The formulation of this post started at some point between this tweet:
— Monique Jones (@moniqueblognet) April 9, 2016
And this tweet:
— Monique Jones (@moniqueblognet) April 9, 2016
with some final conclusions coming in at around these tweets:
@BlackGirlNerds I know one thing—I’M about to write for us! I’m getting on my script before the night is out!
— Monique Jones (@moniqueblognet) April 9, 2016
Congrats on a job well done, @NikkiBeharie I’ve been a fan since “42” and I’m looking forward to your next project.
— Monique Jones (@moniqueblognet) April 9, 2016
Indeed, several TV critics on Twitter were aghast at what happened:
I haven’t watched #SleepyHollow since early S2 and tonight’s news still makes me sad. What a waste of a show on all levels. Crikey.
— Ryan McGee (@TVMcGee) April 9, 2016
Been a long time since I watched Sleepy Hollow, but when I liked it, it was for the interplay of the leads. Sounds like a big mess now.
— Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall) April 9, 2016
— Mo Ryan (@moryan) April 9, 2016
And several online recaps had the same theme throughout the post: If Abbie and Nicole Beharie are gone, then what’s the point of even watching the show? Just as important: Why on God’s green earth would the writing team as a whole (including the showrunner) go out of their way to lead the fanbase on and act like they were going to give the fanbase what they wanted (which is a final say-so on #Ichabbie) just to turn around and destroy the only thing that made the show worth watching?
To quote Vulture’s Rose Maura Lorre, “The latter statements [of Pandora stating in her dying breaths that Ichabod loves Abbie] lead me to believe that, intentional or not, this show’s careless disregard of its Ichabbie ‘shippers has been fucked up. Make them just-friends or make them more-than-friends, but have a conversation about it and stick to your decision. Don’t keep stringing the ‘shippers along with your hand-kissing and your ‘be still my beating heart’ (which no person has ever said platonically) while you know Abbie’s imminent fate full well.” And as The A.V. Club’s Zack Handlen wrote, “I’m not sure if there were behind-the-scenes issues we are privy to, but Beharie’s a crucial element of the series. Tom Mison is a fine actor, but without the two of them together, what’s the damn point?”
The chemistry between the two leads, Tom Mison and Beharie, was the only thing that kept mostly everyone tuned in. (I say most, because somehow, there are folks out there who think Sleepy Hollow is just Ichabod’s story of time travel. When was he the only lead on this show? I have a lot more to say about this later on in this post.) Sure, the creative elements that made up the show, like the lighting, the set design, the creature makeup and stuntwork, and the time travel/Christian apocalypse madness were amazing and really gave the show its creepy edge. But the glue that stuck all of those disparate parts together were the grounding forces provided by Ichabod and Abbie. Without one or both of them, the show’s just a bunch of junk, to be quite honest about it.
So I ask again: Without Abbie, what the f*ck is the point of watching a fourth season?!
I don’t even like using coarse language, but how else am I supposed to get this point across? How much more plainly can I say it? Abbie was the show. Even Mison would agree to that, I’m sure, since he was never without a kind word to say about working with Beharie and being able to share the same breathing air as her. Mison has always stuck up for Beharie and looking back on it, it makes a lot of sense as to why neither Mison nor Beharie have done a lot of press for this season.
It’s slowly come out that Beharie was deeply unhappy during S2 and wanted out of her contract, and I don’t blame her for wanting to leave, because as I’ve written before, Abbie was made to be a house slave for Witchy White Feminist Katrina. As far as Mison is concerned, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Mison eventually leaves as well. If someone decides to interview Mison about his thoughts on everything, I betcha he’ll reveal his true emotions over this, just like how he did with Ichabod fawning over Katrina in S2. (To paraphrase him from an earlier interview, he had a serious disagreement with the writers about how Ichabod was acting out of character. We already know how he felt about Katrina from some of his DVD commentary, in which he shades Katrina for only being able to lift a stick even though she was supposed to be a powerful witch.)
I could just go on rambling, but I’m going to use my favorite writing tools—bullets—to boil down my points into easy-to-follow chunks.
