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Sleepy Hollow, Ep. 2.08, “Heartless”: The clawed hand that rocks the cradle

Sleepy Hollow, Ep. 2.08, “Heartless”: The clawed hand that rocks the cradle

SleepyHollow_S02E08_IchabodAbbie

Sleepy Hollow, Season 2, Episode 8, “Heartless”
Written by Albert Kim
Directed by David Boyd
Airs Mondays at 9pm (ET) on Fox

When Sleepy Hollow expanded from 13 to 18 episodes for its second season, it was simultaneously encouraging for everyone who wanted more of the show and discouraging for those who appreciated the condensed insanity of season one. One of the arguments frequently hurled at broadcast shows is that with a full season order writers have much more room to fill, and with rare exceptions—The Good Wife being an arguable example—it’s hard to maintain high-energy storytelling for 22 to 24 episodes. There’s been a few flickers of that in recent weeks, but “Heartless” is the first episode to feel entirely like a wash for the season. And more problematically, by producing a slower installment of the show it leaves more time to think about the series’ workings, a risky process on a show as driven by lunacy as this.

Part of that burden may fall on the demon in the center of the episode, a succubus (or “incordata”) conjured by Henry to drain the life force of various Sleepy Hollow residents. While the character design is as always impressively rendered, and the human incarnation of the spirit is played with appropriate sultry bearing by Caroline Ford, the succubus is something of a stock villain for a show that’s typically clever about finding its own spin on said monsters. Similarly, her early victims are so blatantly set up to be her prey that it’s hard to feel anything when they die, whereas an episode like “Root Of All Evil” did a better job setting up the residents who found themselves ensnared by the coin.

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The truly problematic part of the monster though is the reason why Henry conjured it in the first place: to donate its life force to the resurrection of Moloch, whose spirit turns out found sanctuary in Henry’s apparatus at the end of “Deliverance.” At one point, Abbie talks about how Henry’s moves are “calculated”, but the degree to which he’s been able to rebound from defeat makes it seem like he’s either the greatest improviser ever or that his plan operates on the scale of a satanic Rube Goldberg device. Grinding up the bone flute led to the acquisition of the jincan, which led to the demon spider impregnation, which led to the exorcised essence of Moloch being contained in a jar. Spelling out every part of his scheme, as opposed to last season where the reveal that there even was a scheme washed away any doubts, isn’t the best thing for the narrative because it forces increasing leaps in logic—and not the fun ones that the show is typically so good at providing.

“Heartless” also suffers because it adds more fuel to a complaint leveled at the show in recent weeks. The hashtag #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter has come into popular usage on Twitter by a subset of Sleepy Hollow fans distressed at the way the show’s leading lady has been treated, particularly with the increased time given to Katrina. And “Heartless” doesn’t do much better by her, as Katrina takes point on research and Ichabod is so distracted by his wife’s frail state that his priorities are glaringly apparent. Most insultingly, the episode shows Abbie at one point at her desk with a box labeled “Pizza For One,” which is only a step above Chef Lonely Hearts in terms of depressing dinner options.

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And with Ichabod distracted, Sleepy Hollow brings back its blond Nathan Drake to fill the gap. Hawley’s attraction to Abbie, implied in previous episodes, comes across clearly in the succubus’s desire-influenced metamorphosis. It’s been obvious since Hawley entered the picture that he was being maneuvered to be a love interest for Abbie, and making this more obvious doesn’t make it any more compelling as a relationship. Here, the supposed attraction also suffers because Abbie doesn’t play a part in any of it—Ichabod recognizing those feelings and then providing a reluctant semi-encouragement to his partner doesn’t leave her feeling like an active agent in the process. It’s especially irksome given that the show has Lyndie Greenwood as a regular cast member, and there’s a lot more interesting things they could be doing with that relationship that would let Abbie work out some of her Katrina-based frustrations.

In a more positive development, once the show decides to split this week’s team members into non-romantic pairings, there’s some solid stuff present. Ichabod and Hawley, teaming up to find the succubus in the heart of a dance club—playing music Ichabod equates to “attacking the walls of Jericho”—lets the two find some common ground when Ichabod gets to be a badass gunslinger and put the demon down. And when Abbie and Katrina have to work together for a common purpose, this takes down a lot of the repetition and terrible dialogue surrounding the twisted Crane family tree, letting Abbie be confident enough to finish a spell herself and Katrina to tentatively step into the territory of girl talk by joking about how hard her husband’s head is.

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Tragically, the latter is almost entirely undone by Katrina making the decision to yet again return to the captivity of the Horsemen, and being entirely swayed by the emerald pendant extending its illusion from Abraham to Moloch. If Katrina not letting go of the idea that Henry can be saved has been irritating (and it has), the fact that she thinks this demon spawn is a chubby-cheeked infant is certain to further grate on the audience’s patience.

SleepyHollow_S02E08_HenryKatrinaAbraham

The good news is that while “Heartless” is a largely disappointing installment of Sleepy Hollow, it’s not an episode that proves the wheels have come off the carriage yet. Every show is permitted to have one or two filler installments per season and the show doesn’t do badly enough here to sour anyone on the whole. However it does expose some cracks in the foundation, and raises the need for the show to amplify its positive chemistry and levels of crazy as it barrels towards the midseason finale.

Other thoughts:

  • This Week In Ominous John Noble Arts and Crafts: No direct sightings, but it’s fun to assume he carved the cradle Ron Swanson-style out of an oak tree that they used to hang outlaws from that was struck by lightning a century back.
  • This Week In Ichabod Hates Ben Franklin: Ichabod betrays how distracted he newly is, as he directly references studying Franklin’s sketchbook and can’t muster up a single insult about Franklin’s penmanship or penchant for sketching naked women in the margins.
  • The reveal that Valentine’s Day began when St. Valentine presented an incordata’s heart to Emperor Claudius is another Grimm-like touch, applying the events of the otherworld to reinterpret our version of history.
  • Complaints about the Abbie-to-Katrina screen time ratio aside, it is entertaining to see the Cranes watching a dating reality show and bickering over their take on the contestants. Also great- seeing Abbie get momentarily taken aback when Katrina brightly asks if there is more “television of reality” to sample.
  • Ichabod is aware of the concept of “macking.” And also apparently frequented a number of dance clubs with Katrina back in colonial days, adding more fuel to the idea that a Sleepy Hollow musical episode would be the best thing ever.
  • “The modern world has many tonics and restoratives. Some of which are chewable.”
  • “Succubus? That settles it, I’m definitely not buying her breakfast.”
  • “I know you think I’ve been irrational, willfully blind, even…” “Condescending?” Nice burn, Leftenant Mills.
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