Sleepy Hollow returns from fall hiatus with an ep that fires on all cylinders -- and introduces John Noble as the mysterious Sin Eater

By Hillary Busis
Updated March 20, 2015 at 05:28 PM EDT
Brownie Harris/FOX

You love Sleepy Hollow. WE Love Sleepy Hollow. So why has it taken this long for EW to officially jump aboard the recap bandwagon? As one Ichabod Crane might say, our lack of episodic writeups has been an intolerable miscarriage of justice — one replete with heedless and unequivocal villainy!

In other words: Weekly coverage of Sleepy starts now. Fasten your carriage-harnesses, kind sirs and gentle ladies; ’twill be an irregular excursion.

For weeks, Sleepy heads have been cursing major league baseball for depriving them of further Ichabbie adventures. (The beards on those Boston Red Stockings must be Moloch’s dastardly work.) And tonight, the series finally returned from its month-long hiatus… with a scene in which Abbie takes Ichabod to watch some baseball. Ha! She teaches him about present-day America’s national pastime (yelling at sports); he tells her that he’s looking forward to “expanding [his] horizons” with her. Ahh, is that shipper bait I see before me? Who cares; these two are so charming — and Sleepy is still so good — that it’s tough to complain.

Right after the game, of course, everything hits the fan. As Abbie learns in a Katrina-sponsored vision — sent, perhaps passive-aggressively, while the lieutenant is driving — Ichabod has been kidnapped by unknown assailants. His capture is particularly inopportune because the Headless Horseman plans to rise again this very night. (What, he was also waiting for the World Series to end?) According to the witch, Abbie can both find Ichabod and help him stop Death by first locating a mysterious being known as the Sin Eater.

The good news? Abbie’s jacked sister Jenny isn’t just the local psych ward’s preeminent makeup magician (how does she get her eyelashes so full?!) — thanks to her hush-hush partnership with the late Sheriff Corbin, she’s also an expert on all things weird and spooky. The better news? As the sisters Mills discover through some light sleuthing, the Sin Eater they seek just happens to be hiding in the tri-state area under an assumed name. And so they take a quick-ish jaunt to The Nutmeg State, where they and we are introduced to the night’s big new character: John Noble’s gentle, reclusive, evil-ingesting Henry Parrish.

Though he’s absolved death-row sinners everywhere from Japan to Ghana, Parrish tells the siblings that he’s now out of the sin-eating game. Given the news that Noble’s signed on for multiple episodes of Sleepy, you can be forgiven for not taking him at his word. In any case, Abbie’s connection with Crane is so strong that Henry can divine the kidnapped Witness’s location. And so the Mills ladies travel back to good old Sleepy Hollow, where Ichabod is being held underground…

NEXT: …by members of Skull & Bones? The American Illuminati? The reanimated framers of the Constitution?

…by a group of proper, solemn Freemasons. How does Crane immediately know that they’re Freemasons? Elementary, my dear viewers! “Should have removed your cufflinks, J.R.,” he chides the dark-haired lead captor. “Surname, Rutledge; the family resemblance is too much to ignore. You’re a descendant of Edward Rutledge, the youngest signatory of the Declaration of Independence. I knew him well. Here’s what else I know — your left palm is calloused, suggesting you work with your hands. Your right finger bears discoloration in the shape of an inverted square and compass, denoting a ring that’s been removed. For my benefit, perhaps. Hexes to ward off evil. All telltale signs of freemasonry.” And the capper: Ichabod is, of course, also a Mason himself.

Good show, Crane! You’ve earned the right to recline with a pipe and a deerstalker. His moment of triumph, though, is relatively short-lived. While Ichabod has expertly deduced who the Masons are, his fate will be determined by his ability to prove his own identity.

The Masons ask Ichabod to relay the tale of when he first heard the phrase “ordo ab chao,” or “order from chaos” — a sort of Masonic calling card. They’ll know he is who he says he is if his tale matches an account of Ichabod Crane written centuries ago. And so Ichabod relays the story, taking us via flashback to a time when he was still loyal to the British crown.

