Let’s be honest—after season 2 of Sleepy Hollow, which always seemed an inch away from texting you directly asking for advice, we were wary about it coming back. Turns out, the show was, too!
In some ways, any season opener that comes after a decent wrap-up is going to be a re-pilot: reminding us of the status quo or introducing a new one, getting the characters into shape again, bringing in a sense of the season’s major arcs. But “I, Witness” felt like a re-pilot offered by a show that knows it screwed up. It made you mad and is very, very carefully trying to get back in your good graces by bringing you a drink just the way you like it (because it’s not sure what else you like anymore and it is not going to mess this one up) and hoping you don’t notice it’s standing on top of some wreckage.
Sometimes that approach works, because whatever it’s offering is what you wanted anyway!
Ichabod and Abbie
Turns out over the break they became comic book splash-pages! He’s a suave antihero, she’s Captain America.
They’ve been separated for nearly a year, the psychic connection that drew them to parallel haircuts notwithstanding, and they first meet again on opposite sides of the law.
Excellent body language, everyone! (It’s pretty much the last time you’ll see either of them from the waist-down or in the same frame; Peter Weller, who directed this episode, likes his close-ups.)
Don’t worry, she springs him in about five seconds, thanks to her fancy new job with the FBI. Good! Move on with your life, Abbie, Sleepy Hollow is riddled with the corpses of people you know and it’s awkward! Of course, five seconds after that her FBI career has already dovetailed with Ichabod’s quest and they’re dealing with mystical nonsense. This show is maintaining its commitment to barreling through plot, even though it saps this episode of energy trying to tick the boxes.
But the effort at least brings things together as fast as possible: her long-abandoned character development, and his on-brand gusto for supernatural crime-fighting with a dash of personal frenzy from how he sort of killed his whole family. It mostly works!
The good news is that by now they’re old hat at this kind of grumpy simpatico, despite the wink-nudge dynamic underlying these scenes. (I don’t even want to talk about Jesus until such time as we see him again as a character and not just a punchline.)
Jenny! She’s back! She’s taking temp jobs! She’s very excited to be hunting artifacts and shooting monsters instead of temping! (Fair. Anything’s better than temping.) She even gets to casually point out, “This is what I do,” and if that’s not a Hawley reference, I don’t know what is.
She also greets Ichabod the way Abbie wasn’t quite ready to:
(“They liked hugs in the first season, right?” “I mean, I guess? They definitely liked when we interrogated history and had time for character development.” “...We’ll put in hugs.” - the Sleepy Hollow writers’ room)
You’ll note everything’s covered in drapes. Somebody’s going to tear down the Archives in like a month? Sure, free pass: it’s the season premiere, whatever, you have stuff to do, we’ll handle it later.
But sometimes the “Maybe this will be better than last time, right? Right?” approach does not work, because it looks oddly similar to the same thing that caused the wreckage in the first place!
Slapdash plot devices. This show has always played with its mythology, but it really got out of hand last season, and we’re not doing much better here. This season’s portent is a stone Ichabod found at his ancestral gravesite! It’s covered in Sumerian prophecy and, shockingly, tells us about Abbie and Ichabod. Abbie is concerned, because she’d hoped to leave this behind, and because she recognizes that even in a show with a Thomas Jefferson hologram, this sounds like some nonsense.
“You wanted it to be important and have meaning, so it did.” Abbie’s pragmatism is so wonderful, and it’s 100% thanks to Nicole Beharie that it goes from exposition to a crucial trait of a woman who was forced as a child to blind herself to the supernatural in order to survive. Hopefully there will be more of this in episodes that can actually breathe.
Ichabod loves this tablet. Loooves it. He will take any excuse to solve crime with the Mills sisters and Abbie in particular. There’s 50/50 odds on that tablet being a Sumerian record of the harvest he just chiseled some tombstone stuff onto. He’s gonna find a way to hang out with Leftenant the rest of his life, and he doesn’t care how.
The villain. This is Pandora!
She has a magical box, mostly because can you imagine being a witch named Pandora on a show as on-the-nose as Sleepy Hollow and bringing out a really intricate candelabra as your signature accessory? I mean, it would be great, but they literally wouldn’t know what to do. (Why are you even part of this occult plan to cover the earth in eternal night, Pandora Candelabra, Jesus H.)
As a character, she’s fine. She has a creepy fear-based agenda, she’s got some sleight of hand. It’s all we need in the premiere. But the first thing she condemns to that magical box?
