Warning: This post contains spoilers for Sleepy Hollow.
The tables are turning in Sleepy Hollow, and not necessarily for the better.
When the show first premiered last year, it took the Internet by storm and quickly became a cult favorite. The show’s signature “batshit craziness” could’ve easily backfired among its audience, but it quickly became the surprise freshman hit of the season. Fans loved how it fully embraced the absurdity, but more importantly, they loved the characters.
Sure, you had Tom Mison as Ichabod Crane, your standard (and at times grumpy) British protagonist, but what excited many Sleepyheads was the diversity of the cast. It had Nicole Beharie, a woman of color, in the lead role, Orlando Jones and Lyndie Greenwood in important supporting roles, and John Cho appearing in multiple episodes. Between seasons, it cast House of Cards actress Sakina Jaffrey as Sheriff Leena Reyes.
All of the characters were flawed, complicated, and they defied multiple stereotypes. Jones once noted how “weird” it was that “the white dude dies first” during Sleepy Hollow’s pilot. While some fans shipped Abbie and Ichabod together, the bigger focus was on other relationships: two (mostly) platonic partners destined to save humanity, estranged sisters with old grudges and a troubled past, a family that gets torn apart, and even a boss and his employee faced with the unbelievable.
It also helped that the show had plenty of twists and turns for the people who were in it for the craziness.
As popularity grew, Jones broke the fourth wall of the fandom and fully embraced it, something that’s rare and near impossible to do well. He got the cast and crew to interact with fans more, and the Sleepy Hollow fandom was sort of like a huge love affair during season 1 (except for the occasional shipping war).
If you tuned into Sleepy Hollow this season, you might wonder if you’re watching the same show.
After the first episode, which featured a nearly 15-minute “gotcha!” sequence at the start and Abbie’s eventual escape from Purgatory, it fell into a bit of a lull. Some of the characters who made the first season were relegated to the sidelines—Abbie played a more secondary Witness role while Jenny Mills and Frank Irving were left out of multiple episodes at a time. The main character focus centered on Crane family drama with a looming threat of the apocalypse.
“The most frustrating thing about this season of ‘Sleepy Hollow’ isn’t that the story has been a bit lackluster—it’s fine, it’s just not fantastic,” Salon’s Sonia Saraiya wrote. “But the producers don’t seem to be entirely clear on what made the first season of the show good.”
Sleepy Hollow may be falling into a classic sophomore slump. In the show’s first season, Fox had plenty of faith in Sleepy Hollow. It was the first to be renewed after just two episodes, and it kept the show at 13 episodes instead of ordering a back nine, which is the practice for most network shows. In May, Fox bumped up the order and gave Sleepy Hollow 18 episodes for season 2 instead of 13.
Back at New York Comic Con in October, executive producer Mark Goffman saw the additional episodes as a good thing.
“I think the core elements of the show were so fun that we had no problem making 18 episodes this season when our order increased,” he told reporters during a round table interview. “I saw it as a really good thing. The amount of story we wanted to tell in the second season really can be done without trying to diminish—sometimes you’re always facing this issue when you’re crafting a show of how to make every episode feel like the finale, feel important, and keep that story going. It’s hard to keep that level of intensity, and with 18 we’ve really managed a nice mix.”
In contrast, the show’s popularity has now sunk low enough for critics to start asking “What happened?” For some fans, it’s no longer the show they signed up for, and they’ve taken to using the “Shady Hollow” tag on Tumblr to air some of their complaints.
“I wanted so badly for Sheriff Reyes to be a mentor to Abbie,” gotsteph wrote on Tumblr. “I mean I like her now for whatever she’s worth, but she’s clearly just being utilized as an object to either push the plot along or is being used as a lame attempt to foil the Witnesses.”
“I’m still waiting for Katrina to become this ‘invaluable resource’ because right now she’s getting all misty-eyed over demon babies while on the other hand you have Jenny Mills who was 110% ready to take down her own mother when she thought that her ghost was hurting people,” concavepatterns wrote.
Many of them are, simply put, unhappy. They’re seemingly tired of seeing the focus go to Ichabod and Katrina, now both in modern-day Sleepy Hollow, the drama between their now-shaky marriage, and the weekly argument of whether Henry has any redemption. Most are not fans of Nick Hawley, an Indiana Jones-type artifact hunter who offers his expertise to the Witnesses every week and a possible love interest for Abbie (though he also dated her sister Jenny). Katrina, who’s been touted as a powerful witch, is in constant need of saving by the other characters and still feels more like a plot device than an actual character. The non-white characters are getting less screen time this season.
