum then and there.
The worst, though, is Irving’s confrontation with his ex-wife, Cynthia (Jill Marie Jones). If the scene between Jenny and Macy was ominously disinteresting, Irving and Cynthia’s showdown was actively unpleasant, in a way that had little to do with what really matters: Ichabod and Abbie trading wisecracks and fighting monsters. Apparently, Irving hasn’t been spending enough time with his daughter, and Cynthia is so incredibly pissed about it that she’s threatening to apply for full custody, which doesn’t seem like the most effective solution to the problem. Given that Ichabod finds out in this episode that Katrina bore his son after he died, there’s some thematic connection about the responsibilities of fatherhood, but it’s very thin stuff. Adults who devote too much time to their work and neglect their children is a tedious Hollywood staple, and the cliché has no business rearing its head here. This is a show that depends, in part, on our heroes’ freedom to run around after bad guys without having to worry too much about due process or hard science or anything that would slow them down. To suddenly introduce a weird, unnecessary subplot like this smacks of padding, and the thought that we’ll have to visit this again down the road is not a good sign.
Thankfully, as noted, pretty much everything else worked like gangbusters. A billionaire (which is a concept Ichabod is taken aback by) gets trapped inside the former mansion of Lachlan Fredericks, a man who, in Ichabod’s time, kept his house as a safe place for persons of all color and creed. In the centuries since, the house has fallen under the spell of a demon who got around Fredericks’ protective hexes (the guy was a warlock who was also part of Katrina’s coven) by growing itself on the property, taking the shape of a root figure, which is really, really cool looking. While Abbie and Ichabod investigate, Abbie gets a vision from Grace Dickinson, who served as house matron in Fredericks’ time; Dickinson (who turns out to be an ancestor of Abbie’s) shows Abbie the birth of Ichabod’s son, which was apparently about when all hell broke loose on the property and Fredericks was killed. The fate of Katrina and Ichabod’s son remains a mystery, but Ichabod is sufficiently pissed off after learning of the incident to take on the demon by himself and defeat the thing handily.
That final scene is immensely satisfying, and for once, the show’s fast-moving approach to monster introductions (“Oh hey, that’s cool, I wonder if—oh, it’s dead.”) fits perfectly. I’m not sure if we ever get a name for the creature, let alone a personality, but its obvious malevolence is enough; the thing comes across as convincingly alien, a being of pure rage and destruction whose only purpose in existing is to kill whatever it gets its hands on. Once our heroes realize the roots are the thing’s weakness, Ichabod is able to take the creature out without much risk to himself, and it’s a thrill to watch. I said before that great monsters are ones that don’t want to be what they are, but there is definitely room for some unconflicted evil every now and again, especially when it gives Tom Mison a chance to do some righteous smiting.
Initially, the story looked like the majority of it would be set inside the mansion’s supernaturally barred doors, a decision which would’ve both added to the claustrophobia (whenever characters are trapped, we feel that trap more if we’re not reminded the other world is still going on outside) and also saved us having to sit through that Irving/Cynthia scene. Regardless, the sequences of our heroes struggling to find their way through seemingly endless shadowy rooms hit all the right buttons, and the monster stalking them is another example of this show’s gift for freaky design work. That’s what makes the silliness back at the station so frustrating. While it would’ve required slowing the pace a little, “Sanctuary” would’ve played so much better if it hadn’t wasted time breaking its own spell. It’s understandable that the writers wouldn’t want to lean entirely on the strength of their two leads, but if they want characters like Irving and Jenny to pick up the slack, they need to come up with better plots than this.
- Lena has a black bodyguard named Sam. When the house decides to take Lena hostage (for some reason), it kills Sam, and after Ichabod and Abbie find the body, he’s never mentioned again. It’s funny how this show can handle diversity so well in some ways, and yet still do the “black guy dies first” routine.
- Abbie is not a fan of haunted houses. It’s a little arbitrary that this is where she draws the line, but Nicole Beharie sells the idea.
- Katrina’s favorite book is Gulliver’s Travels.
- This Week's Things Of Which Ichabod Does Not Approve: McDonald’s food, which is not convincingly Scottish; the traditional staples of Thanksgiving dinner, which he argues have nothing whatsoever to do with history; billionaires.
- I yelled “Holy shit!” when Ichabod reached into the crawlspace for Abbie and pulled out the Woodman instead.
- “Give Moloch my regards.”