Our Apocalyptic Missions, Ourselves: Sleepy Hollow Returns with “I, Witness”

Sleepy Hollow’s back! Is that something we should care about? I just don’t know! I’ve been telling my colleagues at Tor.com that I expected this season to suck. I assumed the magic would be gone, and after all the last-minute deaths, narrative shifts, and the disappearance of Orlando Jones, I felt too jerked around to care anymore. But this Season 3 premiere seemed dedicated to getting back to basics, and strengthening the core relationships that were the whole reason the show became a surprise hit in the first place.

We open on a not-Katrina acting witchy in the woods. She imprisons Headless in a box after cooing sweet magical nothings at his horse. I think to myself, “That had better not be Pandora, show.

Then we cut to Abbie taking a perp out with a garbage can lid in an unnamed city that looks bigger than Sleepy Hollow. I love it when SH tries to be a cop show. Abbie’s with the FBI now – has she already made it through training at Quantico – and she has a new older mentor who yells at her but then watches her admiringly when she’s not looking. This is promising.

But! This is Sleepy Hollow, dammit, and if we wanted a procedural we’d be on a different channel. Cut to: Abbie bailing Ichabod out of Immigration! ICHABOD’S HAIR IS GONE. Oh, and Katrina’s locket has turned black which means something icky has happened to Headless. And by the way, the Witnesses haven’t seen each other in nine months, while Ichabod was off mourning his old life, and Abbie was creating a new one. Abbie’s pretty pissed at Crane. Wait a second, why is Ichabod being detained by Immigration? Well, it seems there’s this 4,000 year old Sumerian tablet, and he didn’t declare it properly…

Sleepy Hollow Immigration

But let’s cut to the meat here. The Witnesses haven’t spoken in nine months. Abbie dismisses the idea that she’s a Witness, or that they’re partners, by saying that they defeated Moloch and succeeded in their mission. She got tired of waiting for Ichabod to return, hence Quantico and the FBI. Ichabod, meanwhile, feels utterly purposeless without Witnesshood, and to make matters worse, his entire (evil) family is dead. He spent the nine months going to his old ancestral land in Scotland, where he found a Sumerian tablet, handily titled “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” that he believes is the key to their next mission. Which launches Abbie back into denying that there is a mission.

The show is casting around, nakedly, openly, and onscreen, for a plot. They hang a lampshade on it by having Crane quite openly looking for a plot – a purpose for the Witnesses to get back to Witnessing. I have to admit that I’m so busy missing what this show could have been, that this feels like an echo of what the show could have been. But I’m trying to get on board again.

She’s in the middle of denying that they have a next mission when they get called to a crime scene.

It takes Ichabod only a few moments to declare that a demon did it, which means…JENNY!!! (YAAAYYYY!!!!) So now the core team is reassembled, researching demons, trading stories, it’s like old times. Jenny even assures everyone that she smuggled Irving and his family to safety. Ichabod and Jenny piece together a probable demon backstory: a red substance called cinnabar that Abbie found at the crime scene, plus the fact that the victims were literally paralyzed in fear, means that it was a yaoguai. Yaoguai were the “red devils” Ben Franklin talked about in his war journals: they looooove gunpowder and freeze their victims with terror. (So, was it released by not-Katrina? She was talking about fear quite a bit…)

In a few choice pieces of, um, Twistory, the phrase, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” was apparently Prescott’s order to people fighting the demons, not the redcoats, and Betsy Ross, whom we’ve already heard was liberated woman, was apparently also a super spy. Possibly even more beloved than Ichabod himself? And we get a fun flashback that proves that Ichabod did have a life before Katrina.

Sleepy Hollow Betsy Ross

The show did a nice job of tying the two threads together, with Abbie going after the gangsters while Ichabod and Jenny attempt to tag team the demon. Because Abbie is not allowed to ever have friends, the demon kills her FBI boss in front of her, allowing the gangster to escape, which brings us to a surprisingly effective scene. The gangster, apparently having a mental breakdown from seeing a monster in real life, takes hostages and demands to talk to Abbie. She finds herself having to explain that monsters are real, while simultaneously justifying and accepting her new role as a Witness. Was Moloch thwarted? Yup. Has the Apocalypse been cancelled? Mostly. But the monsters themselves are still real, and until they’re taken care of the world will need people like Abbie, Jenny, and Crane to fight them.

