Recap and Review: Sleepy Hollow 1:01 (Series Premiere): Pilot

By P.S. Griffin

Summary: Wherein Ichabod Crane beheads an imposing Hessian soldier, apparently dies, revives in the future with the Headless Horseman (who is really Death on a pale horse and one of the Four Apocalyptic Horsemen), meets Lieutenant Abby Mills, and with her embarks on a seven-year ordeal to defeat the demonic forces of evil and prevent the Apocalypse. There are decapitations; prophesy; magic; demons; portents; witches; an army for evil; an army for good; two witnesses fighting to save the world; the pending Apocalypse; and a curious realm where demons, trapped witches and psychic dreamers appear to tread. And thereby hangs a tale!

Recap: The pilot begins in the thick of things, with Ichabod Crane involved in a Revolutionary War skirmish near Sleepy Hollow in 1781. He sees an imposing masked figure dismount and stalk towards him, the brand of a loaded bow on his left forearm. As we later learn, Ichabod was charged by General Washington himself to kill the man with this brand. Ichabod shoots his adversary in the head and watches in horror as the terrifying giant keeps coming. The two engage and Crane is seriously wounded prior to beheading the behemoth before it can deliver a deathstroke. Crane is rushed to the field hospital, where his situation appears to be dire.

Cut to the present day. Ichabod awakens confused and buried in derelict surroundings, including scattered occult trappings suggestive of witchery. He is underground, sees daylight above, and struggles out of a cave. He wanders onto an asphalt road, barely missing becoming roadkill. A large black bird catches his eye as it lands on a sign, a macabre portent of all the very bad things to come. We see the camera pull away to reveal the location, the legendary village of Sleepy Hollow, population 144,000. This number is of biblical significance to the Apocalypse. According to the Book of Revelation, 144,000 (12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel) is the number of “saints” prophesied to persevere and reach Heaven. See http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/144000_(number).

“Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones begins to play and the effect is far more unsettling than in the movie, Interview for the Vampire. We have already seen hints of an unrelenting and unnatural horseman that does not die as a man should, witchcraft, human resurrection, portents (the black bird) and a number associated with Apocalyptic prophecy. Ichabod Crane has not run off in fear per Washington Irving’s story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Instead, he has been transported over two hundred years into the future, Rip van Winkle-style (another Irving tale). Something is definitely rotten in the state of New York. The addition of Old Scratch ( a term for the Devil used in colonial times) to the supernatural hijinks is almost guaranteed at this point, I think (Irving also wrote A Faustian tale about a deal with the devil, “The Devil and Tom Walker”). Now, where, oh, where has our undead Headless Horseman gone?

In a diner booth, an avuncular sheriff, August Corbin, and his young female protege, Lieutenant Abby Mills, are sharing a meal. The scene and the actors quickly establish both the ritual of their shared repasts and the close nature of their relationship. They are discussing the sheriff’s interest in strange cases in the area and the deputy’s imminent departure for Quantico, succinctly establishing both her elite competence and troubled history, as well as the Sheriff’s role as wise mentor and the town’s checkered past. Behind Abby, we see an elderly priest clearly eavesdropping on the two. As they leave, the quick greeting-and-head-nod between the sheriff and the Father suggests that they share a secret, or at least some interesting backstory.

A call comes in about trouble at a stable. Searching the barn, the sheriff finds the horses spooked. Abbie, who is searching the grounds, finds the owner (?) beheaded. Abbie races back to the barn, but is too late. The clearly doomed Sheriff confronts the assailant, who we already know Is the undead and seemingly unkillable Headless Horseman. The sheriff’s face shows awe and recognition of his quarry. Despite the frightening figure advancing, the sheriff doesn’t lose his head (haha) and reacts quickly, shooting rapidly to empty his clip into the frightening figure. Of course, his bullets are no match and he is quickly dispatched by the Headless Horseman with his lethal two-sided axe, later referred to as a “broad axe” by Ichabod.

