This brilliant and beautiful analysis of Sleepy Hollow showed up in my feed again and I decided, if I didn’t want to lose it on my “Likes” page, I’d better save it here. It outlines why we cared so much about the future of this show, why we were so damn angry at what the showrunners chose to do with it, what went wrong, and includes links to other reviews and critiques of the show. …
This brilliant and beautiful analysis of Sleepy Hollow showed up in my feed again and I decided, if I didn’t want to lose it on my “Likes” page, I’d better save it here. It outlines why we cared so much about the future of this show, why we were so damn angry at what the showrunners chose to do with it, what went wrong, and includes links to other reviews and critiques of the show.
Everyone is saying that the show had great potential, and that they screwed it up. But I haven’t seen anyone articulate what that potential was. Why was so resonant in season one? At this particular time, and in this particular climate?
I read the phrase “the chemistry between the two leads” and frankly that’s not enough for me. It’s not enough to explain what I saw in the show and why I am so mad. I deeply believe that the value of the fantasy/horror genre is how it lets us symbolically consider big issues of morality in ways that are fun.
American, this beautiful mess of a country, has a ton of moral thinking to do about race and history. Sleepy Hollow more than any show in decades, was perfectly set up to play with, and around, and through that tension. That was it’s potential. That is what we lost.
I’ve read some great things on Sleepy Hollow, the finale, and the death of Abbie Mills. These articles have all been explicit that the choice to kill and sideline Abbie was typical, uncreative, racist (consciously or not), and BAD FOR THE SHOW. Here are my favs:
America has always been two things. A place for enlightened ideals about the equality of man, and the bloody driving heart of chattel slavery. Those are both huge. They are also utterly irreconcilable. Even as this country led the Age of Revolution that brought down kings throughout Europe, we built the North Atlantic Slave Trade. That deadly triangle put millions of people into bloodline based suffering that was harsher than any caste system in Europe at the time.
If you study American history at all, slavery is three quarters of it. The struggle for racial inclusion and equity is the rest. More than class, more than ideas, more than geography, race is the single focal point that encompasses all of American history. There is no part of this country that wasn’t molded, or counter-molded, without the presence of it. From the very beginning we argued about it. We didn’t stop arguing. We went to war over it. Then we had a second proxy cold war about it during the civil rights movement. We are still arguing about it today with Black Lives Matter.
This is the biggest question of Good vs. Evil in our country. It’s so big, and so devastating, that millions of Americans still have trouble fully admitting that slavery was evil. That it did not have any upside for the salves. There are also millions of people who see the sacrifice that ending racism demands, and flip the fuck out. They do not want to deal with that.
Doesn’t that sound like a kind of unending apocalypse? A biblical level moral threat? And historically a few people have always fought and given witness in order to redeem the rest of us from that evil we would rather ignore, or let fester, or maybe join/sell-out-too in order to maintain our privilege. The metaphor works for me.
I should probably take a moment to give my personal P.O.V. I’m white. I’m a lawyer. I am into the American mythology. I really, deeply, believe that a nation of laws is better than a nation of men. I have in actively carried around a pocket constitution, and a pocket declaration of independance. I have read the federalist papers. I have read more than one biography of John Adams. I am a patriot. I know enough about the history of patriots to understand that the best ones were all critics of their societies.
There was a moment in season one that was painfully familiar. Ichabod is singing the praises of Thomas Jefferson, and sneering at the political foe that accused him of sleeping with his slaves. That was me, in my younger and more innocent days. Irving and Abby give each other a good long side-eye and then enlighten him. That was also me. And Crane, bless him, learned better. I remember watching that scene and thinking “I can’t believe Fox, Fox!, is letting them get away with that.” See, I also live in the South. Where you still aren’t often allowed to talk about that stuff. Where discussing actually, provable, documented history, like it’s actual documented provable history, will get you hissed at. Then they’ll call you ungodly. (Look it just popped up again! http://www.vox.com/2016/4/8/11389556/thomas-jefferson-sally-hemings-book )
Is it any wonder that Sleepy Hollow was such a tempest in a teapot?
