How We Met Abbie and Jenny’s Mother: Sleepy Hollow, “Mama”

Oh man a lot happened in this episode! Like a lot! There was a huge misdirection, a lot of healing, some possible resolution of a giant plot arc from last year, setup for the second half of this season, and a Captain Irving-based twist! But that’s not even the thing that impressed me the most. You know what impressed me the most? Everybody loves a good abandoned mental hospital. They are probably the greatest modern horror setting, having handily replaced cemeteries and abandoned carnival grounds. Well, Sleepy Hollow just gave us a whole episode of “abandoned mental hospital” vibe within a currently functional mental hospital.

Actually, that’s not the best thing, either. The best thing is that we get a whole episode of the Mills sisters, working together and being awesome. The best thing is that we get to meet their mother, and we finally understand where all their badassery comes from.

Why, what’s that I hear? Ah, yes, creepy singing. We’re off to a great start. Abbie is dreaming of her mother singing “You Are My Sunshine.” I think they’re in Purgatory. This is just FANTASTIC.

Abbie wakes up because Ichabod is too busy being sick, capital “S” sick, with a red nose and everything. He is, if you’ll forgive me, Sickabod. He looks freaking adorable. He claims that, having lived through dysentery, he can totes help defeat Boloch today. He says Boloch. Poor Ichabod. Abbie forces him to sit under a blanket and try to sleep while she goes to work a real case: there have been multiple suicides at Tarrytown Psychiatric Hospital, and Reyes is assigning her to look into it! Now that they brought down a Satanic cult, Reyes trusts Abbie. Once she’s sure she has full control over the case, she calls Jenny in to help.

Naturally, they consult with their man on the inside, Captain Irving, who seems far more legitimately unstable than he did last time we saw him. He was friends with one of the suicides, Nelson, and says that he was improving, he’d found God, and was even running a prayer group. (I’m wondering how Irving attended that group, given that last time he touched a Bible it burst into flames…). Irving trails off so he can have a flashback to Henry tricking him into signing away his soul, but Abbie, ever the pragmatist, snaps him out of it:

We’ll get you out of here, and then we’ll find a way to undo whatever Henry did to your soul.

This is how you get ahead in life, guys. You set your priorities and work toward them.

Oh, crap, now it’s Jenny’s turn to flashback! She remembers trying to visit their mom in the hospital, and we see a terrified little girl holding wildflowers as orderlies drag her screaming mother away.

God, show, thanks for that.

Abbie chimes in, saying that when she watched their mom go crazy, then saw Moloch, then watched Jenny go crazy, she knew it was only a matter of time before she lost her mind, too. But now that she knows demons are real, she’s not afraid of it anymore. (Um, yay?) This pep talk calms Jenny enough that they can watch the footage of Nelson’s death together, which leads to the troubling discovery that their mother was in his room, seemingly chanting at him as he died. Has she remained at the hospital as a demon, tormenting people to death?

We cut back to the library, where Ichabod is attempting to steam himself with eucalyptus. It isn’t working. Abbie lists the meds her mother was on, and Ichabod helpfully reminds her that none of them worked because they were for delusions, but, well, the demons are real. (Again, are we supposed to find this comforting? This is not comforting.) Now it’s Abbie’s turn for a flashback. This time we see the two sisters come home from school in time for their freaked-out mom to yell at them for not being careful enough, for riding the bus home from school, for not locking the door fast enough, and generally for not being constantly vigilant against demons at all times. They have to keep their “eyes open” and “trust no one.”

Aw, crap. Their father was Mulder! No wonder he wasn’t around…

Ichabod is boundlessly empathetic. While he tells Abbie he’s sorry she had to go through that, he also doesn’t even consider that their mother is a negative demonic force. Instead he asks whether a demon may have lived in Tarrytown Psych long enough to first drive Lori to suicide, and now be responsible for the current deaths. But if that’s the case, why is this rash of suicides happening now? He walks over to Abbie just in time to see the footage of Nelson’s death, and is horrified.

