Let’s start with the positives. “Tempus Fugit” is probably the most focused episode of Sleepy Hollow’s second season, and that focus works to the hour’s benefit. Last week, Abbie tackled Katrina and got sent back in time to 1781, and this week, we pick up right where we left off, with Abbie in jail because she’s confusing people, and Katrina looking to kill Ichabod and create a whole big mess of a time paradox. Look, she’s grief-stricken and poorly written, she doesn’t really have her best interests at heart.
The new setting makes for a fun change of pace, and while the story really just boils down to the show’s usual model, with Abbie and Past Ichabod gradually bonding and trying to track down a way to get Abbie back to the present and undo Katrina’s spell, the lack of technology and resources makes for a slightly different feel. There’s real charm in watching Abbie slowly win a suspicious, but reasonably open-minded, Ichabod over to her cause; in a way, it’s the reverse of when “our” Ichabod first appeared in the present day, and the effort he went through to convince Abbie that he wasn’t a raving lunatic. This season of the show has had more than its share of problems, but the chemistry between the two leads remains intact, and when the writing is strong (as it often is here), watching them interact remains a purely pleasurable experience.
As for the rest of the episode, things are somewhat mixed. To the good, as mentioned above, there’s that wonderful focus. In its heyday (ie last season), the show had a rapid pace that rarely left time for dwelling in anything, often burning through several weeks worth of plot in the space of a few minutes. That worked surprisingly well—there were still times when it would’ve been nice to slow down a little, but for the most part, the speed allowed the writers to emphasize what worked (Ichabod and Abbie, Jenny, the monsters, the general air of creepy insanity), and de-emphasize what didn’t (plot specifics, everything involving Irving and his family). This season, the pace has mostly kept up, but the mood has vanished, and the monsters haven’t been as fun. So it’s nice, for once, to spend an hour really getting into one concept, and seeing how it plays out with everything we know about these characters.
Abbie is as resourceful as ever, and the script manages to acknowledge that her race might’ve caused problems in colonial times without letting that fact drag things down. The one fight she gets in with a normal human has nothing overtly to do with her skin color or her sex, which is a relief; where another show might’ve had Colonel Sutton throw out some slurs or go for sexual assault, here, he’s just pissed at her for getting Benjamin Franklin killed. Sure, whipping has certain nasty connotations, but those connotations aren’t explicit, and the tone here felt in keeping with Sleepy Hollow’s goofy dark fantasy approach to history. A large part of “Tempus Fugit” just felt fun to watch, and its best scene, in which Abbie handily wrecks Sutton while Ichabod struggles to make her phone work, captured the nutty exhilaration that’s been missing for so much of this season.
This is possible due to what could, if you’re feeling kindly, be labeled a narrative convenience; if you’re less kind, it’s a cheat, pure and simple. Abbie learns from Benjamin Franklin that there’s a way to not only undo Katrina’s spell, but also to undo every effect of it. That’s how Franklin can get his head lopped off and not make of a mess of history, and it’s also how the climax of the story can effectively end on Ichabod about to die at the (still headed) Horseman’s hand. Nothing we see her “counts,” apart from the discovery that Katrina has gone completely around the bend, and that was pretty obvious from the end of last week’s episode. How you take this is a measure of how exacting your standards are for story structure. Speaking personally, I had enough fun with everything else that I didn’t mind, although I did roll my eyes a little when Franklin first mentioned the idea. (Really, if you’re going to have a do-over spell, why not go whole hog? Murder everyone, destroy everything, burn it all. Otherwise, what’s the point?)
Harder to swallow is, unsurprisingly, Katrina. Seeing her back in her original context was a sharp reminder of just how far the character has fallen. While she was never the center of the show, her time as a flashback star and spiritual guidance counselor was at least internally consistent. She gave Ichabod’s life a tragic center, in that, despite his miraculous survival and newfound fluency with modern life, he still was forever parted from the one person who mattered most to him in the world. Bringing Katrina to the present was a bold choice, but one which, in retrospect, is all to easy to mark as a terrible one. She ping-ponged from bad idea to bad idea, never establishing anything approaching an inner life or clear role on the show, and her heel turn these past few weeks has been a painfully blatant attempt to get rid of a bad idea.
At least as a villain, she’s allowed some agency and power, even if everything she turns her hand to fails miserably. She teams up with Abraham (now in full Hessian garb and facemask—remember how the modern version of him is just wandering around town now?), they track Ichabod and Abbie to Grace Dixon’s place, and just when the Horseman is about to finally get his revenge, Abbie completes the spell, she and Katrina are flung back into the present, and Ichabod awkwardly stabs his wife in the stomach, killing her. It’s dumb, and worse, it’s dumb in a way that’s been done before; not the specifics, but the inadvertent “I love you, but I have to stop you, and here’s this knife, and oh dear now there’s a mess” clumsiness of it all—which removes Katrina from the equation without requiring Ichabod to make any real choice—is cliched and disappointing. And then we top it off with a quick ghost visit from Henry, as if the relationship between Henry and Katrina was something viewers were so invested in that they really needed closure.
It’s no secret that the second season of Sleepy Hollow has been a disappointment. Parts still work, but the storytelling has been rife with awkward forced characters, a misunderstanding of what makes the series work, and a frustrating inability to recreate the momentum of season one. That last may be due to the longer episode order, but the end result is a bunch of episodes which, while not without their moments, too often felt like a show in search of a point. With Henry and Katrina gone, it’s possible that next season (if there is a next season) will work better. There’s still some good here. But lately, it’s been a lot more work to find it.
- Historical Stuff Abbie Isn’t Keen On: She’s not big on carriage rides.
- You know how bad that “ghost Henry” shot was? So bad that not even John Noble could sell it. Ugh.
- Oh, Irving’s still alive. So that’s fun.