Speaking of whom…Ichabod offers to draw the yaoguai out while Jenny shoots him, but the demon overcomes them both, which leads to another return to form: a helpless Crane is rescued by crack shot Abbie, who arrives just in time to dust the demon, and then pulls Crane in for a welcome home hug. Reader, I’ll admit, I let myself get sucked into the hug. The show got me back…for a second. But then I remembered that Jenny’s unconscious in the other room, and I started yelling at them to go take her to a doctor.

So we wrapped up in a strange place. Abbie doesn’t have an immediate authority figure, as she did in the last two seasons, although I’m sure they’ll plug a new one in, and I’ll just keep pretending that whomever it is it’s actually Captain Irving in disguise. Jenny is working at a bar and trying to figure out how to make “Rogue Demon Hunter” look good on a CV. And our Witnesses have a brief encounter with this season’s Big Bad, the woman from the beginning of the show.

Pandora.

Ughhh dammit show…

 

Notes & Errata:

At the end of last season I wondered how they would restructure the show. They have, to all outward appearances, thwarted Moloch, Katrina and Henry are both gone (and barely mentioned), and there doesn’t seem to be a giant overarching plot to end the world. If this episode is any indication, they’re going to be bringing large threats from various cultures, and pairing them with a Monster of the Week.

I’ve always found SH‘s fast and loose approach to monsters interesting, but today we get a Sumerian adaptation of a classic Washington Irving tale, obscure Akkadian writing (which of course Crane can read) which is an early Semitic language, and thus not directly related to Sumerian, a problematic figure from classic Greek mythology, and a Taoist Chinese demon.

We have the Witnesses referred to as “Destroyers” on the aforementioned tablet…which can’t possibly be good. Plus, if there are seven years of Tribulations, and we’re only in year three, we’ll still get a few more seasons.

Does that make Pandora a Tribulation? Even though she’s from a different mythological system?

Was that seriously the Holy Grail that Jenny offhandedly tossed into a cardboard box?

Sleepy Hollow Colonial Times Menu

Ichabod’s Struggles With Modernity!

Ichabod’s nightly communion with fellow Immigration detainee Jesus (“And I return to the question that echoes through my soul: Is my destiny to be naught but a ceaseless traveler, inexorably slouching my way through this mortal coil?”) which resulted in Jesus quoting Jay-Z, was a fantastic return to form, as was Ichabod saluting his fellow detainees at Immigration with a quote from Thomas Paine, and finally, his exchange of a chest-thump-peace-sign with Jesus.

But Highlight Of The Episode has to go to: Colonial Times Restaurant! We could have just spent the entire episode here. I really thought the show had exhausted Ichabod confronting our modern reinterpretation of history, but seeing him grab the poor host’s tri-corner hat and yank it around while yelling “The corner goes in the front! You’re not a pirate!” and then side-eye the Ben Franklin hydrocephalic bobblehead, only to admit that “at least they got something right,” was AMAZING.

But seriously show? You just tell us about Crane on a Plane? We want to see Crane on a Plane. Come on.

Abbie’s Struggles with… Anything?

Oh Abbie. Seriously, stop having mentors. Your entire life is watching older men you respect bleed out in front of you. If an older dude tries to act paternal toward you, run away! Quickly! Before he spontaneously combusts!

Final Thoughts!

The show ends with a callback to the Jay-Z gag. So in the end we’ve replaced “Sympathy for the Devil,” and all its epic promise of apocalypse and doom, with “Hard Knock Life,” which, in the show’s context, has become an anthem of keeping at the day-to-day drudgery of Witnessing and monster-hunting, even when your larger mission remains a mystery. Nice.

Leah Schnelbach wants to Witness the Witnesses! Please stay good, show. Come witness her tribulations on Twitter!

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