You're probably familiar by now with the madcap trope-deployment rate of the magic-cop show Sleepy Hollow. Turns out if you leave the show unattended for three weeks, those tropes back up — and when you turn the TV back on, it's a cross-dimensional guest-star-heavy hyper-flashback Masonic suicide pact with sin-eater assist.
("You're welcome." - Sleepy Hollow)
"The Sin Eater" marks the halfway point in Sleepy Hollow's first season, and after a very long pause by TV Land standards, the Horseman is poised to return — and Ichabod's connection to him offers the unique opportunity to vanquish him and prevent the Four Horsemen from ever teaming up again. All Ichabod has to do is die, and the Horseman will be gone. But for all that the Masons have been planning and all the evils that make a compelling case for Ichabod to give up his life for the greater good, nobody has counted on Abbie.
Coming only six episodes into the series run, this is obviously not going to be the end of anybody, but it's an interesting marker in terms of how far the show has already brought us into both the actual investment in their relationship, how many visions/flashbacks we will sit through per episode, and how much supernatural hilarity we are willing to believe. All numbers are surprisingly high! (Also this show is so into that first thing that they give us something that looks, I kid you not, like a wedding; we'll get there.)
We open with a reminder that Abbie and Ichabod are getting along great these days, as they take in a baseball game and she teaches him to heckle. It reads, in a good way, like some of X-Files quiet-moment tomfoolery, or alternately, like a '90s sitcom about two reluctant little-league coaches who have to learn to work together for the good of the team, and eventually find love.
After giving her the Full Mulder look-over, Ichabod heads out for a walk alone in the middle of the afternoon, and gets ambushed at Katrina's grave because for a vigilant soldier of the underworld, he is a pretty oblivious dude.
Abbie gets word of this thanks to Katrina, who reaches out to her from the Great Beyond with a vision (ding!) to warn her of Ichabod's abduction by giving her a lengthy vision while she's driving down the road in the middle of the night; she's fine at the end of it, but it seems like some dicey timing considering Katrina must have had hours to put this together.
Katrina Crane will do anything for love, but she won't do that.
(Abbie, who is very good generally at dealing with the supernatural, wanders through this house and peers into the creepy baby carriage like the heroine in a horror movie, and frankly deserves the creepy doll she finds, because she knows better.)
Back on the other side, Abbie takes Katrina's advice of finding a sin eater to Irving so he'll write up a temporary release for her sister for help with the investigation.
Irving, who is as usual about 150% done with anything this team tells him ever, points out that you should hold on to virginity and skepticism as long as possible (uh, okay?), and he's still very suspicious about all this.
I bet, sir.
Meanwhile, Ichabod Crane wakes up in the custody of magnificently game James Frain, and when they try to feed him a line of mystery, promptly Holmeses that he's in the presence of his brothers the Freemasons.
Apparently he's here to prove his identity to James Frain, who needs to make sure before they proceed that he is who he says he is: "We've been fooled before." Hold up instantly, I am going to need an additional clip episode of James Frain and his forefathers sitting down to interview dudes in frock coats who insisted they were Ichabod Crane just for funsies — because that seems like something we need to talk about.
Instead, we get a flashback (ding!) to young snot Ichabod working for the Crown by beating up treasonous pamphlet-writers on behalf of sassmaster Craig Parker; this torture victim, Arthur Bernard, is a freed slave, a dynamic that will probably not be handled poorly later. Katrina, a Quaker nurse who forgot to put her dress on again, comes to plead for leniency and try to seem like a morally-upright spitfire that will catch Ichabod's eye. It doesn't work.
She does manage to find her dress in time to be Freelance Child-Comforter at this public hanging, though, which is handy.
And turns out Ichabod hits his limit for royalist nonsense at this hanging, when his commander executes three men for treason to make an example of them, except he covers their heads so you don't see any of the really gruesome stuff, because that would be rude, and Ichabod wonders if perhaps that's the best way to charm the colonists into obeying you. (Also, his commander's name is Tarleton. DING. This isn't the sass-off I wanted, show, but I guess it's the sass-off I need right now.)
And in case Ichabod's not sure if he's getting some bad commands from the man in charge, Tarleton's a straight-up demon!
So, okay. It's not necessarily a problem unique to this show, but I do find it notable that so far in this universe, everyone who's at all terrible is terrible because of direct involvement in the underworld, which makes all this evil seem both hugely organized and also removes some culpability for human evil. Ichabod is supposed to spend this episode conflicted about where his moral imperative lies, but since the person he distrusts turns out to be an actual demon, he's not really put in a gray area here, and no one we've met over the course of the show (with the exception of the awful foster mother) has been evil unless they were in league with actual demonic forces. There's room for human evil in the world as well as supernatural evil; that foster mother was as creepy as any monster.
