The Spirit of Democracy is introduced from the very beginning, with baseball as a framing device to introduce the American way--tradition, teamwork, and tolerance. Those are such worthy goals, and so clearly the ultimate ideal that was sought after when the founders wrote the Constitution. And the fact that Sleepy Hollow says it so casually, so lightly, but so perfectly is a wonder to behold. It's particularly wise that the ideal virtues of America were set up early, as they provide a unique lens through which to view the rest of the episode.
Tradition appears in the form of the Masons. The modern day descendants of the Revolutionary chapter of the ancient order kidnap Ichabod, who uses some sudden and masterful sleuthing to decipher their identity. He gives insight into his historical past as the Masons force him to prove he is who he claims to be. Through flashbacks, Crane details his time in the British army, and the series of events that led him to defer to the Americans (and which introduced him to future wife Katrina). In interrogating freeman Arthur Bernard--there's the tolerance, as Bernard adds the diversity to the hour--Ichabod discovers the inner workings of the Revolutionaries and the Masons, and is persuaded into joining their cause.
Meanwhile, bringing up the teamwork portion of America, Abbie discovers Ichabod's absence thanks to an ill-timed vision from Katrina. Desperate to regain the only person that has given her a purpose and a meaning for life, Abbie teams up with Jenny to find a Sin Eater and free Ichabod from his cursed connection with the horseman of Death. The Sin Eater, a creature of legend who devours a person's sins and leaves them sanctified in his wake, is the only one who can cleanse Crane's blood. In the most delightful casting choice ever, the Sin Eater Abbie and Co. seek is none other than Mr. Walter Bishop himself, Mr. John Noble. He performs his lonely work in a manner that is as subtle and tortured and gifted as Walter ever appeared. If Sleepy Hollow somehow made his Sin Eater a permanent cast member, that would be alright.
And then, in a gorgeously spun morality tale of redemption, Ichabod and Abbie learn of the necessity of sacrifice, but that it doesn't always have to be the sacrifice of the body. The Masons convince Ichabod that the only way to defeat the Horseman is to kill himself, as their blood connection will ensure the death of Death and the halting of the apocalypse. But to say that this is the only way to victory is false. It ignores the lesson Ichabod learned in flashback from Katrina: that "destiny is not a matter of chance, it's a choice." To die would be wholly Ichabod's choice, and there is always another way. In a blatant but wonderful bit of Christ imagery, Walter's Sin Eater appears at the most convenient last minute to pierce Ichabod's palm and eat of his sin, dipping the bread in the blood and absolving his guilt. Still, it is not a one-way contract. Ichabod must confront the recipient of his sin, the poor betrayed Arthur Bernard, and beg forgiveness.
But as spectral Bernard points out, Crane is seeking redemption from the wrong person. He must forgive himself in order to purge himself of sin. His wrongdoing was not delaying choice and allowing for Bernard to die, it was holding on to misplaced guilt. "My death saved your soul," claims Bernard. There can be no sin in that, only redemption. But first comes Crane's sacrifice. Not through death, but by sacrificing his pride, his guilt, and his sense of failure. Only by placing that sin on the altar to be devoured by Walter can Crane be free. He can now return to witnessing, only stronger than before, granted the strength of sanctification.
-Orlando Jones as Captain Irving doesn't get much to do this episode, but what he gets is gold. His line about wanting to preserve only two things, virginity and skepticism (and considering he's lost the first, he wants to hold on to that second thankyouverymuch), hits a funny bone in just the right way.
-Finally the irksome lack of clarity around Katrina's half-baked warning is confronted! "Tell the witch to be specific." PREACH, Jenny.