Everything that was right about Sleepy Hollow's first season can be summed up by the Headless Horseman riding his fire-breathing demon horse and carrying a machine gun. It was absurd, dramatic, scary and hilarious all at the same time. But most of all, it represented all the unexpected potential that existed within this world.
What happened to that show?
The world of Sleepy Hollow has shrunk in its second season. The Fox drama has such a big, rich mythology, yet there aren't enough characters to bring it to life. Tertiary characters, like Ichabod's reenactment friend Caroline and Corbin's son, are killed off almost as soon as they're introduced, while previously established secondary characters are being egregiously underserved. Instead of building on its foundations to create a fuller, more engaging universe, Sleepy is relying too heavily on Abbie ( Nicole Beharie) and Ichabod's (Tom Mison) chemistry to carry the show.
And don't get me wrong. Abbie and Ichabod are amazing. But developing secondary characters isn't going to threaten the importance of their relationship. Instead, it would help build their characters and the world they live in. The few moments we've gotten to see Ichabod and Jenny interact were some of my favorite moments of the season. And each week, I patiently waited for one of the Mills sisters to visit Irving ( Orlando Jones) and talk about something other than pressing, life-threatening business. That's because the more we get to see these characters interact with different people, the more we understand who these people are and why we should care about them.
Sleepy was very good at this in its first season, but seemingly dismissed this notion as a priority in Season 2, as evidenced by its treatment of Irving. I don't know if I've ever seen character development actually regress before. In Season 1, we saw Irving as a multidimensional character who grew and evolved with each episode. He was a tough captain, a loving father, a remorseful ex-husband, a good friend and a fearless soldier. He was compelling, flawed and a far cry from the typical hard-ass black police captain shows often throw in to gain their diversity gold star. But after subverting the stereotype in Season 1, Irving became yet another incarcerated black man who lost it all and was murdered in Season 2. How is that progress? How is that remotely interesting?
And unlike with Irving, the decision to cut down on Jenny's ( Lyndie Greenwood) importance this season had no basis in plot. Jenny was free as a bird, so where was she all season? What is her life outside of occasionally popping in to assist Abbie and Ichabod solve his family drama? The writers and producers don't seem to care, yet it's clear the fans do.
It's no coincidence that the screen time for Irving and Jenny decreased in tandem with Sleepy's ratings. The show has been shedding viewers drastically each week and Sleepy's anemic audience is only further proof that diversity is not only good for society, but good for business. When the drama premiered last fall, it felt like a show for everyone and so everyone watched. That's why it's been so frustrating to see interesting, complex characters of color be sidelined in favor of giving screen time to what might be the most stale, archetypal White Guy I have ever seen on a non-CBS show.
The very existence of Hawley in Sleepy Hollow seems like a betrayal of everything the show once stood for. He raids other cultures to make a profit and treats women interchangeably. His inflated self-importance is never undermined enough to teach him a lesson. He is walking, talking white privilege. And this is no knock on Matt Barr. Personally, I think he's doing great in a role that does him no real favors. If Sleepy used Hawley as an occasional means of comic relief, I'd be all for it. But if they want me to take him seriously as a character, they need to remember their original success lied in subverting stereotypes, not regurgitating them.
Which brings me of course to the ultimate trope, Miss Damsel in Distress herself, Katrina Crane ( Katia Winter). Going into Season 2, I was prepared to be a card-carrying member of Team Katrina. She was finally out of Purgatory which meant we could see her for the badass witch the producers had been promising. Only, for the second time in as many seasons, we were subjected to seeing this so-called invaluable asset held captive by the enemy and saddled with a pregnancy that birthed evil into the world. Why Sleepy Hollow decided to prioritize a white women who is constantly one step away from being tied to a railroad track over Abbie, Jenny and Irving, three of the most refreshing and inspiring characters of color - and just characters in general - on TV is honestly a question that likely has no justifiable answer.
However, there were a few enjoyable moments with Katrina this season - her discussion with Ichabod over their fractured marriage, when the pair watched reality TV - but these mean nothing when we then see her literally risk the Apocalypse because it turns out her maternal instinct is her ultimate weakness. What happened to the kickass girl power of Season 1? What happened to the diversity? What happened to telling big stories through complicated, intimate relationships? What the hell happened to this show?
There is just so much good emotional dirt Sleepy Hollow could dig into if it chose to, yet it barely scratches the surface. How does Jenny really feel about the fact she sacrificed so many years of her life in Tarrytown, only to be released and have to play sidekick to her "chosen" sister? How does Ichabod feel about having to spend the rest of his life in a world in which he can't be himself? Did Jenny ever give Irving advice about being wrongfully institutionalized and abandoned by one's family? Does Abbie ever long for the days before dealing with Ichabod's relatives became her top priority?
There are boundless avenues in this world to explore, which is exactly why I refuse to give up on Sleepy just yet. It's clear the Katrina rescue-fest and Crane family drama are on their last legs, which will hopefully open up a new space and a fresh start to focus on the characters that actually deserve our attention and know how to keep it.
Sleepy Hollow has all the foundations of an incredible ensemble show. The pieces are there and now it's just up to the producers to realize how to use them. And thanks to hashtags like #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter, they have a pretty clear idea of what went wrong. All we can do is hold out hope — at least for a little while longer — and trust them enough to right it. Because it would be a shame to say goodbye to Abbie, Ichabod, Jenny and Irving so soon.
Sleepy Hollow returns Monday at 9/8c on Fox. Get scoop on what's to come from the cast below: