Sleepy Hollow Series Premiere Review: The (Insane, But in a Fun Way) Horseman Cometh

By Kaitlin Thomas

Sep 17, 2013

Sleepy Hollow S01E01: "Pilot"

Yesterday I recommended that you all watch Sleepy Hollow, in all of its insane, supernatural occurrences-loving, magic Bible-ing, George Washington cameo-ing glory. And now that you have, let's talk about it. And feel free to take a quick bathroom break or grab a snack, because this review is a little longer than usual—there was a ton of information thrown at us in the pilot. Thankfully, despite only having 46 minutes to set up a mythology-heavy series, it did not disappoint. So let's get to it!

In this bastardized adaptation of Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Ichabod Crane is a soldier in George Washington's army during the American Revolutionary War. He's a sarcastic hunk, which could be a nice change of pace from the original character, who was a bit awkward and jittery—I'll allow it! In the opening scene, Ichabod beheaded a masked opponent with a bow on his hand (which we knew was important because the camera lingered on it) while kind of simultaneously being fatally sliced and diced himself by the soldier's broad axe. Then we fast-forwarded to the present day, where Ichabod—who we'd just watched die—woke up in a cave after a 250-year dirt nap, unaware that any time had passed at all. The normal time-travel confusion happened, of course, as Ichabod was perplexed by the existence of a paved road. I've never understood why TV shows and films constantly use this idea, because there are hundreds of other things that'd be more confusing than asphalt to someone who just finished a really long power nap. Like the semi truck that narrowly missed flattening our boy Ichabod before he was clipped by a compact. But, you know, roads. 

While Ichabod pondered pavement, we got our first glimpse of his modern-day co-star, Lieutenant Abbie Mills, who was enjoying a late-night snack with the local Sheriff and talking about how she couldn't wait to start her FBI schooling (yeah, we all knew she wasn't actually going to join the FBI after that conversation, right? That's the equivalent of saying "I'll be right back" in a horror film and then getting murdered). They received a call about some horses actin' all funny—small towns, am I right?—so of course they went to check it out, and of course the sheriff lost his head. The Headless Horseman: 1, Sleepy Hollow Townspeople: 0.

Officer John Cho brought Ichabod in for questioning because Ichabod looked awfully suspicious just running out into the middle of the road right after Officer John Cho fielded a call about an officer down—so obviously Ichabod totally had something to do with it. And also the the show needed a way to introduce Ichabod and Abbie. But Abbie wasn't able to identify Ichabod as the weirdo in a Revolutionary War costume who beheaded the Sheriff. Obviously that guy was wearing a red uniform, and he had a mark on his hand. Oddly enough, Abbie did not use the ol' "This guy has a head and the man I saw did not" line. I know it was dark, but if you can make out a bow branded onto the man's hand, wouldn't you take notice that he didn't have a head? I don't know how Abbie passed her FBI entrance exams if she's this bad at her job.

At this point in the episode, we finally started to get some answers, but not to life's important questions, like where has Tom Mison, the actor who plays Ichabod Crane, been hiding? He's quite enjoyable. Anyway, after some hilarious but inevitable nonsense involving Ichabod's response to modern technology, we learned that prior to the Revolutionary War, Ichabod was a studly history professor in England. When he came to America to fight the colonialists, he realized the tyrannical rule of the British and defected to George Washington's (magical) army. 

The scene was typical pilot fare in which one character talks a lot in order to flesh out the new world we're seeing for the first time, but this version wasn't as boring as it could have been. Ichabod's confusion over being strapped down for the polygraph test and the way he asked his interrogator if he knew George Washington added some life to the otherwise flat, but necessary, setup. 

Unfortunately for Ichabod, all his truth-telling and world-building got him was a one-way ticket to the looney bin—but first, Abbie thought it was a perfect time for a field trip to the cave Ichabod claimed to have just woken up in. For not believing Ichabod's story, Abbie sure was eager to check the place out. Once there, Ichabod found the magic Bible that was buried with him, and it conveniently contained a bookmark to the Book of Revelations, which obviously meant the Headless Horseman was actually one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. In other words, shit just got real interesting, real fast. Ichabod continued to talk a lot to fill in holes in the show's backstory, explaining that George Washington once told him the Revolutionary War wasn't just about fighting for our freedom from the Brits, but that it was actually a fight to save the world. He was then charged with killing the Horseman, who is, in fact, Death. 

I actually dig the idea that America has some magical hidden history that we don't know about, because that well of stories is potentially endless. But I also majored in history in college, so the concept might be of more interest to me than it will be to the general public. It also has the potential to weigh down the action, or become too convoluted for its own good. Basing a show in such heavy mythology can definitely make for a great story—we saw that Teen Wolf's third season this summer—but it can also backfire if it's not done well or if it becomes too confusing (lookin' at you, Season 4 of The Vampire Diaries!). I'll definitely be keeping my eye on this series for that very reason.