• Abbie didn’t have to literally become the “mule of the world”: I know one of the things I wrote last year caused a dust-up, and I don’t know if any of my original point ever came across the way I wanted it to. There were two things involved in what I wrote: 1) that Abbie’s ways of dealing with emotions—bottling them up—is valid as a character trait and 2) that Abbie’s fate and worth should never be tied to a man and/or to white patriarchal acceptance standards. She can love Ichabod all she wants, but everything goes down the drain if her life and her worth as a character becomes completely dependent on Ichabod’s privilege as a white, straight, cis man. I was advocating that the show and some of the fans shouldn’t tie Abbie to such constraints. But things seemed to have gotten muddied in the shipping waters, and it became misconstrued as me saying that Abbie should never find love and that she shouldn’t be with Ichabod. That whole thing bothered me for a while, even more than when I got lambasted for supposedly being the Girl who Cried #Ichabbie in my interview with Sleepy Hollow writer Dana Jackson Leigh.
It’s only now that I realize that I was basing my entire article on the premise that Abbie would be eventually fleshed out and studied as a character and validated for her imperfect humanity, not that she would just be saddled with the figurative and literal weight of the world and get killed off without any character exploration. I wrongly assumed that the writers had figured out large chunks, if not all, of Abbie’s characterization, that they had a plan, and that at some point—either this season or the next—they would get into why she always stuffs her feelings. I wrongly assumed that they were going to show her inner life, her mental workings. Color me surprised and betrayed when I watched Friday’s episode.
I wrote my original post imagining that the writing team was looking at the show the way I was looking at it, which is that Abbie, in all of her flaws and shortcomings and her strength, was someone I could identify with. I truly identify with the trouble of processing emotions, of pushing stuff to the backburner. I identify with the fact that Abbie (in my mind) knows that she has a serious problem with emotions and that she should probably work on that. I understand how she is ready to keep people at arm’s length for fear of either losing them or somehow not meeting their expectations. I read all of that into the character, which is why I loved how she used workaholism as a crutch. But never did I imagine that they were going to leave Abbie as a shell of a great, complicated character.
I also never imagined that the writing team would literally make her a secondary character in her own story. The true lead of this story is Abbie, because without Abbie, the crimes wouldn’t get solved, the monsters wouldn’t have gotten killed, and Ichabod wouldn’t have a friend to navigate him through the future. Abbie gave him so much, and we were led to believe that it was because they were equal partners, not that she was being set up to become a sidekick to the sidekick. Yes, Ichabod is the sidekick in this show. He’s the one that’s been the tag-along as Abbie and Irving solved the cases. Ichabod isn’t even a U.S. citizen yet; he had to tag along with Abbie just to have a home! In the end, my fear of Abbie falling victim to the white patriarchy came true after all. In the end, Abbie was seen as less than, as replaceable. The fact that Ichabod has to go out searching for the next Witness drives home the idea that Abbie is just another cog in the wheel, while Ichabod’s still-preserved life (a life spanning 200 years), is much more important. Somehow, Ichabod is now the one that’s got the bigger, more important job, even though the story was never solely focused on him in the first place.
Abbie’s death isn’t the first time a black woman has been killed in a roundabout, discriminatory fashion. Too many times, minorities of all stripes are used as ways to prop up the white male characters. The last time I personally remember outrage over a black woman’s death on a show was with Taraji P. Henson’s character Joss Carter on Person of Interest. Like Abbie, Carter was also getting fridged out of her own story and was later killed off (more than likely after behind-the-scenes drama of the treatment of Henson’s character). Fans on Twitter have also cited Rutina Wesley’s Tara from True Blood as another example of a black woman getting killed for no reason. What’s so amazing is that just two weeks ago, Sleepy Hollow saw its own future with the horror show that was The 100 disaster. Alycia Debnam-Carey’s Lexa, one half of the same sex relationship #Clexa, was killed right after consummating her relationship with Eliza Taylor’s Clarke. The “Bury Your Gays” hate was just the teaser for more outrage, when Ricky Whittle’s character Lincoln was also unceremoniously killed. Afterwards, Whittle confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that he had been bullied on set and actively fought for his character to have more meaning. He also spoke against Lexa’s death, citing it and Lincoln’s deaths as “really weak” and “sabotaging the story.” These words could be aptly applied to Sleepy Hollow‘s poor handling of its stars, story, and fans.
