And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. – Rev. 6:8
Sleepy Hollow, the new and heavily-marketed show on Fox, is a part retelling/part reimagining of classic short story by Washington Irving. In the original, the ghostly body sans head of a Revolutionary War Hessian mercenary haunts a sleepy Dutch Town, until one night a confrontation with Ichabod Crane leads to the schoolmaster’s disappearance.
In the new Fox version, there is still a Revolutionary War, still a Hessian, and still our lovable hero Ichabod Crane. From there, though, it’s a whole new story. Well, partially new. With most of the same key characters. And some of the same major plot points. But new to Fox! Brand new! This has never been done before! Let’s go!!
Our Brand New! story opens on the Revolutionary War, 1781. The adorable scamp of a schoolteacher, brave soldier Ichabod Crane (played by actually adorable Tom Mison of nothing you’ve bothered to watch before–ahem, SalmonFishingInTheYemen) is mid battle, killing Red Coats and also checking their pulses, when a gigantic fuck-off guy on an equally gigantic horse leaps over a retaining wall with a thirdly-equal gigantic axe. This guy has a creepy full face iron mask on, like a pre-Bane badass (he was, in fact, a Hessian–German soldiers hired by the British to help take up their cause. Just so we’re all on the same page). And when Hero Crane shoots him, he falls to the ground. The End.
But wait…HE GETS BACK UP!! His arrow scar is visible on his hand as he battles with his axe. Battle scene, some close calls, and with a mathematically impossible reach of his sword, Crane cuts of the head of the Hessian and the world (and screen) fades to black as we hear the whisper “You don’t have much time!”, “Ichabod, stay with me!”
Ichabod emerges from a coffin-less burial, surrounded by jars of creepy crawlies. As he claws his way out of the dirt a la Dread Pirate Roberts, snakes and toads escape their glass prisons. That detail must be as important as the Hessian’s scar, ‘cause we got a big ol’ eyeful of it. But Hero Crane is alive! He spelunks his way out of his cave grave and into the middle of a road. A modern road. A double-lined road. A road that runs through… Sleepy Hollow!
Cue Rolling Stones, naturally. Sympathy for the Devil. Foreshadowing, perhaps? Also, a hawk appears.
**At the risk of making this longer, I would like to point to Math. The opening scene takes place in 1781, and all of the marketing and dialogue insist that Ichabod Crane woke up 250 years in future. Anyone who is familiar with Math has already realized that 1781 plus 250 years equals the year 2031. This show takes place in the future!**
New characters Sheriff August Corbin (the awesome Clancy Brown) and Lt. Abby Mills (Nicole Beharie) share a cup of coffee in a diner, discussing Mills’ impending departure for the FBI and Corbin’s interest in unsolved mysteries. As a Sheriff, it’s not really a stretch. Creepy Priest watches them leave as they go to investigate “spooked horses”, which turns out to really be a headless body draped over a fence. This must be some sort of homicide! Mills, who is calling the corpse in, hears a bigger disturbance from the barn and arrives just in time too late to see Sheriff Corbin hot-axed down by a headless maniac on a horse! Ahhhhhh!
Elsewhere…Guest Star John Cho is a cop. For no reason whatsoever, he arrests Hero Crane for the Sheriff’s murder and hauls him off to the pokey. Mills arrives and starts babbling about the murder she witnessed. She clears Hero Crane of the crime, saying the man who really did it:
- was wearing a red coat, military-style
- had something “like a brand” on his hand
- carried a broad axe
- you think 4) is going to be that he had no head, don’t you? NOPE. Not even mentioned.
Ichabod gets a polygraph test, not knowing that they’re inadmissible in court. His backstory gets filled in for us—Oxford teacher, British soldier, defected to George Washington’s camp, died in his wife Katrina’s arms, woke up in cave—while Mills is instructed by her boss, Orlando “Evolution” Jones (or, as she calls him, Captain Irving) to take him to the psych ward.
Crane and Mills develop their sassy girl/dry-wit British guy rapport in the car, making Starbucks jokes and discussing the Bible. Standard first date fare. On the way to the Sanatorium, they take the scenic route, passing by the church. Crane and Creepy Priest make eyes at each other and Crane flashes back to same Creepy Priest, but in Revolutionary time. Creepy Priest is a friend! The scenic route also takes them to the cave grave where Crane woke up.
Crane finds an old Bible, paraphrases the marked passages in Revelations (Chapter 6, combination of verses 2 and 8) that foretell of a white horse (gasp!) with a rider with a bow (the scar!!) and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse…which we already knew. Yet another backstory flashback: everything that they just read in Revelations was true and the mercenary with “the mark of the bow” (so it WAS important!) must be taken out per General Washington’s orders.
We’re back to the Horseman and his creepy-eyed horse, galloping through the woods towards the Church of the Creepy Priest. Neat bit of chain-flailing from HH as he approaches Creepy Priest outside the church. Creepy Priest yells, “I’ll never tell where it is. I’m prepared to die!” Which, courtesy of Horseman, are now his last words.
