Heading into the fall finale with "Magnum Opus," we expected some unanswered questions. We did not expect the Headless Horseman to fight a Gorgon, though given how gleefully off-the-rails this episode is, maybe we should have.
Let's get one thing clear right off the bat: the plot for this episode is honestly incomprehensible. A quarter of the way through, my plot notes already looked like this:
The actual purpose of this episode was to arrange everyone for maximum peril: Irving in the wind, Jenny abandoned at the swear-to-god actual Canadian border, Moloch risen, and Abbie and Ichabod headed for the showdown. Its secondary purposes were to remind us how fun it is for Abbie and Ichabod to work together (fun for them and for us!), which it does handily, and to remind us Abraham's got a problem with Ichabod, which they make so particularly clear that I just walk away with more questions than this show is ever going to want to answer.
For a hint of the plot, which I have no intention of trying to explain, know that Abbie and Ichabod decode Grace Dixon's diary by deciding the most important words are "Chosen words of fallen angels," because demons are fallen angels and Moloch is a demon, and Ichabod decides "chosen" means it's an anagram, and therefore it must be Enoch's Sword, the weapon that could defeat Moloch. (Actual thought process.) While that correlates to a handy religious text, and so it's the version they go with, there are a remarkable number of viable options they just discounted.
We'll come back to that; I'm just saying, those condo shrews got away scot-free.
And Jenny and Irving do appear in this episode, however briefly. They're riding for the Canadian border with the windows down, just two people at loose ends who probably had a quickie in the back before they got rolling, if you're judging by their eye contact in this scene.
Don't break my heart, guys. (They totally do. He jumps from a moving car to avoid a police checkpoint and then vanishes to hide out/tell his family/staunchly refuse to spend the rest of the season wandering around Canada, leaving Jenny to stand on a bridge looking wistfully sad and gorgeously lit.)
Jenny Mills IS...about to jump in that car and desperately try to outrace becoming the heroine of a Nicholas Sparks book.
Also heartbroken by events of this episode: Katrina (I know, I know), who calls Ichabod on magic-mirror witch bandwidth to tell him she was unable to kill Moloch and he's just getting more powerful, so just keep an eye out for the Lord of Demons running around, sorry about that.
I laughed out loud. Even Ichabod is kind of horrified that his wife is such a flop at every turn, and Abbie absolutely cannot even believe that any of these people are meant to help her stop the End of Days. And she's absolutely right, especially when it comes to Katrina, because Henry uses the mirror and, I kid you not, does a dark-magic redial, so he can spy on Abbie and Ichabod's plans, which means Katrina is not only useless but actively making the situation worse. (Honest question: Didn't he know where Abbie and Ichabod hung out from back when he was nice!Henry and they were consulting him about stuff? Did it really take Katrina for them to know where everybody hung out? They have discussed plans a lot at Ichabod's cabin and I know for sure Henry's been there. It happened at sea! C is for Catwoman!)
He also takes some time to explain to Katrina how he plans to blow that Biblical shofar he's been saving from out of absolutely nowhere, loud enough to literally raise hell. It's worth it just to watch John Noble ignore Katrina's pleas as John Noble-y as possible. He can't deny his humanity, she cries! Henry: "I can and I do, with my every breath. The breath that will soon blow this horn three times!" The man's on message, I'll give him that.
And the hell he'll be raising? Colonial Peeta.
Advantage in the arena: ability to turn into an ageless demon after about 8 hours.
Why does Henry need to use that shofar to summon a demon who's already literally standing in the house? We don't know. This episode doesn't care; we're way past caring and knee-deep in family feelings about a family that frankly sucks. (An anagram clue that Ichabod missed that might help them realize the power of this family connection? Chowder Sons.)
John Noble makes the most of his time, though. Why wouldn't you, when your lines include gems like, "Then I suggest you don't waste another minute of the darkness. RIDE!" He's going to have a BALL next week when this all comes to a head and he gets to shout at Hell for a while.
For now, though, this episode's major baddie is Abraham, who's so frustrated with how everything's going that he sort of breaks up with Katrina just because he's too busy to deal with her (I laughed). He also becomes the subject of several flashbacks, as Ichabod tries to know himself enough to survive the perilous pit they're heading for.
(Ichabod's splainyfingers are getting a real workout this season. Abbie's about to gnaw them off.)
Abbie already knows herself inside and out this week, and she has absolutely no hesitation at any point, and I have some feelings about it. Their rapport in this episode is pretty uniformly charming, and it's so nice to have them back together, but for all her screen time this week I feel like this unflagging steadiness is a pretty big cheat for someone who's so famously repressed, especially since last week reminded us how uncertain Abbie still is about a lot of things. Not the destiny handwaves she gets here – she has deep uncertainties about whether she can accept love and whether she will be able to handle all this hardship, and going into a cave of dangers with a warning stamp feels like a primary time to worry about those.
Instead, we get more about Ichabod's past. I'd complain, except that it's so loaded with subtext that it feels like the show's trying to tell us something new. Something important. Something with no sense of personal space.
(Missed anagram opportunity: Coders Shown.)
The second blissful flashback we get is to Ichabod and Abraham in the pub, as Abraham assures him that the revolutionary lifestyle can still mean freedom, a handsome estate, "And a bed fully furnished with a buxom woman, and, more importantly, a friend...[pause big enough to drive a truck through]...willing to pick up the tab." I honestly did not know what to do with this pause; it went on so long I thought they'd both been made canon bisexual before Neil Jackson finally closed those ellipses.
