The tale of Paul Revere gets tweaked, and Ichabod discovers a new nemesis: bottled water
Sleepy Hollow
Credit: Brownie Harris/Fox

You’ve got to admire a series that spends six episodes establishing a formula — then uses its seventh outing to turn that formula on its head. (Head puns in these recaps: always intended.)

At first, “The Midnight Ride” seemed to have everything we’ve come to expect from Sleepy over the course of its short life: a new twist on an old American story, several scenes of skillfully deployed fish-out-of-water humor, a slightly irritating tendency to keep reminding us about things we already know. (Seriously, the next time a character gratuitously reiterates the show’s premise, I’m going to start tossing boxes of tea into the harbor.)

Partway through the hour, though, things started to get a little more interesting. Another series would have kept Irving in the dark about the imminent apocalypse, allowing him to maintain his status as the Hollow’s skeptical voice of authority; not Sleepy, which showed the captain the light and had him officially join Ich and Ab’s mini Scooby Gang before the episode’s final commercial break. Another show would have stuck with the “monster of the week” format for weeks, if not months or whole seasons. Sleepy, however, seems as though it’s already abandoned that structure, choosing instead to barrel toward its first finale in full serialization mode. It’s a ballsy move, one that proves again why Sleepy is fall’s most surprising new series — as well as one of the season’s best.

I only wish we could have had a little more time with Mr. Rutledge and his stony-faced Masons before they were cruelly beheaded by our old pal No-Noggin. The gentlemen are murdered, naturally, right before they can deliver some crucial information about how to stop Headless. And when it rains in Sleepy Hollow, it really pours: After weeks of laying low, the Horseman has abruptly decided to go after his stolen skull. Once he gets it back, he’ll be able to summon the other three Horseman… thus bringing about the End of Days. Given that Dads has received a full season order, we can only assume his dastardly plan is already working.

NEXT: The night’s most gruesome visual

Headless has modern weapons, ruthless drive, and surprisingly good aim, considering his lack of eyes — but he doesn’t have his cranium, which is spirited away from a police lab in the nick of time by none other than Captain Irving. Welcome to Sleepy Hollow‘s House of Crazy, Cap! Still hardly believing what he’s seen, Irving delivers the skull to Ichabod and Abbie, who intend to destroy it. Unfortunately, none of their methods seem to be working — not striking it with a blunt object, not dipping it in acid, Walter White-style, not forcing it to watch a daylong Dads marathon. Discouraged, our heroes decide to try an industrial-strength car compactor… until they’re stopped in their tracks by a ghoulish sight.

See, Headless isn’t just a grotesque killing machine — he’s also an aspiring DIY decorator! And for his first big display, he’s chosen to empty out the heads of the Masons, stick candles inside, and string them up for all of Sleepy Hollow to see. In other words: They’ve been jack-o’-lantern’d. Man — after seeing this, even Joffrey Baratheon would tell Headless that he’s gone just a smidge too far.

Weirdly enough, this is where the whole Paul Revere thing comes in. See, the Mason-o’-lanterns remind Ichabod of Revere’s old signaling method — “one if by land, two if by sea” — which in turn reminds him that on the eve of the Midnight Ride, he spied Sam Adams handing Revere a document containing “enemy secrets.” Cue Abbie and Crane having my new favorite exchange: “Maybe they weren’t secrets of the crown–” “–They were secrets for CONQUERING EVIL.” This is the greatest TV series in recorded history.

So Ichabod and Abbie head to a local colonial museum, where Crane delightfully sets a mistaken tour guide straight (“The warning all the riders gave, as discreetly as possible, was, ‘The regulars are coming.’ Not ‘The British are coming.’ See, we too were British at the time, so that would have been most unhelpful”) and Abbie learns that the all-important manuscript is on loan to an English museum. When he hears the news, Ichabod is despondent: “London? That’s a three-month voyage by sea!” One day, these sorts of jokes might get old; this, my friends, is not that day.

Cut to Ichabod poking at a computer like Zoolander and Hansel as Abbie presents him with a printout of the manuscript, which has been helpfully uploaded to what Ichabod calls “the inn-nanet.” He instantly recognizes that its words are encoded in a Vigenére cipher, which can only be decrypted using the letters of a keyword. Don’t you love when Sleepy goes full-on National Treasure?

NEXT: Hail Cicero!

