I guess I am prejudiced against this show, for a variety of reasons. First, because it turns out Roberto Orci is a spectacular dickhead, and now I instinctively hope that he will fail in all of his endeavours in perpetuity. Secondly, because the previews promised me CLANCY FUCKING BROWN, and then chopped his head off in the first five minutes of the show. (Oh, right. Spoiler. Fuck you.) Thirdly, I guess because I just hate anything that smells like 90s monster-of-the-week action shows.
But maybe I do have a legitimate reason to think this whole thing is a boneheaded waste of my fucking time. Here, look, this is from Washington Irving’s story The Legend of Sleep Hollow:
A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere. Some say that the place was bewitched by a high German doctor, during the early days of the settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe, held his pow-wows there before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. They are given to all kinds of marvellous beliefs; are subject to trances and visions; and frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her whole nine fold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols.
Pretty, right? Kind of a moody idea, it gives you a feeling of a valley rich with enigma, like maybe they should have hired David Lynch to direct this show. Here’s what Irving says about the Headless Horseman:
The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition of a figure on horseback without a head. It is said by some to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannon-ball, in some nameless battle during the revolutionary war; and who is ever and anon seen by the country folk hurrying along in the gloom of night, as if on the wings of the wind.
Now, the thing about the story is that it makes it 100% clear that Ichabod Crane’s encounter with the Headless Horseman was straight up a prank by Brom Bones, because actually the story is about how smarty-pants schoolmasters need to lay off hot Dutch girls and mind their own business.
Whatever, that’s not the point. The point is, look at what Irving has to say about the Horseman again.
Then, you tell me how you start with this motherfucker:
And you come to the conclusion that the thing that would make him even more awesome is if there were four guys just like him. Only they have heads, I guess.
God, this stupid fucking show. Holland really liked the filmatism of it, I guess, but I kept getting distracted by how parts of the town of Sleepy Hollow looked like they were on fire for some reason, and how the sun just appears at sun rise and takes the Horseman by surprise, and how he steals a white horse from that guy’s barn and then for some reason the horse has glowing devil eyes.
Why does the Horseman even HAVE a broad axe? Why does it get red-hot when he swings it around? Is that a thing that ghosts do, or just Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Or just DEATH? Why, while we’re at it, is the FIRST Horseman we’re introduced to the most awesome, why didn’t they save that guy for last? Why does the Horseman have an extra hatchet that he can wing at Ichabod Crane, after being unable to shoot him with a shotgun, instead of just walking over and grabbing him? Why does he save that assault rifle for nothing except scaring the police at sunrise? HOW DOES HE RIDE AWAY FROM THE SUN?
Why does he have a red coat if he was a Hessian soldier, and Hessian soldiers had blue coats? Oh, well, he wasn’t REALLY a Hessian, he was actually DEATH, the fourth horseman of the apocalypse (horseman 1 through 3 — Conquest, Famine, and War — presently unaccounted for). So, if he was actually the fourth horseman of the apocalypse, why was he dressed like a British soldier in the first place?
Is this show actually about how the British were in the service of Satan during the Revolutionary War? That seems…well, I mean, I guess if you’re going to accuse any country of being pawns of the Antichrist, at least England still has all that imperialist guilt, they’re not in much of a position to complain.
This is all beside the point. The point is this — and I know it doesn’t matter, obviously it doesn’t matter, team Kurtzman, Orci, &c. don’t care about any of this shit, they were just trolling for intellectual property in the public domain — when you look at how interesting this setting is, at how evocative the description of the Horseman is, at how completely fucking compelling it would be to watch a show about a town just gripped by this surreal haunting, this eerie, enigmatic phantasmagoria.
And then what do you get? You wonder what the Headless Horseman is? He’s one of the four horsemen, don’t worry a guy explained it. His relationship to Ichabod Crane? They’re connected by magic blood, some lady told us, it’s cool. Wondering about the motives of those witches? Clancy Brown’s got the story on that one, there are two covens, one good, one evil. Want to know what the white trees signify? Those represent the four horsemen, the figure that might be a man or monster is a monster, probably a devil, or the devil, or something. Don’t worry! Whenever there’s a question, someone will conveniently show up to explain it.
This is a show that is so pathologically opposed to mystery that it actually has DOUBLE EXPOSITION. You’ve got Clancy Brown with his secret map of weird things, you’ve got the witch with the boobs (Crane called her Katrina, and I really hope she is Katrina Van Tassel) who can explain things to Ichabod Crane in dreams. They’ve taken this dreamy valley, this place of trances and strange sights, of visions and ghosts and haunted places, presided over by a goblin rider commander-in-chief of all the spirits of the air, and reduced it to a fucking supernatural scavenger hunt.
I don’t know, maybe I’ll be surprised, but it looks pretty boringly, stupidly, Grimmly straightforward. The cop lady finds an unsolved case or a weird police situation, looks at her maps, talks to Ichabod about it, he has a dream from his witch wife, she tells him the clue to beat the whatever-it-is-this-week. Maybe sometimes they switch it up, and Ichabod has the dream first. Hey, maybe there’ll be a crazy reversal at the end of the first season, and they’ll junk this whole Four Horsemen Apocalypse plotline, but whatever, probably not.
What are you going to do, once you’ve brought up the Apocalypse? What are you going to replace it with? “No, sorry it wasn’t REALLY the Apocalypse, just a bit of a scuffle between demonic parties, keep paying attention though.”
This whole show has that problem, because remember that they START with this motherfucker:
and then somehow expect me to be interested in whoever is going to come next.