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Sleepy Hollow’s Ex-Protagonist

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Sleepy Hollow has never understood its own appeal.

The first season was a fun, often-silly, sometimes spooky genre show, grounded in the relationship between pompous fish-out-of-water Ichabod Crane and kind and badass cop Abbie Mills. The second season suddenly took its mythos very seriously, and sidelined Abbie in favor of making Ichabod the hero, focussing on his relationship with his wife and his son. The third season… well, I don’t know what the third season’s done, because I quit watching around the mid-season break of season two.

Which is why this post is a weird one to write. I don’t, as a rule, write about things I haven’t personally watched or read. Second hand information is bad basis for analysis. But since I used to write about Sleepy Hollow on this blog, I thought I should at least acknowledge what happened in the show’s season finale. Because… well. Spoilers after the cut.

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Sleepy Hollow Mid Season Finale

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After a strong start and a very bumpy middle, Sleepy Hollow pulled out all the stops for its mid-season finale. With epic battles, moral dilemmas, plot twists, and the slight issue of the apocalypse, The Akeda hurtled at a break-neck pace, right through to its final second.

But as the stakes were raised and the drama got bigger, the show’s recent problems also became more obvious, marring an otherwise dramatic and fun episode with frequent moments of, “Wait, what?”

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The Problem with Katrina

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Somebody save Katrina from Sleepy Hollow.

I have to admit, I’ve been on Team “Why is Katrina even here?” before. In the past, she hasn’t been given much to do except play the damsel, she’s a “powerful witch” only because people keep insisting it’s so, and her lack of chemistry with the other actors made her few scenes less than compelling.

But after the past couple of episodes, she’s been catapulted into the camp of “female characters grossly misused by their writers,” along with, to a lesser extent, Abbie herself. It made me regret everything I have ever said about her being the weak link in the show, about her needing to be written out, because dear lord, this was bleak, bleak stuff. She needs to not be in the show any more, because I don’t trust the writers to write another word about her. Because when they want Katrina drama, it seems, they turn to some of the worst misogynistic tropes in the book.

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Sleepy Hollow: This Is War

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It’s been a long, long hiatus.

After obsessing over this fun new show last fall, I’d kind of forgotten all about it. It’s been nine months since the end of season one aired, and that’s a long time to wait for a cliffhanger to be resolved.

Luckily, it took approximately 0.1 seconds into the “previously on Sleepy Hollow” for me to remember how great this show is. It’s not the most serious show, or the most emotionally devastating show, or a show designed to make you really think. But if you want a diverse, fast-paced supernatural adventure genre show with lots of emotion and fantastic character moments in the mix, then it’s basically the best thing on television right now.

And I’m so glad that it’s back.

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Sleepy Hollow Season One

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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.

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Sleepy Hollow: The Show So Far

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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.

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Against “Historical Accuracy”

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Historical accuracy. God, I’ve come to hate that phrase. It is used to cover all manner of sins. Have a historical narrative that treats its female characters as objects? Historical accuracy. All your characters are bigoted jerks but we’re supposed to sympathize with them? Historical accuracy. Have racism or sexism in your fantasy series? Historical accuracy!

Of course, “historical accuracy” is sometimes a good explanation for a character’s attitudes. I cannot sit through an episode of Downton Abbey without wanting to punch Lord Grantham in the face, but his sexist attitude is realistic. The key thing is that the narrative never makes you think he’s in the right. He’s the old-fashioned one unable to cope with the changing world, and his mother, wife and daughters, who argue against him, are the ones you root for. It’s very different from a show where the script, the direction, everything actually places female or minority characters in an inferior position, or supports their exploitation or dismissal. And it happens all the time. It’s as though a “historical” setting (or something like it) gives writers and creators free rein to embrace as many old-fashioned and bigoted views as they like, for viewers to enjoy whatever messed up portrayals they like uncritically, and for everyone to wave it away as “it’s not us, it’s history!”

This is especially frustrating on fantasy shows like Game of Thrones. The story is set in an entirely made-up world. There is no “historical accuracy,” because there is no history. And even if we literally took Westeros as middle ages England, there are enough dragons and snow zombies hanging around to make “accuracy” a bit of a moot point. Yet cries of “historical accuracy” crop up every time anyone criticizes the show’s problems. It’s historically accurate that Brienne thinks all women are weak. It’s historically accurate that Tyrion (at least book Tyrion) is a complete misogynist, so we should be sympathetic to him. It’s historically accurate that the show has random naked brothel scenes every episode. “Historical accuracy” becomes a catch-all cover-up for “you can’t be PC here, because it’s NOT THE MODERN DAY!” Anything can be excused if the reader can shrug and say “oh well, it’s only history. That’s how it was.”