Then Katrina shows up, and it gets awkward:
(That hugely loaded pause from before and this palpably awkward faux-cheerful greeting circle makes this the first scene of them I've ever been interested in.)
Reflecting on how Abraham and Katrina influenced him, Ichabod opines, "How do I know myself, when at every turn my life has been determined by others?"
Oooooooookay. Well. That's a lot. I'm going to take a wild guess that as a man of education and some money who had institutional friends wherever he went, with the exception of that woman your wife pushed off a cliff to keep you in the Colonies and some shit that happened to you after you were already dead, your life was determined by you, largely based on your ridiculous susceptibility to other people's suggestions.
What does Abbie, woman who as a young girl was visited by the Devil and subsequently had her entire family ripped from her arms through forces beyond her control, think of your plight?
That seems accurate.
Their time in the cave of the Knights Templar (yes, really) leads to near tragedy, as they realize the previous explorers have been turned to stone by the Gorgon lying in wait (yes, really), and have to run for it until sunset, when Headless will come after them and they can trick him into killing the Gorgon for them given that looking her in the eye is not a big problem for a guy who's already dead.
They decide the Sword is real, based purely on the number of people who died looking, and Ichabod tries to wrap his mind around the complications: "My god. The very founding of the New World could have been but a byproduct of the search for the sword!"
WOW. SHOW. BUDDY. NO WAY. This is the sort of careless blindness that the Ichabod of season one would not have had. And while the gonzo plotline feels like a throwback to the very best of those off-the-wall early days, a lot of small things like this are falling through the cracks. The show used to be reliably aware in a way it isn't any more, and that seems terribly sad, somehow. (Relevant anagram: Crows On Shed.)
Here, let's all feel better looking at Ichabod's torches made from socks he dipped in pitch.
Abbie, beside him: "I brought flares. You just light 'em." I did miss these two together. It's all coming back to me!
When Headless shows up, they do a hilariously obvious double blind (Ichabod's visibly thrilled to be doing a little of the ol' espionage), and they race down into the cave, where Headless ends up fighting the Gorgon, because this is a show that exists.
It looks like a metal album cover, and I'm into it.
In the Templar back room, Abbie and Ichabod have to face down a handful of swords. Ichabod generously offers to just let Abbie be responsible for picking.
In the Buffy-est line of the episode, Abbie settles in to pick: "It is one of these swords, right? If it's not and I die in here, I'm going to be kicking some serious Templar ass in the afterlife." Ichabod, popping back in a moment later: "Bear in mind it might be a test, you might only get one chance." ("Awesome," Abbie says, in one of Nicole Beharie's best line readings of the week, "thanks for that.")
Meanwhile, Ichabod's having the sort of fight with Headless where Abraham's shouting "You forgot the part about PERISHING!" as he lunges.
"It seems, my friend, that our story is ever to be told by swordplay." 1) Really, swordplay, not the part where one of you is a headless horseman of the apocalypse that shoots guns from the back of his demon horse, and the other one of you doesn't do a thing about it for the better part of a season? Okay, 2) Swordplay, eh? I knew it. You rascals.
Ichabod promises he wants redemption for Abraham (right around sweeps, probably), but Abraham is here for the sword! Abbie is only too happy to inform both of them that the sword clearly isn't here, since they all turned into snakes (of course), leaving Abraham nothing to do but tell Ichabod how much he hates him really, really close:
(The cap in the top right is teeny, but Abbie watches the whole thing like a lot of stuff is beginning to make sense to her, and it's beautiful.)
The shofar interrupts them before they can kiss, and because this plot has no sense of continuity or consequences or narrative arc or anything at all, he leaves to check in with Henry instead of killing two easily-overcome human Witnesses – or even one, the death of even one would really throw them for a loop!
But Headless just walks out, leaving them to wonder about that convenient plot twist, and then for Ichabod to pull another Batman: it's water, which shows you an honest reflection, except that's not water, it's oil, except it puts out his torch because you need TWO torches because of teamwork being important, and then it boils down and a sword shows up in the middle of it (actual things). And since there's only one sword, after a moment of back and forth, Ichabod gets the honors.
Aspects of this that are not bullshit: Abbie not wanting to melt her hand off because of potential magical nonsense, and secretly letting Crane test that business out.
Aspects of this that are bullshit: Everything else. Reducing all this to the vast importance of yet another revolutionary item the show's never mentioned before is one thing - and it's not a great thing, particularly given that everything feels oddly unhurried for an episode in which Henry literally summons the apocalypse at the end of it. But to have it be such a traditionally masculine weapon in the hands of the show's male lead, while Abbie continues to look suspiciously like a sidekick instead of a partner, is a very odd way to lead off the midseason finale. We hear a lot in this episode about how much they rely on each other, but it feels like an attempt to reassure us and set up emotion that the show knows it's ignored for a while, and frankly, in an episode about a Gorgon, I'm not sure how much resonance they expected to get.
About that much, I'd say.
And when things come to a head, and Tom Mison makes use of his stage combat training in the big fight, what, precisely, does this weapon leave for Abbie to do? She spends so much time this week questioning her role in all this that it seems like a setup for either a great crisis of faith or a sudden realization that she's actually been the brightest witch of her edge like three times this season as she blows up the gate to Purgatory with the power of her mind. I hope they find out before next week, or else Ichabod's in for another chosen-words anagram: Scorned Show.