The Horseman takes a pale steed and gallops off into the night, the stuff of nightmares, legends and tales so frightening that they strike fear into the hearts of colonial school teachers and modern law enforcement alike. His horrific exit is witnessed by Abbie, who is momentarily petrified by fear, followed by grief when she finds her partner brutally beheaded.

Meanwhile, an increasingly confused and frantic Ichabod Crane has been running around for hours confronting the inexplicable (to him) modern horrors of Sleepy Hollow. He is arrested by Officer Andy Brooks and taken to the station. There, Abbie sees the suspect and insists that he is not the assailant. He listens to Abbie’s account, realizes whom she saw, and exclaims that he knows what she isn’t saying. To Abbie’s astonishment, Ichabod proceeds to describe the Headless Horseman, including the telltale lack of a head. Ichabod admits to beheading the Horseman the last time he saw him because it was the only logical thing to be done after a shot in the head failed to kill him.

Admitting to a beheading is enough to earn Ichabod an interrogation, during which he reveals his outrage at being detained without just cause and his historic origins as a scholar and British soldier, turncoat spy, patriot, and Revolutionary soldier reporting directly to General Washington himself. Of note is Ichabod’s reaction when he is shown a dollar bill, especially after he turns it over and sees the symbol taken from the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States – the Eye of Providence in a triangle above an unfinished pyramid. This symbol, also referred to as the all-seeing eye of God, is also associated with Freemasonry. See: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_of_Providence.

Abbie immediately sees that he is an important asset, potentially critical to solving the case. She offers to drive Ichabod to the mental hospital when Irving decides to place a 72-hour psych hold on him because he passed the polygraph with his crazy story. Surprisingly, the two bond, despite his ongoing commentary about emancipation, slavery and females wearing trousers, and his childlike discovery of the new technologies such as automatic windows in horseless carriages. The truth is that despite their differences, they are the only two who know the truth because they have witnessed the horror of the Headless Horseman.

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Abbie decides to follow her gut and trust Ichabod. She decides to take a detour to the cave where Ichabod awakened before taking him to the hospital. Ichabod is pleasantly surprised and nonplussed to discover that Abbie is willing to disobey a direct order from her superior on his behalf. She assures him that she will use her gun if he gets out of line. Once at the cave, Abbie documents the Occult paraphernalia and Ichabod finds a Bible – George Washington’s Bible – with a marked passage from the Book of Revelation detailing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It includes the description of the Horseman, who rides a pale horse, historically identified as Death. Ichabod quickly realizes that the passage is warning them that their Headless Horseman, seemingly impossible to kill, is in fact the Apocalyptic specter of Death.

He tells Abbie that Washington told him to kill a Redcoat soldier with a brand because the fate of the world depended on it. This soldier Is the Headless Horseman. Washington also told him that the real battle they were fighting was not as simple as freedom from British tyranny. The real war was an epic battle of good versus evil.

Geeky Aside: It’s starting to make sense why a renowned silversmith is even more famous for his patriotism at midnight, isn’t it? Paul Revere the colonial silversmith made a famous midnight ride to warn that the British were coming. Silver is a useful element in the mythological fight against supernatural baddies. I will writhe in delight if Paul Revere’s handicrafts figure prominently in this story.

Meanwhile, Death has come calling at the churchyard to see the priest, who has definitely become a person of interest because of the Sheriff’s provocative nod, Death’s visitation, and Ichabod’s deathbed flashback. The priest, seeing the Headless Horseman, tries to defeat him with some flashy chain-casting spellwork. The magic chains momentarily stop Death, until he cuts them with his axe and then cuts the priest’s neck. This decapitation comes with a cool shot from the priest’s point of view. Before dying, the priest tells the Horseman that he will never tell him where IT is; he will die first. Good call, that! There is another cute moment where we see that Death has inadvertently sliced the top off of a crossing sign for equestrians, making it apropos for Horsemen of the Headless kind!

Abbie is called to the crime scene. Captain Irving fusses because Ichabod is still out and about. Officer Brooks tries to persuade her to leave Ichabod and the murder case alone.

Meanwhile, Ichabod has wandered off to follow a big black bird, which leads him to his wife’s gravestone. There, he learns that she was burned for witchcraft in 1782. Ichabod Is surprised by this revelation, as well as the fact that a known witch was buried in consecrated ground.

