As Sleepy Hollow settles into what may be its last season, one missing plot point grows more nagging: the lack of any kind of relationship for Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie). The audience has seen Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) through three relationships. Jenny Mills (Lyndie Greenwood) is now involved with Joe Corbin (Zach Appelman). This season’s two main villains, the Hidden One (Peter Mensah) and Pandora (Shannyn Sossamon), are a couple of some kind. We've even seen monsters and evil gods with romantic partners. But three seasons in, Abbie remains loveless.
During the show's first season, Abbie was the antithesis to the Strong Black Woman stereotype. She admitted when she didn't know something, freely showed emotions, and frequently expressed her humanity. But over the past two seasons, she’s devolved into the dehumanizing stereotype of black womanhood: the Mammy. Her character is now more of a desexed caretaker, constantly making sacrifices so others can have a better life. She has subjected herself to Purgatory so Crane could be with his wife; jumped through some kind of supernatural portal to end up in a mythical cave in order to save her sister and mankind; confronted literal ghosts of her pasts in order to quell monsters. How many more sacrifices does she need to make before the show allows her to give and receive affectionate love? Both Abbie and Nicole Beharie deserve better.
There have been references to Abbie’s off-screen relationships, which occurred before Crane arrived in her life so the two could unite as Witnesses meant to save the world from a biblical apocalypse. Officer Andy Brooks (John Cho) had such strong, unrequited feelings for her that he gave his soul to the devil to protect her from the approaching biblical apocalypse. Detective Luke Morales (Nicholas Gonzalez) was an old flame whose jealousy of Crane provided occasional comedic relief. Morales disappeared after the first season, and we haven’t seen Brooks since the second. In the third season, new FBI Director Daniel Reynolds (Lance Gross) has made it clear he still harbors feelings for Abbie from whatever previous relationship they had. In her onscreen life, there was Nick Hawley (Matt Barr), a bootleg Indiana Jones who’d previously had a relationship with Jenny, Abbie’s sister. While Jenny sent Hawley smoky glances and reminded him of past romps, Hawley was crushing on Abbie. Luckily, the show veered away from a story line that would pit the two sisters against each other over a man. But he’s yet another character with feelings for Abbie who conveniently disappears from the show.
In none of these situations do we get to see what it is about Abbie that makes these men unable to let go of their feelings for her. The audience knows Abbie as a witty, funny, and smart law-enforcement agent who puts the greater good above herself, but how does that translate into her intimate relationships? What about her makes a man strike a deal with the devil to protect her? It’s unclear because the audience hasn’t been allowed to see Abbie as a woman in lust or love. We’ve seen Abbie acknowledge previous relationships, usually as she’s rejecting them from her current life in order to stand by Crane. She was clearly attracted to Morales and Reynolds at some point, but other than professional proximity, there’s no real exploration of her attraction to these men.
Meanwhile, we see the entire courtship of three of Ichabod Crane’s relationships. We’ve watched him steal his late wife Katrina (Katia Winter) from his best friend Abraham Van Brunt (Neil Jackson). We’ve seen Crane and Betsy Ross (Nikki Reed) give in to temptation as they spy for America. And we’ve watched Crane try to learn how to date in the 21st century with Zoe Corinth (Maya Kazan). We get to see him be affectionate, tender, and passionate with these women from his past, but get no similar flashbacks of Abbie’s past relationships with Morales or Reynolds. It’s a glaring imbalance, one that fans have long been attuned to.
There have been some comparisons between Sleepy Hollow and the original run of The X-Files, and it’s possible the showrunners are aiming for more of a Mulder and Scully, extreme-slow-burn relationship between the two. They may want to rethink that, given the tenuous fate of Sleepy Hollow. And regardless, part of the “will they, won’t they” formula of television couples still includes the appearance of romantic obstacles. Sleepy Hollow’s sister show, Bones, gave its protagonists, Dr. Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz), various relationships before they finally consummated their own. By the time Bones’ third season had ended, Brennan had had onscreen relationships with a former professor and one of Booth’s FBI colleagues. She had also made it clear she was a sexual being in other ways. Booth had been involved with an ex-girlfriend, a lawyer, and Brennan’s boss, Camille Saroyan (Tamara Taylor). Although it was obvious that Brennan and Booth would eventually end up together, it didn’t stop the showrunners from creating full lives for the characters, complete with sexual relationships for each.
The chemistry of Ichabbie remains strong, but so far it seems Abbie is doomed to vigorous hand-holding and kissing Crane’s head as he lies unconscious in her lap. Whether or not the showrunners give the Ichabbie shippers what they want, it’s time for Abbie to get some.