By Hillary Busis
March 20, 2015 at 05:10 PM EDT
Credit: Brownie Harris/FOX
  • TV Show
  • Fox

Tonight’s Sleepy Hollow had it all: the dizzying highs, the terrifying lows, the creamy middles. Well, except that the highs weren’t all that high, and the lows were pretty darn low. Maybe we should keep the evaluation around “C” level after all.

In the pro corner: “What Lies Beneath” displayed a decent amount of good, old-fashioned, kooky-batshit Sleepy Hollow energy. The hour’s inciting incident revealed the existence of an entirely new corner of Sleepy Hollow’s subterranean village—a Chamber of Secrets housing zombie Colonial infantrymen, enough old books to make Belle weep, and a big ol’ magic lightbox powering (drumroll please) a hologram of Thomas Monkey-Fighting Jefferson, projected via “a combination of science and witchcraft.” Is this a clear attempt at re-harnassing the glory that was Zombie George Washington? Of course. But it’s still a pretty neat trick.

Tonight’s Sleepy also managed to introduce an intriguing new civilian character without immediately subjecting him to a grisly death. The new guy in town is Calvin Riggs, a Sleepy native turned hardass war correspondent who’s been noticing that his hometown tends to see a lot more weird disappearances and painting-related homicides than the average Westchester hamlet. Calvin doesn’t have a ton to do in the episode beyond getting in Abbie and Ichabod’s way, but his crusader mind-set and deep military know-how will probably come in handy in future episodes—not to mention the shadow of a romantic spark he seemed to share with Abbie. (It also helps that he’s played by White Collar‘s Sharif Atkins, who, like basically everyone on this series, happens to be preeetty easy on the eyes.)

And finally, there was the Irving story line, in which Jenny finally realized beyond a shadow of a doubt that Irving has really, truly turned to the Dark Side—which certainly counts as a win, since I’d hate to see the show keep the Sisters Mills and Ichabod in the dark about Frank’s actual nature for no reason other than water-treading. Simply by glancing at the mysterious markings on his forearm (including what appears to be a Vine logo), J can tell that something’s amiss with her sister’s ex-boss. Playing along when he asks her to break into the station to help him retrieve his “personal belongings” gets her close enough to see what he’s really after: a ledger and flash drive branded by the Hellfire Club, an oft-referenced eeeeevil organization that’s loyal to Henry.

So the cornered Irving finally reveals what’s going on with him: He’s managed to stave off total demonification thanks to an enchanted pog he found in one of Henry’s books. But sooner rather than later, the spellbound slammer will run out, transforming Frank into a full-blown minion of the Horseman of War (or whatever Henry’s going by these days). His last act as a semi free-thinking man is to secure funds for his wife and adorable, wheelchair-bound daughter, so that the two of them can leave Sleepy Hollow for a place with slightly more reasonable property values. You’d think, given his current lucidity, that Irving would also take this opportunity to, I don’t know, tell his old pal Jenny everything he knows about Henry’s current evil plan, and what the Witnesses can possibly do to stop it. You would, however, be wrong.

Which brings me to the major con of this episode: It’s marked by a severe lack of common sense. And not the sort of common sense that declares there’s no such thing as Zombie George Washington, or that a single colonial spy couldn’t possibly have rubbed elbows with every celebrated Revolution-era figure, or that Jenny should probably, like, have to get a job at some point—i.e. wet blanket common sense that can suck the fun out of any story if you let it, especially something as unapologetically bonkers as Sleepy Hollow at its best.

Nope—instead, I’m talking about basic narrative common sense, the type that means a series can be as outlandish as it wants provided it follows the rules of its own internal logic. In Sleepy Hollow‘s case, that internal logic decrees a few foundational things: first, that Ichabod and Abbie are doing whatever they can to save the world from apocalypse, and two, that they’re both seasoned, clever tacticians, Ichabod thanks to his eidetic memory and Abbie thanks to her years of practical police experience.

So why, why, why would these two make the entirely boneheaded decision they make at the end of “What Lies Beneath”?

Let’s back up. The Witnesses discover the Chamber of Secrets—which, technically, is a “fenestella,” Italian for “we have a thesaurus”—after three construction workers mysteriously disappear. The men were surveying the tunnels beneath Sleepy Hollow when they vanished; we know, thanks to the hour’s cold open, that they’ve been dragged even deeper by some sort of demon lurking below an ornately decorated manhole cover. Luckily, they drop part of their radar mapping equipment beneath the surface shortly after going missing—and the image it generates informs Ichabod that the chamber must have been designed by Thomas Jefferson. Because only one guy in American history has ever liked Italian buildings.

