RIP Head Over Feels and Sleepy Hollow: 2013-2016. With the fridging of Abbie Mills, one half of the show’s core Witness duo, we are completely done.
Sleepy Hollow may still return for a season four, even though the finale did the absolute most to set fire to anything the show ever had going for it. I refuse to do a full recap for that rushed, unfocused catastrophe, because it doesn’t deserve our established ranking system. (Let’s put it all under FU-HOLLOW and be done with it.) But as much as I may reject the narrative killing off Agent Grace Abigail Mills, I will not let her go un-mourned. (An epic “In Appreciation” post is coming soon.) Before we get to some of the many reasons why Nicole Beharie’s portrayal of Abbie will forever be one of our favorite leads in genre television (nay, general television) history, I’ve got some things to say about how this went down.
It’s almost unfathomable how Sleepy Hollow took a shockingly great thing and then slowly and methodically spoiled it. Sleepy Hollow season 1 is Jerry; the showrunners and writers are Andy; and tone-deaf treatment of minority characters is the pie. Tag yourself, I’m Jerry wincing as soon as he realizes he’s about to get it.
Look, I know I made excuses for this creative team last season. And for the most part, I’ve felt like the show recovered most of its verve in season 3. I didn’t see the pattern until it was all laid out behind me. But many fans did, because they’ve experienced this betrayal before. Those fans were mostly women of color, who supported this show in part because of Abbie and Jenny Mills, two bright spots in a TV landscape that’s still light years away from being realistically representational. Kim and I have both talked about fan entitlement and how frustrating it is on this blog, but there’s a big difference between entitlement (“If these two characters don’t kiss soon, I’m going to send hate to the writers.”) and being a viewer who is sensitive to ways that stories are twisted (over and over again) to serve one character over another based on some type of difference. I was firmly anti-Hawley and frustrated over the sidelining of Jenny and Frank in season 2. But from my vantage point, I couldn’t see what a dangerous path they were leading Abbie down or why it was so significant that Abbie never had a romantic relationship besides her toothless flirting with Crane. (Scully went on two dates in the whole series, I think.) That’s me, watching from my place of relative privilege. I own up to it, and fuck if the whole downward spiral isn’t clear now. Memo to certain showrunners: it’s freeing to accept that your intent doesn’t mean as much as a certain demographic of your audience’s interpretation of it does. In other words, dear white people: it’s not always about us.
I did see that Nicole Beharie seemed to step back in many ways from the show. She stopped attending conventions and doing other press. She rarely tweeted about it. And in one Instagram post that ignited a fan revolt, she stated that she hadn’t been invited to participate in DVD commentaries. (The word from on high was that it was a misunderstanding. A pretty big one.) The reason given for Abbie’s death was that Nicole wanted to leave the show, and I have no doubt that that is true. But we need to talk about why she wanted to do that. Why, when she joined the cast of a network sci-fi drama as the lead, obviously aware that it could go on for several seasons? Why, when she and co-star Tom Mison seemed to have a respectful and rewarding working relationship? Why, when she has no immediate commitments lined up? And why, when her performance was universally praised? Take into consideration the relative silence from set this year, the canceling of their SDCC panel, Tom deleting his Twitter, and most tellingly, Orlando Jones’ exit. This from a show that came out of the gate so strong, endearing itself to critics and quickly building a fandom while being praised for employing a diverse cast with terrific chemistry. These should have been GLORY DAYS.
You know what grinds my gears? When people simper at actors and call them “classy” for not being explicit about backstage issues in the press. Nicole Beharie has the absolute right to give whatever statement she likes and to keep any issues she may have had with her character and the production to those immediately involved. By no means do I begrudge her that privacy. But the “classy” compliment isn’t a compliment at all; it’s a warning. It implies that if Nicole HAD come out and said that she wasn’t happy and had sought the opportunity to move on that that would somehow be out of line. It’s another way of putting a black actress in her place, and I am viscerally disgusted by it.
