Trainwreck TV: The Untimely Demise of Sleepy Hollow; or, Who Wrote This Sh*t?

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I should have known something bad was going down with one of my favorite TV shows, Sleepy Hollow, when my literary agent sent me a tweet about the season finale. With three red angry faces in the tweet. Not a good sign.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I didn’t expect to be kicked around by the show. I’d been watching this season with shoulders tensed and eyes squinted, like a kid forced to share the back seat of the family car with a sibling prone to punching my arm at unexpected intervals. Sleepy Hollow had been punching the daylights out of my enjoyment of the series for the past two of its three seasons; why should it change its tune with the season 3 finale?

Sure enough, the last episode was far from pretty, culminating in (do I still have to say “spoiler alert”? okay: spoiler alert) the death of…oh, nobody special, just Abbie, the main character. That was several days ago, and the fandom hasn’t calmed down yet. Nor should it. Not only was it an untimely death, it was…hm, how to put this…a stupid, stupid move.

Why did it happen? The accusations are still flying:

– That it was the latest example—a most egregious one—of network TV casually killing off LGBT and/or people of color, women especially, at every opportunity.

– That the fact that much of SH’s fandom was clamoring for a romantic relationship between Abbie (black) and Ichabod Crane (white), which the network apparently perceived as unthinkable, only helped precipitate her death.

– That Nikki Beharie, who played Abbie, was so unhappy with the direction of the show and the sidelining of her character (another example of racism, as Abbie was pushed aside while Crane’s white wife, Katrina, was nudged into a starring role because the new showrunner had the hots for actor Katia Winter) that she requested to be let out of her contract.

I believe all of these elements played a part. The popular Twitter hashtag #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter couldn’t be more true. Any SH fan worth his or her weight in Greek fire saw all of this unfold in real time over the course of the show. A little online reading provides plenty of supporting evidence. I’m not going to list it here, but trust me—the truth is out there and easy to find. You don’t even have to know Cuneiform script to read it.

No, what I want to talk about is how much of a trainwreck this once-marvelous show turned out to be, based solely on its writing. Hey, I’m an author, so I’m going to have an opinion about this, okay?

First of all, season 1, while not perfect, was mesmerizing. It was original, it was heartwarming, it was shocking and gory and dramatic and funny. It had a great story arc, with fish-out-of-water Colonial spy Ichabod Crane waking in the 21st century and partnering with ever-patient, often-amused, tough-but-tender police officer Abbie Mills. They formed an amazing team and a solid bond as they found out they were destined to battle the Headless Horseman, who was actually the first of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Because they were the witnesses foretold in the bible.

The possibilities were endless. To the early fans, it was like we’d stumbled upon the mother lode of mythology. A new version of early American history. Secret societies. Magic. Adventures of (literally) biblical proportions. Apocalyptic shit. The mother lode, I tell ya!

The 13 episodes of the first season flew by, and the wait from January to September for the second season was agony. When the second season began, we were all there with our giant buckets of popcorn. Still good, still mesmerizing—very promising. A little too much Katrina (most of us were not fans of the witchy wife), but all right. The ship should be able to right itself. Okay, Henry/Jeremy, Crane and Katrina’s son, was getting a little tiresome, as was the constant attention on Katrina, held hostage by Headless. And, um, some rather run-of-the-mill marital friction between Crane and Katrina, which seemed…out of place.

And where was Abbie? Over there somewhere, doing…stuff. And where was Frank, her boss? In a mental institution after having signed away his soul. Okay, but how did that—wait. Never mind; he died. Who was this Hawley guy? Some unethical treasure hunter. And why was he hitting on Abbie? Didn’t matter. He was given all sorts of screen time, only to be figuratively dumped by the side of the road. “Forget him,” the writers seemed to say. “We’ve got other stuff going on now.”

But wait! A juicy turn came up, when modern Abbie was tossed back to Colonial days. What a twist! New endless possibilities! They could do an entire season with Abbie grappling with culture shock the way Crane had bee—

Don’t I know it!

NOPE. Never mind. That storyline was wrapped up in two episodes. Uh…then the Headless storyline ended abruptly. Frank Irving died. Katrina and Henry were done away with. Can’t say I was crying about that, but something felt…off.

