Oh Sleepy Hollow. What happened to you? If you’re a ‘Sleepyhead’ – a self-confessed fan of Fox’s fantasy adventure series – you might (like me) be seriously reconsidering whether you want to spend any more time in the company of a show which has squandered almost all of its potential and much of its fandom’s patience and good-will by this point. (We shall not speak of the season 3 finale, the grief is still too near).
So let’s revamp it. Go back to square one, and sort this thing out. Disclaimer: I know that hindsight is 20/20 and I have no idea what it’s like to make a consistent, imaginative and entertaining series – but here’s how I would have done it anyway…
THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE: A FIVE YEAR PLAN
Of all this unused potential, the most egregiously overlooked element is that of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – one of the show’s early brilliant touches was making the Headless Horseman one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but this soon got lost as the series went on.
I would have had a five year/ season plan for the show, structured around the through-line of the Four Horse-persons – in which each season deals with the overarching baddie of one Horseman, and culminating in a fifth season team-up of the four major adversaries engaged in a climactic battle with our heroes:
- SEASON 1: DEATH (Headless Horseman)
- SEASON 2: WAR (Henry, Ichabod & Katrina’s son)
- SEASON 3: POLLUTION/ PESTILENCE (new character: Pedro Pascal)
- SEASON 4: FAMINE (new character: Kevin Durand)
- SEASON 5: ALL STAR TEAM-UP, FEAT. MOLLOCH
Molloch, the Demon responsible for raising the horsemen, acts as the ultimate antagonist, a Palpatine-esque villain pulling all the strings (as it was in season 1, before Molloch got left by the wayside). This series needed a solid structure and an optimistic five-year plan, which a lot of genre shows either sail past or fail to reach. You can keep Katrina and Ichabod’s crazy son Henry as a Horseman, and perhaps when he gets killed a distraught Katrina takes over his apocalyptic mantle. The Horse-persons of famine and pollution/ pestilence should compete and bicker like an old married couple. And let’s keep the George Washington hologram and the founding fathers flashbacks, they’re good exposition devices.
Crucially, throughout all of this, it is imperative to keep the story focused on the central relationship between the two witnesses – one from the past, one from the present, united to save the future.
TO ICHABBIE OR NOT TO ICHABBIE?
Pick one and stick with it. Either have them completely platonic, or go for a slow-build romance. None of this ‘will they/ won’t they, Tumblr-baiting embraces, ‘you belong together’ shtick unless Ichabbie is endgame, is that too much to ask?
Personally, Sleepy Hollow is one of the few shows where I truly believe the two main protagonists had a unique chemistry, relationship and dynamic that deserved a romantic future, so personally I would have aimed for an Ichabbie endgame, especially as a lot of the show’s charm derives from their chemistry.
But don’t drag the fandom into a shipping war with no winners. None of Ichabod or Abbie’s various love interests managed to connect with the audience, and their writing/ characterisation didn’t inspire much interest in these suitors as individuals. So choose whether to go with the Ichabbie route, or not, and intertwine this into the show’s narrative.
HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE KATRINA?
Katrina Crane is currently being touted as one of the most hated characters on TV, ranked along the likes of Lori Grimes and King Joffrey. But though she is nowhere near deserving of this (dis)honour, she could have been so much more. The main problem was that the writers didn’t really know what to do with her. She was separated from Ichabod for the majority of season 1, and when she finally reunited with him in season 2, she did nothing except retrospectively ‘betray his trust’ and try to kill him only to perish in the attempt (cue lots of Ichabod mansplaining and moaning about his marriage for the entirety of that season – not a good look on anyone).
