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Sleepy Hollow, Ep. 2.17, “Awakening”: For whom the bell tolls

Sleepy Hollow, Ep. 2.17, “Awakening”: For whom the bell tolls

SleepyHollow0217_IchabodLibertyBell

Sleepy Hollow, Season 2, Episode 17, “Awakening”
Written by M. Raven Metzner
Directed by Doug Aarniokoski
Airs Mondays at 9 pm (ET) on Fox

It’s difficult to pin down an episode like “Awakening,” because it’s an episode that keeps thwarting expectations. It sets itself up for twists and then abandons those twists in favor of new ones, offers up some fun alt-history that it offsets with bad characterization, and provides even more evidence of Sleepy Hollow fumbling in the dark yet snagging some brilliance in said fumbling. “Awakening” almost needs two reviews, one for what happens in the first three-quarters of the episode and one for what happens in the last ten minutes, because while the first part is bog standard season two Sleepy Hollow the second could potentially be the show’s most inspired move all year.

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At first glance, “Awakening” appears to be in the same vein as “Root Of All Evil,” wherein Henry uses his dark magics to stir up trouble in Sleepy Hollow via a mysterious artifact and it directly endangers the Witnesses. In this case the artifact in question is a bell cast from the same mold as the Liberty Bell, able to serve as a conduit for a potent ritual called the Awakening that taps the recessive witchcraft gene in various Sleepy Hollow residents. It’s an interesting idea for the show to explore, further feeding into the idea that the town has always had something dark underneath it and the events of the pilot have simply let it come out to play. Similarly, there’s a lot of potential in the idea of just how many latent witches are in the town, and the way those powers could come out under stressful conditions.

The potential of the idea makes it all the more surprising that the episode entirely backgrounds that detail in order to tell a story about Katrina and Henry. Henry’s plan to build his own empire is evidently grounded in the idea of resurrecting his mother’s old coven, and he approaches Katrina with the idea to join him in bringing it together. Here’s where the episode’s biggest structural problem comes in, because after so many cons by Henry and attempted cons by Katrina, when the two are suddenly sincere in their motivations it’s distracting. We keep waiting for Henry to betray Katrina, or Katrina to betray Henry, and neither of those things ever happen. He’s genuinely trying to get her on his side, and she’s evidently prepared to blast magical forces at the husband she risked everything to keep alive.

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The reason why so much of this falls flat is the same reason why so much of what’s been done with Katrina does: it’s a bad character. This isn’t the equivalent of Willow Rosenberg on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, because (spoiler alert) when Willow snapped there were six seasons worth of content to justify the choices made and there was a clear through line of how we got from shy nerdy girl to grief-stricken black-eyed witch. In 30 episodes Katrina’s probably had less than 10 of notable character development, spending a third of the show’s run in Purgatory and a third of it making stupid choices related to Henry or Abraham. Turning her into a villain for the show this quickly, after the idea was only introduced two weeks ago in “Spellcaster,” is a decision that feels predictable for the wrong reasons in that it’s only something to do with the character that the writers haven’t tried before. The threads of a betrayal are there—her unwillingness to give up on either Horseman, increased estrangement from Ichabod—but they remain too rushed and insubstantial to giver her conversion real weight.

Speaking of characters the show has no idea what to do with, Irving is now in full Other Irving mode as he goes commando on our heroes, sniping them from cover and chasing Jenny into the tunnels when she splits off from the main group. Other Irving is the closest that we’ve gotten to the hallucinatory version of Irving from “Go Where I Send Thee” and he makes for a solid antagonist, albeit one whose devotion to his family far eclipses any interest the audience has left about the character. And disappointingly, despite the buildup of the Gorgon’s head from “Magnum Opus” as a last resort weapon it remains tantalizingly out of sight, more attention spent on Jenny and Dark Irving trading barbs and bullets than on some excellent petrification.

