Sleepy Hollow 1.11 “Vessel” a great mix of scares, action, relationships
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Sleepy Hollow, Season 1: Episode 11 – “Vessel” Written by Mark Goffman, David McMillan, and Melissa Blake Directed by Romeo Tirone Airs Mondays at 9 PM EST on Fox
After a winter hiatus, Sleepy Hollow returns with one of its most complete episodes of its first season. “Vessel” takes all of the elements which make Sleepy Hollow a good show and blends them almost perfectly. From superficial elements like Ichabod’s (Tom Mison) reactions to modern clothes and wacky, alternate takes on early American history to more serious things like fleshing out Frank’s (Orlando Jones) relationship with his family and Moloch’s larger plot. This episode also features some scenes of visceral horror and a plot that kicks into gear ten minutes into the episode and doesn’t hit the brakes until the denouement. Goffman and McMillan weld this episode’s story to Sleepy Hollow‘s overall arc while Melissa Blake’s teleplay adds meat to the characters and themes. “Vessel” is part conspiracy thriller, part horror film, and part Bible story and really shows how great a show Sleepy Hollow can be when it loses itself in various genre mashups while still being emotionally compelling.
“Vessel’s” biggest strength as a stand-alone episode is its sense of menace. The whole demon possesses a child horror genre has grown stale, but Goffman, McMillan, and Blake bring it back from the bargain DVD bin by connecting it to character relationships. Just like the golem had a personal connection to Ichabod, the body swapping/possessing demon Ancitif derives its scare factor from its close connection to the unstable relationships between Abbie (Nicole Beharie) and her sister Jenny (Lyndie Greenwood) as well as Irving’s with his ex-wife and daughter Macey (Amandla Stenberg). Director Romeo Tirone also utilizes quick cuts to reveal the extent of Ancitif’s power. The horror elements acts a bridge between the plot and characters. Tom Mison has remarkable time as Ichabod Crane when he delivers some lines that encapsulate a character’s arc or a show’s them, like when tells Abbie and Jenny that their “ceaseless quarreling shows how much you care about each other”. Mison has good range and can go from being comically frustrated with 21st century to life to delivering pearls of wisdom like that one. But he doesn’t overshadow the other performers, and Orlando Jones and Nicole Beharie both get to reveal the vulnerable sides of their characters as they come to grips with forces that beyond their control.
But “Vessel” isn’t just a character drama with a scary monster, it is a beautiful study in intertextual elements. It takes bits and pieces of the Bible, American history along with supernatural genre shows, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural, and adds a dash of action cinema towards the end of the episode. Sleepy Hollow uses pieces of other stories to tell its own story of ordinary humans trying to find a sense of belonging in the face of a secret war between good and evil. For example, Biblical elements like demon possession and exorcism become a metaphor for Irving’s feelings of guilt and self-doubt when his daughter had an accident and lost the use of her legs. These intertextual parts of “Vessel” also hint at larger themes, like the importance of the past to solve today’s problems. The key to defeat Cetif lies in both the characters’ and the United States’ past. “Vessel” is a great example of Sleepy Hollow as genre mashup.
“Vessel” is a strong showing for Sleepy Hollow‘s characters, overall story arc, and even has a threatening monster of the week. It has come into its own with its combination of quirky plot elements, well-developed character relationships, and underlying themes that don’t ruin the show’s entertainment value. And “Vessel” is enjoyable on a pure entertainment level with funny quips, horrifying images, and a healthy dose of suspense. It is a case study in what makes Sleepy Hollow a unique and occasionally great show.