Abbie finds Ichabod in the cemetery and is angry that he disobeyed her orders. Ichabod responds with some quick-witted, old-fashioned sass. It is clear that their relationship is already in full swing, even if his wife’s grave marker isn’t enough to convince Abbie that Ichabod’s story is solid. She admits she’s been in similar circumstances before. She is glad that she won’t be around to see this situation play out, telling Ichabod of her imminent departure. Ichabod is clearly troubled by the news and argues that she cannot run away from what is happening. Their fates are interwined. His words mirror the sheriff’s earlier comments that Abbie cannot run away from her past. Observant viewers realize that for Abbie, past and present are entwined. She won’t be going anywhere.

They go to the hospital. Abbie is clearly uncomfortable about committing Ichabod. She shares her own story, giving us both a tantalizing look into her backstory and critical insight into her sympathies with Ichabod, despite her obvious aversion to the idea of the supernatural. Abbie and her sister witnessed something in the woods and her sister ultimately ended up in a mental hospital because of it. We see Abbie’s recollection of the event, including a lurking, shambling, demonic figure amidst four creepy, white trees aligned in a row. It is extremely unsettling and horrific. The vision causes both girls to black out.

Ichabod understands now her “demons” as he calls them and she understands what it’s like to be doubted and called crazy. Their bond deepens. The two say farewell, with Ichabod expressing earnest sympathy about her partner’s death.

She leaves Ichabod and returns to the station, where she finds a key hidden behind the photo of her in the Sheriff’s office. She quickly determines that it opens the cabinet housing her dead boss’ secret archives of the area’s strange occurrences, including a detailed tutorial on witches, a map annotated with the location of weird and supernatural events in the colonies, an oral history of the area’s two competing covens, and several case files on disappearances, including that of her and her sister, and a 19th century farmer that had the same vision. The farmer identified the trees as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the figure as a demon attempting to raise them.

She finds a paper with George Washington’s signature, corrobating Ichabod’s comments on Washington, and evidence that the Sheriff knew the truth about the Mills sisters’ disappearance. She remains engrossed until Captain Irving finds her “going through old case files” and tells her to go home and rest.

Meanwhile, Ichabod is having his own visionary information dump courtesy of his dead (?) wife. After that pesky black bird alights in his room, his wife Katrina appears in the mirror and proceeds to tell him everything that he needs to know to fight the Horseman, as well as some other useful tidbits of knowledge about Sleepy Hollow and the Apocalyptic battle mentioned by Washington. During their conversation, he is somehow brought to the dream world of Abbie’s vision with the same four white trees. Katrina tells him of two covens, one good and one bad, engaged in an eternal fight over the world’s fate; she is associated with the good coven, of course.

According to Katrina, Ichabod could be resurrected because his blood co-mingled with that of the Horseman Death on the battlefield. Katrina used magic to strengthen the connection so that Ichabod was revived when the Horseman was magically awakened by the forces of evil. Her coven buried the Horseman in a lake and Ichabod in the cave. Katrina also tells him that Death needs his head, hidden in her grave, to be at full strength; once he regains it, the other Horsemen will follow. She tells him that light is the Horseman’s enemy and that daylight will defeat him.

Evil is coming! Ichabod is the First Witness! The answers are in Washington’s Bible! Finally, Katrina begs Crane to free her from this supernatural realm and screams at him to awaken before a shambling, evil, approaching figure reaches him.

Great vision, Ichabod, and especially well-timed! However, he doesn’t seem to realize the catch that is glaringly obvious to any observant and thoughtful viewer. Success in the noble and Godly endeavors of the army of good to stop the Apocalypse, defeat the army of evil, and quiet the Horsemen Death will most likely significantly shorten Ichabod’s potential lifespan. If awakening the Horseman also resurrected Ichabod, summarily defeating the Horseman and putting him back to sleep by sending him to Hell (?) will probably end Ichabod’s life, as well.

