Does anyone else feel that, after an excellent start, Sleepy Hollow has been going downhill?
Sleepy Hollow is still one of the most diverse shows on television. The cast is majority non-white, and these characters are protagonists and people, rather than stereotypes. It’s also incredibly refreshing to see a (non-white, female) protagonist who is flawed, yet still presented as a “good character.” Abbie has sincerely screwed up in the past, lying and betraying her sister at a time when her sister needed her most. Abbie’s reaction was entirely understandable, but she still contributed to her sister spending several years in a mental institution, and so a major part of her character growth for the season is her struggle to accept her past actions and to repair her relationship with her sister in the present.
But I worry that the show has lost the plot slightly. After establishing this challenging and compelling relationship between Abbie and Jenny, we’ve hardly seen them interact. Jenny interacts with Frank Irving, and Abbie interacts with Ichabod, and never the two shall meet. It seems strange that the show set up this complicated relationship, put Jenny into a position to appear in the show more and help with more mysteries, and then barely touch on the two of them again.
Worse, I think, is the developing focus on the relationship between Ichabod and his wife Katrina. Full disclosure here: I think that Ichabod and Abbie have a lot of chemistry, enjoy their scenes together, and think they should get together in the future. Yes, I ship it. So Katrina’s prominence in the show is contrary to my nefarious viewerly plans. Yet I think that, all romance aside, Katrina’s increasing role has added problematic, even eye-roll-worthy elements to an otherwise refreshing show. The focus has shifted from Ichabod and Abbie, the two witnesses fighting to protect the world from its destruction, and has instead become about Ichabod’s true love for Katrina and his determination to free her from purgatory. It’s changed from a badass partnership show to a rescue-the-damsel show — because even though Katrina is a powerful witch in her own right, she can’t escape without Ichabod’s intervention. It also has the more-than-unfortunate side effect of sidelining Abbie, that incredibly rare woman of color protagonist in a supernatural action role, in favor of the white woman who simply must be rescued.
And although she has some interesting elements to her character, it’s almost impossible to think of Katrina as anything other than “Ichabod’s wife — needs rescuing.” We see her in flashbacks, but only in terms of her relationship to Ichabod. She appears to Abbie in visions, but usually only to give cryptic warnings and be generally mysterious. She seems so helpless that she can’t even offer useful advice, despite making all that effort to communicate with Abbie in the first place. Katrina has the potential to be a compelling character, and to have an interesting relationship with Abbie, but so far, she’s just the flowing-hair, flowing-dress, please-help-me mystical figure that we’ve seen many times before.
Then we have the problem of the Headless Horseman himself. He’s supposed to be a figure of pure evil, representing one of the horseman of the apocalypse, Death himself. And then we learn that he’s actually Katrina’s spurned fiance. She broke their arranged engagement because she was in love with Ichabod, and so he fought Ichabod, became mortally wounded, and joined the forces of evil. A love triangle where the spurned figure literally becomes the face of Death and dedicates himself to bringing about the apocalypse? It’s original, I suppose, but rather eye-roll-worthy in the end. Of course evil isn’t simply evil. Of course his actions are because he couldn’t be with the woman he loved (or at least, the woman he wanted to marry). And so of course Katrina is trapped in purgatory not because of her powers, or because of the threat she poses to these evil forces, but because she’s being punished by an ex-suitor. Because of her relationships with men.
This isn’t to say that Sleepy Hollow has become a bad show. It still has an incredibly diverse cast, some great female characters and boatloads of potential. But as this season comes to a close and next season begins, I hope the writers will take their apparent consideration for issues of race in media and apply it to issues of sexism and the diminishment of female characters too. They made an excellent start — here’s hoping they live up to that potential.