And speaking of mythology, soon after this bit of exposition by Ichabod, we learned that the reverend who was acting kind of shady throughout the episode was the same reverend who was present at Ichabod's death, and that he's also a witch/wizard/warlock. It's a shame he lost his head after putting up such a moderate effort against the Headless Horseman. After telling the Horseman he would never reveal where his noggin' was, of course. Headless Horseman: 2, Sleepy Hollow Townspeople: still 0. And I might be in the minority, but I rather liked the way the camera's POV was the same as that of the priest's head as it fell to the ground. Felt like something Breaking Bad would do.

Despite the fact Ichabod was with Abbie at the time of the Reverend's death, Abbie's new boss still wanted him locked up in the looney-bin—which is kind of unfair, if you ask me. But then Ichabod followed the bird that he first spotted in the beginning of the episode and it led him to the grave of his wife, Katrina, so maybe he deserves to be locked up for chasing birds. Jury's still out.

It was at this point that Abbie finally had enough of Ichabod's nonsense, and decided to call it a day. But in the middle of their first fight, Ichabod was able to deduce that something had happened to Abbie in the past and determine that she might just believe his real story. She tried to deny it, of course, but we all know that those who protest too much are only trying to convince themselves of lies. We found out this was indeed the case, and that Abbie and her sister had experienced something supernatural in the woods near where the Horseman died, but had been told she was crazy all her life, so she started to believe it after awhile. Once she broke into the Sheriff's office and found that he had been doing a little paranormal investigating on the side, she finally accepted what we knew forever ago: This series is insane, but Ichabod isn't. 

At some point Ichabod had to go to the crazy house, but mostly so he could be rescued by Abbie later on. While he slept (I don't know how he was tired after having taken a 250-year nap, but okayyyy), Katrina the Wife We Thought Was Dead showed up to visit, and it turned out that she was really just trapped in another dimension or something. Katrina really was/is a witch, and her body was never buried in the grave that the little birdie led Ichabod to. It's actually the resting place of the Horseman's head. 

Thankfully Katrina talked a lot and filled in the remaining gaps in the story, like about how Ichabod came back (his bloodline merged with the Horseman's when Ichabod and the Horseman died, and when someone brought the Horseman back from the dead, that person also raised Ichabod), and about the magical component of the show. She also set up the series' entire underlying story when she told Ichabod that if the Horseman reclaimed his skull he would be whole again, and then "three more will come." I assume she meant the other three Horseman of the Apocalypse, but—and I don't know much when it comes to the Bible, so someone please correct me if I'm wrong—isn't Death the final Horseman? Shouldn't War, Famine, and Pestilence (or Conquest, as it's also been translated) have come first? 

Anyway, as it turned out, Officer John Cho was responsible—or at least working with someone who was responsible—for raising the Horseman (bad John Cho! Evil John Cho!), and of course Abbie unknowingly told him exactly where the Horseman's skull was located when she called him for help. I really should have seen this one coming, but I didn't figure it out until he walked into his apartment; I must be slipping in my old age. Anyway, the Horseman came to collect his head—with a shotgun, because that's how he rolls—and there was a pretty sweet cemetery shootout. In the end, Officer John Cho lost (and died) and the Horseman didn't get his head. 

At this point, it's kind of hard to see how each episode of Sleepy Hollow might tackle a case of the week (as set up by the files Abbie found in the Sheriff's office) while also fighting off the Headless Horseman and squeezing in flashbacks to the 1700s to teach us about the magical secret history of the United States, but it sure will be interesting to watch it try. 


Decapitations this week: 2... the Sheriff and the Reverend

Things that confused Ichabod this week: roads, cars, the presence of a Starbucks on every block, a black female detective, polygraph machines, cameras, car windows, ladies wearing trousers, and flashlights.

– I'm thinking of calling the Headless Horseman Steve. I feel like he ought to have a name. And because Headless Horseman is a pain in the ass to type over and over again.

– Do you think we'll ever get to see Ichabod in jeans? I suppose that would probably take away some of his allure.

– On a scale from 1 to 10, where does Hearththrob Ichabod Crane rate for you?

What did you think of the premiere? Will you tune in for next week's episode?

  • Comments (341)
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  • NeeUyank Nov 12, 2013

    I finally started to watch this, and having sth that can fill the void of Haven (it started of pretty boring this season, unfortunately) made my day.. Ichabod, rating? we do not have a proper scaling system for that;)) this is a great, great show!