I haven’t talked about Abbie yet. Sorry. I needed to set the stage. I needed to be able to say that the chemistry that existed between Abbie and Ichabod existed because she was black and accomplished and he was white and ignorant. The desire to smoosh them together, to make them work as partners, was more than a desire to see an attractive man with an attractive woman, it was a desire to reconcile the entire American experiment.
Think back to the images in their first meeting. Ichabod, an 18th century man, locked in a cage because he cannot understand the modern world. He’s idealistic, he’s educated, he’s utterly incompetent at modern reality, he cannot understand why he’s not in charge, why all the cretins around him treat him like he’s crazy and refuse to follow his orders. I’m pretty sure I just restated the analysis of trump voters.
So there is Ichabod waiting in his cage, and then Abbie shows up. A black woman. Not in a cage. Her freedom specifically addressed when Ichabod said the word “emancipated.” She was someone he still saw in terms of slavery, but she was the one that literally held the keys to the modern world in her hand. (Of course, to screw with that, they shot it from his POV, so she looks like the one behind bars.)
Ichabod has to listen to her, he has to defer, before things start getting better for him. What is more real than that? Ichabod might have been the every-man (for a certain type of every-man) but Abbie was the arbiter, the judge, the leader. She was the character that decides what part of all that 18th century knowledge still matters, and what parts need to be chucked, like yesterday. And in season one at least, she judged from a place that was informed by her own personal morality and experiences. She was not all good and self-sacrificing. The unfairness she had experienced as a child, affected her. The central question was if she was going to reject Ichabod, and through him, symbolically at least, this whole American experiment.
Does any of that description make you uncomfortable? I hope so. Because that discomfort is what made the show so tense and riveting. Good horror works on our unconscious taboos. It materializes them, makes them literal, and once they are literal we are confronted with their grotesquerie. America, as a society, has rejected and oppressed black people from the beginning. The three fifths compromise is still in all those pocket constitutions. But America, as a society, is also slowly, painfully, waking up to the fact that rejecting black people is unsustainable. It locks us out of the future. It ties us to evil. A not so secret demon that demands constant blood sacrifices. (Literally. Tamir Rice, Eric Harris,Walter Scott, Jonathan Ferrell, Sandra Bland, Samuel DuBose and Freddie Gray.) And whose hunger for destruction spills over and threatens everyone.
That’s what Sleepy Hollow had to work with. That’s what they stumbled into, and frankly I don’t think they could handle it. As a writer, I know that you can land in something topical accidentally. And I think that first round of folks just wrote what they thought was scary, a white man who is forced into depending on black people because he doesn’t understand the modern world. I don’t think they examined, in themselves, why those particular dynamics were so scary.
If you are white, like most of the Sleepy Hollow production team, and unconscious about that shit, you will inevitable try and move yourself to a more comfortable place. The process even has a name. It’s called white fragility.
So, when Sleepy Hollow did well, and production got crunched and probably even more unconscious, the production team moved themselves into stories that were more comfortable. Abbie’s power as arbiter and judge was sidelined. She was relied upon as a character who rejected nothing, who only sacrificed. What little discussion of the founding fathers flaws there had been was dropped. After that first episode, nothing was said about the civil war. Nothing was said about the bulk of American history. Almost nothing was said about slavery even when Abbie went back in time.
And things could have been said. During the run of Sleepy Hollow we’ve had 12 Years a Slave, and Hamilton, and the new Birth of a Nation, and Underground. This isn’t just social justice plotting, it’s a thriving market. It’s also rich in all the tropes of horror. It’s everything you could need for a million different horror movies. Imagine how differently Season 2 could have played if Abraham or Henry approached Abbie at any point with this kind of offer:
Moloch is here, in America, in the 21st century because slavery brought him here. Ichabod’s great friends couldn’t fight him, because their sins were his fuel. So you could keep trying to help your partner’s romantic life, or you could let the whole thing burn. Let this America end. It’s cardinal sin is irredeemable. Let something new take its place. Join us, and you can even build it to your tastes.
Isn’t that tempting? If your white, isn’t that terrifying? Isn’t it real, despite all the layers of monsters and demons? And isn’t it fun? And kampy, and hopeful too? Because nobody wants to listen to a lecture about this stuff head on. We want to all get together and slay the demon that lives on racism, and then make the improbable couple kiss. We want to love all of it. We want it to work out, history and the present to reconcile and make each other better.
