“Tell me about the horseman. Would you admit to cutting off his head, yes or no?”
“No. First I shot him. Then he rose back up. Beheading him seemed the next logical step.”
Damned if America doesn’t love our American Revolution and folk tales. Following in the vein of no one is ever unattractive on tv, Sleepy Hollow tells the story of a revised Ichabod Crane who has risen back from the dead 250 years after being mortally wounded by the headless horseman. The horseman is also back, probably pissed at getting his head lobbed off and setting the record for most decapitations in a television episode. Allied with Crane is Lt. Abby Mills, a highly qualified police officer who finds something believable in Crane’s story. There is so much going on in this pilot with multiple flashbacks and plot reveals that it almost crumbles under its own weight. What saves it are the high production values and tongue-in-cheek attitude.
Let’s recap what happened in the past: Ichabod Crane is tasked by General George Washington to take out an enemy who will reveal himself on the battlefield. Not only does the revolution depend on it, but the fate of the world itself. Impervious to the one single bullet that Crane manages to lodge in his shoulder, the Horseman mortally slashes Crane with his battle-axe before Crane manages to cut off his head (and thus the Headless Horseman was born). Both men are forever linked after that day; the Horseman is buried at sea and Crane finally succumbs to his wounds with a priest and his wife, named of course, Katrina, by his side. (In your face, Brom Bones!) This is about the closest we’ll keep with Washington Irving’s tale. Katrina is actually a witch whose coven is responsible for keeping the world safe, and she seals Ichabod away underground, until the day someone else wakes the Horseman, and Ichabod by being linked also awakens with him.
The Horseman, you see, is not just any typical headless horseman throwing pumpkins at you as you try to cross a bridge. He is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. I was aware of this before watching the show, so the ridiculousness of the concept wasn’t so jaw-dropping to me during the episode. However I still find it a silly idea that I imagine only came to conception because one of the writers jokingly made the word association between the 2 ideas. However I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt for now; there needs to be some overarching theme as to why the Horseman exists and now the audience is aware of the stakes. End of the world. Fire and brimstone. Check.
Enter Abby Mills, a bright-eyed lieutenant preparing to leave present-day Sleepy Hollow forever for Quantico, where she hopes to get into the FBI. Her partner, Sheriff Colbin has somewhat of an obsession with all the mysterious unsolved deaths that have occurred in Sleepy Hollow. That makes him token on-screen victim number 1 to the Horseman’s axe, after the 2 investigate wild horses on a local farm. Abby witnesses the Horseman’s escape, but doesn’t admit it to anyone in case they think she’s crazy. And yes, there’s a backstory for that, as one day she and her sister were walking home from school when they noticed 4 white trees and some minotaur spawn of Satan calling out to them. They both blacked out with her sister in and out of asylums afterwards. The story I think could have been a little more intriguing so I hope they develop more of this later in the series.
After escaping his grave, Crane gets arrested by fellow officer Sulu Brooks for looking disheveled being the prime suspect in the beheading, but Abby confirms he isn’t the killer. Is Sleepy Hollow the most diverse suburb in America or what? Captain Irving (author shoutout!) wants to send Crane to an insane asylum since he passed the polygraph test and therefore must be crazy for thinking he’s from the past. But Abby detours on the way there to look at Crane’s burial site, where he discovers the Bible with the aforementioned horsemen reference, and everything starts to come together.
The Horseman is busy adding to his body count, with the local priest (and also Ichabod’s priest) using his telekinetic powers for good before he loses (his head) to the Horseman. Nope, bothing odd about an immortal priest that has happened to serve the same area for the past 200 years. What is the Horseman looking for? Turns out to be pretty simple. His head, as revealed by Ichabod’s wife in a dream as she tries to explain everything to him. If his head is joined then he will be whole and reawaken the other Horsemen. His wife has actually been present the whole episode, taking the appearance of a mysterious hawk leading Ichabod to important locations. Yes, this all happens in an hour. Crane and Abby head to his wife’s grave where the head is buried, but not before Brooks betrays them and the Horseman – no longer wanting to carry an axe to a gun fight – loads up with more typical present-day weapons such as a shotgun and an automatic rifle. The dawn finally stops his escapade, and he rides off into the fog.
Now we have other witnesses, and Abby discovers that her former deceased partner was secretly researching all the occult and mysterious cases in town over hundreds of years. Convinced finally that she and Crane were meant to solve this mystery together, she decides to stay in Sleepy Hollow. Their first lead is Brooks. Unfortunately, by the time they get to his cell for questioning, that demon minotaur has killed him for failing – by decapitation. Seriously, he doesn’t even have an axe! But we get a nice visual of his departure.
I find it curious that Irving’s story does not exist in the show’s universe, meaning no one rolled their eyes when the “Ichabod Crane” showed up or blew him off as some nut too obsessed with the local folk tales. Maybe they’re trying to avoid being too similar to Once Upon A Time, but I feel like the existence of the story would have added some “historical” basis to the plot, like Irving wrote about Sleepy Hollow because there actually was something strange going on. It’s a nit-picky point, but again since this is just the first episode I will forgive them for not trying to cram even more into this stuffed pilot.