Worried about having to sit through a long, boring code-breaking sequence? Don’t be. After another amusing interlude starring America’s new favorite comedy team, “Ichabod and Laptop” — Crane discovers pop-up ads! Crane discovers porn! — the gentleman finds that the code word was almost literally staring him in the face this whole time. Paul Revere — messenger, silversmith, amateur dentist — has hidden it on silver plates fastened to the back of the Horseman’s skull’s teeth.

The word: “Cicero,” a Roman philosopher first name-checked on Sleepy last week. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were both big fans of his work. It’s nice to see this show make a plausible historical connection every now and then.

Ichabod translates the manuscript, revealing a message that’s corroborated by dead man walking John Cho (welcome back, John Cho!): Though the horseman can’t be destroyed, he can be trapped using sunlight. The Founding Fathers recommend summoning a witch, then asking her “to cast a spell transforming the moon into the sun.” Abbie thinks it might be simpler just to get some powerful UV lamps. Technology for the win! Did anyone else just have a flashback to Buffy destroying The Judge with a rocket launcher?

Time for Abbie, Ichabod, and Irving to lay a trap for Headless while teaching Crane all about the saga of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings! (Why does our third president even come up in conversation? Because Jefferson designed a cell for the Horseman protected by a supernatural barrier. Duh.) It’s followed, perhaps a little uncomfortably, by a cute Ichabbie scene in which the witnesses realize that ultimately, all they’ve got is each other. You know, because of the whole “saving the world” thing. Not because of any latent, burning desire to start furiously making out on top of a pile of yellowing historical documents. Nope. Certainly not that.

The moment passes when the sun sets and Ichabod travels to the local cemetery, where he easily goads Headless into chasing him across the graveyard and through an entrance to the tunnels. Remember that thing I said about the Horseman having surprisingly good aim? Yeah, strike that; he’s about as effective as Uncle Jack’s army of Nazis. He’s lured from spot to spot by a trail of Halloween toy skulls, proving that Headless isn’t exactly the sharpest cutlass in the armory closet either.

Another program may have let its heroes hatch a plan to ensnare their primary adversary this early in the season — but it never would have allowed that plan to actually succeed. Sleepy, though, does just that, ending “The Midnight Ride” with Death himself caught in a cage of artificial sunlight. What’s more, it seems unlikely that all of Ichabbie’s progress will simply vanish next week. As much as you may wish that we had a full 22 episodes of Sleepy to look forward to, you can’t deny one thing: The show’s really making the most out of the limited time it has. And you just know things are going to get even more bananagrams before that premature January finale.

NEXT: A delicious box of extras, known forthwith as…

Doughnut Holes

– This entire section could easily be nothing more than a collection of Ichabod quotes. Here, for instance, is how he begins a voicemail for Abbie — “Dear Miss Mills: I trust this aural missive finds you well.”

– And here he is responding with real confusion when Abbie says she’s got good news and bad news, then asks which he’d like to hear first: “Is this a riddle?”

– Oh, and upon seeing a museum employee drinking from a bottle of water: “Were you charged for that water? My God, it should be an inalienable right! Where do the courts fall on this?”

– And finally, a slightly more poignant one — Abbie remarks that living on when everyone Crane knows has been dead for centuries “must be heard.” Ichabod, drily: “It’s an adjustment.”

– That said, John Cho also got a few good lines: “Rumors of my demise have been… pretty much true.”

– Abbie tells Ichabod that tap water has arsenic in it. Sure, maybe — but only at a rate of .010 parts per million. There’s cyanide in apple seeds; would she advise Crane to stop eating fruit, too?

– Abbie’s ex and fellow cop Luke Morales clearly still has feelings for her, but decides to take a step back (read: can’t stop shaking and freaking out at work) after John Cho tells him to stay away from the witness. It’s probably for the best; Abbie deserves better than a guy who still carries a flip phone.

– Terrible ad placement alert! Right after the scene that revealed those ghastly Mason-o’-lanterns, Fox aired a Jeep commercial that started with this voiceover: “When you came into this world, you tumbled in head first.” Eeeesh.

– Erm, where did Ichabod get the horse he rode so gloriously through the cemetery?

– And on a similar note: Is Headless’s horse indestructible as well? How come nobody ever tries attacking it? Don’t think of it as animal cruelty; we’re talking about an evil quadruped of death here, not Black Beauty.

Episode Recaps

Sleepy Hollow
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