Oh Sleepy Hollow….what the hell happened to you? How did we get here? How did you start off so well in the first season, quickly becoming one my can’t miss shows of the week, and suddenly turn into something that I regret ever getting involved in?
Where did it all go wrong?
Back in September of 2013, I was introduced to this rather charming gem of a show called Sleepy Hollow with an equally charming premise. Ichabod Crane (played by Tom Mison), not the cowardly spineless wuss we remember in fairy tale, but reimagined as former civil war solider/spy for George Washington during the Colonial Army. In the first episode, we watch as Ichabod does battle with the Juggernaut Headless Horseman only for both men to die at each other’s hand. 230 years later, Ichabod is resurrected from the grave in modern-day, discovering that the Headless Horseman has been brought back as well as, revealed as Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (yea, it sounds a bit out there but it was actually pretty interesting in the beginning)
We are then introduced to the second lead character of the show, police Lieutenant Abbie Mills (played by Nicole Beharie) who is the first one to encounter the wrath of the Headman after her partner and mentor, Sheriff August Corbin is suddenly attacked and beheaded. Eventually, both Ichabod and Abbie’s path cross and the two partner up and discover the presence of two occults groups in Sleepy Hollow – one for good and one for evil – with connections to the Four Horsemen and an impending apocalypse. Eventually both Ichabod and Abbie find out they are destined to be The Two Witnesses, the only ones who can combat and protect the world the forces of Hell itself.
So let’s just get right into it and talk about what made this show so good when it begun. I have to admit; I was intrigued by the idea of a reboot of the story of Sleepy Hollow and making it something more like shows of Supernatural or Fringe. I was especially on board with the reimagining of Ichabod as someone who faced danger head on rather than someone who ran and fainted at the sight of it. Unlike most fish out of water stories, Ichabod didn’t bumbled his way through the modern world but rather quickly accepted and adapted to it. At the time Sleepy Hollow aired, it was a refreshing take on the old tale, making it original but familiar. Every episode had me anxious to watch the next just so I could see how they were going to take it and make it something completely different.
But what really grabbed me was the chemistry the two main leads had with each other (I emphasize the word “leads” for a reason, but more on that later). Ichabod and Abbie made a terrific team right from the beginning. Season One did a fantastic job at introducing the pair, never indicting that the story revolved around just one person, but instead both. Both leads were critical not just to the plot but to each other as well. No where in the first season was any indication that this was Crane’s story more than Abbie’s. Abbie was the audience. She grounded Crane in the 21st century, and she grounded us the supernatural world of Sleepy Hollow. Just as Abbie was finding her footing and trying to make sense of what was happening her as well as her role as a Witness, we the audience were along for the ride, figuring it out along with her. In truth, Abbie Mills was the anchor that made the story believable as well as exciting.
Now, I will shamelessly admit that I, like so many viewers, immediately felt that there was a connection between Ichabod and Abbie in more romantic terms. As the two male/female leads, it only seemed natural. Thus the ship name of “Ichabbie” was born. But this wasn’t born out of nowhere. As I said before, the chemistry between Crane and Abbie was evident and strong from the very first episode. In fact, it can be argued that it was that chemistry that made the first season such a success. Crane and Abbie were what made Sleepy Hollow great. And every week, I found myself rooting for the both of them while biting my nails in hopeful anticipation that their partnership would involve into something more.
Sadly, that never happened.
Here’s where the angry fangirl in me comes out, and even after so many months following last season’s finale, I can’t lie and say I’m not still pissed off about it.
Following the end of the first season, there was a dramatic shift in the show’s narrative following the departure of the show’s showrunner Mark Goffman. Clifton Campbell took over the job and that’s when the show began something…different. The focus shifted from being about Crane and Abbie to centering more about Crane, his relationship with his witchy wife Katrina and their evil son Jeremy. During the course of season two, Abbie’s narrative and involvement within the story slowly began to dwindled down to single episodes. Almost to the point that Abbie’s character was only there to provide aid to Ichabod wherever he was in danger then fade off into the background once again. Throughout the course of the second season, much of the story’s development was placed on Ichabod’s journey and Ichabod alone with Abbie’s role gradually becoming more of his sidekick. True, she was still his partner, but for fans, it was becoming increasingly obvious that writers were trying to downplay her importance as much as possible.
Everything changed in the second season of Sleepy Hollow. From mood, tone, genre and characters, the show felt very much like something was changing and fans were quick to catch onto what that was. Abbie Mills was no longer the lead. She was sidelined for most of the season, with Katrina taking her place. It seemed that the writers wanted there to more focus on her and Ichabod’s relationship rather than evolve his with Abbie’s, and have Abbie play more of a support role. There was just one tiny problem with that.
The fans didn’t like Katrina. At all.
Where Abbie took charge and kicked ass, Katrina was more of a damsel in a corset that needed saving in just about every other episode. Through her character was written to be a powerful witch that was responsible for Ichabod being resurrected in the first place, fans saw none of that. Katrina’s powers were laughable to say the least, never working when needed the most and when they did, they weren’t all that impressive. In truth, Katrina was a boring character.
