Sleepy Hollow, Season 2, Episode 6, “And The Abyss Gazes Back”
Written by Heather V. Regnier
Directed by Doug Aarniokoski
Airs Mondays at 9pm (ET) on Fox
In the last few weeks, Sleepy Hollow has settled into what appears to be a fairly comfortable episodic groove. There’s a monster of the week that benefits from some truly exceptional character design, exchanges that are at times witty and emotional between our two leads, a few bits of American history warped to serve the writers’ purpose, and everything comes to a head with a well-executed action climax and a closing scene of John Noble doing something cryptically menacing. It’s a solid enough formula for the show, and it’s yielded a series of entertaining episodes following the dramatic escapes of Ichabod and Abbie in the premiere.
However one of the things that makes Sleepy Hollow stand out is that for all its weirdness and Ichabod’s fish-out-of-water jokes, it’s a show that knows how to play the long game. What made the first season finale resonate so fully was the reveal of Henry’s master plan, the knowledge that the show had been laying the groundwork for this betrayal and hid it right under the audiences’ collective noses. “And The Abyss Gazes Back” starts to call to attention the next of Henry’s plans, reminding us that he is the Horseman of War—and that the first step of war is to gather soldiers to your banner.
There’s a specific soldier at the center of the episode, Sheriff Corbin’s heretofore unseen son Joe (Zach Appleman). Serving in Afghanistan, Joe returns home following the arrival of a mysterious letter covered in white powder, hunting for his dad’s secrets. Turns out that powder is a bone dust that bears the curse of the wendigo—the result of Henry smashing the bone flute at the end of “Go Where I Send Thee…”—and Joe now has to choose between handing over an arcane poison to Henry or living as an organ-consuming monstrosity for the rest of his life. Henry opts to have both options, and the moment where he activates Joe’s bloodlust is the most articulate view of his mission statement to date: “Your true curse is your humanity. See yourself as you really are. A creature of war.”
The wendigo effects are as well-done as we’ve come to expect (albeit not as psychologically terrifying as another TV wendigo), but when he’s outside of the monster Joe is the episode’s weakest link. Leaving aside the storytelling conceit of Abbie only just now remembering that Corbin had a son, his character is mostly defined by fairly rote daddy issues and resentment of Abbie for taking his place. His struggles with what happened while he was in wendigo form aren’t allowed to be real points of character for him, and the focus on the semi-sibling rivalry misses out on the psychological rewards other shows have gotten from similar arcs, such as Oz on Buffy The Vampire Slayer or Monroe on Grimm
The more entertaining part of this arc comes when Ichabod and Hawley are forced to team up on a fact-finding mission to the latter’s Shawnee contacts. At this point Hawley appears to be a member of the team in all but name, given he doesn’t ask for a reward once this episode and is researching alongside Abbie without complaint. That detracts from some of what’s interesting about Hawley, to the point that his pissing contest with Ichabod this episode is one of his last character traits. It at least manages to be somewhat novel—normal Ichabod/Hawley interactions have Hawley come out slightly ahead due to Ichabod’s superiority complex around the mercenary, so it’s a refreshing change of pace to see Ichabod use his pedantry to make a point.
When the final battle rolls around, it’s as elaborate as is to be expected—with Ichabod deploying an obsidian dagger and a runic skull to force the wendigo from Joe’s shell—though disappointingly anticlimactic in how quickly the beast is subdued. There’s a moment in the conflict where it looks as if Abbie will be forced to put her friend down, a charged moment that passes far too quickly and segues immediately into Joe being brought into the fold. Given how effective Caroline’s death was last week at galvanizing Ichabod, Joe may have been more useful to the narrative dead than alive—especially given the way the recurring cast has expanded this season. Instead, he’s left around to ask for a Quantico letter of recommendation and wander out the door, his possibility for return left wide open.
Also of mixed success are the mind games Henry is playing with Irving, as he holds the other man’s soul above his head in the world’s most malicious game of keep away. He promises to give it back if Irving takes a life on his own (whispering Nietzsche in his ear as only John Noble can whisper the words of lunatic German philosophers) and to sweeten the deal, the life he wants in exchange is the man who crippled Irving’s daughter in a drunk driving accident. The show is still struggling to keep Irving in its orbit—Exhibit A being that the phone call he makes to Abbie at the end of the episode is the first contact the two have had all season—and this plot doesn’t get him much closer to the action. If anything, his motivations seem foggier by the end of the episode than they ever have, paraphrasing Arthur Miller in a disconnected tone.
For Henry though, confusion is its own form of success. War is after all an eminently chaotic act, and while he may not have struck a decisive blow this week, he’s forced his father on the defensive yet again. It remains to be seen when the positions will reverse.
- This Week In Ominous John Noble Arts And Crafts: The wendigo is the end result of Henry’s bone smashing in “Go Where I Send Thee…” and he uses the jincan poison for some eldritch Creepy Crawlers action, creating a nasty spider that skitters down Katrina’s throat in the latest cliffhanger.
- This Week In Ichabod Hates Ben Franklin: Ichabod offers his former mentor some grudging respect this week by borrowing one of his toasts. “Much as I begrudge his posthumous fame, the man was an unrivaled reveler.”
- It’s a disappointing underuse of Clancy Brown (in his first return this season) to have him appear only to praise his son in flashbacks.
- Speaking of the recurring cast, whatever happened to Abbie’s fellow cop/ex-boyfriend from season one?
- “And The Abyss Gazes Back” is bookended by two terrific bits of Ichabod’s interactions with modern life, first when Abbie tries to teach him yoga as a calming technique and at the end when he discovers the joys of the first-person shooter as IchabodCrane1749. “ChiefWiggum49 and HaloIsMyBitch12 decided to frag me!”
- “How is it that the man who settled Northern Kentucky is remembered as ‘the guy with the raccoon on his head’?” Every episode going forward needs Tom Mison to deploy this exaggerated American accent.
- “We should probably donate blood, or something.” Jenny’s halfhearted suggestion to balance out the karma for stealing human organs to feed the wendigo.
- “Even God thought the devil was beautiful before he fell.”