‘Sleepy Hollow’ season 1, episode 3 recap: ‘For the Triumph of Evil’
By Tasha Meares
The episode begins with a dream demon (aka the Sandman) driving people to madness and suicide. In their basement office, Ichabod Crane and Abbie Mills research dream mythology.
She shows him a picture and asks him if he knows him. Ichabod asks her if the creature that she saw in her dream and big hollow eye sockets, of which he did.
He begins to tell her of the first time he heard of this myth that has become all too real. He explains that he heard of this while fighting alongside the Mohawks during the Revolutionary War. The symbol that they would draw on the ground would be the same symbol that appeared in the old manuscript Abbie had shown him.
On the good side, Ichabod names the demon Ro'kenhrontyes. At least that sounds like a Mohawk word. Alas, the legend is apparently made up:
Was Ro’kenhrontyes a real part of Mohawk folklore?
Back to Meares's review:
She asks Ichabod what she should do.
Bad: The Mohawks look underdressed for a cool New England night. I'm guessing they wore shirts most of the time.
He claims the Indians' system of governance formed the basis of the laws of the 13 colonies. One, I'm not sure how he could say that before the writing of the Constitution. Two, this is an unproven theory that he almost certainly wouldn't have been familiar with.
He also says the Mohawks fought with him against the British. Maybe a few did, but most of the Iroquois tribes sided with the British against the Americans. The Oneida were the only tribe who fought on the American side. But I guess "Mohawk" is more familiar than "Oneida" so they went with that.
So Ichabod reaction is superficially good, though it hews to a liberal line unheard of for an 18th-century man. But it's laced with problems.
The owner introduces himself and proceeds to try to sell them something. Stereotypical used car salesman type. They tell him that they are the police, and immediately, he jumps a little matter of toxic waste that he has in the back. After she tells him that this is not what they are there for, he softens up a little. They tell him that they need his help in combat the dream spirit.
He's dressed in a suit and bolo tie and talks like a regular guy with a snarky attitude. In other words, he doesn't look or act like a stereotypical Indian.
Bad: He's played by Michael Teh, an actor from Australia. He look and his name suggest he's Asian--perhaps Chinese. That they couldn't find a Native actor to play the role is lame.
Ambivalent: The Geronimotors car lot with its chopping tomahawk sign.
I think Duncan the Mohawk owner and the show's creators are trying to have it both ways. One the one hand, Duncan and they are mocking the average American' ignorance. They presumably know better, and Duncan seems like the kind of shrewd businessman who would exploit his Native heritage.
On the other hand, the difference between using stereotypes to mock ignorance and using them, period, is subtle. I inferred the creators' intent, but not that many Americans will make the effort. They may well believe that Mohawks, shamans, Geronimo, and tomahawks are part of one big Native culture.
What if a white man owned this used-car dealership? Then the sign clearly would be offensive because of the stereotypes. Having a Native owner may change a few viewers' perceptions, but it doesn't change the equation significantly. Most people will read the stereotypes superficially, so the show probably should've omitted them.
The lot also has one or two wooden Indian as decorations. This is taking the gag a little far, I'd say. Even if Duncan thinks he's mocking his customers, at some point he's contributing to the stereotypes just like an ignorant non-Native.
Duncan the shaman
Ichabod tells him that the dream spirit is coming for his friend, and asks him what he will do when the spirit comes for him. Suddenly, he stops.
After some intense persuasion he agrees to help them.
Uh, what we now call powwows didn't occur till a century after Ichabod's time. From Powwows.com:
Bad: Most Native cultures, including the Mohawk, don't have shamans. A shaman is a particular kind of spiritual practitioner, not any indigenous person who does magic.
Bad: The lodge is dim and smoky and hung with furs, blankets, and oil lamps. It conveys the idea that the "shaman" is engaged in something dark and unnatural, like black magic.
He tells her that there is nothing she can do while on this plain. He explains that if she drinks the tea he has placed in front of her, she will travel into his dream world. Then the real fight begins.
She raises her glass before drinking the whole thing. He explains to her that once she enters the dream world, the demo will pick what challenge she has to face. She is a living soul in the valley of death. He explains that if she dies in the dream world, she dies in reality as well.
Almost immediately, Crane takes a sip of the same tea. He tells her that he is coming with her.
The Shaman explains to them that the tea will put them to sleep while the venom will allow them to control their actions while they are asleep.
Whose venom, you may ask? He shows them the scorpion caged in the glass jar.
The Shaman straps both Crane and Mills to tables. He says it is for their own protection. He stresses how much the scorpion’s sting hurts.
He informs them that once they enter the dream world, the tea will keep them connected. Only they will know what they have to do.
The shamans open the jars and place them on Ichabod and Abbie’s stomachs.
Almost simultaneously, the scorpions sting, and they are off to the dream world.
Even if the show is supposed to be scary, the creators could've done something else. Like give them "magic mushrooms" and send them on a "bad acid trip." There's no reason a trip to the dream world should require deadly venom. The tea alone could've sent them and given them control.
Rebecca Pahle of TheMarySue.com sums up the episode's Native bits:
But on the positive side: Seamus’ car lot is called Geronimotors, and he asks Ichabod and Abbie whether they’re into time travel, because he has a mint-condition DeLorean he can sell them. *deep breath* I love the smell of bad puns and “I see what you did there” in-jokes in the morning.
I'm not sure there's a good solution to this problem. You could have several Mohawks, some of whom don't believe in the demon. You could make the demon non-Native and use the Mohawks in another story.
Overall, I'd say the Native bits are another mixed bag, like those of the recent Modern Family and The Crazy Ones. Bringing Indians into Sleepy Hollow's world, and having a young Native business owner with a modern attitude, are great. But the ignorance about Mohawk lore, the Geronimotors car lot, the non-Native actor, and the whole supernatural scene cancel that out. One step forward, two steps back.
P.S. In the next episode, Sleepy Hollow briefly dramatized the Boston Tea Party. Kudos to it for not showing stereotypical Indian "braves," even though some were present. They weren't necessary for the story, so it was smart to avoid potential problems and leave them out.
For more on Sleepy Hollow, see "Shaman" Filmed for Sleepy Hollow.