It comes as no surprise to the loyalists of Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow” to hear that the sci-fi supernatural buddy cop drama is going through a bit of a sophomore slump. Ratings are down, Twitter feeds are grumpy.
The network addressed the issue head-on this past weekend at the Television Critics Assn. press tour, where a couple hundred journalists ruminate on broadcast and cable programming.
“Sleepy Hollow” has become too serialized, too convoluted, Fox’s top executives said, giving the impression to viewers that they’re already so far behind in its mythology that they couldn’t catch up if they wanted to dive in now. No new viewers + waning audience = sad outlook for its Season 3 prospects.
The network wants to make some creative fixes. That will include, going forward, more closed-ended stories and less over-arching Armageddon business. After all, we were promised a fiery apocalypse, only to have it snatched away recently. So that was an unfulfilled tease.
And as much of the social media chatter has said, Season 2 is lacking in the OMG-what-the-what-just happened quality that made the initial run so appealing.
This week’s episode, though likely in the can long before Fox’s honcho session with reporters, may be more along the lines of what fans can expect in “Sleepy’s” future. Cool? Sort of.
“Pittura Infamante” does center on a ruthless 18thcentury serial killer, not unlike the surgically skilled Jack the Ripper, which is a promising jumping-off point. And since this monster of the week is a wunderkind painter, the morphing-in-real-time self-portrait he left behind plays a nightmare-worthy central role.
And Frank Irving (Orlando Jones), a welcome sight even when confused and disheveled, lands in Sleepy Hollow’s police headquarters after coming back from the “dead” in a recent episode. Whether he’s friend or foe – controlled by his evil soul-owner Henry Parrish (John Noble) or a free man – is still TBD.
Otherwise, the hour separates the dynamic duo of Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) and Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), which is its Achilles' heel. And it serves up a heaping helping of Katrina (Katia Winter), who manages to stick the landing with her on-again off-again magic, reminding us all over again that she’s useful only in very small, unpredictable doses.
On to the nitty gritty:
Crane, resplendent in a man bun and cocktail attire, gets some primping help from Abbie for his date night with the semi-estranged witch. Abbie tells him he doesn’t have to go and reminds him, ever so gently, that Katrina has undermined the cause. Hey, she’s not a marriage counselor.
Ichabod, determined to master both business and casual and to take the pulse of his strained relationship, soldiers on. He just needs a plus-one for a Historical Society event, all us ‘shippers are saying, and Katrina fits nicely enough into evening wear.
They’re heading to a dinner where the stars of the night, ostensibly, will be collectibles and other swag from John and Abigail Adams, who, as it turns out, were cozy with Katrina back in the day. Real star: murder!
This will be no ordinary rubber chicken soiree, as it will end with a gruesome display on beautifully refinished hardwood floors. The foreshadowing has already happened in a scene with Historical Society art restorer Grant Hollister, who mops up gushing blood from that aforementioned self-portrait of fictional artist John Colby. The painting speaks to him, and it’s blood lusty.
Anyone else recall an episode of “Night Gallery” from about a thousand years ago with a freaky changing painting? No matter, it’s a well-worn horror trope that doesn’t seem to lose its punch with repetition.
As if on cue, shrieking ensues and poor Hollister’s body is found, throat slashed, dangling upside down from a chandelier. It takes only a beat for Crane to recognize that the body’s ritualistic pose looks like the Hanged Man in the Tarot deck. Katrina recalls a string of identical killings from 1781 when the murders of orphans, vagrants and other fringe dwellers captivated amateur sleuth Abigail Adams (guest star Michelle Trachtenberg in colonial garb and faulty accent).
As it turns out, the second first lady solved those crimes and, with the help of a warlock preacher, imprisoned Colby in his own painting so he could rampage no more. The recent seismic activity in Sleepy Hollow must somehow be the cause of his homicidal resurgence.
Colby is trying to complete his unfinished work – he digs red as a color scheme – and bust out of that canvas for more mischief. He manages to snatch up the Historical Society curator as victim No. 2 before Katrina mumbles some witchy words to transport the Cranes into the “cursed energy” of the painting to rescue the wounded man.
Now here’s the tricky part. Can she actually get them out of this pickle? She does, amazingly, but not without the demonic Colby on their heels. Good thing Abbie Mills shows up with bullets forged from the gates of hell. That’s one powerful gun blast, and Colby makes another ghastly stain in that architecturally significant house.
Jenny Mills (Lyndie Greenwood) went to considerable trouble to snag those deadly bullets, by the way, plucking them out of a corpse that reanimates and nearly strangles her. Props to Jenny, who takes the phrase, “Weapon up!” to new heights.
Never mind the explanation that surely needs to happen now, but won’t, to Sleepy Hollow top cop Reyes about the dead psychopath in the corner and the seriously injured curator. Don’t nitpick.
Irving, in lockdown at the police station, doesn’t remember anything beyond clutching the sword of Methuselah. Abbie has to tell him that he “died,” after mortally wounding the Horseman of War. The A-Team buried him, notified the next of kin and started the grieving process.
Since he’s unceremoniously returned, she doesn’t know whether to trust him or not. Could this be any Andy Brooks situation all over again? (Brooks, a formerly alive cop, became a dead/undead snitch for Moloch).
Irving tries to reassure Abbie that he’s with the Good Guys, but she’s not yet convinced. When, in the closing minutes of the episode, she hears from Reyes that there’s evidence to exonerate Frank, accused cop killer, she has to wonder about its origin.
Don’t we all? Henry?!