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Sleepy Hollow, Ep. 2.18, “Tempus Fugit”: Let’s do the time warp again

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Sleepy Hollow, Season 2, Episode 18, “Tempus Fugit”
Written by Mark Goffman
Directed by Paul Edwards
Airs Mondays at 9pm (ET) on Fox

It’s hard to regard Sleepy Hollow’s second season as anything other than a disappointment. While it never crossed the threshold into being a bad show, what was once the most loopy and good-humored offering on broadcast television transformed into something that was frequently a chore to watch. There was no major single flaw in the series, but multiple bad decisions that were allowed to fester and detract from the things the show did well. Irving’s constantly wavering allegiances and relevance, the introduction of a character no one particularly liked in Hawley, a Moloch plan that lacked the complexity of earlier efforts, and pushing Katrina down a flight of misguided plots—all of these gave the feeling that Sleepy Hollow no longer had a steady hand behind the wheel, and raised doubts that it could be what it was.

“Tempus Fugit,” the second season finale, doesn’t manage to entirely make up for the mistakes of the season. (Few things probably could, save for a Game Of Thrones-level battle between Team Witness and the hordes of Purgatory.) However, it is one of the season’s better installments, taking full advantage of last week’s time travel twist ending to change up the format in interesting ways. There’s some lively banter between our two heroes, entertaining Horseman action that winds up claiming the life of a Founding Father, and a bit of character house cleaning that should have happened a good eight or nine episodes before. It ends the season on a high note, which is about the best you could hope for.

Perhaps recognizing that fans miss the jolt of energy that took viewers by surprise in the very first episode, episode writer and showrunner Mark Goffman attempts to recapture that energy by drawing multiple parallels between its events and the events of the pilot. Some of them are obvious—the dynamic of Ichabod in jail having to explain matters to a skeptical Abbie is flipped around entirely—but there’s plenty of winking mentions that reward the part of the fanbase that’s stuck with the show through all its tribulations. Abbie’s difficulty with the carriage drapes mirrors Ichabod’s earlier marvel at the automatic windows in her car, and her observation of what buildings will become Starbucks in the future are as baffling to Ichabod here as they are now. It’s an enjoyable series of references, and reassurances that at least someone remembers the old days and wants to get back to them.

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The nods to how things used to be are fun, but more interesting is the way the dynamic between Ichabod and Abbie shifts in this new world. After two seasons where Ichabod gradually loosened up in modern times, Tom Mison’s performance is back to being reserved and patrician, responding to Abbie in clipped tones that have no time for flights of fancy. (Or her accent, which “alludes to upper New York but is quite slipshod.”) It’s easy to have fun at Ichabod’s expense with all the modern developments he’s befuddled by, but there’s a character arc buried amidst all of that, and seeing old-timey Ichabod with the stick wedged back up his rear is a solid reminder of how far present-day Ichabod has come. Plus, old-fashioned Ichabod means the return of his old-fashioned hat from “Root Of All Evil,” easily Mison’s best look.

If Ichabod is now playing the role of skeptic, Abbie’s in the role of true believer now, their dynamic entirely flipped from their first meeting that technically hasn’t happened yet. In all the darkest moments for Sleepy Hollow the chemistry between Mison and Nicole Beharie has always been the saving grace, and watching Abbie use everything she knows about her Ichabod to get through to this Ichabod reaffirms how well both actors and characters work together. Some of the dialogue is corny in its earnestness, but Beharie maintains her conviction enough that it’s never a deal-breaker. (She also livens it up by a great moment of badassery when Ichabod’s commanding officer decides to teach her a lesson, and she offers “true American strength” in response.)

