Saturday, April 9, 2016

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (3x18)

Hey, I know that Headless Horseman! Welcome to the final episode of season three. It's been quite a journey; from time apart to happy reunions; to quietly scary Pandora to loudly boring Hidden One; from the death of Abbie to the death of Joe; from Witnesses apart to Witnesses together, we've been on a journey that took us from Sleepy Hollow to the Jeffersonian to the Underworld and back home again (as all good hero journeys should end). It's hard to say what happens now, but if this is the end, it certainly went out with a bang. This potentially series ending episode, "Ragnarok," saw our team of heroes battling to stop the end of the world before the Hidden One could consume it all. It's just another Friday night in Sleepy Hollow, in other words. Heroes, for most of history, have been male and for most of TV narrative, white males. Ichabod fits the hero model to a T, beyond just being a white male. He's romantic; he's got a poetic soul; he's compassionate; he's got an air of destiny about him as well as an otherworldly feeling that follows most heroes around like a neon sign (or lightening bolt scar) indicating who they are. And then there's Abbie. Right from the start, she's the "normal" one. Her story expands gradually to be equally mythic, but from the beginning, Abigail Mills was sturdy and steady, the pragmatic and level-headed bedrock. But, just like her partner, Abbie's a hero. She's a phoenix, just you watch her soar. Grab some tissues for the road, never stop hoping, and let's go!

"Death wins in the end" it seems, even if the victim happens to be a goddess. The show made a very smart move and removed the Hidden One from the action almost immediately, placing the much more compelling and complex Pandora in his place. While quite a bit of this transition was mumbo-jumbo, magic handwaving, it works for this spaghetti-to-the-wall show because the thesis that Abbie as a hero is still being hammered home even when you have Greek Fire, a magical box, and a dying god. The hero defeats the villain and, as it usually does on this show, it takes the unparalleled power of both Witnesses to stop the terror that envelops their little hamlet. Abbie sacrificed her life to defeat the Hidden One; Ichabod used his former enemy--the Headless Horseman, the embodiment of Death--to take down Pandora. It takes two. It always takes two; there must always be two Witnesses. I am going to push the proverbial stop button on this idea to make a confession (because this really is the heart of the episode) and admit that I don't know how to talk about this yet. And chances are, I'm going to do a sloppy job of it (so your humble blogger is begging your indulgence). I was honestly shocked (and upset and heartbroken) that Sleepy Hollow killed off Abbie Mills tonight. Yes, death wins in the end for mortal Witnesses and immortal goddesses alike. I know that the soul of the Witness is eternal and it passes to the next in line (like some sort of Slayer-esque power) but, without trying to put too fine a point on this, Abbie is the Witness. There are no ifs, ands, or buts in this regard. This season has driven home over and over again that the bond between Abbie and Ichabod was mythic, special, and necessary to the existence of both individuals. There is a level of betrayal that I feel as a TV viewer right now because how could any TV showrunner so utterly miss the point of what made their show worth talking about--not two Witness souls living inside whoever-bodies--but Ichabod and Abbie, the heart and soul of this campy, weird little show. I am trying to put that aside for the moment because, in all honesty, this was a very good episode of Sleepy Hollow. Everything about it--from the defeat of the villains, to the reappearance of Headless and Sheriff Corbin, to Ichabod and Abbie's bond--felt perfectly in line with what the show has been saying about magic and friendship for three years. And maybe a good episode pales in comparison to the hurt over losing a favorite character, a character who helped define the show; or maybe the death of a character pales in comparison to a show really bringing the story home in a (mostly) satisfying way. I have always maintained that death in narrative can have a purpose; if something changes inside the story universe, then the death mattered and the story knows that losing anyone--friend, lover, family, enemy, hero, villain--should matter. It should count. It should affect people. Killing Abbie could be a bold storyline; it could propel Sleepy Hollow in a direction that opens up many narrative doors simply by virtue of new blood. But do you want it to?

