So, I was going to begin this piece with an apology for the disjointedness to follow. But, you know what? No. My writing is disjointed because while I was watching one of the most racially diverse shows on TV, a show that puts a black family in the center of a battle between good and evil, the Ferguson indictment reports came in.
The reports literally interrupted the black actress whose character was talking about her mother and ancestors being cut down in their prime by the evil they fought. Ridiculous, fantasy, silly, frivolous? Yes? This fictional character who was lamenting that every time her family tried to do good evil destroyed them? That every time she tried to stand up for what was right she was knocked back down? I was already furious, and terrified. And then the commercial break cut in, after the news break, and it was an ad for Ridley Scott’s fucking whitewashed Exodus. You know, the movie where the gods and pharaohs of Egypt are being portrayed by white actors? Where one of the greatest heroes of the Jewish people is being played by a Welsh dude? Where the Sphinx was defaced to look more “white” to match the lead actor’s features?
So then the show comes back, but obviously now my mind is in a completely different place. The reality of life in America has broken in to my usual goofy “OMG Sleepy Hollow is so batshit!” mindframe, and what’s happening instead is that I’m watching every interaction between the actors as they strive to ground this silly show which constantly rewrites history. They’re trying to give us a history where a free black family fought against evil, where a 200-year-old white man is able to offer the same empathy and respect to everyone he meets. A show that tells the truth about Thomas Jefferson, but sugarcoats it with hilarious lies about Ben Franklin. A show that looks like the New York I live in, populated by smart, snarky misfits of every race and background. And now I’m writing this recap while our biracial president urges people to protest peacefully, desperately tiptoeing around all of the things he can’t say in public. And on the right side of my split TV screen I’m watching American citizens being teargassed? Smoke-bombed? Pepper-sprayed? Who are we supposed to believe here?
Twitter usually lights up with Sleepyheads’ commentary, and the actors usually livetweet the episodes. But tonight when I check the conversation, what I find is Orlando Jones saying “Some things in life are sad, but not surprising,” and Tom Mison saying “Be strong. Be safe. Be heard.
#HandsUpDontShoot.” How can we talk about a TV show now?
I want to talk about it, though. I want to talk about a show where good triumphs, where the horrors of the past are faced, and defeated, so they can’t live on in the present.
We open with Grace Dixon’s journal, the journal that has the wisdom of Abbie’s ancestors encoded into it. This is the wisdom that’s going to win them this War, and it’s coming from a black woman. The Witnesses are working on decoding it, but it looks like it’s slow-going. Abbie, using a time honored meditative technique known as “procrastination” is trying to play “Heads Up!” with Ichabod. He’s not quite grokking the concept. It doesn’t help that Abbie (who should know better) uses “He couldn’t tell a lie” as the clue for Ichabod’s answer, which is, obviously:
Ichabod: “George Washington??? He was our liar-in-chief!”
Ugh, unfortunately this adorable game is interrupted by the Redheaded Killjoy. She’s figured out how to use Henry’s mirrorphone to contact Ichabod! Hey, she’s done something useful in the fight against evil!
Katrina: “I have failed my mission, Moloch still lives.”
And naturally, powerful witch that she is, it doesn’t occur to her that Henry’s going to *69 the mirror and watch the Witness through it crap. So he gets a front row seat as they decrypt the journal. Once they’ve figured out the code words, Ichabod writes the anagram down to form “Enoch’s Sword,” which, as any child could tell you, is clearly a reference to the Book of Enoch that tells the story of Methusaleh’s Sword That Could Kill Literally Anything. (Duh.) And then he uses another mirror to see that the words form one of Ben Franklin’s chopped up ‘Join or Die’ snakes, which Abbie recognizes as a river in the area. (Just go with it.) Also, there’s a prophecy, cause of course: “Know thyself completely or perish when you attempt to see.”
Meanwhile, Jenny’s smuggling Irving across the border to Canada! This plotline doesn’t go anywhere yet, except that when they realize the roads are blockaded, Irving hops out into the bushes and takes to the woods in full Black Widow-going-incognito gear. Irving decides to stay off the grid rather than going into Canada, he’s made this sacrifice for his family, and he needs to keep fighting, whatever it takes. Going to Canada would be running away. Frank Irving doesn’t run away.
Ichabbie gets to the site, and Abbie realizes her mother showed it to her in Purgatory. Go Mama Mills! But…Headless gets there just ahead of them! The show finally uses him, going back to the full Headless-stalking-around-in-the-dark-with-an axe-and-a-shotgun experience. The show wrings real tension out of Abbie hiding behind a wall. Ichabod is all “Again I see that there is nothing I possess that Abraham cannot take away” and then he flashbacks all over the place. Ichabod and Abraham, dueling, as Abe tries to convince Ichabod to come to the colonies. The two of them are great together. Ichabod comes out of it to tell Abbie that Abraham’s influence has been both crucial and definitive, so he has to understand it in order to know himself completely. So he flashbacks again, which I have to remind everyone, means that he and Abbie are just standing at this abandoned historical site while he tells her a story. Even though they know Abraham was able to tail them, so probably Henry knows where they are. But I digress.