Abbie springs Ichabod with fake paperwork. Armed with the deceased sheriff’s historic, annotated map (identified as Washington’s tactical map by Ichabod), and the timely and helpful intel from beyond, they head off to excavate the Horseman’s head, which was preserved in a jar.

Unfortunately Abbie calls Officer Andy to give him a status report, telling him that the Horseman will go to the cemetery next. Trust no one, Abbie! The camera pulls back, showing us a turned wingback chair from which the Horseman rises. Ha! The Horseman was hidden because he’s headless! Officer Andy isn’t scared and says that he knows where IT is. Hmmmm. If Andy can’t be trusted and is in cahoots with Death, he must be part of the army of evil. If so, it’s kind of sweet the way he tried to protect Abbie while warning her to drop the case. Awww …. He’s evil with a heart!

Whilst Abbie and Ichabod dig up his head, the Horseman weapons up at the station and goes to the cemetary to retrieve IT. Andy shows up, too, and once again his agenda appears to be saving Abbie. However, she gains the upper hand, cuffing him to the car and calling for backup.

Even so, our heroes appear to be on the verge of defeat when the first rays of blessed daylight peek over the skyline to chase the big, bad Headless Horseman and awesome personification of Death away; but not before backup arrives! Two generic officers get the bejeesus scared out of them and an eyefull of murderous mayhem, courtesy of Death. Andy confesses to the murders and is arrested.

At the station the Captain locks up the head, claiming to be nonplussed at having a severed head in a jar in his station. However, he’s finally amenable to Ichabod being partnered with Abbie. Abbie admits that she’s decided to stay in Sleepy Hollow because it’s where she’s supposed to be. Ichabod’s clearly delighted with this news. He believes that they are the two Witnesses, referenced in Washington’s bible, who will endure seven years of trials to stop the Apocalypse. Good to know – only 6 years and 364 more days to go!

Captain Irving sends them to talk to Andy. They go to his cell, only to find him dead, with his neck bent backwards, because he “failed.” We see the horned demon that broke his neck, the same one that Abbie saw before, walking away in the mirror. As Abbie stares in horror, the demon senses her, turns, and runs at the mirror, smashing it with his head. It is unclear how much Ichabod actually sees, since Abbie is given the reaction shots and she is the one who has experienced visions of the demonic realm without intervention. This is a very scary, creepy scene to end with, especially paired with Sympathy for the Devil, clearly used a second time for emphasis. Good show, great job!

Vital Statistics: Pilot was directed by Len Wiseman of Underworld fame. The story was written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Phillip Iscove and Len Wiseman. The teleplay was written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Phillip Iscove. The cast includes Tom Mison as Ichabod, Nicole Beharie as Abbie, Orlando Jones as Captain Frank Irving, Katia Winter as Katrina Crane, Clancy Brown as Sheriff August Corbin, John Cho as Officer Andy Brooks, and D.J. Mifflin as “the Blurry Man” or horned demon.

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Review: This is the new show that excited me the most and the pilot did not disappoint. It balanced several truly scary moments and horrific deaths with a strong introductory story. There are excellent visuals, and a dense backstory that sets up an ambitious Apocalyptic mytharc in a way that feels fresh and goes far beyond the scope of the two Washington Irving works referenced in the beginning. Arcs for one reluctant hero and one tragic hero were set up, as well as potential betrayal(s) by trusted associates, lovers and friends. There was solid character development from a strong core cast. The creative team have career long interests in genre and have successfully mixed the Apocalypse with witchcraft, demons, time travel, psychics, prophecies, portents, resurrection, George Washington, the Revolutionary War, and alternative history without irony or kitsch. I think that we’re in for a wicked, bloody, wild ride.

My only worry at this point is that subsequent episodes will fall flat or seem silly in comparison, especially since so much meat was served in the pilot. However, I am hooked, the second season is guaranteed, and I anticipate some serious twists to shake things up.

Before we discuss such potential twists, let’s start a catalogue of what we know or think we know. In no particular order:

Abbie and her sister are psychics, and were gifted with a vision warning of the impending Apocalypse. This vision was given to earlier generations, as well. Abbie has done her best to forget and deny what she saw. Her sister is in a mental hospital because she proclaimed the vision. Ichabod thinks Abbie is a Witness, one of two, destined to stop the Apocalypse.

