Everyone seems to have a theory for why Sleepy Hollow became the breakout hit of the season, but no one seems to give credit to the show's best asset: Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Behari).
Sleepy Hollow is totally insane — Ichabod Crane wakes up in 2013 only to discover that he and a local policewoman are destined to stop the apocalypse — but the show works. And as the viewer's entry point into this world, a lot of this success is dependent on Abbie's ability to make the crazy feel real. Otherwise, Sleepy Hollow would be as cheesy as the premise seemed. But right from the start, Abbie proved herself as a relatable and capable narrator, treating the supernatural with a realistic hesitation and irreverence without allowing herself to be pigeonholed into the role of "The Skeptic."
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Though Sleepy Hollow has a female lead, in truth, her gender is a non-issue within the series. Not only does Abbie stay away from the typical television Working Woman uniform (unrealistically tailored clothes, perfectly coifed hair and red carpet ready makeup), but Sleepy Hollow never turns her gender into plot fodder. No one underestimates Abbie's abilities as a cop because she's a 5'1" black woman instead of a 6' white man. In fact, Abbie is one of the few people Chief Irving (Orlando Jones) seems to have any real faith in. And though fans already passionately 'ship the pair, Abbie's working relationship with Ichabod (Tom MIson) isn't motivated by romance. She's just there to get the job done.
"One of the things when reading the pilot that made it appeal to me so much was that you have the two female leads who aren't defined by a man," Mison explained, referring to Abbie and Ichabod's wife Katrina (Katia Winter). "And you don't see it enough. All too often ... the women are the girlfriend or the daughter and they have very little to do other than support the male characters' stories. This, from the start and throughout, the female characters have been rounded and clear and individual."
The platonic nature of Abbie and Ichabod's partnership has given it a delightful Doctor Who vibe. But whereas the Doctor's companions simply provide support when the Doctor saves the day, Abbie doesn't have it in her to be The Girl Who Waited. "I love that all these women in the show are an integral part of saving the world," Beharie told reporters at New York Comic Con. "That they're not just there [as] a piece to sort of move the story on and they're not just batting eyelashes. They're helping to make the thing happen, if not making the thing happen. If you look at all the episodes, I threw the book, OK?" she said referencing Abbie's day-saving decision to throw the Lesser Key of Solomon into the fire in Episode 4. "I threw the book, I saved the guy."
Right from the pilot, Abbie was presented as fully realized hero -- vulnerable, strong and rational -- a pleasantly shocking change of pace compared to the often reductive women of network TV. More often than not, female characters — particularly characters of color — who prefer focusing on work rather than romance are depicted as harsh, unforgiving and emotionless. Yet Abbie has avoided becoming yet another Strong Black Woman stereotype and instead is just a strong character who happens to be a black woman.
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This has earned Abbie comparisons with Scandal's Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), who seems to have become the new face of strong female characters. Yet while Olivia continues to be idolized for her every blink, she constantly falls victim to her own feelings like a lovestruck teenager, putting her career, her friendships and even lives in jeopardy all for Fitz (TonyGoldwyn). So while their ongoing affair makes for highly entertaining TV, it also stops Olivia from being the role model many believe her. to be. Abbie, on the other hand, provides an interesting alternative to Olivia, reminding viewers that woman can have successful careers and emotions, without having to sacrifice ethics, happiness and sense of personal worth.
However, what both Olivia and Abbie prove is that viewers crave diversity. Outdated race and gender stereotypes, while they still make work for Dads fans, aren't cutting it for many modern viewers. And delightfully, Abbie isn't the only person of color on Sleepy Hollow, nor is she even the only applaudable strong female character. Ichabod's wife Katrina, though trapped in Purgatory, remains far more powerful than her mortal husband. And when Ichabod is kidnapped this week, it will be up to Abbie and Katrina to save him -- and the entire town — before the Headless Horseman descends upon Sleepy Hollow.
While we'll obviously miss watching Ichabod and Abbie's odd couple dynamic play out this week, it's about time she gest her due as Sleepy Hollow's true hero.
Sleepy Hollow airs at 9/8c on Fox