Friday, April 15, 2016

Sleepy Hollow: The Intolerable Treatment of Abbie Milles

It has been nearly impossible this week to miss the outpouring of outrage on social media over the season finale of Sleepy Hollow. Yes, in a month where even the usual death rate among marginalised people has grown to even more vomit-inducing levels than we’ve become used to (and it’s always been nauseating), Sleepy Hollow decided to kill off their Black, female protagonist. The heart of the show and one of the main reasons so many people were following it - especially after the second season.

Which is, of course, the background to this appalling death - Sleepy Hollow, despite being, on the face of it, a racially diverse show has shown a shocking level of contempt to those Black characters and the fandom they gathered in season one that was so invested in the surprising diversity (it is, of course, an important but different issue that a show with a Black female protagonist is so rare as to be surprising and to gain such an investment from minority fandom). It seemed that someone in charge of this show simply had no clue at all as to why this show was so popular or why so many people were invested in it - and were so enraged by the hot mess that was Cranewreck, and the sidelining of Captain Irving before killing him off after pretty much ignoring his character for most of the season (plot box now comes in mental institution).

The writers of Sleepy Hollow has earned absolutely no benefit of the doubt from its furious fandom. It entered season 3 with a lot of their fans having turned their back on the Cranewreck and much of the rest watching with narrowed eyes and waiting for this show to dig itself out of that hole. Or bury itself.

And they killed Abbie.

That’s not so much burying yourself as making a spirited attempt to reach the centre of the Earth and digging until you drown in molten lava. Killing her not just showed that they didn’t understand their fandom (or didn’t care about their fandom), and that they had learned nothing after the backlash of the Cranewreck - but also that they didn’t seem to realise what Abbie was to their show or what the death of Abbie revealed about how they thought of Sleepy Hollow.

This was her show. This wasn’t even a story that was about a world setting or particular plot line. This was a show about the WITNESSES. This whole show wasn’t about fighting the Headless Horseman or Henry or the Hidden One (the mere fact the antagonists changes every season established that). This was a show about Abbie and Ichabod, the Witnesses, working together and pooling their expertise and wider circle of friends to defeat the evil and fulfill their destiny

This was Sleepy Hollow the story of the Witnesses. The story of these two excellent characters and how they bounced off each other. Every funny exchange, every touching moment, every time they truly knew each other, every joke they shared and, yes, even the constant possibility they would take the next step and turn their epic friendship into a romance.

In the eyes of us and a huge amount of the fandom, this was the Witnesses show, the show of Ichabod and Abbie, co-protagonists.

While, in the eyes of the writers, it was clearly Ichabod’s show - and his sidekick. All the Cranewreck outrage of season 2 clearly hasn’t changed that - in their eyes this was a show about Ichabod Cane, man out of time and his little band of followers. It showed in season two where we had to endure agonisingly dull episodes with Katrina while Abbie was banished to the plot box and, despite initial indications to the contrary, Abbie sacrificing herself for the sake of Ichabod et al has sealed the deal.

The writers just made this Ichabod’s story. The writers degraded Abbie into becoming a sidekick, a fridged woman to give Ichabod eternal emotional angst and Manpain, another figure in HIS story, rather than the awesome, excellent character who was an equal partner and co-protagonist in the Witnesses story.

Just in case you didn’t catch that insult, look at one of Abbie’s last lines to Ichabod:

“My job was to carry you forwards.”

Are we clear? Abbie existed to further Ichabod’s storyline. This was the sole point of her character, her existence. This Black, female, apparent co-protagonist existed entirely to further the story of the white male ACTUAL protagonist.

“My job was to carry you forwards.”

Seriously, how Nicole Beharie didn’t just stab the writer who gave her that line to speak I do not know. Ye gods, I am in AWE of her restraint.

“My job was to carry you forwards.”

How she managed to choke that out. I just can’t even imagine. And smile? Damn, that’s some incredible acting. Let’s repeat it again:

“My job was to carry you forwards.”

No, I don’t think this will ever sink in. How anyone thought that line was ok boggles the mind.

I am also making a demand now to know where Abbie’s plot armour is. Seriously, I have watched so many damn shows in this genre where a white protagonist will do the most epically self-destructive, ridiculous things borderline suicidal things and somehow survive. Look at Shadowhunters, the whole PLOT of that show is based on Clary making ridiculous decisions, having Jace follow and, for some unknown reason, neither of them ever being killed.

If Elena from The Vampire Diaries went skinny dipping in a volcano? She’d have lived. Tom Mason on Falling Skies could voluntarily become a prisoner of the aliens wanting to kill him and survive (oh wait, he did), Rick on The Walking Dead can declare war on an entire faction of civil engineers (apparently) with guns and not die.
So, in light of all this, I ask, in the name of every protagonist who has played Russian Roulette with 5 (or 6!) bullets in the chamber and survived – WHERE WAS ABBIE’S PLOT AMOUR? Why, in a genre with an overwhelming number of protagonists doing epicly ridiculous nonsense AND SURVIVE did one of the very few Black protagonists – Black female protagonist at that - out there die? Plot Armour has ruined plot line after plot line – but not for Abbie. She couldn’t catch an eleventh hour survival?

