Skip to Content

Sleepy Hollow, Ep. 2.01, “This Is War”: a premiere that comes out swinging

Sleepy Hollow, Ep. 2.01, “This Is War”: a premiere that comes out swinging


Sleepy Hollow, Season 2, Episode 1, “This Is War”
Written by Mark Goffman
Directed by Ken Olin
Airs Mondays at 9pm (EST) on Fox

Few shows are returning this fall with higher expectations than Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. What appeared last year to be an inexplicable pickup turned into the season’s most engaging new series, managing to successfully balance its utterly ridiculous concept with strong character work and a clever sense of humor. It was a win for quality that also translated into a ratings win for Fox, who made the interesting choice of bypassing a back-nine and ordering a second season right away. All of this was encouraging, but continued to raise the question of how long its brand of lunacy could be sustained, or if whatever energy the writers had grappled onto would dim in between seasons.

Those questions are answered in large part by “This Is War,” and the answers are the right ones. Not only does the season premiere successfully juggle most of the cliffhangers established at the end of last year, it also proves that whatever energy the show found last year is a long way from being tapped out. It’s everything that Sleepy Hollow fans have grown to love from the show, ridiculousness and seriousness in equal measure, a show where a shotgun-toting headless horseman appears in the first five minutes and legitimate excitement and drama trump the absurdity.

The shrewdest move the premiere makes is to put its greatest strength front and center starting out. What elevates Sleepy Hollow over other shows with ridiculous concepts (e.g. Zero Hour, Cult, Do No Harm) is the pairing of Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) and Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), two highly active characters who enjoy an excellent chemistry. The two were split up in the first season finale—Ichabod to a coffin and Abbie to Purgatory—but they’re back together in the first scene, once again on the track of an obscure relic. While the use of gaslighting is obvious after a few minutes, it works because it maintains the rapport between the two and even forces increased emotional depth into the performances by pitching them into an alternate future where their loved ones have been killed off. While the stakes were high at the end of the season finale, sidestepping them to get right to the action reminds us why the show was so good last year and builds the anticipation for them to reunite for real.


Once the action returns to real-time, it retains the kinetic pace that allows the show to succeed, zipping between worlds and crises at a madcap pace. Other episodes of Sleepy Hollow have focused on moral choices, but here there’s a mission so clear nothing gets in the way of either party’s efforts. There’s the National Treasure element of relic-hunting as Ichabod tries to track down the Key of Gehenna to free her, the improvisational problem-solving he takes to get there—explosive dirt and ambulances are involved at various points—and horrific demon imagery lurking just out of sight. The climax of Abbie’s rescue from Purgatory is a particular delight, with a demonic doppelganger leading to some Crane-on-Crane fighting and a final blow that’s all the more rewarding thanks to how Abbie selects the right one to behead. It’s not tactics or motivations, it’s the lack of an endearing verbal tic.

The resolution of that deception also factors into why “This Is War” is such a strong return: it’s an episode full of the best parts of Sleepy Hollow, incorporated without feeling like blatant fan service. Once again Ichabod’s tied into colonial American history, this time with the reveal that he served as apprentice to Benjamin Franklin, played in flashbacks with wonderful swagger by veteran actor Timothy Busfield. It’s fun both for the twists on history—Franklin’s key unlocked dimensions and he was trying to destroy it with lightning—and because of Ichabod’s unabashed contempt for Franklin as an egomaniacal twit. (The inflection of “scores of strumpets crushed under his girth” is an early highlight.) We have instances of modern technology frustrating Ichabod—a painfully funny moment where his possible last words aren’t recorded by a cell phone—and modern speech bleeding into his precise tones as he confesses to feeling “punked.” And there’s lots of Headless Horseman, now allowed to be shirtless and show off some semblance of humanity in his efforts to win over the captive Katrina.


A further encouragement is the material given to Lynndie Greenwood and John Noble, season one recurring players now promoted to the main cast. Jenny remains as tough and confident as she was last season—particularly in an impressive escape from Hessian imprisonment—and Abbie’s imprisonment allows her to team up more directly with Ichabod, a move further cementing her as part of the Sleepy Hollow Scooby Gang. On the other end of the alignment scale, now that Henry has been revealed as the Horseman of War, Noble gets to go from cryptic to outright evil, and it’s a joy to behold. He’s an actor who raises up every project he’s in, and the ending of the episode promises so much more from him: not only does every one of his words drip with menace, he’s got evil lair, an animated suit of armor, and a flaming sword to back those words up.

“This Is War” doesn’t tackle every hanging thread of the show—Orlando Jones’s Captain Irving doesn’t appear once, and Katrina remains stuck in the struggling captive role despite her escape from Purgatory—but what it does tackle it lands perfectly. Sleepy Hollow was one of the most lively and entertaining shows of the 2013 season, and if the premiere’s energy is a sign of things to come it’s in a good place to retain that title for a second year in a row.