From the pilot, Sleepy Hollow has been the perfect mix of campiness, adorable time traveller hijinks, great British accents, creepy monsters, convoluted historical-fantasy plot points, and genuine character relationships. And although the show seemed to get lost in itself slightly towards the end of last year, it burst full force into its final episodes in the new year, confirming everything that has been great about it from the start. Plot twists! Humor! Ichabod vs the modern world! Extreme peril! And a big enough cliffhanger to leave everyone reeling until its return in September.
The double-length finale was a wild, edge-of-the-seat, gasp-inducing ride, with pretty much every character ending the season in cliffhanger-ish, life-in-the-balance danger, Denethor revealing his true colors, and Ichabod seemingly given another eternity to think about how much he screwed up. This alone would make Sleepy Hollow a fun, addictive and utterly worthwhile show. Yet once again, the show impressed with its casual diversity. Although interviews have revealed that the diversity of the show’s cast involved conscious effort behind the scenes, the show itself introduces and explores complex female, POC (and female POC) characters in an effortless manner, embarrassing every show or movie that has argued such things are impossible. There’s no “token diversity” here. We have our African American female crime-and-demon fighting cop protagonist. And her sister who spent the last ten years in a psychiatric hospital. And her African American boss. And his family, including his disabled daughter. And Abbie’s Latino ex-boyfriend. And the Korean-American co-worker who becomes a somewhat unwilling agent of the enemy.
The idea of applying the Bechdel test to Sleepy Hollow is almost laughable. Not only does it pass it with flying colors pretty much every episode, but it also passes the racial Bechdel test on a weekly basis, often within the same conversation. In the finale alone, Abbie and Jenny have multiple scenes together, talking about the apocalypse, about their childhood, about their past traumas and disagreements and the battle that now awaits them. They are deeply involved in the fantastical side of things, in scary monsters and the battle to save the world, but their relationship as sisters, their past disagreements and betrayals and their struggle to repair their relationship now, also come into focus. As actress Nicole Beharie has commented, it’s pretty much unheard of for an African American woman to lead a primetime fantasy drama series, and for her and her sister to be one of the driving relationships of the show, for them to be part of the evil-fighting team and also have a deep emotional background, is pretty spectacular.
Then there’s the fact that Abbie has the potential to be quite an unlikable protagonist, because she’s deeply flawed. She’s screwed up in the past, and those mistakes have severely hurt others. She lied about what she saw in the woods. She betrayed her sister. She contributed to her sister being locked up in a mental institution, and did little to help her, all because she was afraid and wanted to save her own skin. The show develops the story in a very compelling, emotional and sympathetic way, and I don’t think anyone has found Abbie unlikable as a result, but the very fact that the show risked giving a female protagonist (and a POC protagonist to boot) mistakes in her past, actions that show potential weakness and selfishness, shows its commitment to representation and diversity. As depressing as it is, it is a risk to present female characters with contentious relationships, who have screwed up in the past and potentially even (gasp) displayed that worst of sins, selfishness, because we often expect our female characters to be paragons of quick-witted goodness. Yet Sleepy Hollow has shown that more depth, explored fully, is a good thing, and I hope that the success of the show will encourage more shows to “take risks” in terms of diversity and character development in the future.
All in all, Sleepy Hollow has been a great addition to the TV schedule this year.The only sticking point, to me, is Katrina. She’s meant to be an all-powerful witch, but her role in the series so far has been “damsel in distress.” Ichabod must save his rather bland wife from torment in purgatory, and although we’re told it’s because her powers might save the day, there’s pretty much no evidence of her powers doing anything. She’s a tool for Ichabod’s moral dilemmas — will he save her, or the world? What if Abbie sacrifices herself to save his wife? — and even her connection to the Horsemen is a point of angst for Ichabod, as Ichabod’s friend became the horseman because Katrina didn’t love him. And although Ichabod frees Katrina because she’s key to saving the world, she doesn’t have chance to show us more of her powers than minorly floating a twig. Within minutes, she’s been kidnapped again, sold to her ex-fiance by her son and powerless to stop him. Admittedly, all the characters on the show end the season in grave peril, but every other character does so because of their own choices. Abbie chooses to stay in purgatory in order to prevent the apocalypse. Frank Irving chose to confess to murder to protect his daughter. Jenny chose to play a major role in the investigation despite the risks, and Ichabod created the whole situation by lying to Abbie and recreating the map in the first place. Yet Katrina is just a prop, pulled into the story and passed around as needed. No wonder people want her to disappear and for Ichabod and Abbie to become the show’s couple. She has no real personality, no real interests. We know her as “Ichabod’s witch wife,” and that’s the end of it.
At this point, I’m not even hoping that she is given a bigger role and more personality in season two. She’s little more than a prop in the story, and even that is rarely used to good effect. With her complete lack of chemistry with Ichabod (the only reason she could be compelling currently), it seems like the best solution would be for her to be written out of the show. No one seems to know what to do with her, and it would be better for her to do nothing at all than for her to be wheeled out every few weeks to say something cryptic and invoke some angst.
But Katrina is one regrettable hiccup in an otherwise diverse, addictive and compelling season finale. The only question now is how we’re going to survive until the fall for season two to appear.