God said to Abraham, Kill Me a Son? Sleepy Hollow: “The Akeda”

All right, Sleepy Hollow. We’re going to have to have a conversation. You can’t… you can’t keep doing this. Look, I’m putting a lot of time and work into this relationship. I care about you. I look forward to the time we spend together. But sometimes I wonder if you care as much as I do.

Let’s take tonight, for instance. I cleared my schedule for you. Do you know, I missed two different events to be with you! But it was all OK. It was all fine, until some serious spoilery-ass stuff happened that I’ll talk about below.

So, let’s start with the fact that the pacing this week was kinda weird. It almost felt like they were revving up, then there’d be a burst of action, and then they’d skid to a halt again. This was encapsulated nicely in the opening scene. Abbie’s car is hit by lightning, most likely God smiting her for bragging about the awesomeness of her GPS. So, what are a pair of sword-wielding Witnesses to do? They purloin a motorbike and head off to the apocalypse! And really, show, this should have been your whole episode. Just a long slo-mo shot of them on the bike, wind in their hair…

Ahem.

They reach Frederick’s Manor. Ichabod hops off the bike. In terror, surely? He points at the bike, shaking all over.

I WANT ONE OF THESE. As soon as this is over.

Awww, don’t ever change, Ichabod.

The house appears to be abandoned. They find Henry’s creepy model town, and the show, as I hoped it would, cranks up the faux-Beetlejuice music. Love you, show. Ichabbie find a red thread, and begin unspooling it across the model, to mark points where Henry has been sighted. If you guess that there would be a pentagram, and that they would both be startled by it, you win!

So the house is abandoned, which means they’ll have to seek their foes in some other clime but how—oh, wait, never mind they’re just in the backyard. Katrina makes herself momentarily useful by yelling as Abraham stuffs a rag into her mouth.

Ichabod, now armed with the sword of Methuselah, makes short work of Abraham.

Oh, wait, just kidding, he defeats him, lops the head off his axe in a fairly directly emasculating way, but just as he’s about to make himself a Headless-kabob he asks Katrina if she can still see Abraham’s head. She expands her amulet’s power so that every can see be-headed Abraham, and Ichabod tries to interrogate him. You know, like how he was a professional interrogator for the Regulars, back in the day? But then Abe mentions that anyone who wields the sword will lose their life, oh, had no one told them that? Oh, yeah, that’s totally what happens.

Kind of puts a damper on Ichabod’s interrogation plans.

And then Katrina says that the runes currently lighting up on the hilt seem to be corroborating the bastard’s statements. Abbie responded for us all when she yells “ARE YOU KIDDING ME???” directly into Katrina’s ear.

Oh, and Katrina’s hair is yet another shade of red! So Abraham makes a tea she likes, and apparently stocks like every type of Feria.

Maybe she’s right about him?

Katrina asks for more time to “interrogate” Abraham, so they head back to Ben Franklin’s dungeon and hash out exactly what wielding the sword will do. Jenny looks through the Alexandrian canon, and says that the moment you kill a demon with it, it claims your soul…but, what if your soul’s already been claimed?

Wait, they don’t mean…

Irving!

Katrina is busy, as I said, interrogating Abraham, binding him tightly with chains, gazing into his eyes, and saying she cares for him…wait, what does she think interrogate means?

And unfortunately…Ichabod hears that part. Rather than dealing with the issue directly, by asking his wife if she wants to leave him for the headless dude who murdered him 200 years ago, he asks Katrina if she’d be able to kill Henry.

Katrina: “Moloch is our target, when we slay him Henry’s soul will be released.”
Ichabod presses her. “But if there’s no other way…”
Katrina: “My love, there is always another way.”

He leaves to look for Irving. He does not look pleased. Guys, look, I realize that relationships have ups and downs, but the world is literally ending. Like, right now. Maybe try to get through the next few days, and then spring for a spa weekend together? Your baggage will still be waiting for you if everyone lives through the End Times.

Back at cabin, IchabbJenny (ha!) discover that in the Alexandrian version of the Bible, the story of Methuselah’s sword is tucked neatly next to the story of Abraham and Isaac. Ichabod ponders this. “A disturbing story of faith, a father asked to sacrifice his son.” He turns to Abbie. “Leftenant, at least grant me that it’s not a unreasonable request.” But Abbie sees his pain and calls it: “My mother sacrificed her life for me. Nothing we’re being asked to do is reasonable.”

