Plenty of shows start with a “Previously on” segment; fewer have an opening narration to set up the premise, followed by highlight reel from earlier episodes, followed by a cold open that seems to be filmed by a drunk cameraman, followed by a not bad joke about NorthStar online operators, followed by what isn’t so much a cold open as a cold act one, followed by the title sequence. It’s a bit much, and while “The Lesser Key Of Solomon” picks up considerably as it goes along, something has to be done about those incredibly clunky first minutes. Yes, the premise is fairly complex, and everyone wants to pull in new viewers each week, but there’s no real need to repeat any of this more than once each episode. You just need the basics: Ichabod is from the past, Abby’s a cop, and they fight demons together. Yes, there is a whole crazy backstory about the Book of Revelations and the Horsemen of the Apocalypse and all of that, and there’s a lot of fun to be had in piecing together what, if anything, all of this means. But really, stop frontloading each hour with plot recap. It digs a hole the next 40 minutes have to work to climb out of.
Thankfully, this particular entry did just fine; in fact, I’d say it’s the best episode of the show since the pilot. After a cheap-looking flashback to the disaster secret behind the Boston Tea Party (we don’t find out until later that the tea trashing was just a cover Ichabod had concocted so that he and a group of men could steal a secret chest from the British; the flashback in the cold open is another awkward moment that indicates the writers are still trying to work out how to put all these pieces together), we cut to the asylum moments after Abby discovered Jenny had escaped. There’s no monster of the week this time out; the closest we get is the Piano Teacher, a secret soldier in the armies of darkness, who tortures and kills one of Jenny’s friends before getting captured, throwing out a five minute chunk of backstory before exiting the franchise with a conveniently located cyanide pill. Which is too bad, really—he made for a decent threat. But as dangerous as he (kind of) is, he’s not the focus. This story is mainly about two things: the hunt for various MacGuffins, and the relationship between Abby and her troubled sister.
Surprisingly enough, both of these plotlines basically work. The mystery hunt is fast-moving and fun, which is really the best setting this show has right now. There are no cool looking creatures or big scares—the 72 demons trying to claw their way into our reality during the episode’s climax are probably the weakest looking effect the series has had so far—but the momentum keeps up a good clip, and even the scenes with Captain Irving and the cops serve to add to the intensity of the threat, rather than diminish it. (I especially liked the cuts between the Piano Teacher’s monologue and Irving and the others raiding his house and finding his magic torture basement.) Lumpy beginning aside, “The Lesser Key Of Solomon” is well-built throughout; nothing earth-shattering, and it’s still loopy as hell, but there’s less flailing than there has been in previous entries. The biggest misstep is arguably one of personal taste: I think the episode would’ve been stronger if the demons had escaped at the end despite Abby, Jenny, and Ichabod’s best efforts, given that we’re still building the danger, and not resolving it. But that’s not a hard and fast rule or anything.
Equally as effective, and just important for the show’s long term success, is the relationship between the two estranged siblings. What we saw of Jenny last week was a lot of posturing, and no clear sense of how she’d do once the “I AM SUPER PISSED OFF” act ran its course, but this week allowed Lyndie Greenwood to stretch her wings a bit, and the character developed accordingly. She’s still a fairly stock type, but the posturing is largely gone, and crucially, her arguments with Abby play as real, with that kind of angry, over-sensitivity that all close relations get in bad times. The two actresses have the right kind of chemistry together, and for once, their interactions didn’t come across as an abstract concept created in a writer’s room to generate an illusion of depth. The specifics of their “tragic past” are still loopy as hell, but this episode does a good job of finding a core truth inside all the demon visions and insane asylums. Strip away the detail, and it’s a story about one woman betraying her sister, and regardless of how well-intentioned that betrayal was, it still leaves a mark. Their final scene together has Abby apologizing and offering to help Jenny get on her own for good, and so long as you don’t think too hard about any of it, it’s a moving exchange. Ichabod, Abby, and Jenny make for an effective trio (and how often do you see two women of color teaming up and kicking ass?), and hopefully we’ll be seeing them back in action together soon.
Oh, and before we leave, we have a name for that totally fucking terrifying white demon: Moloch. He’s a kid sacrificer, and he’s probably behind all of this, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing him again soon.
- Well, Abby sure stuck it to that awful, awful foster mother. Odd scene; while on the one hand, as the foster mom points out, Abby’s anger is motivated in part by her own guilt over Jenny, the foster mom herself does totally suck. Screw you, foster parents!
- I look forward to discovering more reasons why historical events actually happened. Maybe the Constitution is one giant anacrostic!
- That joke about Ichabod telling his life story to a NorthStar operator was both awkward and funny.
- “Imagine the delinquency we could perpetrate if we really put our minds to it.” -Ichabod, getting flirty in a moment that seems custom designed for the show’s ‘shipper faction. (Also, I think Jenny is the first person to wonder if Abby and Ichy are cracking the Liberty Bell together?)