SPOILERS AHEAD (or, um be-head?), so duck and cover, Sleepy Hollow fans!
Season One, Episode One: “Pilot”
Written by: Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci & Phillip Iscove, Directed by: Len Wiseman
Fox is kicking off the Fall TV season early. Last night was the premiere of the much-anticipated new series Sleepy Hollow. Based on the classic short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving, the show is brought into the modern age by Fringe masterminds Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, Underworld franchise director Len Wiseman, and newcomer Phillip Iscove.
The Revolutionary War is raging in 1781 New York, and our protagonist (Tom Mison) is in the thick of battle. Suddenly, a distinct Horseman appears on a white horse wearing an iron mask and sporting the symbol of a bow on his hand. He attacks our protagonist who quickly slices off the horseman’s head, but not before he receives his own mortal injury. He wakes up in a cave, fully healed. After finding his way to the surface, he stumbles onto a modern road and is almost hit by a truck. The camera pulls out to reveal that he is now in present day Sleepy Hollow.
Elsewhere, in a diner, two cops are exchanging expository banter. Sheriff Corbin (Clancy Brown) is complaining about the obscene number of unsolved cases, wondering why Lieutenant Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) doesn’t seem to care. Abbie is transferring to a new job at Quantico and just wants a quiet week before leaving. But a call about spooked horses proves to the be the unraveling of that easy week she wants.
At the stables, Abbie finds the owner decapitated. Inside, Corbin tries to shoot down the Horseman from before; but the Horseman is impervious and lobs off Corbin’s head. Abbie sees him ride away on his white horse, calling in the murder to her fellow police team. Officer Dunn (John Cho) quickly apprehends our protagonist who is wandering around the town in a confounded state (Apparently his dated clothing seems to be justifiable cause for arrest).
As the prime suspect, he undergoes a polygraph test and reveals that he is Ichabod Crane (a former Brit turned American loyalist) and doesn’t remember anything from the last 250 years. The polygraph reveals that he isn’t lying, so they assume he is crazy and Captain Irving (Orlando Jones) orders him sent to a mental hospital.
Abbie drives Crane, questioning him about what he remembers while making tired jokes about the large number of Starbucks in town. He leads her to the cave where he awoke, and they find an old Bible, which spurs a few memories to his final moments in 1781. As he lay dying, his wife Katrina (Katia Winter) and the Reverend (Patrick Gorman), whom we and Crane saw in earlier scenes in present day Sleepy Hollow, were delivering some warnings to him. The Bible is bookmarked in Revelation, referring to the verses about the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, describing a Horseman who closely resembles the one Crane beheaded. Crane conveniently remembers at this moment that General Washington told him a distinct mercenary would attack him and that it was Crane’s job to stop him to save all of Earth. That Horseman is at that moment attacking the Reverend, who swears not to reveal the location of some important object, dying to protect that secret.
At the crime scene, Crane sees a bird and follows it to his wife’s grave, learning via the inscription that she was burned to death for practicing witchcraft. Unfortunately, Irving is pissed that Abbie didn’t take Crane to the mental hospital and threatens her job security if she doesn’t dispatch him there immediately. At the hospital, Abbie confesses that she is inclined to believe some of Crane’s story because she had a creepy instance with four white trees and a mysterious voice that she has spent her life trying to forget.
During the night, Crane is summoned to a vision by Katrina (via the bird) where she informs him of the impending apocalypse thanks to the Horseman’s return. When Crane decapitated him, their blood was linked, so Katrina cast a spell on them both that put them into a sleep, disposing of their bodies where they would not be found (and saving the world). Subsequently, she hid his head in her grave. Someone found the Horseman and awoke him, and he is now terrorizing Sleepy Hollow looking for his head.
Abbie springs Crane out of the hospital, and he tells her what he’s learned as she reveals what she’s learned. While mourning Corbin’s death in his office, she discovers a hidden key which unlocked a draw full of files on Corbin’s research into those unsolved murders (including an article about Abbie’s suppressed experience). They appear to be connected to two covens of witches, battling for good and evil.
Abbie calls Dunn and tells him to bring the squad to the cemetery, accidentally alerting him to what they’ve learned about the Horseman. He sends the Horseman to them, assisting him in attacking Abbie and Crane. But the impending sunrise (the Horseman’s pretty lame weakness) sends him crawling back to the river where he hides, and Abbie gains control of the whole situation. Irving praises Abbie’s skills, finally believing Crane, who is assigned to her investigation into the Horseman, squashing her desire for a transfer.
The episode ends on a thrilling note as Abbie and Crane head to Dunn’s cell to question him. We see a blurred figure (with ram-like horns) telling him he failed before killing him. They enter a few seconds after and catch a glimpse of this threatening figure as he disappears into a mirror. It’s now safe to assume that there is a lot more to worry about than just the one Horseman.
This pilot is weighed down by exposition (as most are), and it feels like the writers are busy pitching the show to get us fully grounded in the characters. However, the mythology of the series presents some intriguing aspects (with an unique twist on their source material), and I’m certain that the creative team knows exactly what they’re doing.
Now for some random thoughts and my favorite moments of the night…
How is the first Sleepy Hollow murder connected to the Horseman’s hunt for his head? Was he part of this witchy conspiracy?
The jokes about culture shock are immediately tiresome (no matter how much it helps lighten the tone). I would be hopeful that they cool it on those, but the preview of the upcoming series wasn’t very encouraging.
I enjoyed the winking nod to Washington Irving by naming the Captain after him.
Speaking of the Captain, was his distrustful look after sending Abbie out of Corbin’s office meant to distract us from the reveal of Dunn as a Horseman conspirator or is he, too, involved in this conspiracy?
It’s amazing that Crane makes it through the entire episode without changing out of his revolutionary wardrobe.
The Horseman’s weakness to sunrise (is it just sunrise?) comes off as pretty weak writing.