Washington Irving created a timeless villain in his Headless Horseman, a character that first appeared in his short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” way back in 1820. Though it hasn’t been beaten like a dead horse the way vampires and zombies have, the Horseman has been resurrected many times, from the Tim Burton movie Sleepy Hollow to one of the most memorable episodes of The Real Ghostbusters.
|The one that turned him into a badass biker.|
The pilot of Sleepy Hollow opens with Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), a British soldier fighting for the American Revolution (though this is actually explained later) facing off against a particularly tough opponent, one that continues to attack him even after getting his head sliced off. Crane is mortally wounded and does a Rip Van Winkle, “waking up” 250 years later. This was a clever touch by the writers, successfully combining both of Washington Irving’s most popular works. At least, it's clever if it was done intentionally.
The Headless Horseman is introduced into our time period rather quickly, facing off against Sheriff August Corbin (Clancy Brown) and his partner, Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie). The outcome isn’t that fortuitous for Corbin who loses his head during the confrontation (wait…is it a spoiler if it happens in the first 10 minutes?). Just after this, Harold (John Cho, who really doesn’t play Harold) finds Crane and takes him into custody. Mills’ search into his story, that he worked for General George Washington during the Revolutionary War, leads her to uncover a supernatural plot that involves the entire town of Sleepy Hollow. (I was also excited to see Orlando Jones’ name in the credits but he really doesn’t do anything in this episode. Hopefully, that will change down the road.)
From the first few minutes of the show, they pretty much establish the theme as "demonic". Even looking past the whole “Headless Horseman” thing, the editors get a little heavy handed when Crane first appears in the 21st century, a scene set to the soundtrack of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil”, which also plays during the introduction of a nameless priest. Not only that, but Corbin’s police car is number “66”, which, as we all know, is a single digit away from the Number of the Beast. So right off the bat, the viewer can expect something evil ahead.
The supernatural elements run conveniently throughout the people in the town as well; Mills has a ghostly experience as a child that ties to her future. She reveals this in an info-dump to Crane during their moment of bonding. But it goes even deeper than that, engulfing most of the town, which is again also expressed to the audience through a well-placed info-dump. In between all of these expositional dialogue scenes, director Len Wiseman sprinkles a generous portion of POV shots, turning many different objects into cameras, such as car windows, a door peephole, and a decapitated head. It did get on my nerves a little but at least it was a creative change from the stagnation of other prime time shows.
I also liked Crane’s curiosity in the new world around him, though he seemed to take his current predicament rather easily. Waking up 250 years in the future should induce a little more incredulity, one would think. The Pilot features a lot of hokey one liners, such as Crane’s surprise at the number of Starbucks a small town like Sleepy Hollow has and the AR-15 toting Headless Horseman, but these are all minor quibbles for now. If the Headless Horseman starts to sling skulls around his waist to create a set of swinging “Bay Balls”, then I’m officially checking out.
|Like this, but with more teeth.|
The show moves at an agonizing pace, following in the footsteps of recent small screen disappointments like last year's The River and Alcatraz. Unlike those, however, Sleepy Hollow really picks up during the show’s climax, when Mills and Crane face-off (get it?) against the horseman while they search for his head. The final scenes were shot very well, forgoing the popular method of quick cuts and obscured action to imply action and instead used a lot of steady-cam shots, letting the audience actually see what the hell was happening. Though the episode comes to a satisfying conclusion, it ends on an interesting, and creepy, cliffhanger.
In all honesty, though, Wiseman’s direction is probably the reason this pilot episode is so entertaining. Having worked on a number of blockbuster movies such as Underworld, Total Recall (2012), and one of my favorites Live Free or Die Hard (OK, maybe “favorites” is an overstatement but still…it’s fun as hell), Wiseman has a great grasp of directing action, and it really paid off in this episode. The main draw of Sleepy Hollow is bound to be the literal battle between good and evil. So far, Wiseman has proven that he will be able to handle those scenes and it translates wonderfully into an exciting show.
I’ll admit, Sleepy Hollow had more of a plot than I originally imagined it would. Though it did seem to be loosely strung together by the threads of an upcoming Apocalypse, the story unfolded pretty well. It allows the writers the ability to introduce newer, more severe threats than just the Headless Horseman, but can easily be wrapped up quickly if the show doesn’t do well. All in all, though, I hope Sleepy Hollow does well. Given the surprise I was treated to with the Pilot, I’m really curious to see what the writers have in store for the first season.