Which is why I’m so thrilled that Sleepy Hollow has decided to do away with the whole thing. It’s a show where the Headless Horseman is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and a time-travelling British revolutionary soldier and a modern day cop must fight all manner of demons to prevent the coming of the end of days. In that context, terms like “accuracy” no longer completely apply. Of course, it’s fun when a show gets actual tidbits of history right (the Georgian nerd in me was a little thrilled to hear Ichabod refer to “Miss Mill’s” little sister as “Miss Jenny,” as an 18th century gentleman would), but it really doesn’t matter when you already have witches and monsters and undead creatures hanging around, especially when the show takes place in the modern day.

Is it historically accurate that Ichabod Crane, an 18th century British soldier, was friend to Native Americans and opposed to slavery and is more accepting that many modern day people of equality between different races and cultures? That, apart from one congratulatory comment about Abbie’s “emancipation,” he accepts the idea of women and non-white people being cops and being in charge absolutely without comment? That he is ready to start another revolution over the taxation of donuts, but women wearing trousers is no big deal? Probably not. And I could easily imagine a show where Ichabod’s ignorance is used as a source of comedy, or even where he’s treated as refreshingly un-PC. But in skipping that whole nonsense, the show gets to both be a generally progressive genre show and focus on the important things. Like its really diverse cast. And fun, non-offensive banter. And scary demons. And really hot British guys in wigs.

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Sleepy Hollow

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A mainstream genre TV show, where half of the main cast are people of color? With an African American woman playing a badass cop who snarks and faces demons, and a police force where the white guy dies first and everyone else is majority non-white-male? Let’s hope it’s good, because I really want this to be a successful thing.

The first episode of Sleepy Hollow aired last week, and my feelings were excited but mixed. Although the show had a lot of potential, the pacing of the pilot seemed kind of sloppy, and I wasn’t sure if the main conceit (the headless horseman is one of the horsemen of the apocalypse and they must stop him) was going to work.

The second episode was much improved. It’s still kind of cheesily put together (although maybe I just have a vendetta against prophetic dream sequences), and its historical inaccuracies may frustrate some people, but it’s just tremendous fun. There’s some stuff going on with witches and demons and people-who-should-be-dead-but-aren’t, but really, the whole “plot” thing just seems like window dressing right now. Ichabod Crane “died” in the revolutionary war and woke up in 2013, and only Abbie Mills, a local cop who was about to leave Sleepy Hollow to train for the FBI, believes him about his identity, or his tales of headless horsemen and witches in the woods. Cue lots of ranting about modern day taxes, confusion over light switches, and surprise at the deliciousness of donut holes, all said in Tom Mison’s gorgeous voice, while Abbie rolls her eyes and snarks and assists when she can. The chemistry between the two leads (platonic? romantic? who cares!) is so much fun to watch. They banter, they bicker, they work together and help one another out; I would happily sit through a show of them just navigating modern life, their interactions are so enjoyable. A fish-out-of-water sitcom, with some scares and apocalypses thrown in.

I’ve seen Abby compared to Joan Watson from Elementary a few times. She is, after all, a woman of color who is partner to a somewhat unusual British man and solves mysteries of a brutal or strange nature. Although the characters are very different in terms of background, people who are fans of Joan will find a lot to love in Abby as well. She’s a no-nonsense kind of woman, not willing to take any crap from Ichabod, certainly not afraid to take charge or take risks, but also open minded and caring and played with both humor and depth.

As for the plot side of things, it seems too soon to say how good it will be. I’m probably not the best judge of the quality of the “horror” part of the series, since I never watch horror movies and am inevitably terrified by the mildest of scares whenever I do. But I can say that the show didn’t give me nightmares, despite watching it immediately before bed, yet did give me at least one serious jump-out-of-your-skin-and-scream moment. It’s dark and creepy, kind of silly and campy at times, but with some actual scares and an unspeaking monster who manages to freak me out every time he appears.

The first two episodes are available on the FOX website, so if you’re looking for a good new genre show to watch this season, I recommend you check it out!

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