Either way, the writing is on the wall. Stars don’t leave shows if they’re content with the material they’re being given and with their treatment. Another spin that was put on this news (and part of Nicole’s statement) is that Abbie Mills had carried out her role and in fact, there was nothing more for her to do. There’s even a scene in the finale where Abbie tells August Corbin (who she meets in the “waiting room”) that, as far as she was concerned, her life was complete when she made up with her family and Danny (??) and saved Crane. So, not only did the writers kill Abbie when that wasn’t absolutely necessary, they literally TOOK AWAY HER WILL TO LIVE. What those same writers seem to not understand about this backlash is that the most heartbreaking aspect of this death is how it occurred and what it seemed to say about Abbie’s purpose all along. Abbie is young, gorgeous, whip-smart, and incredible at her job. She has a sister and a father with whom she still has to make up lost time. She’s got Danny and Crane both at her feet. And she has goals and dreams of her own that have nothing to do with any of those people. I know she does, even if the people who wrote her don’t. Don’t you dare try to tell me that Abbie Mills didn’t want to suck every moment out of her life.
Could this have been handled any more poorly? Many, many leads have exited their shows and not had to do it via tombstone. (As Joe Adalian pointed out, “Shelley Long didn’t die on Cheers.” THANK GOD.) ESPECIALLY on a show that deals in the supernatural on the daily, there are places that Abbie could have gone, perhaps to return to a series finale. OR the show could have done the rational thing: make this season finale the series end – have Crane and Abbie triumph over Pandora, kiss, and walk off into the sunset to Witness some more. Instead, Abbie sacrifices herself to save the world and appears to Crane in a dream to tell him that her reason for existing was to help HIM on his journey. How blinded to your own privilege must you be to not see how patronizing and gross this is? In another scene that I can’t even believe was actually written and shot, Jenny consoles Crane about her own sister’s death, given no opportunity to mourn her herself. And I love me some Ichabod Crane, but in no universe do I want his story prioritized over his partner’s. And guess the fuck what? Neither does he. Not in four or four thousand centuries.
Abbie dies and she doesn’t even see her mama or Grace. She sees–wait for it–3 white men! (8) #SleepyHollow
— Veronica Pena (@gocomshukurself) April 9, 2016
Even in death, Abigail Mills got the shaft. SO MUCH was made of her family line, including Grace Dixon, whose journal helped them so many times along the way. Her whole life was shaped by the death of her mother and the temporary loss of her sister. And of course, it was lovely to see August and to see him reunited with his son (WAVES TO JOE); of course, we needed a final Abbie/Ichabod scene. But HOW HOW HOW does no one on the set of a major network drama see the problem in doing what this fantastic tweet describes? The ignorance is staggering. Pay their damn day rates and get those women on set. It’s the least Abbie deserves.
But here’s where I say that all the good stuff wasn’t left in season 1. There have been stumbles (like that time he disappeared on her for months), but Crane has always held Abbie’s opinion in the highest regard. He wouldn’t have even thought about setting foot back in the catacombs if she wasn’t 100% on board, for example. As he said to Betsy, she is his partner in (almost) every sense of the word. So why upend that balance? Why work so hard to make it canon that Abbie is literally replaceable?
(Also, remember when Ichabbie did FUN stuff together? Baseball games and karaoke and cappuccino by the water? Where did that all go?)
There are two scenarios here and I don’t like either one of them. One: the writers WANTED to favor Ichabod over Abbie in this finale to set up a pseudo-reboot of the show, which is shitty and insulting to Abbie, Nicole, and fans; or two: the writers couldn’t figure out a way out of this scenario without minimizing Abbie’s importance in the process, which shows both a lack of imagination AND a depressing adherence to culturally ingrained racist and misogynistic tropes. (The Magical Negro, anyone?) Pick your poison. They both suck.
To the Sleepyheads: I speak for both Kim and I when I say that we’ve had such a blast in this fandom. Thank you, thank you, thank you if you’ve ever commented on a recap, talked with us on social media, come out to one of our screening parties with Liz from Tom Mison Fans, or even just lurked. It’s been a rollercoaster with high highs and low lows, but I have learned a lot from so many of you. Passion is something to be applauded; your voices matter. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate you embracing our flail-y and often all-caps responses to this wild, weird show. Being a part of this group has been amazing. And while I’m sorry it had to end like this, hopefully the attention this relatively small fandom is getting on a national level will stop this from happening again. Or at least, happening with such disturbing frequency.
Remember Grace Abigail Mills. *fist bump* *blows it up*