Instead, we got monsters from Sumeria and ancient Greece.
Now with Abbie Mills dead, the chance for reconciliation is gone. That’s the potential that we lost. Even when the show was at it’s worst, the mere presence of her dark skin was an indictment, a tension, a placeholder for the failings of the founding fathers. They got it wrong about her, about black people, so maybe none of their magical advice would work. At the very least it would all have to be updated. Abbie Mills as a black witness wasn’t just important because there aren’t enough women of color on TV. She was important because with this particular plot scenario information from the past must be both always necessary and always dubious. Abbie Mills, merely by existing in the frame with Ichabod crane, telegraphed that the founding fathers could have some major, and important, blind-spots.
It seems even that was intolerable.
So, History won. It didn’t compromise, it didn’t change. It didn’t admit it’s faults. It didn’t fall in love with Now. Ichabod did not offer up a part of his immortal soul to satisfy Pandora’s Box. He didn’t share the burden with Abbie. Then, to add insult, that cowardice was explained away as destiny. That’s not fun. That’s not challenging or exciting. It’s just bleak. It reduces rather than expands the story. The only thing I want to see now is Jenny Mills engaged in the long form assassination of Ichabod Crane.
And while this is just about character’s in a story, we all know, that it’s also something real. White people preferring to see black people lose everything then give up anything of themselves. That it’s something real that happens all the time. That it happened behind the scenes to Orlando Jones and then Nicole Baheri, when they were stripped of air-time and meaningful on screen stories and work.
Some of us might still be able to learn from the mistakes of history, but not Sleepy Hollow. It’s doomed.
No matter how much I think about it, I just can’t get over this isht. Here’s someone else on Tumblr, deftly echoing my thoughts on what happened to this show.
Although the show came close several times, I never did manage to recapture that initial giddyness I had during the first season. That season was awesome in its style, diversity, humor and tension. It had a stellar cast and the craziest plot on TV, which it seemed to fully embrace, and then everything slowly went downhill from there.
Season two was acceptable, but all over the place, as if the creators were trying to find their balance and had no fecking clue what to do to make things better. Did that imbalance have anything to do with the loss of one of the showrunners? Idk.
Season three is a noticeable drop off from season one, and featured one of the worse episodes ever. Plots points that were introduced and went no where, villains I had a great deal of fun just mocking, and worst of all, the egregious teasing of a romantic relationship between Crane and Abbie, just to keep us watching a mediocre show, only to pull the wool out from under us in the finale.
Even the actors themselves seems to not care as much, especially when compared to Tom Mison’s usual enthusiasm, which had the unintended side-effect of making his character look ridiculous. Several times the show came close to season one levels, most often only in those moments between Crane and Abbie. They were the reason we sat through every bad, convoluted, and non-scary plot this season, even though the show had begun to reach its previous levels of diversity.
In the immortal words of Wayne Brady (as host of The Chappelle Show): “Does Wayne Brady/lkeke have to choke a bitch?”
Yep! Sometimes you just do.
Fandom makes itself very clear about why they watch any show. If you’re a showrunner who follows and interacts with your fandom, don’t do what these showrunners did. Your ass will get dragged.
Like, Abbie Mills wasn’t even the hero I needed – I’m a cis white guy, the importance of Abbie Mills, of a black woman in the lead of a TV show, wasn’t the representation that I personally needed – but I am still so pissed off about this. Because I fully get the importance that comes from seeing a person like you appear on your screen, not as the sidekick, not as a supporting character, but as the lead.
Because I watch the pilot, even most of the first season of Sleepy Hollow, and it’s clear that Abbie’s the one who is the central focus. She is meant to be the hero. She’s got all the makings of being the one who has the hero’s journey. Her mentor is killed, she is swept up in a bigger and greater destiny, she is chosen for something. And yet all that ended up happening with her was that Abbie was continually sidelined for the sake of her sidekick. They cast the absolutely gorgeous Nicole Beharie, but bizarrely try to make us the audience see her as not being deserving of romance, of having men falling over themselves trying to ask her out.