Readers, let's be honest. This episode really boils down to one question: can you have Sleepy Hollow without Abigail Mills? Following the conclusion of this episode, I tweeted something rather mean that I'll reiterate here: in the span of an hour I went from begging for renewal to praying for cancellation. And, again, this was a season-best episode of Sleepy Hollow, from the emotional beats to the mythology building. But it is so hard--so very hard--to imagine this show without Abbie Mills. What was it she said last week, "what we do, we do together." Can you really have Ichabod without his Leftenant? I feel the need to point out some very necessary criticism because while I sing the praises of the show subverting the traditional hero depiction of a white male, and replacing him with their black female, the killing off of said female hero, and having Abbie tell her white male counterpart that her job was to get Ichabod "to this point" and that, because she's done that, she can "be at peace" is all manner of feather-ruffling. This feather-ruffling comes not only on the heels of Abbie's final demise, but also on top of her--what--fourth sacrifice for the team? I'm willing to swallow this less than salient gendered reading because Ichabod is just as much a hero as Abbie and our man-out-of-time got our Leftenant to her point as much as she did for him. Still, how can the show sell me on having Ichabod and Random New Witness, whom we have yet to meet, running around the world built for Ichabod and Abbie, saving the day? In case anyone is hopeful, Nicole Beharie has done her post-mortem and she is officially out of the show; I don't know if rumors about her unhappiness can be believed or not, and while that's something to consider, it doesn't make our sadness over Abbie's death go away. Like I said above, I'm doing this rather sloppily because my mind is so very torn. Ichabod without Abbie? Makes no sense. Sleepy Hollow without Beharie? Also makes no sense. But there is--heaven help me--there is something almost enticing about Ichabod with a new partner, watching him help a new Witness (like Abbie helped him find his way in this brave new world), to see the dynamic team conquer evil one more time. And, after all, is it not Abbie's soul? She's the Phoenix and when you see the bird after emulation, it's still the same bird. None of this review feels proper, does it? It feels more like a frustrated viewer trying to rationalize what she just witnessed (which, okay, is maybe what TV reviews honestly are at the end of the day). Let's step away from Abbie for a hot second and remind ourselves (and really, I mean remind myself) that the show is still charming, still campy, and can still turn out a seasons worth of stories that are thoroughly enjoyable to watch. But eternal soul or not, Abigail Mills is dead. Actually dead. Pieces have been put into place for if/when Season 4 is a reality, but I'm not sure it should come to fruition. Like Abbie, maybe it's better if we find our peace with this episode, this disquieting turn of events, and move on. Tally Ho!

Miscellaneous Notes on Ragnarok 

--I'm sorry if this review got away from me and became singularly focused. But, honestly, I think it needed to be.

--You'll also have to indulge me while I spend the misc notes sprinkling out some truly amazing quotes from Ichabod and Abbie, and about them, in this episode.

--“Impossible!” “No, just highly improbable. Which, as luck would have it, is our stock in trade.”

--Ichabod is a Trekkie and recognizes that the "City on the Edge of Forever" is a superior episode. In hindsight, this is pretty clever foreshadowing that Abbie (Edith) would die.

--"Your heart belongs to Abigail Mills." Shippers have raged for days that Abbie and Danny gave into their underwhelming and underdeveloped love story. This episode seems to be a placation and an acknowledgement that Abbie and Ichabod are intertwined in ways that matter more than physical love without ever having them utter an "I love you."

--Good for Jenny, shooting Hidden One in the head and ending his life (and our misery of his character).

--"She was your hope. She was your everything. And I took her from you."

--Everything about the final moments between Ichabod and Abbie, opening with the pilot recall in the jail cell, to their talk in their archives, to their goodbye on the front porch--complete with one final Ichabod-style bow--was perfect in every single way that TV viewers and reviewers hope to have their main characters talk and interact. The fact that it ends with the devastating revelation that Abbie is really and truly dead....

--"We are eternal souls, Crane."

--"What is there for me in a world without you?" Goodbye, Abigail Mills. Goodbye.

--Will the show return? I don't know. Will I return if it does? I don't know. We'll see...we shall see.

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