Jenny remains studiously silent as she listens to Irving’s message. Wait, he left a code! He’s always two steps ahead! Crane deciphers it—it’s just a date, no huge eidetic fireworks here—and announces that Irving is at the military garrison in Sleepy Hollow. So, back to the tunnels!

Didn’t we just leave the tunnels? I can’t remember which tunnels these are.

They find Capt. Irving, in full Black-Widow-going-on-the-lam garb. He’s unsurprisingly skeptical about the whole “you can wield the sword cause you don’t have a soul anymore” thing. And really, if you know that someone’s lost their soul, at what point does bringing it up become tacky? We all know. Everyone knows Irving doesn’t have a soul anymore. You don’t have to natter on about it. Irving reasonably asks what will happen if he wields the sword, and then, um, dies?

Ichabod points out that if he dies his soul is just going to rise by Moloch’s side anyway, so what does he have to lose? Geez, Ichabod, your bedside manner? Not the best.

Irving concedes the point, but makes Jenny promise to look after Cynthia and Macey. And then he goes full badass, unsheathes the sword, and says, “Let’s go see the Horseman.”

Abraham, not realizing who he’s dealing with, tries the same crap on Irving that already worked n Katrina. But Irving just mocks him and pushes the sword into his throat. So, naturally he spills his guts, telling them that The four white trees are blackening in the wood, and as each one catches on fire, it merges purgatory with this world.

Irving is really good at playing bad cop with a sword!

Katrina asks them to spare him, in case they can give him any more of that tea she likes information. And Ichabod agrees, so Irving holds back. And then Jenny says the words we’ve all been longing to hear: “We need to weapon up!”

Yay!

Oh, but that means Hawley. Actually, fuck it, yay, Hawley!

Jenny takes them to a bar, where Hawley is having a party. I’m going to guess here that everything Hawley does is, in its own way, a party. Ichabod’s not so good at this though: “Moloch has risen.”

Hawley asks how much they want, and Jenny replies with “Everything in your arsenal?” “Including my 100% organic, locally-produced charm, madam?” Hawley does not say this out loud, but it’s right there in his eyes. He decides that this is the right moment to pick a fight with Jenny, however, asking, “Do you know how many people have gotten burned for saying that the end was nigh?”

Actually, this is Jenny Mills, so she can probably give you an estimate off the top of her head, yes.

And then….it starts hailing blood.

Jenny: “Weapons, Hawley.”
Hawley: “I’ll load up my truck.”

Cut to: Hawley, unloading his truck! Well, not quite, but we do get a few moments of Hawley passing out munitions. “According to dubious lore, these pistols were used by Blackbeard to sink the Leviathan.”

Um, cool?

Katrina begins bewitching the guns, and for some reason Hawley’s going to stop her, but then Jenny says, it’s ok, cause she’s a witch.

Hawley looks at her, back at Ichabod, and says, “Nice work, man.”

Hm. So glad the bros have agreed that Ichabod married well.

For some reason, Ichabod and Katrina have decided that this is the perfect moment to have a real fight. Ichabod mentions that he can’t trust her, what with all the witchery and Headless-flirting and mysteriously dead fiancées Katrina has left in her wake, and her response is basically to say that she did everything for him and their marriage and to save the world from Hell.

Ichabod: “Sometimes I question the very idea of our marriage.”
Katrina: “Then perhaps, until the end of this war, we should consider ourselves as comrades in arms.”

Did… guys, did they just break up?

Moloch’s pissed at Henry for letting Abraham get all mushy about Katrina, so he tells him to attack the Witnesses. As TeamGood arrives at the woods, they’re attacked by Revolutionary soldiers, and Abbie (the cop, with combat experience) is almost immediately shot. Katrina jumps in front of her and cast Magic Missile or something to keep the soldiers at bay so Jenny can carry her away.

And then the moment I didn’t even realize I was waiting for: Irving goes berserker. He cut Zombie Regulars down like it’s nothing. And then! WAR MACHINE!!!! War Machine is here! And he’s all covered in flames and he’s awesome. And then Irving says, “I got this” and Black Knights War Machine. This is also awesome! But Irving is wounded as fuck! Not awesome! Not awesome! Katrina tries to cast Phoenix Down but her powers are weak again cause plot and. And.

