Major spoilers ahead for the season-three finale of Sleepy Hollow.
The first season of Sleepy Hollow was charming, fun, and special. It took a familiar story from American literature and gave it a fantastical twist, complete with one of the most diverse casts on air. The chemistry between the two leads, Nicole Beharie and Tom Mison as Abbie Mills and Ichabod Crane, was remarkable and undeniable. Then season two happened. Everything that attracted fans to the show was dismantled in a series of perplexing creative choices. And now, at the conclusion of season three, Abbie was killed off in one of the most unsatisfactory goodbyes in recent memory, sending fans reeling.
During Friday night’s season finale, fans added the hashtag #RenewSleepyHollow to their tweets, as the show has not yet been picked up for a fourth season. But when it became clear Abbie was dead and Beharie was no longer returning to the show, they quickly changed their tune and began tweeting #CancelSleepyHollow. Jose Molina, former producer and writer for Sleepy Hollow, posted a tone-deaf tweet, writing that sometimes characters die because they are characters, not because they are minorities.
According to IMDB, Molina hasn’t been associated with the show since its first season and in his tweets he notes he had to read about what happened, indicating a lack of awareness. There is more to Abbie’s loss than an oversimplified cry of racism because Beharie is African-American. There have been continued slights against her and the characters of color on Sleepy Hollow, and Abbie’s death was the last straw for fans of the show, particularly as other TV shows, like The 100, Empire, and The Walking Dead, have killed off POC and/or LGBT fan-favorite characters recently.
It all started in Sleepy Hollow’s second season, which was widely viewed as a mess. The show changed course by killing off two characters and hiring a new showrunner. The diverse cast that originally drew considerable praise and viewership practically disappeared. Supporting characters played by John Cho and Nicholas Gonzalez left. Abbie’s sister and police captain, played by Lyndie Greenwood and Orlando Jones, respectively, had their airtime drastically reduced, and eventually Jones was not asked to return for season three.
His absence was particularly hard to take because he was the main star interacting with fans via social media. He constantly live-tweeted and encouraged them via Tumblr and frequently showcased fan art and fiction about the show. Jones was the most socially engaged of all the cast, and his departure left many fans upset.
But the most unforgivable misstep of season two was its treatment of Abbie Mills, who, to reiterate, was one of two leads. She was sidelined while Crane focused on his wife, Katrina (Katia Winter), and devil son, Henry Parrish (John Noble). (Also egregious: Supposedly a powerful witch, Katrina was repeatedly put in peril, frequently making her the damsel-in-distress character.) The show’s audience couldn’t help but notice that the people of color on the cast, one of its main draws for many viewers, had been drastically reduced while the white characters received more airtime. Then the show added another white character, Nick Hawley (Matt Barr), an old flame of Jenny’s who developed feelings for Abbie. Not only was Abbie reduced to playing sidekick as Crane saved Katrina over and over, but the idea that Abbie could have a potential love interest with her sister’s ex was, frankly, insulting. The show didn’t pursue that idea any further but the damage had been done. (The fact that Abbie never had a legitimate love interest is a whole other can of worms.) Much of the audience no longer trusted the show and began to voice their disapproval, most notably with the Twitter hashtag #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter.
Sleepy Hollow’s viewership suffered, and it remained on the bubble for renewal. Eventually, FOX confirmed a third season, and at first it seemed like the executives had heard and understood audience complaints. Katrina, Henry, and Nick were removed from the show. Jones’s Captain Irving was gone, but not dead, so there was still lingering hope he could come back. Then Beharie posted a since-deleted picture to her Instagram account, noting that she had not been invited to participate in season-two DVD commentary, raising suspicion about how she was being treated on the show. Friends and fans rallied around her.
For season three, Fox moved the show to Fridays, most likely because Friday night ratings numbers have more leniency when it comes time for renewal. And while fans did slowly return, they saw the move as a way of continuing to sabotage the show. Throughout the season, Abbie and Crane remained separated too often, and in the midseason finale, Abbie was trapped alone in mystical catacombs. Even after her rescue, the two frequently worked apart, perhaps to give airtime to the five new series regulars, including two people of color.
It turns out that padding the show with additional cast members was an attempt to prepare for Beharie’s departure. Rumors about Beharie’s unhappiness with the show, and her desire to be released from her contract, abound, and who could blame her? She was sidelined on a show where she served as co-lead, her character was underdeveloped in stark contrast to others, and recently had to ask the show’s official Twitter account to follow her. It was clear the show underestimated Beharie’s worth, and it suffered for it.
By far the biggest issue this season was the show’s clumsy handling of the relationship between Abbie and Crane. In order to reel fans back in after the disastrous second season, Sleepy Hollow finally began acknowledging that the love between the two could be something more than friendship. Characters began urging Crane to come clean about his feelings for Abbie. Crane prepared a candlelit Italian dinner for her. He made her a cappuccino with his face in the foam! Within minutes of finding Betsy Ross in the present day, she told him his heart belonged to Abbie; even a dying Pandora whispered to Crane that he loved Abbie. And yet, Abbie and Crane never went there. Showrunner Clifton Campbell claimed the love the two shared went beyond the physical and was a testament to the friendship men and women can share. But his statement rings false given how the show has repeatedly hinted at a romance between the two. In the end, they at the very least could’ve done more than had Crane kiss Abbie’s hand in their final farewell.
Sleepy Hollow was such a fun show, and it’s been painful to see it falter time and again, particularly with how terribly it managed Nicole Beharie’s character. Beharie brought Abbie Mills alive with wit, courage, humor, and loyalty. Her instant chemistry with co-star Tom Mison was irresistible, both onscreen and during interviews, and it would be great to see them paired up again on some other project. As for Sleepy Hollow, it’s unclear whether the show will go on. But even if it were to return, with Abbie gone, there’s not much reason to tune in.