“Lance Hunter and Nick Hawley Starring on [Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.] and Sleepy Hollow as Unnecessary White Dudes Who Take Away Screen Time From Women and Characters of Color,” kittenskysong wrote.
After eight episodes, fans were frustrated, but they had the much-discussed “Mama” episode to look forward to, which would introduce the audience to Abbie and Jenny’s mother and focus on her time at Tarrytown Psychiatric. Sure, it was great that there was finally an Abbie-centric episode, but as one person noted, “Abbie and Jenny shouldn’t be relegated to a ‘very special episode’ edition of Sleepy Hollow.”
It’s not necessarily about which characters end up with each other in the end. It’s about representation, and it’s not happening nearly as much this season as the last.
In other words, Abbie deserved better.
The conversation sparked the #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter hashtag, which allowed fans to vent their frustrations while wondering why Beharie had been pushed more to the background of a show in which she’s a lead character.
— Rhiannon Frater, I'm 100% that witch (@RhiannonFrater) November 14, 2014
#AbbieMillsDeservesBetter b/c 1 great Mills-centered episode is not enough. She (& Jenny & Irving) can't go back 2 being sidelined & ignored
— Musicalpencil (@tehodda) November 23, 2014
— Eve Vaughn (@Eve_Vaughn) November 11, 2014
They were pushing for as many people as possible to watch the Abbie and Jenny-centric “Mama” so that the show would ultimately make more episodes like that. And the ratings reflected their effort.
Beharie, who hadn’t been online much due to filming obligations, was surprised by the outpouring of love when she came back to Twitter.
Been offline for a while. I LOVE YOU GUYS!#wealldeservebettersometimes
— Nikki Beharie (@NikkiBeharie) November 8, 2014
But with more than half the season down, even some of the cast members are starting to throw shade toward the show and where it’s been going.
Why the black sisters got to have #sleepyhollow African incantations?
— Nikki Beharie (@NikkiBeharie) November 18, 2014
Jones, who’s been keeping up with Sleepyheads on social media all season, has been publishing meta Tumblr posts for some time now. A couple weeks back he posted a Photoshopped album cover of It’s Not Unusual with a post that, more likely than not, will get “It’s Not Unusual” stuck in your head (and minus any Carlton dances).
It’s not unusual to love/hate your favorite show
It’s not unusual to say “tropes, you gotta go”
But when you see weekly ratings at an all time low
It’s not unusual to wanna cry
And throw legit side-eye
And if it don’t work
And we say “see you later”
Please do us a favor
Don’t call us a hater
So maybe this once
You own up to your privilege
And hire new writers
Cuz it takes a village
The showrunners, for their part, have heard many of the comments fans have had this year. Raven Metzner, one of Sleepy Hollow’s writers, has come under fire from the fandom for his responses to people who criticized the show. Goffman, for one, is responding to some of the criticism, but told the fans to “trust us.”
“We look at everything,” he told Entertainment Weekly regarding #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter. “This show, it was really built for fans. So we’re very engaged in the social media atmosphere. Obviously it’s more fun when everybody is telling you that everything’s perfect, but I don’t know if that’s ever the case.”
The midseason finale, like much of the season’s choices, turned out to be a polarizing one. If you were unsatisfied with the direction the show was going, “The Akeda” was unlikely to change that. And aside from seeing a change of heart from Henry and more focus on the Cranes, it also brought the death of Frank Irving. Jones is already collecting video eulogies through all of his snark.
He went out in a blaze of glory and died a hero, but some fans felt cheated after having the sidelined character suddenly got to be part of the forefront before dying.
FRANK IRVING DIED FOR THIS CRAP REDEMPTION STORY TO HAPPEN IS THAT WHAT YOU'RE TRYING TO SELL TO ME #SleepyHollow
— uzui tengen's fourth wife (@mrsallmight) December 2, 2014
— Ebony Elizabeth Thomas (@Ebonyteach) December 2, 2014
Huffington Post’s Maureen Ryan summed up much of the frustration in one sentence of her recap of the episode.
“Why kill off Frank Irving, a memorable character with a lot of potential, instead of Katrina Crane, an ineffectual character who has failed to add anything significant or positive to the narrative over the course of 24 episodes?”
Dead characters aren’t necessarily gone in Sleepy Hollow, so fans may see Frank again, and the creators have promised that the last seven episodes will address some of the criticisms.
Will the rest of the season begin to rectify some of the fans’ criticisms? It’s entirely possible, but fans may not be as optimistic after the hiatus.
Screengrab via FOX/YouTube