Sleepy Hollow 1.11 Review: “Vessel”

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Ichabod and Abbie take down the demon Ancitif, banishing it from Macey’s (Captain Irving’s daughter) body with a prison of salt and a magic lantern. Abbie and Jenny have a moment, and Ichabod can do nothing except plop down to have a seat and catch his breath. Fending off the apocalypse is hard work.

With just one more week of Sleepy Hollow left (next week will be a double-episode season finale), it’s amazing that the concept has held this well. It draws from several different sources of inspiration to create a supernatural procedural that is among the more unexpectedly entertaining shows on television. “Vessel” is probably the most creepy episode of Sleepy Hollow because of how good the make-up team is with visually creating Ancitif as he passes from host to host. That Sleepy Hollow can veer from action-adventure to horror to a more plain kind of drama shows that it has found a pair of characters that can keep the show grounded.

What’s most interesting about “Vessel,” though, is that two secondary characters — Irving and Jenny — get a lot of the interesting and/or emotional character beats. The series has had troubled integrating Irving in particular, so focusing on his relationship with his family in “Vessel” goes a long way toward making him feel more real. We see plenty of detectives on television who carry the weight of the world upon their shoulders, which Irving’s wife accuses him of, but even if that’s a familiar trope to use here, Irving’s plea to his possessed daughter works really well at humanizing him and showing him at his most vulnerable. Similarly, we get clearer facts about Jenny’s backstory that allow us to see her more fully. Her perennial incarceration, it turns out, was a way of keeping Abbie safe. Even if Ancitif was defeated years before, the reverberations of that invasion are right there in Jenny’s face. She’s terrified of losing control again, but now she has help.

There are a few odd things about “Vessel” that ought to be mentioned. It’s hard and maybe kind of pointless to hold Sleepy Hollow to a standard of accuracy and believability, but moments like Jenny being able to get a semi-large group of people to put down their weapons when it’s just her dual-wielding doesn’t seem all that intimidating as the characters make it out to be. And the deaths in the episode, namely the detectives who accompany Irving to the safe-cabin (and are we assuming that Morales did, in fact, die?), pass by without much of a remark. The first guy, especially, gets killed in broad daylight and Irving doesn’t ask Morales about him or see the body either through the cameras or on his own sweeps of the perimeter. They’re dumb details, but Sleepy Hollow usually can string together a whole episode so entertaining that you don’t even notice stuff like that.

The climax is worth the ridiculousness in this case. I don’t know what Sleepy Hollow‘s budget is like, but compared to other series that use special effects sparingly, this always looks really great. “Vessel” and the execution of the Ancitif scenes have a real X-Files sensibility, which is the highest compliment as far as supernatural procedurals go. It’s minimal with its effects and yet they seem so polished and frightening a lot of the time. More than anything else, a genre show ought to get its aesthetic and atmosphere down as soon as possible. Sleepy Hollow is already recognizable in those departments.

Then there’s Ancitif himself, who is another of Moloch’s cronies. That might be the most intelligent and rewarding thing this show has done in its first season — create a story around a central villain that isn’t the Headless Horseman. Nothing about Sleepy Hollow is too predictable or rehashed, so why should the source of conflict be? Using Moloch as the main antagonist has allowed for Ancitif and other demons to fill in as one-episode baddies, and that structure works remarkably well, making those times when we do see the Headless Horseman feel all the more important. And I imagine we’ll be seeing some more of him next week when the show completes its genuinely wonderful first run of episodes.

[Photo via Brownie Harris/FOX]

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