Grace Dixon’s journal fills in the last piece of the puzzle—Jefferson did indeed design the fenestella, which is filled with damned souls designed to guard its precious contents. So, naturally, Ichabod and Abbie choose to pry open the manhole and trundle into the demon-filled hole without asking for any backup from Irving, Jenny, Katrina, freakin’ Headless, or a still-missing Hawley.

Surprise: It doesn’t go well.

NEXT: Through the manhole…

Even when Ichabod and Abbie make a second trip into the new set of tunnels—accompanied, at least to the mouth of the manhole, by Calvin, whose brother happens to be one of the surveyors taken captive by the zombies—they do it alone, without so much as consulting the witch in their midst about best practices. For whatever reason, things turn out all right; they’re not followed into the center of the fenestella itself, which contains the aforementioned books and doodads and Incorporeal Sorta-Zombie Jefferson.

Turns out that the United States’ third president has been waiting a lifetime—several lifetimes—for a moment like this. He had the coven of the Sacred Heart preserve him in this form so that he could watch over the knowledge contained within this room, which just so happens to hold every answer to every question Ichabod and Abbie might have about their mission. That’s good! Unfortunately, it also happens to rest directly above the zombie guards’ nest, where two of the kidnapped construction workers are currently cowering in fear; the third has been devoured by their captors. That’s bad.

Holo-Thomas Jefferson has known all along that the men are being held by his guards—but he cautions Abbie and Ichabod not to attack the beasts, since doing so could destroy his power source and, by extension, the rest of the fenestella. This would be a great time for Ichabod and Abbie to say, “Okay, Tommy. We get what you’re saying. Luckily, we’ve got a few magically inclined pals who might be able to think of a stopgap solution, or at least spirit away the construction workers without awakening their demon guards; there’s no reason we can’t save their lives while also preserving you, the goddamn coolest thing we have ever seen, and the vast stores of knowledge you’ve been keeping an eye on for nearly 200 years, specifically for our benefit.”

Spoiler: They don’t say that.

Instead, Ichabod and Abbie decide that they have to save the remaining men no matter what and go tiptoeing straight into the nest. By being vewwy, vewwy quiet, they actually manage to get Calvin’s brother and the other guy partway across the floor… before a zombie awakens, triggering a domino effect. The quartet staggers to the ladder that leads out of the Chamber; they all escape intact, and close its covering before any of the baddies escape into the land of the living. Woohoo—the men have been saved! That means Ichabod and Abbie can still take advantage of Jefferson and his books, right?

Wrong! Because for some reason, this is when Ichabod decides that the zombies (which, for some reason, are called “reavers” here) are too dangerous and must be destroyed. Even though they haven’t bothered anybody else for nearly 200 years, and even though they’re trapped in what seems to be a sealed chamber that could easily be reinforced by, I don’t know, magic, if only they knew somebody who keeps talking a big game about how much magic she can do.

Oh, and the kicker: Holo-Thom agrees with Ichabod’s assessment… and even tells him where to place his explosive to ensure that all the reavers get blasted to Kingdom Come. And so the Chamber and Holo-Thom (who, mind you, has been waiting a reeaally long time to meet the people who just cavalierly decided to destroy him and everything he’s ever worked for) are both eviscerated, without Ichabod and Abbie so much as carrying out a few all-important books first.

Perhaps I’m overreacting—but this is a clear case of Idiot Ball-passing, right? Why would Ichabod and Abbie be so unconcerned with destroying centuries’ worth of invaluable collected knowledge, all for the sake of two guys they’d never met before? Why would they destroy that priceless and unfathomably useful collection without so much as considering a way to save its most vital volumes? The answer, of course, is that Ichabod and Abbie can’t have all the answers, because that’d make them too powerful, thus depriving the show of tension. Okay. Fine. I can understand that. If that’s the case, though, why bother introducing a library like this into the story in the first place? It smacks of ill-thought-out sloppiness, which is not a flavor I like to taste in my Sleepy Hollow stew.

Whatever; clearly, the Witnesses will have bigger fish to fry next week. Because remember Katrina’s maybe-evil nature? It seems to be accelerating, thanks to a push from her beloved offspring. Like son, like mother, right?

Doughnut Holes

  • Things Ichabod Is Appalled By This Week: selfies, “instant”-gram, the 24-hour news cycle.
  • “If by BFF you mean Washington was my mentor, and Franklin was… a harsh taskmaster, then yes, BFFs.” Commence image of Ichabod, George, and Ben all braiding each others’ hair.
  • How does incorporeal Holo-Thom get that gate to close on the reavers?
  • When we flash back to Real, Non-Holo Jefferson and Ichabod in the 18th century, Crane is of course helping Jefferson edit the Declaration of Independence.
  • Next week: Guess who cracked the Liberty Bell! Hint: His name rhymes with “schnickershod rain.”

Episode Recaps

Sleepy Hollow

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