Forgive my tardiness, Sleepy Hollow fans and potential fans. I know I’m starting these recaps a few episodes too late, but let’s dive right in, shall we?
If you haven’t caught the show, the premise is a twist on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), our star, fights for General George Washington in battle and comes up against a person-shaped creature he can only defeat by beheading. But, the person-shaped creature wounds Crane before he can escape. Crane passes out only to awake in 2013 Sleepy Hollow. He finds out his wife is trapped in another dimension, the headless horseman still rides and is, in fact, one of the four horseman of the apocalypse, and that Officer Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) has seen the headless horseman and glimpsed something of the demons shepherding in the apocalypse. After some initial distrust and the typical “fish out of water” hijinks, the two team up to “cancel the apocalypse” as it were.
This week’s episode of Sleepy Hollow wants Abbie to atone for her sins against her sister, Jenny. You see, when the Mills sisters were children, they and another man in town saw a demon of some sort in the woods. We know from past episodes that ever since then Jenny has been in and out of mental health institutions and currently resides in one. We also know that Abbie had been in some trouble herself, but that she ultimately became a cop and put it all behind her. Or so she thought. That changes when the psychiatrist treating Jenny commits suicide by jumping from a building, but not before Abbie arrives on the scene to find her possessed in some manner with her eyes full of sand and speaking of Jenny.
Abbie and Ichabod realize that Jenny may know something and so visit, or try to visit, Jenny in the institution, but Jenny doesn’t want anything to do with Abbie. We learn that when Abbie and Jenny were questioned about what they saw in the woods, Abbie lied and said she saw nothing while Jenny continued to insist that they had. Jenny was carted off while Abbie walked free, and while Abbie notes that she made the decision out of survival given that their parents had passed and they were in and out-of-state appointed homes, she still feels guilty on some level. Clearly, Jenny is still angry.
After a second suicide, this time of Mr. Gillepsie who saw the demon when the Mills sisters did so long ago and warns Abbie that she’s next, Abbie and Ichabod realize that the “Sandman” is after her. They consult with a Mohawk man who performs a ceremony that allows Abbie and Ichabod to enter the dream world and confront the Sandman. While in the dream world, she owns her betrayal of her sister and escapes death. She then goes on to try to find her sister but only finds that she is missing from the institution.
I decided to watch Sleepy Hollow because I was excited to support a show that features a woman of color and specifically a Black woman in a co-starring role. Currently the only Black woman in a starring role on U.S. primetime television is Kerry Washington in ABC’s Scandal, and that was a long time coming. There are a few Black women in co-starring roles such as The Game, Tyler Perry’s The Haves and Have Nots and Hit the Floor. Sleepy Hollow added to the rather small line-up of choices we have to see Black women as prominent television characters, so I tuned in.
The show does suffer from a lot of problems, and this episode in particular trotted out some egregious examples of cultural insensitivity and racist tropes. The pacing has been somewhat off since the first episode. While there are other people of color on the show, Abbie’s closest relationships are with white men. The show is yet another crime procedural that asks us to take on the perspective of and root for the police and those working on their behalf to restore order. And, leave it to Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman to write in a series of hackneyed tropes (e.g. the “fish out of water”) and demonstrate their lack of research on some issues. To be fair, I’ve never been a fan of the Orci and Kurtzman writing team and especially given their turns with the Transformers films and the Star Trek reboot films. I don’t have a whole lot of faith in what they churn out.
Case in point the show tried to incorporate what it called “Mohawk” mythology into their apocalypse. When I first heard about this I became understandably nervous. The Kanienkehaka are the younger sibling to my Tribe’s older sibling in our Haudenosaunee confederacy and we are extremely similar in language and beliefs. So, I braced myself for some butchery, and the show certainly delivered.
Abbie and Ichabod use completely misrepresented butchered bits of “Mohawk” mythology (actually Christian mythology with a bit of dressing) — and butcher the language while they’re at it — to figure out how to save Abbie. They both pause for a hot second to discuss the involvement of the Haudenosaunee in the Revolutionary War and frame the Kanienkehaka as “friends” of Ichabod and without ever touching on how the war divided and nearly destroyed our confederacy. After that pause they decide to accost the first “Mohawk” person they can find (a used car salesman at “Geronimotors”), assume that he has ceremonial knowledge, and demand that he helps them. For moment we think he’s going to tell them to step off with the busted stereotypes, but just kidding. He does have a sweat lodge with magic potions and a whole lot of plains and Southwest-style war bonnets (which the Haudenosaunee did not wear). While in the lodge, he performs a ceremony that isn’t even kind of real and, if it were real, would be performed by a medicine society out of view of others and not with some strangers that just rolled up out of nowhere. But, they did give a cursory and very short nod to the genocide of my peoples if only to prop up Ichabod’s Good White Person™ credentials by having him tear up and mutter about how they were his friends.
That all said, I will continue to watch the show. I’m excited to see Jenny Mills become a key player in the show. More importantly, I hope that this show in addition with the few others out there will open the door, even just a crack, for more Black women and other women of color to step through and wind up on our television screens.
Adapted and reposted from Marena’s tumblr blog.