And.

Irving dies.

Captain Irving’s dead, after a couple of minutes fighting. After being gone for most of the season.

He’s dead, and this not only sucks, but also feels wrong, like misstep wrong, not just “show causing huge feelings” wrong. We basically just got him back. But…Henry still owns his soul, right? So…maybe he’s not gone?

But there’s not time to dwell on this, Abbie’s patched up, and when Ichatrina go in and tell her and Jenny what’s happened, she loses it.

Ichabod is right there with the healing speech! “He died a hero and in his name we soldier on. He will not have died in vain.”
Abbie grabs the sword, and the next thing you know, the two Witnesses are fighting over who’s going to die to wield it. Ichabod points out that he’s living on borrowed time anyway, but then Abbie says it’s her.

“It’ll be me first. And when I fall, you’ll pick it up.”

Katrina steps up to say that she’ll take over after Ichabod dies, and then Jenny says she’ll be rear guard.

“Thank you,” Ichabod says.
But Abbie isn’t finished yet. “Don’t thank me…you haven’t heard my plan yet.”

Meanwhile, over at TeamEvil HQ, Moloch tells Henry that since Abraham is useless, he needs Henry to face TeamGood. Henry points out that without his armor he’s kind of completely vulnerable. Moloch’s reply is pretty direct, even for him: “You’ll slow them down.”

Henry slowly realizes that he’s being sent off to die, and points out that he’s like, totally the Horseman of War! Moloch’s response to this is possibly even worse that the first thing he said: “There were horsemen before you, and there will be horseman after you.”

Ugh.

So Henry troops off through the woods, fuming about how both of his dads are total jerks. He meets Abbie in the church, and starts fighting her with vines, which inspires the deeply weird line, “You brought roots to a swordfight?” but Nicole Beharie delivers it in a way that makes you forget that it doesn’t make any damn sense. Naturally, this is just TeamGood’s opening feint, so when he thinks he’s won, ted both Abbie and Jenny up in roots, and has the sword in his hand, it turns out to be an enchantment. Ichabod is holding the real sword at his throat.

Sweet, Ichabod has the sword to Henry’s throat! It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for! The moment when good shall face evil, and make good on its promises to defend all of humanity with—wait, why is Ichabod talking?

WHY IS ICHABOD TALKING.

Aw, crap, well, I hope none of you liked being alive, cause Ichabod’s giving Henry another chance? And he’s referencing Abraham and Isaac, and talking about how God gave Abraham a ram to sacrifice at the last minute, and apparently in this gritty reboot the ram is Moloch? It gets fuzzy. His speech ends as Ichabod begs Henry to let them past to fight Moloch. He tells his son that once the demon is dead, he’ll be free to pursue a life of his choosing.

And Henry seems into it! He’s almost tearing up, talking about how his parents still love him after everything he’s done, and really won’t give up on him….until he grabs the sword and has Ichabod by the neck.

This is why you always have a backup plan for your backup plan, people.

So Henry announces that they’re all going to Moloch, and wait, now they’re all tied to trees? Did I miss a scene? And didn’t we already do this a half a season ago? And why do the demons want to tie everyone up? And how many times has Moloch watched Evil Dead, for real?

Moloch tells Henry to slice Katrina up, and Henry seems about ready to do it. Katrina seems sad, but more or less accepting of her fate.

“Take me!” Ichabod yells valiantly, at the last possible second. Henry looks at him. Now it’s his turn to talk about Abraham and Isaac and a merciless God, and how really somebody should look at the story from Isaac’s point of view (um, Henry, Kierkegaard already did that?), and how the chasm between father and son was never breached or something. Oh, and that any man willing to sacrifice his child should die.

And then he spins around and stabs Moloch!!!

Notes & Errata!

GAAAAHHHHHHHHH.

OK, so, Irving is dead, maybe. Henry has just stabbed Moloch, which will presumably send him back to Purgatory but not truly defeat him? Unless the Sword of Methuselah actually clearly most sincerely killed him? In which case who’s the villain now? Ichabod and Katrina may be divorced, Hawley is still babysitting Headless with no idea what’s going on, everyone else is still tied to trees, and now we have to wait for a month to find out what’s going to happen.

