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'Sleepy Hollow': a bit sleepy in the details?

Updated on September 17, 2013

**Warning: hub contains spoilers**

With commercials running throughout the summer, Sleepy Hollow on Fox was one of the most anticipated television shows in the 2013 fall lineup. The newest series in a long line of ambitious television opened to 10 million viewers, proving that blanket marketing does work. But is it worth all of the hype?


We have all heard variations of the tale of Ichabod Crane and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, and this is just one more to add to the list. Set in modern day, Sleepy Hollow opens with a scene from the Revolutionary War. Played by British actor Tom Mison, Ichabod Crane fights against the British on the side of the American colonists, as a traitor (he defected when he didn’t agree with his home country’s politics). He is given a secret mission by none other than George Washington, to kill a specific Hessian soldier, who has the mark of a bow on his hand. When Ichabod sees the Hessian, he tries to shoot him, but the Hessian stands back up. Ichabod beheads the Hessian, who at the same time cuts Ichabod with his broad axe. Their blood intermingles on the battlefield.

Hessians: In the Revolutionary War, the Crown of England hired Hessian soldiers to fight against American colonists. These 3000 Hessians were German mercenaries who were hired out by the unit, and said to be ruthless, especially to those that deserted the unit. In the American tale of the Headless Horsemen, he is a Hessian soldier.

Ichabod’s wife, Katrina, has a secret life as a witch. After Ichabod is hit by the Hessian’s broad axe, she works her magic with her coven, and performs a spell on both Ichabod and the Hessian. She buries Ichabod in a cave to protect him from the Headless Horseman.

Later, we learn Katrina was burned for witchcraft...but not really, because what fun would that be to tell the truth right away? Her coven also is a bunch of good witches, an ancient order that protects the town of Sleepy Hollow from evil.

Ichabod Crane and Lieutenant Abbie Mills


Once the Hessian wakes up, Ichabod wakes up as well, for the sole reason of stopping the Hessian. We learn that the Headless Horseman is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, told in the Book of Revelation in the Bible (see Revelations 6:1-8). More to come on this below. During a dream sequence, Katrina appears to Ichabod and lets him know that if he doesn’t stop the Headless Horseman from claiming his skull back, then the horseman will become whole again, and the other three horsemen will come to bring about the apocalypse.

In the middle of all the fun of last days doom and gloom is Lieutenant Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie). The story early on reveals that in one week, she is set to go to Quantico to start FBI training, a very prestigious career change. Of course, in TV and movie land, no one is allowed to retire or have a career change that easy. Something just has to happen to stop them, and Sleepy Hollow follows through on this tradition. Abbie’s partner, Sheriff August Corbin, is very quickly dispatched by means of beheading in the beginning of the show, and Abbie watches the Headless Horseman run away.

Ichabod Crane was then picked up by Andy Dunn (John Cho) under suspicion of murder. From his jail cell, Ichabod learned the Hessian is alive, and spun a tale for officers about how he cut off the Hessian’s head. They gave Ichabod a polygraph (which he passes), took him off to a mental health institution (by route of murder scene) and so on and so forth. Later, Abbie finds out that her deceased partner had a secret investigation going on the side all guessed it, the Headless Horseman. Abbie also had a childhood experience relating back to the Hessian soldier. Now, it's time to cue all the trite jokes about being asleep for 250 years and how much Ichabod has missed out on (like the end of slavery and women being allowed to wear trousers).

'Sleepy Hollow' trailer


There are so many problems with the tale that the television series spins, and the pilot was rightfully met with mixed reviews. It’s as if the writers had no desire to Google anything they wrote. They just wrote everything as if it was truth, and who cares about the savvy viewer? The only problem with that is even the uninformed viewer can pick up on contradictions and misconceptions. If you’re a stickler for the details, you probably will not last through the entire pilot, let alone a season of pesky nonsensical details. Here are the problems I picked up on in the pilot (and I’m sure there are so many more):

A fox in the hen house

Lieutenant Abbie Mills’s partner is Sheriff August Corbin, and they work for the Westchester County Police Department, but there’s a small problem with that. Sheriff departments are completely different than police departments. Being Sheriff doesn’t come by promotion, but by election. The Sheriff has no boss except the people that elected him. Deputies are hired in to work under him, but he doesn’t have anyone over him, let alone a Captain of the police department. Sheriffs typically have jurisdiction over a county, while police departments have jurisdiction over cities. Cities without police departments generally fall under the jurisdiction of the county’s sheriff’s department. True, there are some exceptions, but having a Sheriff as the partner of a Lieutenant in a County Police Department is just a little too out there.

See ya later, alligator!

In her first scene, Lieutenant Abbie Mills displays a true bond with her Sheriff partner. Yet when he dies, she only has emotion right then and there. Afterward, she acts as if nothing happened. She is more caught up in the fun of listening to Ichabod and driving him around town to do her own investigation of Sleepy Hollow and the Hessian. After all, when a partner dies, it’s out of sight, out of mind.

Polygraphs can fool even writers


To tell the truth…

In the police station, Ichabod is given a polygraph test to see if he is telling the truth about sleeping in a cave for 250 years. Of course, he passed, and of course, they still didn’t believe him (except maybe Abbie). But the test they gave Ichabod was unlike any real polygraph, and probably the worst display of one in the history of television or movies. The writers used the polygraph to get backstory out…which was a huge mistake as it required them to bend all of the rules of polygraph.

The lines on the polygraph machine never move on the screen, they stay the same. Because the polygraph measures heart rate, breathing, sweat glands, and blood pressure, the lines must move even if the person being examined is telling the truth. The lines on the screen were not flat, but consistently arched and never moving from those arches. This is not the way a polygraph works.