Meanwhile, fans were practically screaming for more from Abbie other than being a sidekick. They desperately wanted her not just to have more screen time, but to have something that resembled a life. If Ichabod could have episodes centered about his daily struggles, why couldn’t Abbie? With the exception of Abbie’s sister, Jenny ,making an appearance, Abbie was repeatedly denied outside involvement with anyone else in the show or the town itself. Although the while, Ichabod’s relationships were placed at the forefront time and time again. He was allowed to have friendships with other characters where as Abbie was not, and story always seemed to find a way to have his knowledge for very random things led to the resolution of the episode. It became quite clear that the show wanted it to be known that the only way for the show to go places was with Crane leading the way.
Which is quite confusing considering at the same time, the writers put great emphasises that Abbie was just as important to the show. If that were true, then why not show it, fans clamoured. Well, by the time season two ended, fans hoped that season three would be different. Katrina had gone full dark and tried to kill Ichabod after the death of the evil son, only to die too for her troubles. With nobody else to steal the spotlight, fans were ready for Abbie to return to her rightful role as female lead.
Start season three, and enter Betsy Ross.
Betsy.Fucking.Ross. The introduction of this character was perhaps marks the beginning of the end of Sleepy Hollow with me and a lot of the fans. Much like Ichabod’s character, Betsy Ross was introduced as a spy in Washington’s army who also had knowledge of the supernatural and, surprise surprise, had a past relationship with Ichabod. I cannot express how much I hated Betsy Ross in the third season. Probably more than I hated Katrina. Not only was another female introduced that AGAIN, took over as female lead, but Betsy Ross was by far the best example of the quintessential Mary Sue character.
Betsy Ross could do all things. She was a fighter, an excellent spy, had outstanding knowledge of the supernatural (more so than Ichabod at times), was greatly admired and adorned by pretty much every one who ever met her. I could go on and on just how perfect Betsy Ross was made out to be in season three, and I could go on and on how increasingly annoying it became for fans who had to hear it episode after episode. There was not an episode that went by where Ichabod did not lament about Betsy Ross. Literal scenes went by where Ichabod wofully would say, “If only Betsy Ross were here” before remembering a piece of obscure piece of knowledge that only Betsy knew, thus saving the day. It wasn’t enough that the writers wanted to shove her character down the throats of the audience, but it was worse bringing up her greatness in front of Abbie just to hammer home the idea that her character was no longer important.
As if that weren’t bad enough, just like in season two, Ichabod’s life and relationship was again the focus of the show. We got treated to flashbacks of his past romantic relationship with Betsy while also seeing him purse another relationship with colonial history fan Zoe in modern day. And what was Abbie’s storyline? Pretty much nothing. Her character suffered a rather odd and unbelieveable case of PTSD for a time that was quickly resolved after three episodes. Oh sure, she was given a romance towards the end of the season, but it felt shoe-horned in at the last minute and did not any development throughout the course of the season or investment from the audience. Must like with the second season, Abbie Mills was just sort of there, appearing less and less while others were developed.
However, there was the slight glimmer of hope. Despite everything the show had put fans through, there was the held-out hope that Ichabod and Abbie were going to be an item. It was no secret that it was endgame that the fans had wanted, had held out hope for since episode one and had endured through all the poor writing and distraction. And the writers were very much aware that this was what the fans wanted as well. Season three dropped so many hints that Ichabbie was going to happen, from dreamy eye stares to even a scene of Ichabod’s almost girlfriend practically spelling it out to him that Abbie was the one for him.
Fans waited with baited-breath for the moment Ichabod and Abbie became a thing at long last. And what was the fans reward after waiting for so long?
After all that, Abbie dies in the finale. Yup, she’s dead. This was the payout fans were given after three seasons of rooting for this couple and this show. Needless to say, this did not go over well.
What Makes the Death of Abbie Mills So Bad?
For starters, the show made it very clear that Abbie wasn’t just some throw-away sidekick, but as equally important to fate of the world as much as Ichabod was. She was a Witness. However, her death comes off as insulting when fans are told to believe from the writers that her “purpose” was served in guiding Ichabod where he needs to be. I’m sorry, but her “purpose”? Her purpose was to die for Ichabod?! For those unaware, it was something of a running theme that Abbie had to sacriface herself for Ichabod whenever he was in danger. All three finales ended with Abbie throwing herself in harm’s way in place of Ichabod, and as a fan, I am later made to believe that that had been her role all along! That doesn’t make her seem like a Witness but more like cannon fodder. Saying it was her purpose to get Ichabod to his destiny completely diminishes her worth not just as a character, but as the lead of the show.
Abbie’s death was made all the more heartbreaking and cruel due to two things: one being that there was little to no emotion from the other characters the moment it happened. There were no tears or even a funeral scene for that matter. Just a crummy dream sequence with Ichabod and Abbie saying their farewells, a tombstone and hollowless speech of “You will be missed.” The second being that writers teased the fans endlessly throughout the entire sesaon of a relationship, only to confirm it when the character has already died. Each week, the writers threw in a scene that gave the fans hope that Ichabbie could happen, tricking them into watching the following week. It’s called “ship-baiting, and man, did it work!