And I’m not even getting to the list of Nicole’s pedigree as an actress, which includes the only unanimous decision of Julliard’s drama board on giving her a scholarship. This woman deserved a series that would give her everything, and for a hot second, it seemed like that would be Sleepy Hollow.
And then they utterly waste the talents of this phenomenal actress. And I keep coming back to the fact that if Nicole Beharie’s skin had been white as snow, they would have banked on every last drop of her talent, that this show would have delivered on the promise of being Abbie’s hero’s journey.
And it pisses me off.
I wish Nicole Beharie the best, that she gets the recognition and accolades that are absolutely due to her. I wish for the producers and writers who decided to waste her talent, throw away Abbie’s heroic journey, in order to shove heaving bosoms in corsets at a white man, to never work in this business again.
Sadly, I’m sure the second wish won’t come true, but I desperately want to hope that the first will.
Can I just totally geek out about this for a few minutes?
I love, love, love, love, love this show. Okay how many loves was that? Can I add one more? I got enough. Oh,alright. I need to watch this show. I need it!
It’s just that…it’s a really, really, great feeling when I see Black Women in SFF genre TV shows. Speaking as a Black woman, I just can’t get enough of that shit.
See, I grew up in an environment surrounded by people who not only didn’t have a word for what I was (because nerds are White and male) but regularly spit on the things I found enjoyment in. Not that their disapproval stopped me.
See, when your’e Black and male, there are certain things you an get away with doing or liking with a minimum of fuss from your peers.You can like Transformers cartoons and The Three Stooges and nobody looks at you sideways. As a Black woman, however, I get held to different standards. I’m supposed to be studious,well behaved and quiet and I did, indeed, master being studious, well behaved and quiet, as I was growing up, but I think that was just a side effect of engaging in activities that required me to sit still for long periods of time.
Activities like watching StarBlazers, Space 1999, old Shaw Brothers Kung Fu movies, Hammer Films and reruns of Old School Star Trek, painting, drawing, writing and voraciously reading lots and lots of Horror novels, does not require a great deal of running around.
It wasn’t so much the TV watching, drawing and reading that got me in trouble. It was the “kind” of media I enjoyed and the kind I was not watching or listening to or engaging in, that seemed to be the problem.
According to the manual called, “Rules on How To Be Properly Black and Female”, I wasn’t doing this whole Black thing correctly. As a result, I was constantly running into trouble with “The Black People Police”, or the BPP, who kept threatening to take away my license to be a Black woman. They mostly did this by calling me names or asking me why I like “White people shit” and then acting disgusted with me. That is not a tactic that worked with me, because after a while, I decided their opinions of me were not important and because my actual family members (whose opinions I cared about) didn’t give a damn what I did. As long as I kept my grades up, wasn’t doing drugs or being the neighborhood futon, I could read or watch whatever the Hell I pleased and they would support that. In their minds, there are far worse things than being Black and a Geek. And if I had to choose between having friends or enjoying Star Trek, well obviously, it was no contest.
Some of my most vocal critics, however, were Black Women and what I learned from their behavior was that, when they were not on TV, Black women were boring as Hell, and not to talk to them about anything I found interesting because they’ll just shit on it. Even as an adult I haven’t escaped this attitude from quite a number of Black Women (although, I’ve met a few cool ones, too.) Just a couple of years ago, I was asked, why don’t I read Toni Morrison and was sneered at for saying I was too busy reading Octavia Butler. I suppose I should be grateful this person even knew who Octavia Butler was because, usually, people who sneer at me about such things, have no clue who I’m talking about.(Also, people who do that kind of thing, automatically go to the top of my “Shit List”.)
I learned to talk, animatedly, about hair and clothes and boys, so I could co-exist peacefully with the other girls my age and because the alternative would have been a lot of bloody noses and detention and that kind of stuff goes on one’s permanent record. Or so I was told. Sadly, these are still skills I need to be able to use today, when in the presence of Black women to whom I have not been properly introduced.