Abbie’s death is even worse because black people, black women in particular, are rarely seen in horror. The cliche line “the black guy dies first” isn’t some kind of post-post-modern, cynical thing to just spout off; it’s a fact. The black person generally dies in horror, sci-fi, and action films. Even Jurassic Park, one of the greatest films of all time, still has Samuel L. Jackson dying for no reason, even though his character Ray Arnold stays alive throughout the entire book. (Spoiler alert: It’s actually John Hammond who dies in the book, as nature’s way of getting back at him for his hubris.) Don’t even start on the countless black men that have died in both The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. The most legendary black person death in horror, despite his death, has to be Duane Jones’ character Ben in Night of the Living Dead, which is a masterful display of social commentary in pulp fiction and made history for having the black guy actually last all the way to the end, a victory in itself.
I wrote in my piece that black women have been described by writer Zora Neale Hurston as “the mule of the world,” and that couldn’t have been any more apparent than it was Friday. Abbie had already sacrificed herself in the midseason finale, but to have her do it again, in much the same fashion, is ludicrous. To have her save the world by herself could be seen as empowering, but it’s also very much indicative of putting all of the onus on the black woman to know her place, do her part, and ultimately suffer for it, while the white character gets to grieve, but also gets to live. Compare this scene to a show like Underground, which does a fantastic job of showing how much black women have been mistreated throughout history, either by the white men and women who either owned them or had higher status than them just because of their race, or even by other black women who are also drowning in their own suffering and see destroying another black woman as one less person to compete with for relief (I’m looking at you, Ernestine). Even with Underground‘s issues with death and blackness in its past episode “The Macon 7,” the show still imbues hope, as frail as it is, into the struggle for survival. These characters still know that there’s a better way for them. Or, to paraphrase Abbie and Ichabod themselves, there’s always another way. However, when it really counted, Abbie wasn’t given that promised other way. By extension, Beharie and the fans weren’t given that other way out either. It’s to the detriment of the show, which started out with amazing social and racial commentary, that it didn’t recognize that it’s black woman lead was the hero, not the mule.
• Not to do #NotAllWriters, but not all writers are at fault here: With all of this said, I’ll refrain from blaming individual writers. Overall, the writing team as a whole has to take the blame, but if we go by the individual writers, the deck was stacked against the writers of color from the get-go. There were less than a handful of POC writers on the Sleepy Hollow team, and I think that led to many of the problems in the latter seasons. Also, despite J.J. Abrams isn’t involved with Sleepy Hollow, to me it always seemed that the ghost of Abrams reigned supreme over Sleepy Hollow‘s first season, because the first season was spectacular in its sensitivity to racial and cultural discussions as well as fan engagement. Abrams himself might have not had a hand in Sleepy Hollow, but a lot of his surrogates did, such as K/O Paper Products, and Abrams seems to hire people who are sensitive to diversity and inclusion because Abrams himself is sensitive to such. (He has been vocal about inclusion before and after #OscarsSoWhite and has produced several projects about inclusion, including the mismatched show Undercovers, the NBC show starring two black leads before it was “trendy.”)
Even without the color/race issue, there’s still the concept of group writing. A writing team is an exercise in writing by consensus, with the showrunner getting the last word. At some point, someone’s not going to get what they want, and Abbie’s death seemed to be one of those unhappy moments. But, with less people of color to advocate for different outcomes, it becomes easier for the majority to get their way. So in our grief, we should remember that some of the writers are probably grieving as well. We will never know if there was another plan that got voted down, a plan to have the show go out on a high note and to at least give fans some kind of closure as far as Abbie’s validity and her relationship with Ichabod are concerned. Like Ichabod and Abbie always said, there’s always another way to get out of a jam, and even with Beharie wanting to leave, there was still another way her exit could have been handled (such as maybe both of the Witnesses dying and their journey into fighting the good fight from beyond the veil, like Katrina did during Season 1). But was that way proposed only to get rejected? It would be a crying shame if this turned out to be true.
• The show destroyed Jenny, too: Abbie may be getting the brunt of the grief, but let’s also not forget that Jenny’s emotions were also sidelined. Again, I assumed that the show would delve more into Jenny’s own trouble with processing emotion, and to a degree, they did with her relationship with Joe. That exploration made Joe’s death all the more painful, because that meant that 1) Jenny would once again have to feel like everyone she loves dies and 2) It would translate to the fans as Jenny always having to suffer, just like her sister. For the show to pull that card on Jenny twice in two weeks is astounding to me. Jenny has always seemed, to be, like the most sensitive and emotionally vulnerable of the two sisters, despite her outward strength. She had already said this season how she hated getting close to anyone because they always leave her. Why did it make any type of storytelling sense to be the masochistic to Jenny? Do her feelings not count for anything either? As bad as I feel for Abbie, I feel nearly doubly as bad for Jenny, who was finally growing accustomed to putting down roots and living a (mostly) emotionally stable life.