While hunting down the sin eater, Abbie and Jenny share an awkwardly honest moment where Abbie explains that the reason she cares about Ichabod so much is that after losing so much (her mother, Jenny, Corbin), Ichabod "made me feel like I had a purpose I understood, and someone I was supposed to find it with." I appreciate that we get a moment of Jenny taking that in, resigned but not thrilled that her sister, who really is all she has left, has made such an intense and satisfying connection with someone else.
Then Jenny (who apparently cuts the sleeves off ALL her shirts) points out on behalf of the world, "Next time you see that witch in a dream, tell her to be more specific."
(PS. Thank you, whoever got "Sinner for Dinner" on the props board. It's a gift.)
Thankfully, Abbie knows how to figure things out, and before you know it they're knocking on the door of sin eater Henry Parrish, pretending to have a warrant, which scandalizes Jenny pretty adorably for someone who spends her free time stocking up on stolen weapons in preparation for the apocalypse.
Parrish has zero interest in eating any more sins, so the sisters have their work cut out for them. Abbie insists, "No matter what it feels like, it's a gift." (Man, Abbie has changed her tune on that, huh?) Jenny backs him up with, "And you have a responsibility," and I'll be honest, given how their dynamic has played out, those lines should have been reversed.
(Soul-searching moment, or beginning of an infomercial? You make the call.)
Finally Parrish caves and agrees to help them find him, remotely. "If your connection with your friend is strong enough, I could use it." Buddy, trust.
Abbie: "It's strong enough. Use it."
This shot is a fucking hero pose; you can intercut all youw ant with Katrina and Ichabod flirting in the middle of a forest about being Witnesses and choosing the right path and everything, but Beharie's line delivery and this shot's very intentional framing effortlessly pin the narrative focus to her. It's one of the reasons Abbie is such a great character – that ineffable sense of heroism Beharie can slip in between exposition or humor or plot beats, so that it seems a natural extension of the bone-deep indomitable will that her journey with Ichabod has given her the permission to acknowledge, coming from a place of guilt for so long. Her life had become one that functioned on repression and service, and since Ichabod she's coming to accept that she's important enough to be worth mending. It's one of the reasons losing Ichabod would be so devastating for her; we buy it all.
And what do you know? He gets a vision (ding!).
Back in the lesser plot, Ichabod admits via flashback (ding!) that his great guilt-sin is that when Tarleton demanded Ichabod shoot Bernard, he freed him instead, but since Tarleton shot him anyway it didn't prevent Arthur Bernard from becoming a sacrificial Magical Negro. I mean, he should feel guilty about that, but not in the way he means. (This show does so well with so much that whenever it drops the ball about stuff like this—same deal with convenient shaman Seamus Duncan—it feels doubly out of place.)
The Masons finally welcome him for being who he says he is, and then immediately suggest he kill the Horseman by killing himself. Damn, brothers, nice to see you, too.
Abbie, of course, storms in and will have none of it, though Ichabod has made the (honestly very wise) decision to kill himself and thus prevent the apocalypse, and they exchange some tender and tear-choked goodbyes in which he calls her "Abbie" and she refuses to leave him because of the many people in her life she hasn't had a chance to say goodbye to.
"And through these centuries, against the impossibility that we would find each other, we did. And I am most grateful for it."
NO, IT'S NOT SAD, IT'S JUST MASONIC DUST IN MY EYE.
To no one's surprise, Parrish shows up at the last minute with a solution to everything: "As long as you carry the sin in your heart, it allows the Horseman to be tied to you." So it's also somehow Bernard's fault. Awesome.
Turns out the way to separate Ichabod from his sin is to summon Bernard from the great beyond so he can reassure Ichabod that it was totally cool that he died, because it saved Ichabod's soul and helped Ichabod find his destiny. Actual conversation on a show in anno domini 2013.
It's successful, of course; with the blood separated, Parrish eats of the Horseman's blood, becomes bonded to the Horseman himself, and secures himself a place in the recurring cast, I guess, because nobody in the scene is smart enough to just kill Parrish and achieve the same ends as previously. Abbie might have thought of it, honestly, except that she was too busy hugging the crap out of Ichabod.
The thing is, even if you aren't shipping them as hard as the show accidentally is, by pitting the relationships against one another, all this episode really does is show us that Abbie is by a factor of one million the more compelling, nuanced, and interesting character, leaving Katrina to be little more than an exposition-heavy, witchified Victorian Angel of the House. The reason Abbie's partnership with Crane works is because they both bring so much to the table individually; the reason this hug is important is because we have been decisively shown how well they work together, and their awareness of it just seems like common sense.
Of course, the Horseman is still around, and our back-six adventures are just beginning, though when Parrish intones as much, it's halfway between a recurring-cast roll call and a wedding:
By the power invested in me by the site of io9, I now declare you ready to entertain us for seven more episodes.