So, you cannot imagine my delight when I saw Black women, slowly making inroads into the TV shows and movies I loved so much. And doing it with beauty, and style and elegance. I so wanted to be Lt. Uhura when I was twelve ( and Spock would, of course, be my Vulcan husband), but when I turned fifteen, I wanted to be Aunty Entity of Bartertown, from Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome, and Zula (Grace Jones) from Conan the Destroyer, “(You grab him and take him!” seemed to me, a very practical philosophy for getting a man’s attention, back in the day) and more recently Dame Vaako (Thandie Newton) from the Chronicles of Riddick and Sanaa Lathan playing a Black version of Ripley in Aliens vs. Predator. To this day, I am a fervent worshiper at the feet of Pam Grier and Gina Torres. (Are you noticing a theme, yet?)
When you are Black, female and a Geek, everything you enjoy is problematic because you are not the target audience for any of it. Unless it was blatantly racist, or misogynistic, I was grateful that Black people had been thought of in some movies,at all and I learned to overlook a Hell of a lot of problems. It doesn’t mean I’m not critical of the things I like but if I boycotted everything that I found problematic, I would not be considered a Geek. And some things just don’t bother me in the way they seem to bother other (i.e. White) women. Sometimes, it’s just nice when Hollywood remembers that Black women are still in existence and that we like to have adventures too.
That said, I am totally squeeeeing! with glee, about Sleepy Hollow. Oh my god! (Not a believer, so that’s another thing I got wrong about being Black). The creators of this show remembered that Black women exist, right here and now, that we like adventure and action and we can be smart and totally bad ass and don’t have to killed off in the first 30 minutes to make way for the White male hero! Not that there’s anything wrong with the White male hero – I like eye candy, as much as the next girl.( I’m looking at you Magic Mike. In part two, y’all need to add some brothas.)
Hey! Black women have power fantasies. Sometimes we daydream about kicking ass, taking names and being stylish, elegant and sexy, while we do that. It’s nice to see not just accurate representations of who you are on your TV screen, but representations of who you’d like to be, too.
Abbie Mills is just the latest on the list of Black women I admire. Is she not AWESOME?! (Are you not entertained?!) Can I be her when I grow up, too? Can I please?!
Sleepy Hollow is one of the most diverse SFF shows on TV (though not the only one- Agents of Shield and Gotham are on the list, too.). Not only that, but the creators got that diversity shit right. These are characters. These are people with character arcs. Not to throw shade on Jada Pinkett-Smith in Gotham. She is sharply dressed and lethal and chews the scenery like it’s got melted cheese on it, but she is also suffering from Lone Black Woman syndrome and has only one note (villainy). Montoya is there too, and she’s Queer, which is all kinds of cool and all but she and Fish Mooney don’t interact much and outside of mackin’ on Barbara, Montoya isn’t on screen long enough to have a personality.
But Sleepy Hollow has two! (count ’em… two!) WoC in it. Sisters with distinct personalities and first names and issues and everything. When they talk to each other, it’s not about their boyfriends. (Yes, this show passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors.) How awesome is that? And the most important thing of all, Abbie is NOT Ichabod’s sidekick. She drives the plot, solves cases, and sometimes even rescues the damsels (and men) in distress.
They actually have a Black man on the show who is a loving family man, or at the very least, is not trying to be a stereotype. For a while, they had an Asian character, John Cho (who has been horribly abused by the plot and while I’m not sure how I feel about that, please bring him back. Thank you.) And this season, a Hispanic Woman was added, Sakeena Jaffrey as Leena Reyes. It remains to be seen whether or not she’ll turn out to be a villain or ally, but I like the grayness of this character.
It’s interesting to me that all of the White males on the show except for Ichabod and Sheriff Corbin Mills, are either villains, victims of the villains or wannabe villains, like Jenny’s boyfriend, Nick Hawley. It’s just an observation and I have no idea what the creators could mean by that. (Whatever they mean, I’m sure there are some White men who are ready to be offended by that because…I don’t know. Anyway, they can be as offended as I am happy, that I’ve not found any particular reason to gripe about how problematic this show is.
This is all a lead up to the news that I will begin doing recap/reviews of Sleepy Hollow and cutting out American Horror Story. I still love AHS but I only have so much time during the week to watch TV and post here and I have to prioritize, my dears.
Those of you who haven’t watched the show..What are you waiting for? Hop to it! Get to watching!
The Apocalypse waits for no man.
Next essay: Let’s talk about the most improved show on TV. Marvel: Agents of Shield.