What was it? It felt familiar. There was a disturbance in the Writer Force. Then I realized: it was just like when my own stories go off the rails, before I get control of them and sort them out. Somewhere on the opposite coast, the writers’ room was in chaos—I could feel it. White boards were being scribbled on, erased, and scribbled on again. Index cards were flying. “What if we…” was being said far too frequently, with no clear answers.

In other words, this once-amazing show, its essential story, was a feckin’ mess. I knew directionless flailing when I saw it, and Sleepy Hollow had become a master class in directionless flailing. Storylines were brought up only to be dropped. Beloved characters were done away with. Major plot points that got a ton of attention were suddenly driven into a brick wall with a big neon sign reading “Whoopsie! Never mind!” blinking above the wreckage of season 2.

Fans stumbled out of said wreckage blinking dazedly, clutching the hope of season 3 to their chests. Season 3 will fix it, we said. Season 3 will fix everything.

Season 3 did not, in fact, fix anything; it just made things worse. The mythology was all over the place. Plot points were again introduced only to be tossed aside. The magic never made sense. The twisted history was used on occasion, as an afterthought, never actually working seamlessly in the story anymore. Worst of all, Crane was now glum and subdued most of the time—a travesty. Oh, how we missed his rants about modern life!

The bad guys (Pandora and her evil god husband, The Hidden One) acted menacing but never did anything of substance. And hey, wait a minute—what happened to the apocalypse? What happened to the horseme—Stop thinking! seemed to be the panicked shriek coming from the writers’ room. Stop asking questions! We have index cards but we dropped them and somebody got donut grease on them and now we’re not sure what’s going on!

Oh, we could see that. It was hard to miss. They could throw new characters at us all they liked (Danny, Abbie’s ex and new FBI boss; Joe, latent wendigo, now Jenny’s boyfriend; Sophia, another FBI agent; and, worst of all, flashbacks featuring Betsy Ross’ boobs…I mean Betsy Ross…as a fellow spy and Crane’s former Colonial-era squeeze) but that didn’t fix the story.

The show was now a club-footed, slow-witted, plodding version of what we’d once loved. And we felt it deep in our bones. It was so bad I was begging for it to be put out of its misery.

And then it was, with Abbie’s death. Which—need I say it?—violated about a dozen bedrock facts—or that much-invoked term, “canon”—of the entire show: that as a witness, her soul was immortal; that the witnesses can only fulfill their mission together; that they had promised to fight side by side forever.

Oh, all that? Plus the little fact that Abbie was the main character? Again: never mind. It turns out (because the writers say so, all of a sudden) that she was there to help Crane on his mission and nothing more. Beyond insulting—to Nikki Beharie, to the show, to the show’s fans. Now Crane is supposed to carry on alone—or, rather, team up with a member of Abbie’s family (in her bloodline) because s/he could also be a witness…? IDK—and at the very end of the episode there were breadcrumbs dropped about some government conspiracy. Oh great—if there’s a season 4, it’ll be The Revolutionary X-Files…the Annabeth Gish/Robert Patrick years. Just what we always wanted. *insert eyeroll here*

You know, I really want to rail at the writers, but I realize it’s not their fault. They’re the daily workhorses, handed a wheelbarrow-load of shit and ordered to mold it into gold bricks. (And gold spray paint isn’t in the budget.) I can just imagine what they went through, with directives coming from higher up—the showrunner, the producers, the network executives—as they said, “Get rid of that. We’re doing this now. Make it work.” Probably many, many times.

So no, I don’t blame the writers, even though it’s quite clear they just gave up somewhere along the line. I blame the showrunner for not finding a sensible way through this mess. It’s that person’s job, after all. Hold the theme, maintain the vision, adhere to the show bible and don’t violate what you’ve already established as fact in the show universe. None of that happened, and we ended up with a pile of shit.

What’s insulting is that the FOX network executives keep insisting it is a stack of gold bricks.

Um, no. A show’s fandom is ardent and opinionated, but it is not stupid. And, for the most part, because of this trainwreck, it’s outta here. (Nice work, FOX. That’s all you, buds.)

Up to the moment I watched the season 3 finale, I was still kind of hoping the show would be renewed for a fourth season, just to see what they would do with it, if they’d be able to fix things. Now I’m praying they pull the plug before they embarrass themselves further and make their cast and crew—and fans—even more miserable.

R.I.P. (I hope), Sleepy Hollow. When we remember you, we’ll think fondly of season 1—only!—and what could have been.

*All GIFs via Giphy.com

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