Poor Katrina. It wasn’t her fault – it was the writing. Despite having complained about the shoddy writing thus far, I can’t really work out where she should fit into the narrative, but here’s a few suggestions. Perhaps Katrina van Tassel was a childhood sweetheart of Ichabod’s from England, who he left behind in order fight for ‘the new world’. Then when Katrina manages to make it to America, she is accompanied by her fiancée Abraham Van Brunt (our future Headless Horseman). Flashbacks detail this love triangle, with Abraham eventually finding out about the star-crossed lovers, after which he tries to murder Ichabod on the battlefield. They succeed in killing one another, but Katrina has a plan to save Ichabod (leading him to awaken centuries later in the modern day just as demonic incidents start plaguing the town of Sleepy Hollow).
When Katrina returns to the present day at the end of season 1, the pair toy with the idea of rekindling their romance but realise they have become different people to who they were . The show would later devise a retrospectively modern re-imagining of Betsy Ross, who was basically Milla Jovovich from Resident Evil, but in a bonnet. This kind of character should have been reserved for Katrina, with Betsy Ross as an older, wiser warrior woman in a role tailor made for Linda Hamilton.
THE SCOOBY GANG
Every genre show has one. And this is where Sleepy Hollow also fell flat. It either got rid of really great potential supporting characters – Captain Irving, Sheriff Corbin, Andy Brooks – or created others that had no role in the narrative – basically everyone introduced in season 3. Ichabod and Abbie were our heroic central duo, but even they needed friends and foes with which to interact.
Here’s where Abbie’s sister Jenny could have been the show’s USP. Jenny had so much potential as a character – she was the true believer when Abbie was in denial, the Mulder to her Scully. This familial dynamic was a huge part of the first season, but was promptly forgotten about in season 2, in which the sisters were unceremoniously thrust into a love triangle with treasure-hunter Hawley (a much-maligned, and narratively mistreated character). Where season 1 was about Ichabod and Abbie learning to work together, and season 2 was ostensibly about Ichabod’s family drama, the Mills sisters’ second season arc was more about this awkward romantic entanglement. Season 2 should have covered family in a more broad sense, including Abbie and Jenny’s complicated relationship, the return of their father, visions from her mother and ancestor Grace, and perhaps even ghostly interactions with dearly departed mentor Sheriff Corbin (in the same vein as in Showtime’s Dexter). In this way, season 1 would have been about friendship, season 2 family, leaving season 3 to explore romance (now that we are heavily invested in these characters).
I also always felt that Jenny should have been the show’s wild card – Sleepy Hollow’s answer to Howlin’ Mad Murdock: where Abbie excels at communication, Jenny would be the complete opposite, misanthropic and cynical in the extreme. A little more offbeat than the other characters; one who wouldn’t always stick to the plan, but who’d always end up being instrumental to saving the day. Her character could also have added some much-needed LGBTQ+ representation to the show, as her relationships with Hawley and Joe Corbin seemed more ‘convenient’ than as a natural progression of her character.
‘FREAK OF THE WEEK’
As with any genre show worth its salt, Sleepy Hollow should have a solid mix of ‘freak of the week’ episodes but with an overarching story/ villain each season. Something I find really troubling with the show’s current approach is its tendency to kill off its weekly adversaries without a second thought – alright, if it’s in self-defence, that’s all fine and dandy in TV land. But to simply terminate its baddies at the end of every episode is not just predictable but indicative of a disturbing trend in telly these days. At least in shows like CW’s The Flash, our heroes have holding cells at their HQ which detain their weekly villains instead of just stabbing them at the denouement of their arc. Even that’s not a solution, but it’s a start. But don’t see killing them as the only solution – either imprison or rehabilitate them, with the occasional self-defence kill, and lead-up to a villain team-up episode. It would be a brave move to have a rehabilitated baddie on the team, not to mention a great catalyst for story arcs (much like Vex in Showcase’s Lost Girl) – and please make the monsters scarier: some of the show’s earliest fiends were seriously nightmare-inducing, but more recent creature features barely raised an eyebrow.
I guess what I’m trying to say is I love(d) this show – if you couldn’t tell! – but feel that the amazing talents of Nicole Beharie, Tom Mison and so many others were wasted in a series that had all the potential in the world but ultimately lost its way and became as hollow and sleep-inducing as its namesake.