I want to break in here for a moment to say that I liked how they handled this. It’s clear that Nelson hanged himself, but the camera cuts away from most of us to instead show the characters’ sorrowful reactions to his death. It was a comparatively tasteful way to deal with it, and it helped to make Nelson a real person, in the same way poor dearly departed Caroline was. This gave the episode extra resonance.

Now Hawley shows up. Hm. This is a kinder, gentler Hawley, though. He’s just friendly with Abbie, and when Ichabod objects to his presence, he apologizes by offering “God’s greatest creation”: matzah ball soup. Ichabod carefully sniffs it, then sips a little, and, well, it’s the cappuccino moment all over again. He tries to act angry, but keeps sneaking sips of soup every time the others aren’t looking. Tom Mison is a goddamn national treasure. You can’t have him back, Britain!

Hawley sets his flirtation to “9” by calling Ichabod “Mr. Woodhouse.” OK, Jane Austen reference, not bad. And since he DRUGGED THE MATZAH, Ichabod doesn’t hear this, so no harm no foul.

Before we can dwell on this, we cut to Henry doing some pretty basic Stockholm Syndrome 101 shit on Katrina, who of course falls for it and agrees to snuggle Wee Baby Moloch. Obviously when we see this from his perspective, she’s cuddling a tiny blue demon, who is somehow turning her skin blue, as well. For fucks sake, Katrina. Maybe things will go in a cool direction and Wee Baby Moloch will grow up to be Hellboy? Cause I’d watch the shit out of that show.

Then we’re back in story A, for Asylum. Abbie, Jenny, and Hawley…oh. I can’t do any cool name combos, because they all end in “ey” sounds! AbJeHaw? No, that sucks…this is dirty pool, show! What’s the point of recapping if I can’t make up cool ’ship names?? The HitFix recapper started calling Crane and Hawley Crawley for God’s sake! That’s pure gold! And now you’re giving me, what? “IeYEy”? How am I even supposed to pronounce it?

Oh shit, another patient’s trying to suicide! They see him on the security cameras, and get to him just in time. Surprisingly, it’s Hawley who goes in for the save, tackling the guy and saying “It’s all right, I’ve got you,” over and over until the man calms down. But then Abbie sees Mama! She drops her flashlight! She disappears!


I may need a moment.

Abbie gets clocked by a falling light fixture, then sees Mama again, who helpfully tells her that she doesn’t belong here. Then a nurse appears, so…we’re actually still in the hospital? She says this wing isn’t used anymore. We’ve seen this nurse before, but something about her, I don’t know…it just ratchets up the tension.


Sorry. So then Jenny shows up, and they see that their mom has scratched a message into a layer of ice on one of the windows. Abbie thinks it’s a video code for a patient interview. Ughhhhhhhhh it’s a video of their motherrrrrr and this is going to SUCK and BE SAD.

Oh, but hang on, we have to go back to Story B, for Baby Demon who is totally not as cute as Katrina thinks he is. Oh but wait, could it be? Katrina is looking into a mirror, noticing the fact that she’s turning into an Innsmouthian Fish-Woman, and has begun to think that maybe possibly the demon baby that she knows is a fucking demon baby might actually be a demon baby? So naturally she goes out front to gather some herbs.

OK, thank God, we’re back with story A, for Abbie, who has found the video files. Jenny is hesitant to watch, but her sister talks her into it, believing that it might give them a clue about what happened to their mother. Then she grabs her hand as the image comes into focus.

Ah, perfect. It’s their mom, in a straitjacket. She’s talking to her therapist:

Lori: She says I wasn’t a good mother. The nurse, Nurse Lambert.”

Therapist: “There is no Nurse Lambert. She’s a delusion you’ve created, like the demons.”

But there totally is a Nurse Lambert you Freudian hack because she’s targeting Irving now AHHHHH NOOOOOOO.

So. We’re back from commercial, since I’m watching this the old-fashioned way, and what do I see but my beloved Captain Irving, tearfully tying himself down in a tub full of water to drown himself. I’ll admit I didn’t so much watch this scene so much as flinch away from it.