Ichabod died during the Revolutionary War and was magically resurrected in 2013 when the Headless Horseman was reawakened. Ichabod’s wife Katrina is a witch, was burned at the stake, dresses in black, has a black bird for a familiar, and is trapped in a demon realm. She says that she’s a good witch and tells him where to find the Horseman’s head.

The Dead Priest was alive during the American Revolution and was a skilled magic user who was working against the Horseman and protecting the Head. My guess is that he was a member of the good coven and the army of good.

The Sheriff was archiving supernatural activities and was watching over Abbie since her vision. He knew the Priest and was either very well informed for a layperson or a member of the army of good and/or the good coven. His surname means ‘raven,’ a large black bird with biblical associations to God. See: http://www.biblical-baby-names.com/meaning-of-corbin.html.

Officer Andy was working with both the horned demon and the Horseman. He appears to have been a member of the army of darkness and/or the bad coven. He either had a soft spot for Abbie or wanted her alive for an unknown reason.

The Headless Horseman is the Apocalyptic Horseman of Death. Light is his enemy and daylight defeats him. He hangs out in a body of water during the day, apparently guarded by his pale, red-eyed stead. He has a loaded bow branded on his arm. Hmmmm. Do you suppose a special bow and arrow can kill him?

Captain Irving is the new guy who arrives just as the battle is starting anew. He’s definitely a major player, I think. However, they want to keep us guessing. With his crisp white shirt and smart black trousers, he oozes competence and power. I am really getting a devil vibe from Jones’ performance at the moment. For me, he is the man to watch.

As politically incorrect as this idea may seem, especially given the furor over the black Satan in the recent miniseries, The Bible, historical accounts of 17th witch trials in the Puritan colonies refer to the Devil as a black-skinned man, a concept that they brought over from England and Europe. See: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/2976465.

George Washington has only been seen in flashback, but his role goes beyond Founding Father of the United States of America and Revolutionary general to leader of the armies of good. This potentially frames the British armies and the Crown in a devilish light.

Furthermore, it appears that Freemasons are now critical to the founding of this nation, based on Ichabod’s marked reaction to the reverse of the dollar bill. Or are the Freemasons evil and the Great Architect a reference to the Devil in this alternative history. Color me intrigued!

As for potential twists, I don’t trust Ichabod’s wife Katrina in the least. She is a secret witch, dressed in black, with a black bird as a familiar. She is hanging out in a demon realm with no apparent ill effect and can control her husband from said realm. She used witchcraft to assure her husband’s resurrection at exactly the same time the Horseman awakened. Finally, she feeds him the location of the Horseman’s head exactly as the Horseman kills his only lead.

Since I am suspicious of Ichabod’s fair lady, I am doubting any information that she willingly shares. I am most leery of her assertion that Ichabod is the First Witness. Witness to what? I think everybody on the battlefield saw the creepy Horseman, being that he’s enormous and gives off heat. I suspect that the Mills sisters are the two Eitnesses to the harbinger vision of the Apocalypse and therefore, they are fated to stop it. Ichabod is there to do his wife’s bidding, something she’s ensured by magically linking him to the Horseman and charging him to seek her freedom from a horrible realm.

It is this foreknowledge about the futures of our heroes, which is seen clearly by the audience, that truly elevates this show above the usual genre fare into tragedy at its onset. We know that Abbie cannot escape her Apocalyptic vision and we know that the triumph of good over evil will mean Ichabod’s certain death. I think we also know that Abbie will feel that loss as keenly as the Sheriff’s demise. I strongly suspect that Ichabod will be betrayed by his fair lady love.

I am very interested to see your thoughts, fellow Witnesses, about the awesomeness of Sleepy Hollow.

You can watch Sleepy Hollow on the FOX website or buy it in standard or HD on Amazon Instant Video.

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IFPRecap and Review: Sleepy Hollow 1:01 (Series Premiere): Pilot