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Sleepy Hollow: “The Akeda”

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The problem with hoping an ending will justify story problems is that a good ending can only really build off of the events that preceded it. An out-of-left-field conclusion can be memorable, but “memorable” and “good” aren’t necessarily the same thing; and any show that tries to pay off a multiple episode arc with a sudden, random twist is going to have a hard time justifying itself. (I’m not talking about twists in general, because these days, we’re up to our necks in twists. But if you have eight or nine episodes of dangling plot threads, and then suddenly end it with “The hero was dreaming this in hibernation while on a mission to Mars,” you aren’t going to make many friends.) “The Akeda” isn’t the real conclusion to Sleepy Hollow’s second season, but it is a conclusion, and going into it, it was hard not to have some hope that the ends would justify the means, so to speak. But that hope was tainted by the knowledge that nearly every problem the show’s dealing with at this point is a character-based concern, and those characters weren’t suddenly going away.

But hey, Irving’s dead, so that’s a step in the right direction. I’d be surprised if he’s completely gone for good; Henry does, after all, own his soul, and this is a show where death isn’t all that firm a barrier. (Unless you’re a guest star, in which case don’t like the inscrutable veil hit you on the way out.) Still, he’s a corpse by the end of “The Akeda,” having died in a fight against Henry’s suit of War armor, and that’s something, anyway. After a somewhat promising start, the poor guy never really fit into this season; the only positive is that at least we didn’t have to deal with this family this year. And now he’s gone, sacrificing himself to kill a suit of armor whose death doesn’t really mean much of anything. Good show, Frank. Maybe next year you’ll have cool ghost powers.

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As to how Irving gets involved in all of this craziness: It turns out that the magical sword Abbie and Ichabod discovered last week has a built-in hidden cost. Anyone who uses it to kill will sacrifice their soul in the process. This is a mechanism that has the feel of one of those “Chekhov’s gun”-type scenarios, a threat introduced early in a story that will inevitably bite someone in the ass before the end. But while the sword’s big drawback leads to some discussion between Ichabod and Abbie about what they’re willing to sacrifice, it doesn’t actually lead to anyone losing their soul. Irving gets called in to help because his soul already belongs to someone else, which means it can’t be destroyed, a leap in logic that I’m will to let slide, if only because it reminds of that Simpsons episode where Homer sells his soul for a donut. Irving dies, but only because he’s wounded in battle. (It’s honestly embarrassing for War that Irving is able to stay on his feet as long as he does, unless I missed a scene in which we learned that Frank was a highly accomplished swordsman.) The episode’s big finale has Henry using the magic sword on Moloch instead of Ichabod, but since Henry mentioned earlier that he has no fear of the cost because he’s immortal, we’ll have to wait and see what the consequences are. (I wouldn’t be surprised if killing Moloch removed Henry’s immunity, but who knows.)

Henry’s big reversal is a nice moment, and does manage to at least partially justify all the “I can’t kill my son!” talk that’s been such a drag this season. It also makes Ichabod look less like a fool for trying to appeal to Henry in the church. But the idea has never really been a good fit for the show, because Ichabod and Katrina’s relationship with their son has never been much more than theoretical. The actors do their best to sell the connection, but it borders on the absurd, especially considering the age difference between parents and child. When Luke Skywalker learned that Darth Vader was his father, the revelation added an unexpected degree of complexity to previously straightforward figure. Vader wasn’t just a perfect, terrifying villain—he was someone who had a life, and had made (horrible) choices, and when Luke decided to find some good in him, it was a dramatic, almost astonishing act. But Ichabod and Katrina’s sniping about how Henry is their son is more a forced concept than something to come organically out of their characters. And their desperation to save him sounds more like an eagerness to expunge their own guilt than any real affection for the guy.

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Speaking of Katrina… sigh. Look, I’m not sure there’s any reason to belabor this anymore, but the character is useless, and I was half hoping she’d end this episode as cold as poor Irving. Something, anything to give her presence meaning; as is, she exists solely to fail. At one point in tonight’s episode, she warns the others that the merging of Purgatory and the real world has “weakened” her powers, which is arguably the funniest line in the entire episode. If her powers were any weaker, her spells would be actively helping the villains, instead of failing to hinder them in any way. Her biggest accomplishment this week is in extending the power of the magical amulet that allows her to see Abraham’s head, which means the show’s Headless Horseman has lost his most interesting trait. Oh, and she seems to be torn in her feelings between Abraham and Ichabod, which makes absolutely no sense, and is horrible.

“The Akeda” had the benefit of stakes and forward motion, even if our heroes kept running into obstacles that kept them from facing Moloch head on. Given how much of the season so far has been spent fretting over the awful consequences if Moloch ever managed to make it to Earth, it’s something of a disappointment to see the demon isn’t as all powerful as promised. Obviously there needs to be some wiggle room here so that Abbie and Ichabod can have a chance to save the day, but Moloch is apparently as bound to rites and rituals as anyone else, and his efforts ultimately only amount to some lighting trickery, raining blood, and a few raised corpses. Decent effort, but end of the world? Not so much. (It doesn’t help that no one outside the Abbie-and-Ichabod circle appears to have any idea or interest that some heavy shit is going down. Even Hawley is surprised to learn the truth. Shouldn’t he have some sort of warning system for this kind of thing?)

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The episode is okay in large part because some definitive things happen in it, and they’re the sort of definitive things that suggest the show will have to make some major changes moving forward when it returns next year. Irving is dead, and Henry has stabbed Moloch in the chest with the magic sword—if Irving comes back, or if Moloch really does die, remains to be seen, but at least we can feel reasonably confident that Henry isn’t going to be the main villain anymore. Much as I love John Noble, that’s probably for the best. Which means we’ll be left with ole Abraham, a once terrifying figure who has slowly but surely been transformed into a tedious whiner, but at least it’s a start.

Stray observations:

  • Modern Things Of Which Ichabod Doth Not Approve This Week: He threw some snark about Abbie’s GPS, but other than that, Ichabod was very pro-modern this episode. He really wants a motorcycle.
  • It really is frustrating how inept the show has become at forward motion. Abbie’s car dying makes sense (although the fact that they took the time to consult a mechanic is bizarre), but the decision to regroup once they learn from Abraham that the sword has a cost looks weak and indecisive. Surely Ichabod and Abbie are willing to lay down their lives if it means preventing the end of the world. The constant falling back and strategizing robs the episode of the energy Moloch’s arrival should have generated.
  • Abbie’s “You brought roots to a sword fight?” would be a lot more effective as sarcasm if she wasn’t then immediately defeated by roots. (Also, Abbie gets shot in the shoulder during the first assault on Moloch and his mob of the undead. Not a great showing for her this week.)
  • Hawley Watch: Hawley is present, and currently babysitting Abraham.
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