Sleepy Hollow, S01E01, “Pilot” is a fun, self-aware genre bender

Sleepy Hollow S01E01 promo pic 1

Sleepy Hollow, Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot″
Written by  Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Phillip Iscove
Directed by Len Wiseman
Airs Mondays at 9:00 PM ET on Fox

Sleepy Hollow‘s pilot is an exercise in dualities. The premise of the show is a mix between Washington Irving’s two famous short stories “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle”. It features Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) and the Headless Horseman as protagonist and antagonist, but in this version of Crane has been sleeping for centuries like Rip Van Winkle and also wakes up to a very different world than the one he formerly inhabited. There also shifts and dualities in genre. There are shifts from action to police procedural to horror and even fish out of water comedy. The transitions between genres can be a bit jarring, and the writers have the characters solve the mystery quickly through an impossible bread crumb trail of the clues so they can set up the season long myth arc. However, through stylish directing and camera work from action/horror film veteran Len Wiseman (Underworld, Live Free and Die Hard) and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthow (Game of Thrones, Boardwalkr Empire), a fast paced plot, and a pockets of humor, “Pilot” succeeds in its goal of being an entertaining supernatural drama.

The key to “Pilot’s” success as an episode lies in the chemistry between man out of time Ichabod Crane (Mison) and police detective Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie). Their snarky banter and discussions about diverse subjects from modern gender roles to how to open a car door properly keep things from getting too overserious. The words “apocalypse” and “death” are bandied about quite a bit in this episode, but these character interactions counterbalance the supernatural melodrama. Unfortunately, the other characters like police chief Frank Irving  (Orlando Brown) and Crane’s wife Katrina (Katia Winter) are relegated to exposition deliverers or plot ciphers. Irving is basically Dana Scully without her charm and depth, and Katrina appears in dream sequences to move the plot along and explain the episode’s more mysterious events. Even though “Pilot” leans a little too heavily on Katrina’s exposition to progress the story, it does a great job of showing the interactions between Crane and Mills. Mills even gets the beginnings of a character arc that deals with her exposure to the supernatural as a child.

Sleepy Hollow revels in its fantastic nature. Plot contrivances, MacGuffins, and ancient conspiracies pop up in almost every minute of the episode. But Wiseman’s directing keeps viewers riveted on the action and not on the outlandish, seemingly random things happening. Wiseman uses long tracking shots to show the sprawl of 21st century Sleepy Hollow in contrast with the cluttered, close up shots of Crane’s hallucinations and flashbacks. This episode has its share of decapitations and carnage, but Wiseman keeps most of it off screen and uses quick cuts to make the deaths even more horrifying. His direction also includes a few jump scares and a truly chilling final shot.

“Pilot” is a triumph of style over substance, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When your main character is over 200 years old and the main plot device is George Washington’s Bible, a dose of humor and self-awareness goes a long way. Sleepy Hollow is a hodgepodge of shows ranging from Criminal Minds and X-Files to Supernatural and Angel. However, it is an entertaining hodgepodge. Its pilot is full of wacky twist and turns and also sets up the beginning of a season long story arc based on the supernatural elements in Sleepy Hollow and the surrounding area. There are quite a few one dimensional characters and some plot gimmickry, but “Pilot” is the first step in what will hopefully continue to be a wacky and entertaining  TV show that transcends traditional genre boundaries.

– Logan Dalton

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