The Headless Horseman. In the first 20 seconds.
While I admire a “who cares” approach as much as the next person who watches Reign, of the pieces of continuity I wanted to carry over from season 2, “a totally ineffectual Headless Horseman” was the absolute bottom of my list. Until such time as they scramble to get you back for the fall finale, we’ll have to just remember when you walked around head- and shirtless and reminded us what joy was.
I don’t particularly begrudge Pandora any of this. We need a new orchestrating villain for honest reasons: literally all the other ones died. But killing Headless is part of some agenda so vague even she seems unsure what exactly she’s doing. There’s a pool full of fear? She wears capes? Plants?
So far her biggest move is giving Abbie some portent-riddled glad-eye at Mabie’s Tavern (When You’re Not Sure Where to Go Tonight... Mabie’s).
Abbie Mills, drawing them from all sides!
I mean, she might as well get some action somewhere. Why should Ichabod be the fulcrum of 80% of the supernatural bullshit and romantic entanglements in Sleepy Hollow? This is Abbie’s year! Equal hand in this nonsense! it’s HER turn to have admirers! It’s HER turn to get a surge of purpose as she explains to a drug lord that he did, in fact, see a fear-based gunpowderphiliac battle demon, because demons are real! (If this demon feels like a slightly sketchy cultural handwave for the show to plunk into Bunker Hill, particularly given the drug lord Abbie faces off with, I think we are in agreement.)
Drug lord included.
And while we’ve left behind the Crane Family Band, this show is contractually unable to let Ichabod go 1) single or 2) unconnected to the 18th century for even one episode. So, welcome Betsy Ross, who is a skilled assassin (of course) and smooched him once on a mission (sure, fine):
The Mills sisters are pretending to be a lot more interested in this subplot than I can pretend to be. That’s just as well, given that we’re going to sit through a lot of it and they’re the ones trapped behind the fourth wall.
But the thing about this episode that elates and crushes me the most is where they go to investigate the secret message Betsy Ross left behind.
Welcome to Colonial Times.
I have been WAITING for this moment; I have been cracking Williamsburg jokes (until they actually used Williamsburg for filming, ugh, sad), I have been talking up that reenactment society, I have been on top of this dream. These moments are Tom Mison at his best high dudgeon, Abbie at her gently snarky-est, and it’s a way to engage the past and bemoan the modern day without actually wading into the political intricacies of Revolutionary America which have not been acknowledged with any sort of skill since the first season.
So yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Colonial Times! Make it the FBI’s favorite lunch place so they have to constantly meet other law enforcement there! Make Jenny get a job as a curator there! Make them all live there.
Honestly, I would like to imagine that making a logo and everything would herald a return visit. But judging from the portability of the set dressing, we might not soon see these hallowed halls again.
This menu is, by itself, better than the entire second season.
Until this wish comes true, though, we’ll have to settle for one moment of tricorn-shaming and move on.
Farewell, delightful day player. May Boston Tea Party sets sing thee to thy rest.
But where exactly are we heading? So far, everything’s nebulous, and that’s largely fine. It’s a premiere; its job is to bring everyone back, explain that Frank Irving went to live with a nice family on a farm, demonstrate Pandora’s threat level, and suggest some long-range goals for Ichabod and Abbie.
It’s all a little perfunctory, honestly. But what this episode is trying to do in essentials—promise you this season has a better plan than last season—it really, really tries to do. Ichabod making a noble speech at the wrong time?
Jenny lifting some very foreshadowy cups and coal lumps out of her box of personal items marked JENNY – CORBIN?
(We all know my Corbin feelings. This was a ringer.)
Abbie saving the day like a badass—after acknowledging that she’s a Witness again, naturally—making this the second time in a single episode Abbie has plugged a supernatural bad guy with lead because that is how she approaches literally every supernatural bad guy and it’s marvelous?
How about a hug that demonstrates the importance of forethought when someone tiny is hugging someone with condor arms?
Bingo. (“They liked hugs, right? PUT IN MORE HUGS.”)
This hug is accidentally symbolic: this is an awkward, earnest episode, and it is hoping desperately that you will stick around this season. Based on this episode, we know they’re trying to find their way back to something resembling season one. We’ll just have to wait and see what’s revealed to them on the truly amazing Sumerian tablet that outlines their destinies:
“Those guys look kinda like you two!” - a man who is a damn liar.