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How I Lost My Head for Sleepy Hollow

Fox's apocalyptic drama is (American) Revolutionary, trading the dark paranoia of The X-Files for a celebration of belief and wonders.

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When I first reviewed Sleepy Hollow, Fox’s supernatural drama about a revived Ichabod Crane and a modern-day suburban cop trying to stave off the Apocalypse, I enjoyed the crazy pilot but wasn’t yet sure if it was “good, ridiculous, good but ridiculous, or good because it’s ridiculous.”

We’re two months into the season, and I’m ready to render a verdict: it’s ridiculously good. But I don’t want to give you the wrong impression: this is not just a case in which the premise and storyline of the show is so insanely out-there–though it is, oh Lord it is–that you just have to suspend intellectual judgment and enjoy it. It has also become an entertainment that’s simply good by the regular old good-TV standards of character, performance, and emotion.

Tonight’s Sleepy Hollow episode, “Necromancer,” is a humdinger in terms of expanding the show’s mythology: without giving anything away, Ichabod (Tom Mison) gets answers from the captured headless horseman (who we already know is Death, one of the biblical horsemen of Revelation). If you’ve managed not to try the show yet, it’s as good a place as any to close your eyes, take a jump, and land bareback on the runaway stallion of its plot.

But if Sleepy Hollow were only crazy plot and Biblical/Revolutionary mashups, it probably would have exhausted itself a few episodes in. What’s made it special has been the pairing of Ichabod with policewoman Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), an initial skeptic who has learned that she, like Ichabod, is a central player in the coming supernatural Armageddon.

Increasingly, the most entertaining moments in the show are those in which Abbie and Ichie are not doing much of anything but talking: she introducing him to the concepts of paying for bottled water or watching modern baseball, or the cranky Ichabod reminding her what a sacrifice he has made to join her in the present. (“Flummoxed by a foreign concept that resembles close to nothing of what you know? Imagine how that feels!”) He’s 18th-century, she’s modern, he’s male, she’s female–but they’re joined by their fate as “Witnesses” in the apocalyptic battle and a feeling of being outsiders, marked by insights and burdens few other people can understand.

Also, he’s white and she’s black, and Sleepy Hollow–like its freshman Fox counterpart Brooklyn Nine-Nine–has managed to be organically diverse in a way that’s both casual and significant. Abbie’s boss, the allusively named Capt. Irving (Orlando Jones) is also African American, and her sister also plays a role in the show; Crane, meanwhile saw tensions over slavery and nascent abolitionism growing firsthand. In last week’s episode, killing time during a plan to trap the Horseman using fake skulls to substitute for his real enchanted one–as one does–the talk turned to Thomas Jefferson, who Ichabod learns only now had children by his slave Sally Hemings.

Meanwhile, Sleepy Hollow is also something different in the supernatural-mythology genre. Its monstery lineage is easy to trace: it owes a lot to Fringe–from its creators Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci–which in turn owed a lot to The X-Files. But it’s not steeped in paranoia and cynicism the way many of its predecessors have been. Ichabod isn’t paired with a skeptic–a la Mulder and Scully–but a fellow believer. And it doesn’t track in the same dark view of history that The X-Files did. The X-Files presented a hidden history of treachery and lies–alien visitations hidden from us, the powers that be exploiting the truth for their advantage.

Whereas Sleepy Hollow recasts the past as a time of hidden wonders. Yes, there are secrets that we never knew–the whole possible-end-of-times thing. But in its view, the American revolution was not darker but more grand than we imagined, a battle not just for freedom but for the souls of mankind. Its Founding Fathers, while flawed (see Sally Hemings), are not exposed as shadowy conspirators but awesome superman. George Washington guarded a magical Bible! Paul Revere didn’t just warn of a British attack, he hid a magical cipher on the teeth of a skull! Thomas Jefferson designed not just Monticello, but a supernatural, spell-guarded fortress for the Freemasons!

This show, in other words, is not one more twisty masterpiece of suspicion, but a celebration of belief. It’s an ingeniously loopy concept, but that in itself would only get it so far. What makes it worth the ride is that what it lacks in a head, it makes up for in heart.