And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. (Revelation 6:8)
So it appears we were wrong all along.
The end of the world, it seems, won’t be heralded by flesh-eating zombies, Wii consoles going dark, or terraforming aliens with alabaster skin.
Rather we will know that civilisation is finally going to hell in a rather robust 18th century hand basket when a Headless Horseman who is Death himself (apparently they were out of black robes and scythes the day he got the gig) comes riding into town, followed soon after by a bewildered college professor, Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) from 1781 who was once a confidant of George Washington.
Should be easy to spot right?
Well yes, and no, as Sleepy Hollow made abundantly clear in its tautly-constructed, filled to the narrative brim pilot, penned by two of the co-creators of Fringe, Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci, and Phillip Iscove and directed by Len Wiseman of Underworld fame.
As deputy sheriff Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), who is one week away from leaving for FBI training at Quantico, and running from a traumatic childhood incident in her home town, discovers very early on in the episode – just because you witness something like the head of your boss being lopped off by a headless Revolutionary War soldier doesn’t necessarily mean you will be able to process it or believe it.
Or even want to acknowledge its existence.
And Abbie Mills, for reasons beyond the usual ones any sane person would cling to, and which are explained as the episode progresses, doesn’t want to believe any of it is real.
But of course she will be forced to as Sleepy Hollow is not the kind of place that lets you simply shrug it off and go back to your needlepoint.
And no amount of “La la la-ing” while you close your eyes and put your hands over your ears is going to change that fact.
It’s an understandable reaction by anyone to a most extraordinary set of circumstances, and an example of the authentic reactions that keep this drama with the most extraordinary of supernatural premises grounded and believable.
You see it again and again with the hero of the story too.
Ichabod Crane wakes in a voodoo-artifact filled cave, a bible open to the verse above, 250 years after his death and staggers out to find a world of roads, cars, and emancipated black women (the exchange between Crane and Mills on this delicate point is handled deftly and with good humour and solidifies the emerging partnership between the two nicely).
It’s a world he barely understands or comprehends and his reactions are exactly what you’d expect from a man out of place and out of time.
And that’s the beauty of Sleepy Hollow through and through.
It manages to take the most preposterous of post modern storytelling melanges – a re-imagined Ichabod Crane (no longer Washington Irving’s timid schoolteacher, he is now a fully-fledged and dapper kickass warrior), a machine gun toting British Revolutionary War “Redcoat”-wearing white horse-riding Headless Horseman, the four horsemen of the apocalypse and a centuries-old spiritual battle between two covens, one good, and one bad, and witches caught in creepy wintery-landscape limbos, and actually makes it all seem totally and completely plausible.
No, really it does.
Even with revelations pouring forth at a prodigious rate per nanosecond, it all feels like it makes sense, is great rollicking good fun (which feels oddly unsettling since the apocalypse is beckoning after all) and somehow never feels overwhelming, another narrative sleight of hand; is there no end to the writers’ sorcery?
Sleepy Hollow manages to balance it all – introducing the characters in swift short order, watching them battle cynicism and insanely unusual events – mummified scowling head in a grave anyone? – on the road to accepting that the world is crazier than they ever knew (and they had better get used to it fast) and witnessing the revealing of a conspiracy so vast, it even catches Ichabod by surprise – and not trip up once.
Sure it is giddily, ludicrously over the top but because the show takes it all seriously, leavening the intensity with a welcome lacing of humour particularly between Ichabod and Abbie who thankfully enjoy marvelous chemistry from the word go, we all take it seriously.
And that’s its great strength I think.
There’s not even a hint of “wink wink nudge nudge, it’s all bit daft innit?”.
If there were, the Jenga-like tower of tottering implausibilities would come crashing down around us and the illusion, which in this episode at least is masterfully maintained, would be over.
Of course it could still go horribly wrong given how finely balanced the various odd storytelling bedfellows are but I get the feeling that the writers and producers know what they’re doing, aided by characters who feel fully formed with burgeoning relationships that ring true, a mythology that makes sense despite its by necessity over the top nature, and a story ripe with narrative possibilities.
Above all, it’s a huge amount of entertaining fun, and if you’re heading into a battle to avert the apocalypse, you’ll need all the fun you can get on the way.
Sleepy Hollow airs Mondays at 9/8c on Fox in USA and in Australia on Channel 10 at 9.30 p.m. Tuesdays.
2 thoughts on “TV review: Sleepy Hollow (S1, pilot episode)”
I shan’t bore you here with my assessment of the latest iteration of “Sleepy Hollow”; feel free to check my own review at jennypop.net 🙂 How fab we both appreciate Irving as well as Hanna-Barbera. Great minds and all.
I shall say here that it is far better than I had envisioned and the tweaks to American history, even to this historian, are downright fun! Apocalypse! WooHoo!! Do we all get frock coats and fabulous corsetry at World’s End? That would be sublime.
Mison is a dream, even if drifting leagues away from Irving’s original vision (well-covered in my review). Still, one Ichabod Crane reigns supreme for this Spooky Girl … Johnny Depp. C’est ca.
I will definitely check out your review and as if you could even bore me for a nanosecond. Inconceivable! Irving and HB make a great mix! 🙂
I had never thought about apocalyptic wardrobes until Sleepy Hollow and am even now getting outfitted for my dashing cavalry outfit. Not sure it lends itself to running from whatever version of the apocalypse we end up with – headless alien zombies with flashlights perhaps? – but at least we’ll go out looking fabulous and that’s what counts right?
Mison is a dream YES. A perfect casting fit if ever there was one. Can you believe I never saw Johnny Depp’s take on it. Oui c’est vrai. I must remedy that forthwith and even yesterday!
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