But suddenly, IeYEy is there! They pull him out! He sobs, ““I NEED TO DIE!!!” Dammit, show. And then he whispers, “Why did you save me…”

Oh, show. You’ve crossed a line.

Abbie and Jenny see Mama, standing, watching approvingly. Abbie’s in the room with Irving when he wakes up, and he tries to explain that he knew Nurse Lambert had given him pills, but when she was telling him to kill himself he couldn’t help it. He and Abbie exchange A Look.

“Mills…” he says.
“Any time,” Abbie replies.

All right, show. I can’t stay mad at you.

They rush through some exposition on Nurse Lambert. She worked as a nurse in the 50s, drugged a lot of patients—acts she referred to as “mercy kills”—often using sodium pentathol. She was sent to the electric chair. She is, in fact, dead.


Abbie thinks their Mama knows how to stop her, so they go to Lori’s old cell. Jenny looks like she’s crawling out of her skin, poor thing. And….they bring Hawley? Ichabod is still too sick? This is getting weird. IeYEy start peeling the wall away, until they reveal a mural that Lori made, of the three of them, with the lyrics and sheet music for “You Are My Sunshine” printed out at the bottom. Oh, man. It’s like The Shawshank Redemption, except if Andy and Red both died in prison, and then were trapped there for all eternity doing battle with an evil demonic nurse.

Oh, but wait, you weren’t quite sad enough yet? You aren’t like, sobbing? Because this image reminds Jenny of something. Flashback! Jenny’s sitting in the backseat. She’s just drawn an adorable picture of her and her mom and Abbie, all holding hands and standing under a rainbow. She’s going to show it to Abbie as soon as they pick her up from school. She shows it to Lori, who says it’s beautiful. So far so good. Oh, but wait! Janny has a question. What’s that smell? And that’s when we pan out and learn that Lori has locked herself and Jenny in the closed garage which she is filling with exhaust fumes.

“Even when she protected us we weren’t safe!” Jenny yells. She has a point. But then Mama herself appears in the doorway. “You’re not safe.”

Aw, crap, Nurse Lambert! She zaps Abbie away again. Mama tells Jenny to go find her journal, and goes after Abbie. And here, deer sleepyheads, is where your intrepid recapper’s notes will get spotty indeed, because the next scene was pure nightmare fodder. Nurse Lambert has trapped Jenny in a wheelchair. Now she’s strapped her to a bed. Now she’s forcing her mouth open with magic while Abbie, terrified, desperately tries to regain control of her body. Throughout this, the nurse is taunting her by telling her that her attitude is bad, her language is bad, and she’s going to end up just like her mother. Speaking of whom…Lori has Lambert around the neck! But only for a moment. Lambert smacks Lori in the mouth with her key ring: “Some of us need an angel of mercy to help them cross over. Free them from the pain.”

Meanwhile, Jenny and Hawley are searching for the journal. Jenny finds her old drawing, which is sweet, but maybe should have been seeded a few episodes ago for more emotional payoff. They find the journal, which of course is their ancestor’s diary from when she worked at Fredericks Manor, and they begin reciting a West African spell. Because this journal? This is Grace Dixon’s journal, and I’m hoping it’s filled with wonders which we’ll explore in the second half of the season!

It finally sucks Nurse Lambert away, presumably to Hell, but Lori vanishes with her! So when Jenny and Hawley find Abbie, she’s crying because she didn’t get to say thank you. Lori was fighting for her daughters, but they can’t say thank you.

Oh, show.

But, could it be? Why, it is! Séance time!

Wait, what? Suddenly Jenny’s lighting candles, and invoking spirits. First of all, everyone else looks just as surprised as I do. Secondly, if Jenny could do this the whole time, why didn’t they just séance their mom a year ago? If Jenny can just happily reach across the barrier of Death Itself, and be all like, hey, people who have crossed into the undiscover’d country, from whose bourn
no traveller returns—could you come back for a sec? Why haven’t they been exploiting this talent?

