Welcome back Sleepy Hollow! I have missed you. These past couple of weeks without you were boring, lifeless, and completely sane, which is why I applaud you for returning with an episode that featured the Headless Horseman, John Noble misting some plants and eventually eating what appeared to be a biscuit soaked in blood (YUM!), and the backstory of how Ichabod met Katrina and how he switched allegiances. And you did it all with an emotional undertone that tugged at my heartstrings as Ike and Abbie exchanged the verbal equivalent of friendship bracelets.
Normally, I'd look at an episode like "The Sin Eater" and complain about it being one big information dump, because beneath all the costumes and the shiny, that's all this hour was. It was the Sleepy Hollow equivalent of one of those documentaries we used to watch in high school history classes, only this time we were seeing things as they happened, kinda like one of those dramatizations Unsolved Mysteries was always so fond of. What elevated "The Sin Eater" was that it gave us another installment of Story Time With Ichabod (after all, we're six episodes in and he's still mostly a mystery) and made some major strides in Ichabod's story in the present, even if it didn't feel that way at first.
To kick things off, we were introduced to James Frain's Rutledge and the current members of the local freemasons, an organization Ichabod happens to belong to. They'd kidnapped Ike as he visited Katrina's fake grave, forced him to tell them a very depressing bedtime tale about the time he was ordered to torture and kill a freed slave who'd been accused of treason, and then they politely asked him to kill himself in order to save mankind. YOU KNOW, AS YOU DO.
Of course, as we now know, Ichabod never killed the man in question, but the demon who acted as his superior officer in the British army did, and Ichabod carried that guilt with him for years. He believed that if he'd acted sooner, he could have spared that man's life, and that this sin (and really, only Ichabod truly saw as a sin) was what allowed his life to be tied to that of the Headless Horseman's. While it seems silly that such a passive-seeming transgression would be what linked Ichabod and Steve, it made perfect sense that Ichabod would blame himself for the man's death all these years.
Even people only half as good as Ichabod would probably blame themselves to an extent, but Ichabod isn't like most people, so this "sin" ate away at him like a parasite, and by the end of the episode, he'd decided that his fellow freemasons were right and that the only way to stop the Headless Horseman was to end his own life. I usually hate the trope in which the hero decides to sacrifice himself for the greater good, but Ichabod is so damn righteous that it made absolute sense for his character. And the sadness he expressed at not actually wanting to do it made it easier to bear. But what really saved this storyline from becoming a groan-inducing cliche was Abbie, who—in all of her stubborn glory—tearfully argued that there was "always another way" (ahh, yet another go-to trope). The two of them shared a tender moment in which Ike finally called her Abbie instead of Leftenant or Miss Mills, and he told her just how much her friendship had meant to him, aaaaand then he drank the poison and waited for the next—hopefully eternal—dirt nap to set in.
Obviously, Ichabod was not going to die this week, but even knowing that information, the moment between Abbie and Ike that followed Ike's poisoning was an emotional one. (Yeah, I teared up at that, what of it?) I half expected Abbie to scream, "YOU JUMP, I JUMP!" but as it turns out, she didn't have to. Even though Abbie had tracked down the sin eater Henry Parrish (John Noble EEEE!!!!) earlier in the episode, only to have him refuse to help Ike, the man finally grew a conscience and arrived just in the nick of time to force Ike to regurgitate his sins so he could eat them all up (ugh, gross) and sanctify his soul. In order for this to happen, Ike had to accept the fact that it wasn't his fault the man had died all those years ago—and the man's ghost even popped in for a quick mention of how much he didn't blame Ike for what happened. This felt oddly similar to Abbie's storyline a few episodes back, when she had to accept her own guilt for how she'd treated her sister after they saw the demon in the woods when they were kids. But I think it worked much better here.
As Abbie had mentioned earlier in the episode, this particular ritual was similar to that of the sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation, but you know, with actual blood and the literal eating of sins (super glad I don't belong to that church). Once it was done, Ichabod's life was no longer linked to the Horseman's, and it also meant (I guess) that the poison he'd ingested was no longer eating his insides for breakfast. I don't fully understand that part, and I'm not entirely certain it was even explained. If anyone has a better idea of the meaning, please feel free to spell it out for the rest of us in the comments!
Noble was only on screen for a matter of minutes, including both the scenes in Parrish's apartment when Abbie and Jenny sniffed him out and asked for his help, and again when he arrived to aid Ichabod. But much like he did on Fringe, he made his scenes his bitch. Similar to Walter Bishop, Parrish is an eccentric man, which probably comes with the territory, I suppose. If I routinely consumed the sins of mankind for dinner, I'd probably be a bit weird too, yeah? But I look forward to Noble returning in the future (he'll be back for Season 2!), because he lights up my life. And because the idea that he literally eats biscuits soaked in blood is so disgusting that I need more. (Don't judge me.)
Like I said at the beginning of this review, "The Sin Eater" was mostly an exercise in exposition, a lot of Ichabod talking about his past and how he managed to end up on Team Save the World, but it worked because it connected that information dump to the present-day storyline, and I think that's something Sleepy Hollow tends to do quite well. "The Sin Eater" also cut ties with that nasty linkage between Ichabod and the Headless Horseman, which most shows probably would have saved for a season finale. But Sleepy Hollow isn't that kind of show. It's moved at a quick pace right from the start, and it isn't showing any signs of slowing down. In that regard, it reminds me of Seasons 2 and 3 of The Vampire Diaries, which each cycled through roughly three different finale-esque storylines in 22 episodes. By moving this fast, Sleepy Hollow doesn't have time to get bogged down, it doesn't have time to become boring or stale, so I say keep up the good work! P.S. Who wants biscuits?
Decapitations this week: 0, but next week looks promising!
Things that confused Ichabod this week: baseball, trash-talking (though he seemed to get the idea when he called the umpire a "basketface"; too bad the ump hadn't made a call yet)
– "Ordo ab chao" is the phrase Ichabod used as a secret password with Katrina to prove to her that he'd switched his allegiance and would fight the good fight. It means "order out of chaos," and I have a sneaky suspicion this will not be the last time that particular phrase shows up on Sleepy Hollow. Apparently, "Ordo ab Chao" is also the fourth full-length album by the Norwegian black metal band Mayhem. The More You Know.
– Katrina should probably be more considerate with regard to her timing when she needs to lull people to sleep in order to have a nice chat with them about the impending apocalypse. I think it might've been hard for Abbie to find the sin eater and save Ichabod if she'd ended up dead in a ditch somewhere because Katrina just had to talk to her while she was driving. IT CAN WAIT.
– Seriously, what happened to the poison?
– Does James Frain ever play happy, nice people?
– Would you eat blood-soaked biscuits?