1. The Apocalyptic Angle
Sleepy Hollow completely transforms the legend of the headless horseman. Instead of merely being some evil spirit (as in Burton’s version), this horseman is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, book of Revelation style. The show draws heavily from this biblical source (even if it takes some liberties with the material). The horseman’s goal is to find his head, and when he does, he’ll summon the remaining three horsemen and usher in the End of Days. I obviously love good fiction based on the biblical apocalypse. After all, I wrote an entire novel about it, albeit one set at the end of the Tenth Century instead of 2013.
The story’s protagonist, Ichabod Crane has been bound to the horseman since beheading him in 1781. Though the horseman dealt Ichabod a fatal blow, Ichabod’s wife, a benevolent witch named Katrina, used a spell that put him into a death-like sleep until the horseman rose from the dead. Now Ichabod and his partner, Sleepy Hollow Police Lt. Abbie Mills, must prevent the horseman from achieving his goal. The show portrays Ichabod and Abbie as the “two witnesses” referenced in Rev. 11:3, and even though scripture doesn’t have these two folks preventing the apocalypse, I’m certainly fond of this premise. (In many respects, they’re just like Ciarán and Dónall in Enoch’s Device, trying to prevent he End of Days!) Transforming the Legend of Sleepy Hollow into a race to save humanity from demonic forces that seek to bring about the apocalypse was a brilliant move, and one of the elements, I believe, that has made the show so successful.
2. The Historical Flashbacks
The fact that Ichabod is supposed to be the real Ichabod Crane, a Revolutionary War era soldier in the service of George Washington, was another brilliant move on the writers’ part. Not only does this lead to some of the best lines in the show (as an 18th Century Ichabod amusingly adapts to 21st Century life), but it allows frequent flashbacks to Revolutionary and pre-Revolutionary times. So far, we’ve had scenes with George Washington and Paul Revere, as well as a flashback to the Boston Tea Party. I love these flashbacks, and when they’re coupled with the supernatural storyline, they make portions of the show into wonderful historical fantasy.
3. The Secret History
Embedded into all of the historical flashbacks is the notion that against the backdrop of the Revolutionary War a secret war against good and evil was being waged to prevent the End of Days. General Washington was aware of this war, and Ichabod was one of his agents against evil (indeed, in the show, Ichabod organizes the Boston Tea Party as a diversion during an episode in this secret war). The Freemasons also play a role (Ichabod was a Freemason, and so was Washington), as do many arcane items from myth and legend, such as the Lesser Key of Solomon, a spell book containing secrets to control and ward against demons. Even Washington’s own bible supposedly contains clues to this secret history, which, much like the secrets in the X-Files, are a driving source of the intrigue and mystery that makes Sleepy Hollow work so brilliantly.
4. The Chemistry Between Ichabod and Abbie
All the secret histories and apocalyptic tie-ins are great, but the show wouldn’t be as good as it is without the tremendous on-screen chemistry between Ichabod and Abbie. It’s as good as Mulder and Scully, or Castle and Beckett. Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie could not have been better cast!
5. The Stakes
Ichabod and Abbie are fighting to save the world. Such high stakes are a staple of epic fiction, and by pitting the heroes against a diabolical enemy who seeks to bring about the end times, the show invokes one of the classic archetypes of fantasy fiction: the overwhelming ancient evil. You don’t get more classic good vs. evil when the big baddie of Revelation is involved! Great evil has been part of human history since the beginning of time, and events like 9/11 are merely reminders of this fact. Yet I believe one of the reasons folks enjoy fantasy fiction is to experience a story world where such evil can be vanquished. I know that end of the world plotlines have become a bit cliché, but when they’re done right, they’re worth it. And Sleepy Hollow is doing it all very right.
In October, Fox renewed the show for a second season, so it looks like the adventure of Ichabod, Abbie, and the horseman will continue, and from here on, I’ll be along every week for the ride!