• Ichabod is now a man without a home: Ichabod was also treated horribly. Ichabod has always maintained that he and Abbie were the only two Witnesses. The clumsy Avatar: The Last Airbender-esque caveat of a Witness’ soul getting reincarnated is something that we could have accepted if the show had started with that premise in the first place. Heck, even the Bible doesn’t state that Witnesses can be reincarnated into different people! What the Bible states is that yes, the Witnesses die, but they are brought back to life after they’ve served the Lord. They aren’t reincarnated; they’re brought back as themselves, similar to how Jesus served the Lord, sacrificed himself, and came back as himself, but holy. The Witnesses are supposed to become holy people.
Biblical theory aside, what sense does it make to have Ichabod, who has always been attached at the hip to Abbie, and—if the hints were to be believed—was developing a deep, romantic love for her, now suddenly without a love, without a home, and essentially without a purpose? What sense does it make to have Ichabod become the lead of this show, which has always relied on the power of two? Why should Ichabod, who has a core principle of railing against his own set of racial, cultural, and status privileges, suddenly become the privileged Dr. Who-esque white British male trope? Why should Ichabod’s internal logic be rewritten in order to make him okay with finding a replacement? If this was the Ichabod we knew in Season 1, the Ichabod who was ready to kill himself in order to save the world, then I think Ichabod would have sacrificed himself with Abbie in order to keep Pandora’s box from destroying everyone. If he jumped into the dreamscape with her in the second episode of the first season, then he’d certainly jump into the abyss with her to save humanity.
At the end of the day, the show forgot what it was, who it was for, who its characters are, and what its ultimate goal was. The only thing I have left, now that the anger has subsided, is just severe disappointment. Sleepy Hollow has always been a show that did things to extremes. It had the best pilot anyone had ever seen in years, then it had the worst season anyone had seen in years. Now it’s garnering the most disappointment anyone, fans and critics included, have experienced. If we could just revert back to the first season and pretend these last two didn’t happened, that would be great. If the show could just end its misery and get cancelled, that would be even better.
In conclusion: Before I end this already too-long article, let me state that if you became a lover of JUST ADD COLOR for my Sleepy Hollow commentary, then I am glad to have had you and I thank you for reading my countless words about this show. I know I had slacked off from covering the show on my site, but I was actually debating dropping it from my recap list altogether after the finale. I didn’t expect Abbie’s death was around the corner, so this final shock has certainly sealed the deal for me. I personally feel rather betrayed by Sleepy Hollow, since I, like a lot of fans and critics, rallied behind this show even when it was failing. But whatever, right? Stuff still turned out awful in the end.
In any event, I hope you stay tuned into JUST ADD COLOR, because I’ll be writing a lot more about other shows. I’ve got a lot planned, so I hope I can get to it all. If you came to me through Black Girl Nerds, don’t worry—I’m not leaving the site! I’m going to write more for Black Girl Nerds, including posts on a show I’ve been waiting on tenterhooks for, Riverdale. Being a huge Archie Comics fan, this show is right up my alley. I love the subversive takes on the characters and the level of diverse casting that’s gone into the show. It’s certainly going to be an adventure.
Finally, as I said on Twitter, my anger has spurred me to write my own pilot. Do I know when my idea will become a show? Nope. But anger can be a great motivator, and I hope that other POC writers who are mad beyond belief will use their anger to create their own projects. It’s clear that diversity doesn’t start from the top down; it starts from the bottom up. We’ve got to be disruptions if we want the top brass to hear what we’ve got to say. Remember how wrongly Abbie, Tara, Lexa, Lincoln and countless others have been treated on these shows, and get to creating.
What do you think about the season (or probable series) finale of Sleepy Hollow? Give your opinions in the comments section below.
Monique Jones is an entertainment blogger/journalist. She’s written for Entertainment Weekly, Black Girl Nerds,Racialicious, and many others. She runs JUST ADD COLOR (originally called COLOR) and has introduced a new online magazine, COLOR BLOCK Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter at @moniqueblognet and the official Twitter for JUST ADD COLOR and COLORBLOCK Magazine,@COLORwebmag.Click here for reuse options!
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