If the change in setting benefits Ichabod and Abbie by showing off what interesting characters they are, it does even more for Katrina by letting her finally have a character to play. Having gone over entirely to the dark side after Henry’s death and out for her husband’s blood, Katrina is taking full advantage of her future knowledge to win the still-headed Horseman to her side as an attack dog. Possibly it’s the fact that she gets to show off her magic in an offensive capability, or possibly that her manipulating Abraham’s affection is worlds better than her trying to appeal to his humanity, but this version of Katrina is easily the best one we’ve had all season. (Give or take a “Pittura Infamante.”) It’s almost regretful they didn’t get to this position by “The Akeda,” as Katrina as a Big Bad for half the season would have been a far better use of Katia Winter and would have filled the post-Moloch void much better than any combination of Hawley, Evil Irving, or Reyes.

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The clash between both sides also keeps the action moving at a rapid clip. As the episode clearly doesn’t want to end the season still in the past it has to contrive a way to reset things, which it does with a reset clause attached to the spell that can be unlocked thanks to a counterspell that Abbie’s ancestor Grace just happens to know. It’s a contrived way to sidestep the butterfly effect, but it creates a race against time element that allows for such moments as Ben Franklin facing off with the Horseman (and losing his face in the process), a selfie-inspired jailbreak that Abbie turns out not to need, and another clash between Ichabod and the Horseman that turns out to be much more one-sided than their encounters typically are. There’s a lot that happens in “Tempus Fugit,” and this is an instance where it’s kinetically overstuffed and resists overthinking of any one element.

The past may have the action, but it’s the present that has the biggest change: Abbie manages to reverse the spell, Katrina lashes out in rage, and in trying to save his partner Ichabod buries a knife in the former love of his life. Of all the things that could happen in the finale, this is the best move they could have made. Katrina’s plots were the biggest stumbling block of the entire season as she bobbed around from one bad decision to the next, and her conversion to villain was so abrupt that a last-minute redemption would have felt hokey at best. She no longer served any purpose in the broader narrative of Sleepy Hollow, so removing her from the equation entirely is a welcome gesture, and for it to happen at Ichabod’s hand creates the foundation for remorse and resolve. Ichabod’s final moments with Katrina are legitimately solid work from Mison, and the way he responds with sorrowful acceptance forms another parallel to the way Katrina lost her mind last week when Henry died.

It’s unclear if Katrina’s death will send the creative pendulum back in the right direction for season three—if there even will be a season three, as the show remains worryingly unrenewed—but it’s a bit of pruning that the show desperately needed. There’s still a solid core to the show in Mison and Beharie, dependable supporting cast members like Orlando Jones and Lynndie Greenwood (both of whom are sure to benefit if they don’t have to split air time with Katia Winter and John Noble), and lots of potential remaining in the Purgatory overflow basin that Sleepy Hollow has become. Season two of Sleepy Hollow was a disappointment, but it’s not a death knell, and it ends well enough that a hypothetical season three remains something to anticipate.

Other thoughts:

  • This Week In Ominous John Noble Arts And Crafts: Henry leaves no grand project behind, merely one last ghostly visage to comfort Katrina in her dying moments.
  • This Week In Ichabod Hates Ben Franklin: Franklin in the flesh this week! Ichabod certainly looks frustrated with Franklin’s egotism and willingness to indulge Abbie—as well as the fact that he has to fetch an almanac—though in his grief he calls Franklin “the most influential man in the war effort.”
  • We get plenty of the Headed Horseman this week, but in present day the Headless Horseman is still apparently just hanging out around the outskirts of town. His threat was almost entirely neutered this season by Abraham’s obsession with Katrina—interesting interactions with Ichabod in “Magnum Opus” notwithstanding—and hopefully a potential third season will get back to making him an implacable and terrifying threat. Certainly the death of Katrina should serve another purpose here in spurring him to revenge, as well as removing the possibility that she could cast a spell separating Abraham and Death.
  • Ichabod trying to solve the mystery of a cell phone is easily the episode’s funniest bit, especially when he misinterprets the instruction to swipe.
  • “A hundred dollar bill! How about that, Ichabod?”
  • “I reviewed a moving picture in which you and I attempted to create a still picture.”
  • “Is this level of intimacy commonplace in 2015?” “We hug it out.”
  • “You ready, Captain?” “Ready, Leftenant.”

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