Monday, October 28, 2013

Why I Lost My Head Over Sleepy Hallow - By Jarys

Sleepy Hallow, a FOX channel supernatural thriller, has taken my friends by storm. I nodded my way through a handful of recommendations, people swearing that if I was not too in to Agents of SHIELD, I would like this. I was told it was up my alley. However, as much as I appreciate seeing what my fiends think of as "up my alley", I have been quite busy over the last few weeks. I meant to check it out, but there was always grading to do, games to plan for, etc.

Thank goodness I got everything done before this weekend. I found myself nursing my jaw after a tooth extraction (you're out of the tribe, bottom left Wise-guy!) with nothing I HAD to do, so I found Sleepy Hallow online and tried it out. 

Damn. It's good. 

Here is why: 

- The show uses the supernatural intelligently. The show begins in New York during the Revolutionary war, where the character Ichabod Crane is mortally wounded in the persuit of a mission and wakes up in a cave in 2013. When he wake up, he is surrounded by jars of sleeping amphibians, which shatter as he wakes. I was struck with how closely this stuck with American Folk magic of the 18th and 19th century, which was influenced by European Hermetic beliefs. Most relevantly, as written in the Tres Libris Occultes, Hermetic mystics believed that all things, living or not, has essential qualities that could be extracted and focused elsewhere. They also believed that many amphibians, especially frogs, did not hibernate in mud as much as they possessed the quality of immortality. It would be perfectly reasonable for an  occultist of the time to attempt to put someone in to a coma by siphoning off such a quality from frogs into the "patient". This is not the only occult aspect which fits with the colonial-beliefs theme. 

- The writers pay particular attention to history. One of my favorite example is a joke I shall not spoil. Instead, I will point out that the technology, culture, and politics that Crane understands is entirely period appropriate. There is a moment when he asks to see a Native Shaman and reacts to the knowledge that the U.S. Government wiped these people out with shock and anger. Crane venomously reminds a mostly ignorant American audience that our own ideas of a democratic republic were influenced by Native American democracy. No one ever talks about this on prime time fiction programming, as least as far as I have experienced. I was surprised and delighted. The history isn't perfect, however, see below. 

- The show IS up my alley. If you need any further convincing, read the last two paragraphs again. Plus I love funny and the show has that, a smart humor that often utilizes the writers' knowledge of history. 

This was supposed to be her last day on the job.
- Lieutenant Abbie Mills, the other half of this "buddy-cop" set up (who is an actual cop), is a fantastic character. She carries compelling and horrifying personal baggage, is more than just a "strong female character", and is intricately connected to the plot and character of the show as an active force  (to balance Crane's "fish out of water" aspect). Her moral struggle in the first five episodes is a great and deep look into mental illness stigma (having been a witness to supernatural events). She is a good character who can equally balance the interest Crane brings as a magic time traveler. 

- The characters' relationship is non-romantic. Crane has a wife to which he is still loyal, despite her death. Lieutenant Millls neither has nor needs a romantic interest to give her outside connections. She does have an ex on the force that she wants little to do with. Her and Crane's relationship is semi-professional and becoming more trust-based camaraderie every episode. No "will they won't they?", no pushing characters in to "knight and maiden" roles to reflect their romance. This is a huge plus to me, as it frees up the interpersonal relationship to more intricacy, I am bored of those sorts of conceits, and it plays up the "Men and women can't just be friends" myth. 

I know it's a well kept beard, my eyes are up here. 
- Ichabod Crane is very attractive, to me at least (although I am sure his general appeal is a factor of which the show's creators are aware). He is written as intelligent, loquacious (mmmm), progressive (for his time, he swears to Mills, who is black, that he is an abolitionist in an attempt to prove his good intentions), passionate about the cause of the Enlightenment without being unrealistic, empathetic, and witty. It does not hurt that he is also svelte, long haired, deep eyed, and in possession of a well trimmed beard. And his fumbling around technology and with the modern world is endearing. Ok, I'm done treating this guy like a piece of meat. Let's move on to....

The show's imperfections:

- The show has a strong and heavy metaplot which has factored in to every episode I have seen (up to episode five). Without a procedural or open investigative element, I am concerned that this plot will not carry the show. The show reminds me a little of the X-files, in that it is a supernatural investigative, just without the science fiction elements. X-files episodes could be divided into plot episodes and "monster of the week" episodes. Sleepy Hallow has yet to show anything but plot episodes, and may sink under the weight of this sort of focus.

As opposed to the demon Moloch, who always appears OUT of focus.
- The metaplot is supernatural, but Christian. Not that there is anything wrong with Christian mythology, but in a show about the supernatural, such writing limits the creatures, situations, and wider world that can be discovered. Bringing in non Christian elements later risks disrespecting the cultures from which they originate. Now, one thing I notice is that the show does not glorify Christian belief or practice, it just uses the mythologies of an 18th century Christian world, which was obsessed with magic, witchcraft, demons, and prophecy. I also note that most of the plot they use is based off of the Book of Revelations, which does not strictly relate to most of the rest of the bible. Honestly, the way the show is set up, it is entirely possible that the characters are viewing a far more multicultural supernatural world through a specific lens.

- The show uses almost nothing from the original "Sleepy Hollow" story. In that story, Crane was a shmuck, Katrina had no interest in him, and the Headless Horseman is all but settled as a prank. Bad news for narrative purists, of which I often am. In spite of my instincts, I think the show is better without these elements.

FINAL VERDICT: GUILTY..... of being very entertaining and pleasingly written. The show is not perfect, but I highly recommend it to you. Go out dear readers, go discover this show. 

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