Anyway, it works. They’ve brought a mostly-cured Ichabod, who very reluctantly holds hands with Hawley, and then Lori appears! And she’s totally nice, and normal, for someone whose been dead for 15 years. And guess what else she’s brought she’s brought back from the Afterlife? Exposition! You see…that scene from before? When it seemed like she was trying to kill herself and murder Jenny in the garage? She was actually under a demonic spell, and when she realized what was happening, she drove the car through the garage door and crashed them to attract attention. Once they’ve recovered from that, she tells Abbie that she always knew she was a Witness, and that she’s destined to go further than any of the rest of them can.

Oh, wow.

The two sisters collapse into tears, and Jenny asks, “How can we free you?” but their mother replies, “You already did.” Then she winks out of existence again, and the two sisters hold each other and cry. Ichabod and Hawley stand off to the side, looking both sympathetic and completely out of their depth. Like the best moments of the show, this scene manages to be simultaneously moving, and way over-the-top.

But we’re not done yet, folks! Back in Story B, Katrina is planning to poison Wee Baby Moloch, but when she goes to his crib, she discovers he’s not so Wee anymore! He’s now Precocious Toddler Moloch! She looks properly horrified, and he calls her “Mother.” Ugh. At least he skipped the Terrible Twos?

And, holy shit we’re still not done! Because as IchAbbJenLey drive away from Tarrytown Psych, a strange figure appears out of the forest! Another demon? Perhaps, a woodland creature? But nay, it is Captain Frank Irving! Abbie is hesitant to abet her former boss/accused murderer/unwitting minion of Hell, but then he says, “You told me to trust you.” Yeah, fine, get in. YES, get in. Let’s get this show back on the road, with Irving and Abbie and Jenny, dammit!

And off they go, on a collision course with the fall finale!

Notes & Errata

Why was Ichabod not in this episode? It felt really strange to me that he gets cut out and replaced by Hawley.

Irving’s on the lam! Which is great, but I don’t feel like the show really exploited the Irving in a mental hospital angle nearly enough.

The Mills sisters get some closure! This part of the episode was perfect—the flashbacks were tense and emotional. The kids they’re getting for young Abbie and Jenny are really great, and it was cool to see them resolve some of the horror of their childhoods. Best of all, Ichabod and Hawley are both left on the sidelines while the three women work together.

But… this was one where I felt that a few of these scenes and elements should have been in earlier episodes. If you’re going to give us this much of an arc, and load each episode with flashbacks, you can also trust the viewer to keep up. How awesome would it have been if we’d seen that car scene a few episodes ago, as a nightmare Jenny was having? Then learned it was real, then learned that it was a demon trying to kill Jenny, and that her mother broke the spell long enough to save her? The emotional payoff after several episodes would have been great. It would have underscored Jenny’s trust issues, highlighted just how terrible the sisters’ life with their mother truly was, and shown that Lori was actually a hero all along. We still get all of that, but we get it over the course of a few minutes rather than, say, three or four episodes.

I’d like to point out that while Constantine used the phrase “Voodoo priest” like a slur a few weeks ago, Sleepy Hollow has Jenny reciting a West African spell for the power of good! Does anyone know which language it was in? I’ve seen some thoughts that Jenny is speaking an Akan language when she recites the spell, which could mean it’s from Ghana or the Ivory Coast. Does this give us an idea of the Mills’ family’s origins? Will there be more clues in the journal? Because I am far more interested in watching Abbie and Jenny deal with their mother’s legacy, and Grace Dixon’s legacy, than in watching Hawley try to flirt with either Mills sister.

Ichabod’s Struggles With Modernity!

Ichabod, whom I’ll remind you is locked in a battle with Evil Itself for the fate of our very souls, is extremely frustrated by child protective caps.

On the plus side, matzah ball soup is awesome!

Katrina…Katrina Katrina.

What the hell. Just, what the hell.

Apparently Jenny’s a Witch, Too?

So, Jenny can do more in one séance than Katrina’s managed to do all season. Noted.

So, what’d I miss? What do you think lies in wait for us at the fall finale?

Leah Schnelbach may need to go into therapy if this show keeps traumatizing her. You could at least give her a whole episode of Ichabod doing cute things? Please? She’s occasionally on Twitter


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