Back in those days, before the shot heard ’round the world, Crane was a redcoat lieutenant tasked with interrogating insurgents like one Arthur Bernard — a freed slave charged with printing a document advocating American rebellion. (Nerd alert: The pamphlet in question looks an awful lot like Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.) Bernard’s house is where Ichabod first laid eyes on the fetching young Katrina Van Tassel, a nurse who doubled as colonial America’s first Dutch Quaker. There are sparks; there are pensive stares, there’s the inevitable record scratch when Ichabod thinks he spies a demon, and Katrina informs him that he’s the Chosen One for whom she’s been searching. You know, your normal garden variety meet-cute.

Ichabod, already uncertain about where his loyalties lie, finds himself torn when his imperious Colonel commands him to go ahead and execute the traitor Bernard. Instead, Crane elects to let the man walk free. Bernard thanks him profusely, tells him to go to Katrina bearing the message of “ordo ab chao…” and is abruptly shot dead by Ichabod’s commanding officer, who turns out to be a flat-nosed Voldemort demon. I love Sleepy Hollow‘s ballsy insistence on saying that imperial Britain was straight-up evil.

NEXT: It’s sinfully delicious!

Ever since that day, Ichabod tells the Masons, Bernard’s death has weighed heavily on his soul; if he had acted sooner, the man would have lived. (Side note: It would have been more dramatically interesting if the show’s writers had had a conflicted Ichabod decide to shoot Bernard himself — but I can understand why they’d be wary about giving him a more serious sin.)

And with that, Rutledge and his cronies know that Crane really is who he says he is. This is when the twists start flying fast and furious, in true Sleepy fashion. Curveball #1: Their account of Ichabod was written by Katrina herself, who was in league with the Masons until she betrayed their trust. Curveball #2: Said betrayal came when she hid Ichabod’s body from the Masons. Curveball #3: The Masons wanted Ichabod’s body because of his blood tie to the Horseman; if he’s killed, the Horseman will perish as well.

So we come to the true reason the Masons have abducted Ichabod: They want their brother to sacrifice his own life, thus ending the Horseman’s un-life. Abbie and Jenny arrive at their underground lair just in the nick of time… only to find that Ichabod himself is prepared to kill himself for the greater good. No! Was this scene written before Sleepy got a season 2 pickup?!

Spoiler alert: Ichabod doesn’t die. He does, however, drink the Masonic poison, only after sharing a beautiful moment with his lieutenant — and calling her by her first name for the very first time. Swoon! Of course, just as he’s beginning to drift away, the cavalry arrives in the form of Henry Parrish. The sin of Ichabod’s regret is eaten, thus lightening his soul and removing what the Horseman’s been feeding on; Ichabod and the Horseman are officially untethered, which should make defeating the baddie a whole lot easier. Hooray, John Noble really does make everything better!

NEXT: Quotes, clues, and discussion questions

We end on a scene of No-Noggin rising once more and traveling to Ichabod’s onetime burial site. Why has he chosen this very evening to re-up his reign of terror? Listen closely, and you may hear the wind itself whispering the answer: Sweeeeeeps.

Extras, which will remain so named until I can think of a better one:

– Ichabod, not exactly understanding how trash-talking works: “Open your eyes, sir! Yes, you! Basket-face! I thought only horses slept standing up!”

– What’s up with that cross-shaped gravestone marked with a Star of David in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery?

– There is no way that writing can do justice to Nicole Beharie’s excellent delivery on this line, as delivered to Captain Irving: “Crane’s wife — I believe he mentioned her — is… some kind of witch.”

– Ichabod’s old demon officer seems to be General Banastre Tarleton, a Revolutionary figure famous for allegedly massacring over 100 Continental soldiers at the Battle of Waxhaw Creek.

– The best headline Abbie and Jenny find when researching the myth of the week: “Sin Eaters: Eating Away Your Sins.” “Sinner for Dinner” is also pretty great.

– Henry: “I have been called many things. Angel, demon…” Me: “Deception Point?”

– The whole bread-as-sin thing has precedent in the weird history of “real” Sin Eaters, though the blood dip seems to be Sleepy‘s own invention.