“Akeda” means “binding” in Hebrew, and The Akeda is specifically the binding of Isaac by Abraham. This is the moment when Abraham proves he loves God more than his own son (or at least that he’ll obey Him no matter what), and it’s also the moment that God symbolically rejects human sacrifice, essentially promising that this is not something that will ever be demanded of the Hebrews as it was occasionally demanded of other religious groups. Obviously, here in Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod has proved that he will put his son before the demands of God, since, in his role of Witness, he should have just lopped Henry’s head off without a word. This may produce some fallout, theologically speaking? Or it may have just been the fulcrum of Henry’s redemption.

Kierkegaard wrote about this a bunch, specifically in the opening to Fear and Trembling. It’s pretty great.

There are multiple binding rituals: Abraham is binding Katrina at the opening, then Ichabod’s failed sacrifice of Henry, and finally Henry’s literal binding of TeamGood. You could also argue that Moloch sending Henry, his adopted demonic son, to die, functions as the ritual. This is some deep thematic work, show. I approve. Now bring Irving back!

So I’m going to try to talk about one of the knottier aspects of the show. I’m white, but I’m also not an idiot, so I was really excited to see how diverse Sleepy Hollow was last year. And more than that: obviously, this is a fantasy in which the Headless Horseman stalks around a small town with a shotgun, I get that, but if you want to do a deeper reading of the show you can. A white woman, who is a witch, a practicing Quaker, and an anti-slavery pacifist is treated like the property she is and sold off in marriage to a wealthy man. Rather than going along with this, she rejects him to marry for love, despite what it does to her social standing. The man she marries has rejected his own family and path to come to the colonies. While it was painful for him to leave his society, he has enough wealth, class, and social connections that he can break away like this and start a new life for himself in America. He won’t be destitute. After he gets here, a Black man and a free-thinking white woman open his eyes to the fact that world is larger and more complicated than he thought. He becomes, like them, a fighter of demons.

Jump ahead to the 1980s. A Black woman, from a long and noble lineage, fighting the same demons the white man was, is deemed insane, thrown into a mental hospital, and has her children taken away and put into foster care. No safety net. No support system. Her children, meanwhile, bounce through abusive homes. When they too see the demon, one of them denies seeing it and lies for years, keeping up appearances, at the cost of her own sister, so she can continue to participate in a society that abuses her. The other sister, the one who tells the truth, spends a decade in and out of mental hospitals and jail, being told she’s either crazy or bad. It’s only because of the intervention of a white man that they survive at all, because the society they live in will not believe their truth.

I am not a person who believes that any work of art has to adhere o its fandom’s wishes. Sometimes the fans, however well-meaning, are wrong about what makes art great. But I will point out that the best episodes of this half season were the ones that focuses on Ichabod and Abbie as a pair, and the ones that focuses on Abbie’s tortured family. Those were the episodes that felt like they were doing something new. The ones with Ichabod’s spoiled brat fiancée? Not so much.

I’m hoping the producers and writers of the show have a plan for bringing all of this together, but it worries me. From what I’ve seen in the fandom on Tumblr and Twitter, a lot of people have been frustrated with the focus on Ichabod’s family drama at the expense of Abbie, and with the slotting in of Hawley over Jenny and Irving. This is at least partly due to, yet again, rich white people sucking up all the air in the room, when there are a bunch of compelling stories of black families waiting in the wings. What was the strongest episode so far this season? For me, it was “Mama” the one that focused on the Mills family. The best moments have been Ichabod and Abbie teasing each other. It was Henry crying like a child when Moloch yelled at him.

Ichabod’s Struggle with Modernity?

Nope. He doesn’t struggle with it, but he does fall in love with a motorcycle!

Whither Now?

So where do you think we’re going? how badass was Irving with that sword? Is Irving really gone? Will Henry join TeamGood, or is he just going to make a play of his own? Will Ichatrina call an end to their legal ship? Is it annoying that after all the buildup, it was Henry who kacked Moloch?


Leah Schnelbach wants Irving back, in case you hadn’t noticed. Follow her on Twitter!

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