Sleepy Hollow, Ep. 2.10, “Magnum Opus” gets back to basics pre-midseason finale

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Sleepy Hollow, Season 2, Episode 10, “Magnum Opus”
Written by Donald Todd
Directed by Doug Aarniokoski
Airs Mondays at 9pm (ET) on Fox

At a time when Sleepy Hollow is running the risk of losing its vital energy thanks to an excess of plots and characters, it’s important to remember the things everyone loved about the show in the first place. It captured the attention of viewers thanks to the ludicrous concept of a Headless Horseman wielding automatic weapons, and delivered that early and often. It moved past initial absurdity by capitalizing on the chemistry between its two leads and building a dynamic that everyone wanted to root for. And it managed to remain a consistently solid supernatural drama, deploying well-executed monsters and suspense.

“Magnum Opus” is an episode that provides all of those things in abundance, setting a promising stage for the show’s midseason finale next week. A large portion of the season’s fat—Hawley’s rakish charm, Reyes’s obstructionism, Ichabod’s paternal feelings—is trimmed away in favor of an old-fashioned treasure hunt and distillation of the show’s core relationships. It takes us back to the dynamic of the early days of Sleepy Hollow, when it was just Ichabod and Abbie vs. the Horseman, and gives the viewer enough of both sides that it (largely) distracts from the ways things have become unbalanced since.

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The treasure in question is the mythical Sword of Methuselah, the weapon Lori Mills alluded to at the end of “Mama” and that is buried in the forests outside of Sleepy Hollow. This is the sort of adventure that the monsters of the week haven’t allowed for enough of, Ichabod and Abbie piecing together a convoluted chain of references rather than needing to solve a mystery—distorted mirrors, political cartoons, and Templar myths all form links in the chain. While Sleepy Hollow has always had plenty of National Treasure in its DNA, “Magnum Opus” owes more to the Indiana Jones canon, complete with a treasure room full of misdirection and a snake-producing trap that’s begging Ichabod to mutter “Serpents. Why did it have to be serpents?” It’s an adventure that crackles along, not getting bogged down in weird coincidence or leaps of logic.

“Magnum Opus” also manages to get to the emotional core of the show, thanks to the prophecy that if those who seek the sword do not know themselves, they will perish. That’s a rocky path for both our heroes to travel and both Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie continue to prove themselves the bedrock of the show in their interactions. The doubts that have been swirling around Ichabod all season in regards to Katrina and Henry now take shape, as he questions just how much of his path he had any say over. And Abbie expresses the new focus that her adventures in “Mama” gave to her, but the sight of one of her petrified ancestors shakes her confidence to the point that she wonders if she’s just another link in the chain. The two support each other constantly, and they’re able to keep things from being too heavy thanks to their traditional banter, this time debating merits of torches versus flares.

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The return of the Headless Horseman to the field of battle is also a welcome sight. All the characterization and romantic uncertainty that Abraham’s illusory presence has given the Horseman is stripped away and he returns to the implacable force that so gripped the imagination in that very first trailer. Director Doug Aarniokoski structures the Horseman scenes with energy and legitimate tension, be it when Ichabod and Abbie are darting through the ruins or when he’s sparring with a fiendish gorgon. At the same time, our heroes prove they’ve learned a few things about fighting him as the battle feels more level than ever before, with the pair taking advantage of both his weaknesses (timing the sunlight to banish him) and strengths (using his lack of sight as a perk in the battle with the gorgon).

Yet for all the brute force, the confrontation between Ichabod and Abraham when the latter’s head reappears is the standout scene of the episode. Besides the choreography and framing of the duel, this is the first time that Ichabod’s been able to have a conversation with his former friend and the reunion is played well by both Mison and Neil Jackson. There’s a definite bitterness and sense of betrayal between them, particularly in the rage-filled retorts of the latter. (Ichabod: “All I see is the ghost of the man I once knew.” Abraham: “Well that, Ichabod, is because I am dead!”) The season one reveal of the Horseman’s true nature was one of that season’s biggest gut-punches and it pays off here by adding the weight of history to the conflict, further drawing the parallels and connections between the central characters. Ichabod may have been drawn along to this country and this conflict, but his convictions led him to embrace the fight he found himself in. Abraham felt everything would come to him and when faced with losing it, showed pettiness rather than character.

The only part of the exchange that doesn’t click is Ichabod’s statement he would like to see Abraham saved, a path the show keeps treading with Henry and that feels hollow every time. It’s hard to take Ichabod and Katrina’s desire to get to the humanity of the Horsemen seriously when the latter affirm their allegiance to the End Times without a moment’s hesitation. Some ambiguity between heroes and villains is frequently a good move in fiction, but Sleepy Hollow refuses to commit to this path beyond the occasional moment of uncertainty on the part of the Horsemen.

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Speaking of Henry, he’s feeling pretty damned confident in his successes this week, with the Moloch avatar now almost fully grown into a towering demonic force. Katrina sees him as a surly blonde teenager who could pass for a Lannister cousin, a move that only further underlines what a misstep her plot this year has been. There’s been no discernible movement in making Henry less evil, her effectiveness as a mole has been spotty at best, and her vaunted magical abilities have been limited to low-powered cantrips. The acceleration of Moloch’s rise and Henry’s cold dismissals here only makes her efforts seem more pointless, and makes one feel sorry for Katia Winter being saddled with such a thankless character. She’s been batted around between Ichabod and Abraham all season and the actions of “Magnum Opus” prove she’s practically incidental to their feud.

If nothing else, Moloch’s rise does set the stage for a literally Biblical confrontation next week. On the side of the heroes there’s some straight-up Excalibur energy as Ichabod draws the holy blade and is bathed in a shaft of light; and on the side of the villains, Henry is flanked by Horsemen and surging with dark fire. The board is set and the players are armed, and there’s little room left for either side to bide its time. Sleepy Hollow is going through its fair share of bumps in its sophomore season, here’s hoping that won’t keep them from sticking the landing in the midseason finale.

Other thoughts:

  • This Week In Ominous John Noble Arts And Crafts: Henry is now in possession of the ram’s horn that brought down the walls of Jericho and plans to blow it three times to herald Moloch’s rise. (And if we’re keeping with the policies of the Night’s Watch, perhaps to also herald the white walkers behind him.) Even though she’s miserable, Katrina has the energy to joke about holding a recital. Perhaps he knows “Hot Cross Buns.”
  • This Week In Ichabod Hates Ben Franklin: Once again, circumstances are so serious that Ichabod can’t even make a dig against Franklin’s artistic talent when studying the “Join or Die” editorial cartoon.
  • Any judgements on the Irving and Jenny material will have to wait until next week. As good as it is that Sleepy Hollow finally sprang Irving from the asylum, having him bail on Jenny and go underground doesn’t give much confidence the writers actually figured out something do with him after a season and a half of puttering around. Let’s be optimistic and hope he teams up with the Kindred for the counter-attack.
  • Ichabod retorts to the “I cannot tell a lie” myth with the fact that George Washington formed the Culper spy ring. One wonders about his thoughts on AMC’s TURN: Washington’s Spies. (A show that would benefit if a few of Sleepy Hollow‘s elements popped up in its universe.)
  • Of course Ichabod won’t use the abbreviation when referring to his phone’s “applications.”
  • “Don’t tell me you’re trying to take a selfie with the gorgon.”
  • “You chose to be a patriot and a hero.”
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