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Sleepy Hollow Proves There’s Power in Numbers with “Vessel”

By on January 14, 2014

Pictured: Lyndie Greenwood as Jenny Mills -- © 2013 Fox Broadcasting Co.

It is quite a glorious thing to see Sleepy Hollow on the top of its game. And if there’s any doubt about whether “Vessel” was this hilarious, heartwarming and jaw-dropping show at its best, let me proceed to assure you (at length) that it most certainly was.

In this week’s episode, Frank is threatened by a body hopping demon who demands he hand over Washington’s bible. He tries to keep his family safe by bringing them to a home in a secluded area – guarded by Sleepy Hollow police officers Luke and Devon. However, things go from bad to disastrous when the demon hops into the bodies of his officers and eventually Macey in an attempt to force Frank’s hand.

Meanwhile, Ichabod and Abbie investigate Corbin’s old videos, and find some startling evidence of Jenny’s possession. The trio then work to find a way to help Frank get his daughter back and eventually uncover a startlingly secret about George Washington. Is it possible he didn’t die on the day written in the history books?

At times Sleepy Hollow has struggled with balance. It has had pacing and action issues. It has had trouble adequately (and equally) developing relationships and characters. They have been easily identifiable isolated incidents, but they have been incidents all the same. In a weirdly joyous way, “Vessel” was like the show jotted down everything it has been struggling with and said “Yep, got it. Don’t do that thing, do the other thing.” To top it off, what its struggled with looked effortless.

This show is about Ichabod and Abbie. It’s about the Headless Horseman. It’s also about the apocalypse. But here’s the thing. It’s ensemble is incredible. “Midnight Ride” illustrated this, but “Vessel” confirmed it wasn’t a fluke. There’s something about the show’s dynamics in just about every area, whether it be action, pacing, character development, relationship building, fright, or historical twists, that turn the series into an electric powerhouse when the ensemble is in force.

There were a couple characters (noticeably) absent, but the point remains true – just as it does with “Midnight Ride.” To simply put it, when the characters play together the story stays (extremely well) together. The actors’ chemistry and the intersection of storylines is never better executed in Sleepy Hollow than when it incorporates most of its cast. While the “power of the ensemble” may not have been something the show was striving for, it’s a hard thing to do in any series. Hopefully, in addition to patting itself on the back for this feat, the show will capitalize on it more in the future.

Focusing a little more, there were a couple stand out characters that really helped make this a refreshing “it” episode. The first and most notable of those would be Frank Irving. Orlando Jones has always been a scene stealer, but his performance in “Vessel” pulled all of the right heartstrings.  The guy is so every man it hurts, but what makes Frank work so well on screen is that “the hurt” isn’t angsty. It’s relatable. He’s made mistakes, something his emotionally stinging confession to demonic Macey illustrated. Instead of wounding him as a man and apocalypse player, Frank’s weakness actually makes him stronger and ultimately better at his purpose in terms of the character’s fate and his role as a storytelling device.

His development has been exceptionally integrated into the larger apocalyptic plot. The demon stalker and his daughter’s possession fit well alongside the episode’s parallel storyline between the Mills sisters and Ichabod. Frank is not just emotionally dynamic, but a team player in every sense of the word. The same could be said for Jenny Mills, but in a slightly different way. This episode provided us with some character backstory for the second witness’ sister. Jenny was possessed by a demon hunting Abbie, which is how she got involved with Corbin. Not only that, but she has ties to other groups in the area (those guys at the house seemed pretty sure Jenny could take them out with a swiftness).

What made Jenny’s full reemergence so poignant (and necessary) was that she and Abbie haven’t spent a lot of time since “The Lesser Key of Solomon” addressing their issues. The relationship between the Mills sisters has been one of those weird plot holes that left a bit of a gaping absence in the show. Their sisterly tension is not just moving and realistic, but helps (rather successfully) fulfill the need for a family storyline. Coupled with her extremely troubled and erratic past, Jenny’s decision to keep herself locked away to prevent hurting her sister was an emotional arrow to the heart. 

Pictured (L-R): Tom Mison,  Lyndie Greenwood, Nicole Beharie -- Photo by: Brownie Harris/FOX

Pictured (L-R): Tom Mison, Lyndie Greenwood, Nicole Beharie — Photo by: Brownie Harris/FOX

Sacrifice, another theme of Sleepy Hollow, never quite wears itself as well as it does on the show’s sibling pair, and the chemistry and acting abilities of Beharie and Greenwood are definitely to blame. Abbie’s move to comfort her sister after the exorcism of sorts was in fact the icing on the episode’s family storyline cake. The balance of our witness team was also back in full swing this week reminding us of why (and how) we fell in love with TV’s favorite new duo. From trying on pants to finding lamps, the sentimental – and sometimes awkward – humor was on point, with a delivery reminiscent of the season’s early episodes.

Other episode strengths include the show moving back to its “monster of the week” format, classic approaches to fighting demonic issues, the return of some old faces (excited to see Corbin, anyone?), and fantastical twists on historical events. The only thing the episode seemed to fall short on was properly handling Luke, who we’re all glad to know is doing well after his run in with Andy and that fall to the cabin floor. Oh wait, did Luke ever get up from the floor?

Sleepy Hollow‘s two hour finale airs next Monday, January 20th at 8:00 – 10:00 PM ET/PT on FOX.

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