Where there’s a headless murder victim, there’s the police. Crane and Mills, still on their scenic tour of Sleepy Hollow, arrive for the investigation. Weird sidebar: Crane gets left in the back seat of a police car and, in an offscreen Deus Ex Machina, gets out of the car by a seeing a hawk on the hood? It somehow makes even less sense in writing. The hawk is clearly part of the story, or at least part of a story, that we just aren’t privy to yet.
Back to the lecture at hand: Since Crane was supposed to be committed, Mills gets in trouble with the Cap’n for carting him around town instead of depositing him at the Loony Bin, then is (ominously) beseached by Guest Star John Cho to “walk away” from all this headless business.
Her “walking away” involves bumping into Hero Crane, and together they discover the grave of his wife Katrina, who he learns from her headstone that she was burned as a witch.
At the Asylum where Crane has finally been delivered, Mills tells him the story of her childhood terror—she and her sister walk through the woods one day and discover trees. Trees! Trees in a forest!! Okay, they turn around and there are 4 white trees behind them, a chilling voice, and a scary ram-headed ghost, after which her sister drives herself crazy and gets locked away.
Det. Mills decides it’s time to clean out the ole Sheriff’s office, where she discovers a hidden stash of files, notes, and voiceovers. Seems the Sheriff was quite literally on a witch hunt, collecting data about all of the local unsolved killings and disappearances, and connecting them to Sleepy Hollow’s early witch trials and two covens of witches (one good and one evil). He also has record of Mills’ tree encounter—turns out a famer from the 1800s also saw the trees in a forest (and a demon) and believed it to be an omen of the Four Horsemen. Must have been a Horse Chestnut tree!
Our hero Ichabod wakes up in the asylum to that same damn hawk in his room, and also a lot of mist. The hawk leads him to the mirror where his wife, Katrina, appears from the same creepy woods that seem to surround this town.
She explains that she has hidden the Horseman’s skull under that tacky witch-condemning headstone. Crane and the Horseman are now linked, and neither can live while the other survives which explains why they’re both in present day together. Sort of. Horseman can’t be allowed to have his head back, and also can’t be out when the sun rises, and Ichabod must keep the skull safe and also get her out of this crazy wooded mirror. As Hero Crane is being pulled from his dream, the 4 white trees appear behind him. Ahh! It’s the scary ram-headed ghost! Wake up, Ichabod!
The clearly incompetent psych staff is trying to put Crane under as he wakes up… from being under. Mills bursts in and breaks him out with a phony court order. She’s also brought G. Dub’s old witchy map that she took from Sheriff Corbin’s office. She calls Guest Star John Cho in as reluctant backup, not knowing that John Cho is arriving home to a broken-in apartment and what sounds like Zuul growling behind the door. Guest Star John Cho discovers his gun safe has been broken into, and as he turns his head we see the Horseman rising up out of a stylish recliner. Oh no, the Horseman is coming after Guest Star John Cho! Shoot, John Cho—SHOOT!! JOHN CHO IS GOING TO DIE!!!!!
Guest Star John Cho doesn’t die, though. He lowers his gun and says, “I know where it is.” He and the Headless Horseman are in cahoots, and he has provided the Horseman with heavy fire artillery!
Hero Crane and Det. Mills dig the pickled skull up from Katrina’s grave, and soon come under fire from the now-armed horseman. While Crane and the Horseman engage in hilarious hand-to-axe-to-shovel-to-assault-rifle combat, Guest Star John Cho (who isn’t dead) traps Mills in his car to keep her safe from the fray. Crane makes off with the skull while Horseman goes Rambo on the local police that show up.
In a rare flash of non-exposition, we get a good “hands on your head” joke, and also the philosophical question “Can a man without a head hear instructions to surrender?” Before a quality debate can take place, the Horseman rides off into the sunrise, automatic weapon a-blazing, looking for shelter from the rising sun.
In the aftermath of the Headless attack, Mills decides not to go to Quantico, and she and Crane are given orders from a now-believing Captain Irving to get some answers from Guest Star John Cho. Crane reveals to Mills they are the two witnesses from Revelation, and hooray! This story will take seven years! Prepare to renew this one, Fox Executives, ‘cause you can’t just cut down a story before it’s done.
Guest star John Cho is sitting in his cell waiting for questioning, but behind him appears a shadowy figure. In a guttural demon voice, it expresses its displeasure at John Cho’s failure, and as it flashes closer we see it’s…the scary ram-headed demon! Run, John Cho! OH NO! Guest Star John Cho is dead!
Crane and Mills run into the room in time to see John Cho get his head knocked off. In the tensest 30 seconds of the whole show, the scary ram-headed ghost disappears in a mirror while a Sheriff Corbin voiceover (doing his best Carnivale Brother Justin impression) reads from the Book of Revelation. Then BAM! The ghost rushes the mirror and breaks into shards.