Sleepy Hollow was a series that started with an amazing amount of promise. Abbie Mills and Ichabod Crane, in a decently built if predictable biblical supernatural thriller. Sure, the show grated at times, and the hero worship of the American Founding Fathers and demonization of the British was painful almost constantly, but it worked. The chemistry between the two was amazing, and a tight storyline brought it all home. Then, the series shit the bed, and didn’t stop until they all be destroyed the franchise, which brings us to today.
As everyone knows now, Abbie Mills, played excellently by Nicole Beharie, was killed off in the season finale. The reaction has been as swift as it has been uncompromising. So how did we get here, what went wrong?
So how did this all fail?
- The storyline got lost and picked up in a strange van marked “Candy and Puppies”, losing its previous tight layout and execution in favour of a generic Biblical supernatural Buffy show feel.
- No recognition of characters. Abbie was never acknowledged by the writers or show runners as a co-lead to Ichabod, and was sidelined in an effort to drum up support for him and his wife, before they gave up and timey-wimey’d it.
- World creation failed. Season One should have been *it*, when they failed to lay out the bigger world, or establish future threats. They did a rush job of this in Season Three with Ichabod’s tomb in Scotland, but too little, too late.
- Character development failed. Abbie was bursting with potential, and instead of tapping it, they opted to sideline her and then crudely try to recast her.
- Lack of urgency. Season One worked because you felt the urgency behind it all. Shit was going down, and it was a race against the clock. Subsequent seasons were bland and hum-drum, with no sense of “Oh shit, we have to figure this out!”
Truth be told, the series was rigged to self-destruct almost from the get go. Season One worked because it was tightly written and well paced by the writers, and the act of world creation was fantastic. However, going into Season Two, I couldn’t help but feel that the show runners and staff hadn’t thought the whole thing through. The writing went downhill, and fast. Tightness and cohesiveness was out. The entire thing felt like filler. Worst, they demoted Abbie Mills from female lead to near secondary character as they tried to build up Ichabod’s wife, Katrina, played somewhat woodenly by Katia Winter (after a much better performance in Season One). At the same time, they dodged the issues of racism, slavery, and everything else with a very carefully done time travel ending that painted a very specific and revisionist picture of Revolutionary America.
Season Three has been bad all around. Apparently Orlando Jones saw the trouble coming sooner, and managed to bail before things got out of hand. And out of hand they got. The “skip forward a year” was clumsy and poorly executed. Abbie as an FBI agent was less than well planned out, and felt contrived, especially after two seasons of developing the Sheriff’s Department and its characters. The supernatural, previously more subtle (even with the Horseman), was suddenly in your face and affecting the whole town. It took on a near Supernatural or Buffy-esque feeling, and not even a little bit either. Nor in a good way. And in case you’re counting, the show has now driven off all but one of its regular POC and minority characters.
But there’s also the awkward issue around the treatment of POC actors to deal with. Sleepy Hollow started out so strong in this area, it was mind blowing. Two strong POC characters, with Abbie Mills in co-lead position, and Captain Irving in a supporting role. Officer Brooks, played skillfully by John Cho, was great as an antagonist and reluctant ally. Then, bit by bit, the effort waned and it became more conforming to the norm of other shows in the same genre. Despite amazing chemistry between Abbie and Ichabod, they had him first pine for his dead(ish) wife, then have fleeting (and sometimes lethal) feelings for a bunch of random white women, before revealing his entanglements with a suddenly very redone Betsy Ross (which occurred while he was wooing or just newly with Katrina, classy right?). Abbie and Jenny were sidelined into being props for Ichabod’s adventure in the future, and the show became more and more like a television adaptation of Nation Treasure than the supernatural thriller it had started as.
Now we have what so many who detested the idea of a competent POC woman co-lead wanted. A show about Ichabod and his adventures with the supernatural. The hasty reincarnation bit means that, should the series be renewed, we can look forward to many Witness deaths until the still poorly described Biblical Evil is defeated and Ichabod stands triumphant.
RIP Sleepy Hollow, you were good idea, but after being fed into the generic supernatural Biblical threat show extruder, you lost everything you had. If the show staff and remaining actors and actresses manage to revive this, I’ll be amazed.