  • Inigo_Montoya Oct 25, 2013

    I know this is really stupid / childish, but Ichabod's name is really fun to say. It's pronounced like, 'Ick! A bod!' and I laugh my head off every time someone says it. :)

  • tv_gonzo Sep 29, 2013

    I just got around to watching it and enjoyed it quite a lot. The only part I didn't like, was the way the police treated Ichabod. After being exonerated they just shipped him to the asylum. He wasn't a danger to anyone, that just seemed rude. Plus, i would guess that if a sheriff from a small town manages to get herself admitted to the FBI she would be well respected.

  • rye06p Sep 26, 2013

    Only last night did I decide to watch Sleepy Hollow.
    I'd been putting it off because on paper this show shouldn't work, but I found myself loving every moment of it. Likeable characters, compelling story, the story is a lot deeper than at first glance, it doesn't take itself too seriously, chemistry between Abbie and Ichabod (Ichabbie?). Overall it was just a complete pleasure to watch. I'm so happy I finally have a good Monday drama to watch!

    Oh and Hearththrob Ichabod Crane rates an 11 for me!

  • shootingstar609 Sep 24, 2013

    First off, I love everything about this review! I too majored in history in college so I get all of the historical references and can make some logical assumptions/connections/logical leaps about other history things. Second, I am a huge fan of Tim Burton's movie "Sleepy Hollow" so tuning in to this show was a no-brainer for me. The show is quite awesome to say the least. Even if it ends up being a case-of-the-week show, the possibilities for storylines/Ichabod 21st Century weirdness are endless and they would all be good. There are too many things to expound on individually, but I will answer your questions posed at the end of the article Kaitlin...

    – Do you think we'll ever get to see Ichabod in jeans? I suppose that would probably take away some of his allure.= Truly it would, but they'll have to address the idea of his wardrobe soon, I mean he only has one set of 18th Century garb and it's not looking in such great condition.
    – On a scale from 1 to 10, where does Heartthrob Ichabod Crane rate for you? I wasn't thinking about this when watching the episode but now that you ask, I'd say 9. He's not the absolutely most attractive person in the world, but his eyes and accent do give some points.

  • marcusj1973 Sep 23, 2013

    I think there are A LOT of things to like. Strictly speaking, as a pilot, it's great. The premise of the show is laid out and the basic rules are established. The main characters are introduced, their back stories filled in and their relationship/chemistry with each other show...and it's all done without needless exposition so often found in other pilots where people have conversations for no other reason than to fill in the viewers. The advantage here is that all of the explanations given between the characters is necessary because they don't know any more than we do. Bravo.

    Half way through, I got a 'Once Upon a Time' vibe and was wondering whether it would suffer the same fatal flaw of misusing it's source material, move things along too quickly and then run out of steam. Then, they got into the meat of the lore of the Horseman. This is less legends and fairy tails as it is 'Supernatural' meets The Bible. After checking out the architects behind it, I'm not too worried about the story telling part. Between Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci (Fringe & Star Trek reboots) and Len Wiseman (Underworld)...I think they're in good hands.

    On a personal note, while the chemistry between Nicole Beharie and Tom Mison by itself looks to hold much promise, I'm likely to give this show every opportunity for success because it's the first time in my life time that I've EVER seen a black woman as a lead character on a "Big Four" TV series (that wasn't produced by Bill Cosby). Though I have since been introduced to the horribly titled 'Scandal' make that two in my lifetime.

  • svr Sep 23, 2013

    Reply to Notes:
    1. The farmer was decapitated, John Cho, and the horseman's decapitation initiated it all, so I'm counting 5, not 2.
    Side note, this is not something in my life I'd ever thought I'd be keeping track of...
    2. One more to add to the list: the modern American pronunciation of "lieutenant"
    3. Steve is good. You could try a dumb pun, like Headrick or Cappy...
    4. Ichabod could wear anything or nothing at all, and he'd still look amazing.
    5. That man is off the charts HOT. 100! :)

    My own thoughts: I wasn't raised Christian, but I've researched Wicca (and persecution related to it) and I like they are both included in the folklore of this show. I love seeing a black female lead, I just hope she gets tougher in future episodes, I would love to see her kick some a**. I love John Cho, so I was sad to see him offed so soon, but I suppose he could return for a flashback. And how weird (but great) to see Orlando Jones in a serious role! If he drinks a 7Up in a future episode, I will never stop laughing. :)

  • svr Sep 24, 2013

    Update: JohnCho wasn't decapitated. He was "Pez'd". My bad. :)

  • MarlboroMagpi Sep 22, 2013

    It is a good pilot, well paced and exciting but Under the Doom pilot was just as good so I still have reservation. I do hope it will continue to be good.

  • annySauv Sep 22, 2013

    I absolutely love this show, its great escapism, I will stick with this one, its a keeper

  • AdamCetnerowski Sep 21, 2013

    I actually think they played the time-travel pretty well. Ichabod wasn't an idiot lost in the modern world. He was curious, but accepted explanations. And none of this was played for cheap laughs.

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