Find a jukebox in a small-town bar and cue up “Sympathy for the Devil,” because Sleepy Hollow is back — not just from its summer hiatus, but from whatever walk into the woods it took last year. The season 3 premiere might not be as explosive as the trip through purgatory that kicked off season 2, but it makes the kind of promise that’s easier to keep: the promise to return to the basics. Welcome back, Witnesses.
It’s been nine months since Abbie and Crane have seen each other, and it’s been even longer since Past Crane met the cell phone as Present Crane finally killed Katrina. Every version of Crane — and Abbie — has earned a vacation. Abbie, of course, hasn’t taken one. Instead, she followed through on her plan to join the FBI, and she’s advancing quickly through the ranks at the conveniently located Westchester branch. She’s already part of a task force, under the leadership of new mentor Mitch Granger, working to take down a multi-state drug trafficking ring known as Anaconda. Abbie has fought multiple horsemen of the apocalypse, and now she’s stuck with people who think “Anaconda” is an original name for a drug ring. Someone challenge her, please.
Enter Crane. Losing both his wife and his son made our displaced colonial soldier even more contemplative than usual, so he chopped off his hair and booked a flight to his ancestral home in Scotland. Maybe the rest of the Crane family would share his distaste for chained-up bank pens. But where he hoped to find living relatives, Crane found only a tomb with his own name, which is absolutely a metaphor for his life. Inside the tomb was a 4,000-year-old tablet marked with Sumerian engravings. Roughly translated, the tablet read, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
Or so Crane says. He believes that he’s stumbled upon the key to their mission, but Abbie thinks that’s just because he wants to believe it. She’s Scully-ing his Mulder all over again, but not because she doubts what they’ve done — she just thinks their mission is over. They’ve already defeated Moloch, and translation is far from an exact science. “For all you know,” she reasons, “this is Sumerian Sudoku.”
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If it is, it’s caused a lot of trouble. Customs was understandably not cool with letting Crane funnel an ancient tablet across the border, so they locked him up. He’s been in the custody of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement for five days before he even calls Abbie, possibly because he feels guilty for falling out of touch — a “deeply regrettable” habit, to be sure, but how can she stay mad at him with such an eloquent apology? And he’s got news: Katrina’s old necklace has lost its power. Since the charm was linked to Abraham’s soul, Crane is convinced that something’s happened to the Horseman of Death. He doesn’t know how right he is.
A hooded woman has caught Headless in some kind of box, giving it — or her? — the power of death. Now, she needs fear (and then a heart and then some courage), so she calls upon the yaoguai, a battlefield demon that paralyzes people in a moment of terror and feeds on their fright. It’s a demon, so this process also kills them. Abbie’s just gotten Crane out of lockup when she gets the call about the first attack — she might as well bring him along. It’s not like she’s never taken the liberty of inviting him to a crime scene before. The FBI won’t mind. (And, actually, the Bureau minds less than Irving ever did. Our country is in good hands!)
Two brothers are dead in a national park, and authorities suspect an animal attack — but as skeptical as she is, Abbie knows the area, and it doesn’t have the right kind of predators. Crane finds an unfamiliar footprint in the mud by a well. He sprinkles it with dragon’s breath, which heats up in the presence of demons, and just as he and Abbie are about to walk away, the footprint catches fire. Does that count as heat? In the words of Ichabod Crane, “Evil has returned to Sleepy Hollow.”
Crane declares this the start of their second tribulation as Witnesses (one down, six to go, demons), but Abbie still isn’t ready to go full apocalypse again. “Maybe a stray monster didn’t get the ‘War’s over’ memo,” she suggests. It really is impressive how hard she’s trying. But no amount of rationalization will stand against Crane’s request to return to the archives, which have been shuttered for months. And — here’s a horror worse than any fear demon — the building is slated for demolition. Crane wonders aloud if there’s any regard for history anymore. Where’s he been these past three years?
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In better news, Jenny is here. In worse news, Irving is not. He escaped with his family in the dead of night, which he figured was his best chance to keep them safe. Jenny implies that she helped Irving get out, so at least we can all take comfort in the fact that the most hardcore pair on this show had one last adventure (and the door is always open for more). Jenny helps Abbie and Crane research a substance found at the scene, which leads them to a passage on the yaoguai. It’s here where Crane makes the second greatest historical connection of the night: When Franklin wrote about a “red devil” at Bunker Hill, he wasn’t calling the redcoats names.
The Patriots’ luck only turned at Bunker Hill after Washington got a message to Colonel Prescott, so whatever he wrote must hold the key to defeating the yaoguai. Because of our aforementioned respect for history, the message now lives in a cabinet at the kitschy Colonial Times Restaurant, giving Abbie an excuse to do some sneaking while Crane falls into a pit of despair. (“Eggs Benedict Arnold? For shame.”) They steal — er, borrow — the document, but it’s written in code. Abbie drops off Crane to do some research and heads out to take down some drug lords. The power couple is back in action.
But here’s the thing about drug busts: They’re full of aggression and gunpowder, two triggers known to draw a yaoguai to the scene. As Abbie’s boss Granger corners Lorenzo Chang, the head of the Anaconda ring, the yaoguai paralyzes Granger and slashes his throat. She respected him, so we should have seen this coming. Abbie’s mentors always lose their heads in the end.
Abbie fires on the yaoguai and manages to wound it before it runs off, which is a surprise, since it’s supposed to be invulnerable. As it turns out, the creature has one weakness: It can be wounded in the moment its eyes flash white to steal someone’s fear. And so it’s time for the episode’s best spin on Revolutionary history: “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” is actually about the yaoguai. I KNOW. I’m excited too.
Meanwhile, Chang is a mess, which is a normal response to meeting your first demon. He’s also taken hostages in a warehouse, which is a normal response only for drug lords. He’s asking for the woman who saw what really killed Granger, so Abbie goes in — but in the process of talking Chang down, she talks herself back into her mission. “The monsters are real,” she explains as the hostages make a break for it, “but it’s okay, because it’s my job to stop them.” Then she evades a spray of gunfire and takes the drug lord into custody. If only Crane could see her now.
Alas, he’s busy playing chicken with a yaoguai. Crane and Jenny lure the demon toward them, but as soon as he’s paralyzed with fear, a crate cracks under Jenny, disrupting her shot and distracting the demon. The yaoguai knocks her out instead, then throws Crane into a pile of boxes. Just as the demon lunges for Crane, Abbie shows up to make the shot. Now they’re really back — it wasn’t official until one of them saved the other from mortal danger. Crane and his lef-tenant (who should technically be “agent” now, but some things don’t need to change) hug it out.
Using exactly the abuses of centralized power that Thomas Jefferson warned against, Abbie recovers Crane’s confiscated goods. But he missed something in that candlelit Scottish tomb — there are actually two tablets. (He’d really be lost without Abbie, wouldn’t he?) The second is etched with an image that looks suspiciously like our Witnesses and engraved with one word: “Destroyers.” Nowhere on the tablet does it specify what they destroy, but I’m hoping it’s bar karaoke.
Back at their favorite local hangout, Abbie tells Crane that even without the tablet, he belongs in this country, terrible colonial food puns and all. “You may not have family,” she says, “but you’re not alone.” She then runs away from all of those feelings to settle their tab. At the bar, she bumps into the mysterious hooded woman — now out of her hood — who introduces herself as Pandora. Whether she’s the Pandora or some kind of descendant is still unclear, but she does have that box, which she describes as really “more of a dowry.” She’s up to something sinister, but that’s a problem for later. Crane has a jukebox to play.