Ichabod and Abe are at a bar together. Abe is praising his friend’s decision to leave stuffy old England for the free air of the colonies. They really are good friends, joking about who’s picking up the tab. Abraham says something about buxom maidens that makes Ichabod blush. Ichabod gets up to buy another round, and is approached by Miss Van Tassel! There’s an obvious connection, but Ichabod only realizes that she is Bram’s betrothed after he goes into flirt mode. So…when is this happening? This must be after Ichabod’s conversion to Revolution, but before Abraham realizes that his fiancée has Crane on the brain…but also presumably before Mary Wells comes to try to fetch Ichabod back to Oxford? Was he apprenticed to Ben Franklin at this point?
This show has created a heck of timeline. It’s amazing they had any time left for Revolutioning with all the personal drama.
But no matter, Ichabod washes up on the shores of his flashback to gasp out: “How do I know myself when at every turn my life is determined by others?”
Abbie luckily remembers what the Methusaleh Plaque looked like, and when she describes it Ichabod identifies it as an ourobouros. It’s the snake, eating it’s own tail, that symbolizes an idea of celestial unity. He intones like a yoga instructor, saying: “As above, so below. Heaven, and earth.” And waves his hands in a way that implies he’s trying to inhale lots of chi. Abbie, amused, taps the ground. “As above, so below.”
They both start digging, and quickly uncover a trapdoor with an ourobouros handle, which reveals steps that circle down into the ground, looking like nothing so much as a coiling snake. They walk down the steps into a Jeff Vandermeer novel, only to find statues covered in cobwebs. Abbie sees that one has a lantern by its feet—the lantern says “Dixon.” As in, Grace Dixon? And then the show turns in one of its best-ever full-on horror shots, as we see a demon crouching in the shadows above them! And then Ichabod puts it all together, and yells at Abbie to run, run and don’t look back! It was a Gorgon. A Gorgon lives in the pit, guarding the Sword, and those aren’t statues, they’re people turned to stone.
Abbie absorbs this, and for the first time in a while truly cracks. Grace Dixon cut down in the fire, one of her daughters cut down by the Gorgon, her own mother lost to suicide, Jenny imprisoned, she finally breaks. Is this her destiny, too? To come this close and die in a pit? But Ichabod does his Ichabod thing, plants himself in front of her until she meets his eyes, and tells her that he’s with her, and he’s not going to let that happen to her. They begin to talk through it…the Gorgon can see them, but if they make eye contact they’ll be turned to stone. So they need a way to get past her without being able to see. And then Abbie gets it! They know a dude with no eyes, who, it just so happens, will be returning for the sword later tonight! And then we cut back to Team Evil!
Henry has The Shofar! Katrina snipes at him that they should have a recital after dinner, which leads to an intensity off between the mother and son. Henry tells Katrina that she thinks she’s strong but she’s defined by human weakness, and Katrina parries with “you mean like all that love that I saved you with?” and then Henry sticks the landing by lifting all the enchantments he’s put on the house, so Katrina will have to see Moloch for what he is! And then Moloch is…in the next room? Down the hall? I don’t know—we hear him, but we don’t see him, or Katrina’s presumably horrified reaction to him.
We’re back with Abbie, or, rather, I’m back with the events in Ferguson. And I hear the decision, and my stomach lights up, and then we cut back to the show just as Abbie talks more about her mother. Ichabod reassures her: “If she were here now, your mother would be very proud.” [Because I’m watching a fictional show where the black woman is the hero. She and her sister saved their mother from Purgatory last week. This week she’s trying to stop the Apocalypse and her white friend is by her side.] They go into the pit to wait for Abraham. He does not disappoint.
They wait for Abraham to battle the Gorgon, and then Ichabod uses his camera to dart around the fight with Abbie following.
And then, the
Grail Room Sword Room. There are about a dozen swords, in a circle, arrayed around a font full of water. Choose wisely, Witnesses. Ichabod, having just come in, decides to go back out to hold Abraham off while Abbie chooses. Abbie, understanding the gravity of their situation, says “If I die I’m kicking serious Templar ass in the afterlife.”