No such ambiguity exists in the clash between Henry and the Ichabod/Abbie team, which sees both sides pulling out all their firepower—Katrina and Henry show off some legitimate magic that includes bullet time and accelerated bricking up, while Ichabod’s sporting a pair of high-powered flintlocks and no compunctions left about using them. The buildup between the two sides is well-executed, and after weeks of hesitation finally closes the gap when Abbie puts a hellfire round in Henry’s chest. Much like the motivations of the plot, it’s unclear if this is the last we’ve seen of Henry Parrish, though at this point the character doesn’t have much to offer. As much as adding John Noble to any show regularly makes that show better by virtue of osmosis—and he has done consistently solid work in spite of the narrative—the baggage might outweigh the benefits at this point. And if he must go out he goes out well, his unnaturally preserved body crumbling to ash in a fine bit of special effects.

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It’s time for the show to look forward—which it does by looking back, as Katrina whips out the traveling spell that Solomon Kent tried to use and drags Abbie in her wake. Ichabod, Katrina, and Henry are all referenced at some point in “Awakening” as being out of time, and by the end of the episode it’s Abbie who finds herself there, dazedly walking in what turns out to be 1781 Sleepy Hollow. (It also makes for a fantastic inversion of one of the pilot’s more memorable images—much as Ichabod was nearly blindsided by a truck after waking up in his prison, Abbie nearly gets trampled by a horse-drawn carriage heading down the road.) It’s a sudden twist with a lot of potential as Abbie, a tough, confident black woman, is now in a world where having those traits in combination creates suspicion and hostility at best. With Ichabod’s confrontation with the Horseman yet to happen and Katrina in full possession of her memories (and Jeremy in her womb), the status quo is even more shaken than it was at “Bad Blood.” But as the show loves to remind us, the Witness bond is one that transcends all boundaries, and some connection is sure to strike when Captain Ichabod Crane meets this strange prisoner.

With no word on a renewal from Fox and ratings continuing to slide, Sleepy Hollow is heading to a season finale that could conceivably also be the series ending. (Fox’s disastrous fall made it look like a safe bet for most of the year, but an Empire-related jolt of confidence could spur the executive urge to put down a flagging horse.) That would be a bad thing, because as bad as the show has gotten at times this year, this is still one of the oddest and most imaginative things on the air, still capable of jolts like the one that hits in the last five minutes. So many things are jumbled up in “Awakening” and in Sleepy Hollow, but the place it eventually gets to is one where for the first time, everything feels completely unpredictable.

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Other thoughts:

  • This Week In Ominous John Noble Arts And Crafts: No art projects this week, although one wonders by what mechanics he was able to get a giant bronze bell into the town square without anyone noticing.
  • This Week In Ichabod Hates Ben Franklin: No mention. Fingers crossed that we’ll get some real-time Franklin action next week and Abbie gets to learn her own distaste for the man.
  • Apologies for the lack of a review last week, as I was filling in for my friend Zack Handlen in his usual Sleepy Hollow coverage duties over at The A.V. Club. You can see my thoughts on “What Lies Beneath” here.
  • Remember when there was a Headless Horseman running around Sleepy Hollow? Whatever happened to that guy? I miss him.
  • As much as Katrina’s character choices can feel asinine, none of that blame falls on Katia Winter. Her enraged denouncement of Ichabod following Henry’s death was solid.
  • Tom Mison’s delivery of “Which holiday requires monopedal pink birds and an army of Barbate pygmies?” may be his best yet. (And as I’m a terminal Wonderfalls fan, I deeply wanted one of the flamingoes to tell Ichabod to get off his ass.)
  • “I had no idea the man out of time was itself such a time-honored literary trope. Here I thought I was rather unique.” “You’re the only one in the nonfiction section.”
  • “Lighters require refueling, whereas flint and steel can always be relied upon! I appreciate the modern world, but sometimes old school is the best school. … Ah, batteries!”
  • “Go to hell.” “It’s your turn, I’m afraid.”

 

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