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Sleepy Hollow, Ep. 2.15, “Spellcaster”: Must be the season of the witch

Sleepy Hollow, Ep. 2.15, “Spellcaster”: Must be the season of the witch

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Sleepy Hollow, Season 2, Episode 15, “Spellcaster”
Written by Albert Kim
Directed by Paul Edwards
Airs Mondays at 9pm (ET) on Fox

The overarching Sleepy Hollow narrative has been treading water since the events of “The Akeda,” the show unable to find a hook in the wake of Moloch’s death. For the past few episodes events have gone through a series of monsters of the week, the characters as adrift as the writers as they spend their time asking some fairly meta questions about what their place in the world is. It hasn’t been a bad stretch of episodes—in fact, on balance the show’s felt more entertaining than it did in the first half of the season—but a sense of direction has been keenly missed. “Spellcaster” takes steps to remedy that deficit, setting things in motion for the final trio of season two episodes.

At first glance, “Spellcaster” doesn’t appear to break the mold heavily, fitting in alongside “Paradise Lost” and “Pittura Infamante” as another episode where one of Purgatory’s escapees is wreaking havoc on the town—in this case Solomon Kent, a 16th century warlock directly responsible for the paranoia and burnings of the Salem witch trials. These monsters of the week have been a large part of the latter episodes’ success as they place a more recognizable face on Ichabod and Abbie’s adventures as opposed to the demonic. Their motivations are easier to understand and make for higher-stakes drama than a stock evil entity, yet the historic nature of their crimes means there’s still plenty of room for the show’s reliables of witness research and alt-history fan fiction.

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Kent’s story is a strong one, rooted in both unrequited love and a fear of discovery that ironically runs in parallel to the fear he instills in the townspeople. The connection is also strengthened by giving Katrina a personal stake in these events, with her grandmother Helena as one of the witches caught in Kent’s wake. The flashback scenes paired with Katrina’s first-hand accounts are surprisingly engaging and do a lot to fire up the Witnesses to take him down, although the decision to cast Katia Winter as both Helena and Katrina is an unnecessary distraction.

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More important to the overarching plot of the show are the seeds of doubt that his presence creates in Katrina. Sleepy Hollow takes a fairly neutral perspective on magic by treating it more as a tool that can be used with good or bad intentions, but “Spellcaster” goes for more of a Force analog as he dangles dark magics in front of her: easier, quicker, more seductive. It’s a new and unexpected idea yet it’s not entirely a bad call for the show to make, given that she’s one of the only spellcasters on the show who doesn’t wind up trying to summon something to destroy everyone and also her domestic woes are starting to fade away.

While Katrina is out of commission for the fight, Irving steps up to take his place on Team Witness again. Irving’s return has felt like a millstone around the show’s neck since it happened, but for the first time in “Spellcaster” he starts to feel like a character worth spending time with. Orlando Jones finally demonstrates some energy that he hasn’t had a chance to deploy in all of season two between his asylum commitment, be it gently joking with Abbie about how well (or not) he’s able to tail her and showing off some of his commanding officer gravitas as he lectures her about fighting the good fight. It finally gives the audience something it’s badly needed, evidence why it was smart not to write Irving off the show entirely.

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The actual dispatching of Kent happens almost too easily—a combination of tranquilizers and generators quickly shutting down his magical energies—but what’s more interesting for the show is what comes after. With Ichabod and Abbie distracted, Irving takes advantage of the silence to pocket the grimoire of black magic, crack the warlock’s neck, and play dumb when the Witnesses return to the scene. Placing him in opposition to Ichabod and Abbie makes for one of the most Sleepy Hollow’s done in a good long while, and this could finally be the step that makes Irving feel relevant to the show again. There’s still plenty of questions left to ask, particularly given Katrina’s reassurance that his soul is in fact his again, but the fact that the writers have opted to cross that bridge and prove Abbie’s flickering doubts means that for once Irving-related questions feel worth answering.

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In any case, the motivations for why he’s gone in this direction are laid bare with the return of his master, Henry Parrish. Henry’s absence since the midseason finale is explained with fairly conventional reasons—not destroyed or banished by the action of killing Moloch, he simply fled to a small hotel to brood and watch daytime television. He seems content to while away the hours in obscurity, striking up a passing friendship with his landlady and her son that’s threatened when some local toughs take up residence and refuse to leave. Seeing Henry watch the event silently, it foreshadows the concept of him falling back into bad habits, using his magic and being shunned by those he’s come to accept, driven into deeper torment.

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That concepts is foreshadowed and even lampshaded by Henry himself, but in a most refreshing development that’s not the reason why he decides to return to the dark arts. Seeing their actions has only reawakened the thirst for power and validation that was always there in his dealings with Moloch, and realize that those talents he worked so hard at are being wasted. It’s good that Sleepy Hollow kept John Noble out of sight for a few weeks because it gave the audience a chance to miss him, and there’s no denying the glee that runs down the spine as he hurls the thugs around and hisses a promise:“There will always be sheep. There will always be wolves. And I am a wolf.”

Pouting Henry is something we’ve had enough of, it’s time to see something more substantial. We certainly seem to be in for just that, as Henry and Irving meet at the site of Moloch’s demise and pledge themselves to a new course of action, one that could be just what Sleepy Hollow needs.

Other thoughts:

  • This Week In Ominous John Noble Arts And Crafts: In his weeks of exile he’s whittled himself a church from a block of wood. Not particularly ominous, although Ronnie admires the angles.
  • This Week In Ichabod Hates Ben Franklin: Ichabod’s living pretty firmly in the present these days, having given himself over to catching up on such great minds of the last century as Edward R. Murrow and Spider-man.
  • Given Katrina’s spotty track record, it’s funnier than it should be to see that Helena makes stupid choices on par with her granddaughter, threatening to expose Kent with no awareness of the danger to herself.
  • Katrina tests out her strengthened powers by hurling rocks around. Apparently the rising tides translate into skill with earthbending.
  • The opening scenes of Ichabod looking into purchasing a home are slight, but worthwhile for the dumbfounded expression on his face when confronted with a squeaky plastic banana. “One cannot even buy a home without being bombarded with modern-day hucksterism.”
  • “Banish thy foul stench, unholy minion!” “You really need to work on your trash talk.”
  • “In the 21st century, we make our own lightning.”
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