Ichabod runs back in the antechamber, just in time to see Headless behead the Gorgon, at which point my own head EXPLODED. This is some serious Clash of the Titans shit going down. Plus, Ichabod can see Abraham! And, unfortunately, Abraham can see Ichabod right back, and quickly pulls his gun. Ichabod asks if he really means to kill him without honor, at which point a modern supervillain would say, “Sure” and pull the trigger, but luckily for Ichabod, Abraham doesn’t sit around catching up on pop culture when there is Apocalypting to be done. Instead, they duel! And it’s great, because the duel actually turns into a conversation. Abraham basically inverts all of Ichabod’s backstory, claiming that every time he tried to make a new life for himself, his old friend inserted himself into it, culminating in Ichabod stealing his fiancée. “I was supposed to be the hero of this story!”
Ichabod, predictably, decides to use that exact moment to be like, do you have a moment during our duel to talk about redemption, and how you should come back to Team Good? But Abraham isn’t biting, and brings it back to Katrina. Ichabod goes berserk, attacking him again before running back toward the sword room.
Abbie still hasn’t chosen a sword, asking Methusaleh to reveal itself. She finally grabs one, but it’s not the sword of a carpenter: they all turn into snakes! Ichabod ducks in to find a terrified Abbie, who tells him, “There is no sword.”
Abraham comes in, and Abbie panics when she realizes she can see him. This is the first time she’s seen his face, I think? He turns the gun on them and demands the sword. He doesn’t quite buy the idea that it doesn’t exist, and finally presses the gun to Ichabod’s chest. But then, and this is not something I ever expected to type during a television recap, The Shofar sounds!
Ichabod chooses this moment to start needling Abraham, still trying to get him to recant and come back to TeamGood. Silly Ichabod.
Abraham isn’t having it: “I choose who I am, I am the Horseman of Death. You have no sword. You are nothing.”
He follows that up by telling Ichabod he’s leaving him alive to suffer in Hell while he rides away with his bride. And then he just…leaves? Doesn’t try to wound them, doesn’t drag a Witness back for Moloch to kill, nothing. Just leaves. Seems a little short-sighted.
Ichabod has a crushing moment of doubt. Could it be that the sword is here after all, and he can’t see it because he isn’t pure enough to see the truth? But, as Ichabod said before, they have each other for a reason. Abbie gives him her best, “Are you shitting me?” look, and says, “You just had a shotgun to your chest. You chose to be a patriot and a hero.”
He shakes off his fear, and proposes that they keep searching, but then they realizes that it’s in the fountain! Of course! Because it acts as a mirror, so you have to face yourself as you try to get it…or something. But this fountain isn’t full of water, it’s full or oil, which, shouldn’t they have been able to smell that? But whatever, they’re lighting the oil on fire, together, as a team, and there’s the sword! Ichabod gestures for Abbie to get it, but she lets him do it, so he pulls it out and looks all Excaliburian, and the whole thing is pretty boss like a 70s album cover.
But then we have to cut back to Katrina, who is watching from the window as Henry, Abraham, and War Machine all fire up a barbecue on the lawn. Oh yeah, cause she’s a Hell Shard, whatever that means, and will probably be sacrificed in some way.
Notes & Errata
OK, so Henry sweeps the enchantments away, and allows Katrina to see Moloch in his true form, and we get…nothing. Not a single shot of her reaction, not a glimpse of Moloch, no horror, nothing.
I really love the way they show Abraham in the mirror, but then when Henry looks directly at him, he’s headless again.
Speaking of that, this whole episode did some great thematic work. The characters have to truly know themselves in order to fight. This means that every time a character looks into a mirror, speaks through a mirror, gazes into a loved one’s eyes, etc., they’re truly looking at themselves. Trying to see who they are under all their surfaces, so they can be worthy. Abraham, for all his whininess, knows himself. Does Ichabod? Does Katrina? Each of them is called on their shit at a different point. Henry tells Katrina that she’s not the tough spy she thinks she is, and Abraham tells Ichabod that he’s not the hero. For Abbie, all the recriminations come from within: is it her destiny to die, like all of her ancestors, just before they can defeat evil? How can she succeed, when all of them have failed? Naturally, their demon in this episode is a monster that destroys you if you make eye contact with it…but a Gorgon doesn’t just kill you. It leaves your image, your surface, for anyone to see, frozen. Failed. It all comes back to those to scenes when the Witnesses stand up for each other. Only by looking into the mirror of each others’ eyes can they remember who they are, and complete their quest. Only by facing himself in the mirror does Ichabod realize the sword’s hiding place.
Irving’s even more on the lam! This could be cool, but I’m worried it will fragment the show even more—we’re already juggling Ichabbie, Katrina, Jenny, Hawley, and Reyes. Now there will also be Irving running through the woods?
I want to give some special love to the moment when Irving, ever noble, tells Jenny he’s going to jump out, and her reply is for him to be careful as she not going to slow the car down.
Second-best line of the night, Abbie to Ichabod: “Don’t tell me you’re trying to take a selfie with a Gorgon.”
Absolute best line of the night, Irving to Jenny: “When I see you again, I hope it’s in a better world.”
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