Sleepy Hollow has used the tropes of the horror genre to make some points about our relationship to the historical fallout of Manifest Destiny nation building. The season’s least successful episode so far — because of a confusing plot and clumsy attempt at duplicating the faith/reason tensions of The X-Files, Lost, and Fringe – hit this idea very hard on the nose with a very provocative allegory: It told the story of a boy from the 16th century “lost colony” of Roanoke who got lost in the woods, then was transported via black-magic conspiracy to 21st-century Sleepy Hollow, where he promptly began infecting residents with a lethal disease. We learned that the boy wasn’t a time traveler at all, but a rabid spirit from the past, sicced upon the present by devious forces, and the plague he carried wiped out all of the Roanoke colony, thanks to another Horseman of the Apocalypse, known as Pestilence, a.k.a. Conquest. You could decode him as a kind of dirty bomb — or as a pox blanket. You could look at this as terrorism — or as poetic justice. Given Sleepy Hollow‘s ironic nature, both could be true. To save themselves and their town, Ichabod and Abbie took charge of the kid and returned this embodiment toxic history back to his ghost town in the forest. I think. Like I said: Confusing.
It will be interesting to see where Sleepy Hollow goes from here with its impish reflections on “the spirit democracy” or the business of converting American history into Gothic mythology, or if it can take any of it much further at all without becoming ponderous and preachy. But to be honest, I think less might be more: I like Sleepy Hollow more for its preposterous pop than its ponderousness. The show finds its best grounding not in history or big ideas, but in the relationship of its charming leads and the promising group dynamics of the team they are building; please, more Parrish, Jenny, and Orlando Jones’ “skeptical” Captain Frank. (Skepticism is a silly value for any character on this show to possess — which, of course, makes me wonder if Captain Frank knows much, much more than he’s telling.) As the season moves into its second half, I hope Sleepy Hollow keeps fleshing out Abbie’s character (which is to say, continue feeding the actress, Nicole Beharie, who is every bit a reason to watch as Tom Mison’s Ichabod), keeps the exquisitely designed corpse-creatures coming (The Sandman was eye-candy nightmare), well-designed creatures coming, and keeps the mythology intriguing yet manageable: It’s only a matter of time before the Revolutionary period runs out of incidents and ideas and the show is forced to start mythology-mining other periods of American history.