Now, the story of Sleepy Hollow has had its share of plotholes, but none quite as the one the writers created by killing off Abbie Mills. At the very end, it’s revealed that the role of the Witness isn’t just reserved to one person, rather than when a Witness dies, their spirit lives on to another relative of their blood line to be reincarnated. Now wait, hold on? If that were true, then why didn’t Ichabod’s spirit move on to another when he was killed by the Horseman in the very first episode? Why was he allowed to come back as himself? Why does Abbie need to be reincarnated? What makes him so special that the same magic used on him can’t be used on Abbie? None of this business of Abbie’s spirit finding a new host makes any sense. Not when there is genuine evidence that the show has given fans, from magic to damn time travel, that could bring Abbie back to life! All of it sounds retconned and a failed attempt to explain away their decision to kill off a main character.
It’s been said that killing off Abbie comes from the fact that Nicole Beharie wanted off the show and was looking for ways out of her contract for quite some time. Sadly I feel like the actress wasn’t given much of a choice but to leave. I certainly don’t blame her for wanting out of the show considering the material she was given of course. But that’s the issue. The story itself pushed Nicole into wanting to leave.
Think about it for a second.
Remember how I said that Betsy Ross was the beginning of the end for fans? Whether the writers believe it or not, what her character revealed was that Abbie Mills wasn’t special at all. She was merely another partner to Ichabod in his long line of partners to help him in his destiny, contrary to what the audience had been told for three seasons. Rumors are abound that the writers/creators disliked how much the fans embraced and valued Abbie more than Ichabod and how they “conspired”ways to push Nicole into quitting. Whether these rumors are true remained to be seen, but given how the show continued to push different female leads into the spotlight, it wouldn’t be too fair fetch to believe.
There is another issue here that many people may or may not realize. One of Sleepy Hollow’s greatest strengths and appeals was how diverse the casting was, with a full cast of characters from all races. With so many shows out with white actors in lead roles, it was wonderfully refreshing seeing a black actress as the main character and the star, not merely a secondary character. She had a fan base that rooting for her However, by the time the third season came to an end, majority of the ethic characters had been done away with, making room for more white or “ethically safe” actors.
As a Mexican, I understand the struggle. I know that I have never grown up with someone who looked like me be the star. I’ve seen characters with my color skin play roles that either fit our stereotype or reduced to the background with no lines at all. But Abbie Mills was different. Her character was called “The American Dream.” How often does one hear that for a person of color? Hardly ever. What writers didn’t realize was that they created a character than many viewers saw as their Buffy or Agent Carter or Dana Scully in a science fiction setting. I cannot recall a single show on today where that was the case other than Sleepy Hollow.
In the end, by reducing screen time and killing Abbie Mills, Sleepy Hollow reinforced the idea that black or female characters are expendable. They cannot be the lead. No one wants to see a black actress possibly be equal to her white co-star. That is the message many fans got out of the finale and to this day, many months after finale, fans continue to cry foul on.
Sleepy Hollow has been renewed for fourth season with many dramatic changes set to take place. The biggest change being that, aside from Tom Mison (Ichabod), no one from the original cast is set to return. The setting will no longer be in Sleepy Hollow and is instead moving to Washington. A much greater focus will be set on Ichabod as he sets on a quest to find the next Witness who carries Abbie’s soul. Still, as someone who as spent a lot of time talking to fans on Twitter about this subject, I can’t think of a single person who is even remotely excited for next season. For me, it feels more of a Mr. Crane Goes to Washington type of story than anything else, not the supernatural thriller that it started out as. The dynamic team of Crane and Mills is gone which was the heart of the show for many viewers and now it feels fruitless just to continue watching that just feels like everything else on tv. Viewers had such a long investment into these two characters for so long, rooting for them. To continue doing that with a whole new set of characters seems like a lot to ask of fans. Fans who are not especially on your side.
The showrunners believe that the show can go on with Tom Mison carrying it alone, but fans aren’t interested. Atleast the fans I’ve spoken to who have been watching since first season. Simply making promises that the show will honor Abbie’s sacriface will smooth things over. That wasn’t what fans were hoping for or want to see. Sleepy Hollow now is a mere shadow of its former self, repackaged for a completely different audience now, not the ones who stuck by and supported it through all the shotty storytelling and poor ratings. But more with the interest of fangirls who want to oogle at Tom Mison’s flowing locks.
I for one do not intend to ever watch this show again. If by some miracle that the showrunners manage to get Nicole Beharie to return (which is highly unlikely given their unfair treatment of her), maybe I’ll watch again. But that is a very big if. And it’s not just me. What remains of the fandom have drawn their line in the sand and proclaimed Sleepy Hollow dead to them and I am right there with them.
For now, I end this with the hashtag that every former fan will know.