But calling for plot armour is unfair - because all of these characters survived ridiculous decisions they made. Abbie didn’t even get that agency - Abbie was a sacrifice - a sacrifice that was written in literally at the last minute. There was absolutely no narrative reason for Pandora’s box to require a Witness sacrifice, or any sacrifice for that matter. It was thrown in with no foreshadowing expressly to kill her off - it was clumsy, forced and made about as much sense as a “stray bullet” just happening to kill her. And even if we accepted that this sacrifice was necessary there were so many ways to bring her back - when the box was destroyed if nothing else. It’s Urban Fantasy, death is never the end. Ye gods, Supernatural has had Sam and Dean come back from the grave so often they should be founding their own religion - don’t tell me this genre couldn’t have supported a resurrecting Abbie Mills!

Of course they’re going to replace Abbie with her female relative, at least so I infer by how the last episode ended. Is anyone buying that as ok or making up for this bullshit?

It’s not close to enough, even if it will be another Black woman. Because we’ve not only established that Black woman as secondary to Ichabod by Abbie’s sacrifice and her “my job was to carry you forwards” (that fecking line, really?!) goodbye, but this new character will be joining in season 4 (assuming some kind of miracle happens and Sleepy Hollow gets renewed - presumably with the Sleepy Hollow writers sharing whatever drugs they’re apparently taking with the Fox execs). Do we really think a T-Dog chained new character who might as well be called Not!Abbie is going to be able to step up as a co-protagonist next to Ichabod after his character has been established for 3 seasons? No matter who they bring in to fill the Abbie void, we’re looking at Ichabod & his Merry team.

This also completely breaks the one thing this show managed in season 1 and to pull back in season 3 - having a majority POC cast. Because, even if Ezra and Danny and Sophie and Jenny hang around (which is still an if because all of these characters’ connection to Ichabod was through Abbie because, somehow missed by the writers, she was the heart of the show. Seriously every single other character on this show that wasn’t part of the Cranewreck was there because of Abbie… how can you hope to hold that together without her?) they will now be there as sidekick and support for a white male protagonist. That’s an entirely different show. A Black, female co-protagonist with a large supporting cast of Black characters who are there and supporting because of HER is a dramatically different show from a white male lead and his Black followers.

I know that someone is just dying to rush in and tell us that Nicole Beharie wants to do other things. I don’t even know if it’s true - but it’s irrelevant for two reasons

Firstly, there are other ways to remove a character beyond killing them off - and certainly beyond her sacrificing herself for Ichabod to go on. Again, I turn to Vampire Diaries and Elena’s sleeping-beauty like sleep. There were ways to keep at least the possibility of Abbie alive - and if the actor really was forcing your hand by leaving, the whole fact her soul is apparently going to jump to another female relative at least gave you the option of recasting the role. Yes it would have been hard and not ideal - but Originals did it (repeatedly), and it would have kept a Black female protagonist on this show who was ON PAR with Ichabod still.

Secondly, why was she looking for better things? I don’t claim to know her motives and she’s certainly an excellent actor capable of great things - but, like the trainwrecks we’re seeing on The 100, it’s also clear the production team behind Sleepy Hollow has not treated her with anything close to respect. Her character was utterly sidelined in season 2, usurped by Katrina. Not only was her character sidelined and her role and screen time completely reduced but she herself was disrespected - not invited to contribute commentary to the DVD release. I can’t even imagine a reasonable excuse for not wanting one of the show’s protagonists to do that. And while season 3 was better, let’s not forget that Abbie still spent way too much time separated from the main cast and worshipping a damn symbol.

Oh and this here:

On top of that, the disaster of the Cranewreck was not exactly healthy for the fandom following of this show or its ratings. I think I’d recognise this ship is sinking and look to jump it as well. Again, another effect directly attributable to the appalling treatment of Abigail Mills. We saw the same sorry state of affairs with Orlando Jones last season - you can’t sideline an actor’s character, maul the characterisation, continually reduce their role and then act like it’s surprising or out of your hands when the actor decides to leave! Seriously, Fox took a potentially awesome show that we saw in season 1 and stomped on it on season 2 and barely managed to scrabble any of it back in season 3 - why WOULDN’T Nicole Beharie want to leave? This is like burning down your tenant’s house and pretending it was all their own idea to cancel the lease! The writers don’t get to act like Abbie’s death was forced on them by the actor when they themselves had done so much to make her position untenable.

Frankly, even by Fox’s standards, this is one of the worst examples of sabotaging their own show we’ve ever seen - and they better hope infernal forces actually exist because only a deal with Lucifer would get this renewed - and he has better taste. There’s no coming back from this and no scrubbing off the stain of one of the greatest disappointments we have ever seen - a show with such immense potential that then went out of its way to destroy itself, drive off two excellent Black characters, bury their protagonist and destroy one of the most passionate fan followings we’ve seen in a long while

This doesn’t even serve as a textbook “how not to do it” - because I can’t imagine anyone with half an ounce of sense or without an undue love of David Duke thinking this bullshit was a good idea.

Naturally, we’re not alone in being furious at the appalling way Abbie was disposed of - and it’s definitely worth seeing what other people have been passionately writing