During Ichabod’s polygraph test, the examiner asked compound questions, and allowed Ichabod to answer in great detail. Polygraph examiners are trained to only ask yes and no questions. At the beginning of the test, examiners also ask three or four questions to establish a baseline reading. This didn’t happen in the show. Finally, Ichabod was able to move all about in his chair and get quite excitable during the exam. In a real polygraph, examinees are asked to remain still, and if they do move (say, to scratch an itch), they are reminded to sit still.

The truth about Ichabod’s polygraph is it was used to reveal back story of the character and for the police to reveal information to Ichabod, like the George Washington being on the front of a one-dollar bill and the Americans winning the Revolutionary War. This would have been much better accomplished had the writers just put him in an interrogation room and had police chatting with him.

The suspect who called shotgun

After Captain Frank Irving (Orlando Jones) orders Ichabod to be taken by two police cars to a mental institution for 72 hour evaluation, Lieutenant Abbie Mills introduces herself to the captain and requests to interrogate Ichabod. Captain Frank denies her request, and she talks him into letting her transport Ichabod to the mental institution, during which she says she will limit her interrogation to the 20-minute car ride.

The first issue is that Captain Frank, who would be directly over Lieutenant Abbie in a police department serving a town of 144,000 people, had no idea who she was until now. She was allegedly hand-selected by the FBI to join their program in Quantico, a fact of which her higher ups surely would have taken notice, yet he didn’t know her. Second, he allows her to transport a prisoner by herself to the mental institution, just after he ordered two cars to take the prisoner there.

When Abbie takes Ichabod outside, Captain Frank doesn’t think it important to have anyone else go with her, not even to escort them to her vehicle…even though they still suspect him of murdering Sherriff August Corbin. She walks him through the front lobby of the police station past unarmed civilians, and out the front door to her vehicle. Then she lets go of him, and lets him wander around her car. With all this craziness, surely she’s smart enough to put a suspected murderer in the back seat. Of course not! She’s FBI-bound, after all, the smartest of the smart, the best cop in town! Criminals ride in the front seat of her car. Then she takes him all over town, including to a crime scene where her Captain is, who, by the way, has no idea that Ichabod failed to get to his destination of the mental institution even after many hours. The best of the best, indeed!

Wait...we're supposed to investigate?

With suspected murderer Ichabod in her front seat, Abbie takes him to the cave where he arose from his slumber. One would think she would actually investigate the cave, maybe check out the hole he said he came out of. But she was much more interested in the jars around the cave. She takes the handcuffs off the suspect and gives him a flashlight so he can investigate himself. He proves to be a much better investigator than the lieutenant. Ichabod locates a 250-year old Bible in the mud that was buried with him, yet the pages of the Bible have survived very well over the last quarter of a century.

Which of the horsemen are headless?


If you’re not first, you’re last

The marked passage of the Bible buried with Ichabod is in Revelations. According to Ichabod, it says: “And there before me stood a white horse, and it’s rider held a bow. And his name was Death. And then a voice like thunder said, ‘Come and see!’” Surely the writers can open a Bible and get this right…right?

No, not today. The words that Ichabod speak are a mixture of the first horseman, who rides a white horse, and the last horseman, who rides a pale horse. They combine Revelations 6:1 with Revelations 6:8, and add a few other things in. The rider of the white horse does carry the bow, but his name is not Death, in fact he is not named. The rider of the pale horse doesn’t carry a bow, but his name is Death. I guess the writers couldn’t decide which horsemen they liked the best, so they combined the two and made a new horseman to represent the first horseman: he carries a bow, rides a white horse, and is named Death. By the way, in case you were keeping track, the 144,000 occupants of Sleepy Hollow refer to the 144,000 sealed first mentioned in Revelation 7.

Revolutionary plastic surgery

Washington Irving describes Ichabod Crane in this manner: “He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together.” Apparently those casting the television series weren’t much of a fan of Irving’s work. Ichabod has never been more miscast. Tom Mison is a handsome Brit, and far from gangly and wiry. But we’ll forgive him because he is such a good actor in the show (I promise, that wasn’t sarcastic).


Sleepy Hollow gets some things right. Ichabod Crane is beautifully portrayed by Mison, with wonderful acting talents, despite his looks being completely different. He brings the character to life on the little screen much better than Johnny Depp in the 1999 movie of the same name. Also the scenery is outstanding. Based on that alone, it should have been a great television series. But alas, the writers had to step in and ruin it all. Maybe they're the headless ones. If the pilot episode has this many errors (and probably more that I didn’t write about), then I can’t imagine what the rest of the show will be like. They may just have the Loch Ness Monster teaming up with the Headless Horsemen.

Darn. I really wanted to like this one.


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    • Angie Martin profile imageAUTHOR

      Angie Martin 

      5 years ago from Frazier Park, California

      It really is a shame. My husband and I were so excited about this show. I'm a criminal justice student so things that are wrong about police and investigation are things I pick up on pretty easy, but I am very forgiving when it comes to those things because I understand you can't follow police procedure 100% in television and make it work. But this was just over-the-top bad, like the murder suspect in the front seat of the car. When they messed up the Bible quote and combined two passages, I just couldn't believe it. That should have been one of the easiest things to get right since Bibles are everywhere and easy to pick up and look through. It was really sad and disappointing, and I really wish they had done a better job with it...especially since we absolutely loved Tom Mison in it. He was the highlight of the show. Honestly, because of him, I will probably try it again just to see if this was a one-time fluke or if they really just have the worst writers and consultants ever.

    • LisaMarie724 profile image

      Lisa Stover 

      5 years ago from Pittsburgh PA

      That's a shame, I meant to watch this and forgot.


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