Okay, after a self-mandated 24-hour cooling-off period, I think I’m ready to tackle that Friday night fiasco.
Once upon a time, Midlife Crisis Crossover provided same-night recaps of every episode of Sleepy Hollow. I’m not a pro reviewer entitled to advance copies of any TV shows, so every recap was an intense, on-the-fly, two- to three-hour marathon writing session, thinking and typing as quickly as I could to combine plot summary with top-of-my-head commentary in 1500- to 2000-word bursts — partly to see if I could do it, partly because sometimes there’s an audience for such a thing. This formerly fun exercise became a thankless chore if I paid too much attention to the competition from actual pro websites given days to prepare their material so they can click “Publish” mere seconds after each episode ends. It’s a nice luxury if you can work your way into it and don’t have to worry about sleep deprivation disrupting your full-time day job.
When Fox moved Sleepy Hollow to Fridays for the back half of season 3, I figured it was the perfect time to pull the plug on that ongoing MCC feature, not only due to diminishing returns but also because we have a family commitment every other Friday that precluded same-night recaps. Past experiences have taught me that delayed recaps are a waste of time and bandwidth, so that wasn’t an option, and that’s why this entry is not a straight-up recap. My wife and I still followed the show as fans, and every other week I’ve been live-tweeting it, which turned out to be a much better format for me. All of the MST3K-style improv joke-writing, none of the boring golf-commentator filler.
The timing worked out so that I could live-tweet last night’s season finale, “Ragnarok”, an astoundingly disappointing episode that encapsulated all of this season’s flaws to date, then one-upped them with the most poorly orchestrated mistake in series history. And after it was all over, I was there to watch the internet burn. Not just once, but twice.
(SPOILERS from here on out, in case you skipped the last day’s worth of entertainment headlines.)
This season has been overstuffed with new characters that never mattered to us. We thought our Big Bad would be the mythical, pompous Pandora, who acted as ringleader for this year’s first several monsters because reasons that varied month-to-month, but then we learned she was just a moll for the Hidden One, an old-fashioned nihilistic one-dimensional evil god who wanted Earth to perish so he could be happy and presumably really lonely. He didn’t even have the pleasure of an evil laugh, and evil gods without evil laughs are the kind of nemesis that populate many an unpublished fantasy novel.
Because our heroes Ichabod Crane and Abbie Mills had amazingly, creatively fun will-they/won’t-they chemistry, the new showrunners felt compelled to ruin this with a love triangle. Indecisive about which way to draw the triangle, they threw in multiple potential vertices and hoped any one of them would stick to their graph. We had Abbie’s old flame/new boss, FBI Agent Reynolds; we had Agent Sophie Foster, basically a spare Abbie; and we had the intrusive insertion of the legendary Betsy Ross, purportedly an old flame of Crane’s, revealed as a double-secret action spy and an eighteenth-century Forrest Gump who magically showed up at every major American historical point in time between 1760 and 1800. The producers apparently loved Betsy to pieces and thought we would too if she showed up in flashbacks again and again and again and again and again and again. Never mind that her tales beg the question of whether Crane hooked up with her before, after, or during his marriage to his once-beloved wife Katrina, who died near the end of season 2 and never appeared in a single season-3 flashback even though her death in no way wrote her out of existence.
Meanwhile in the background, Abbie’s sister Jenny remains a steadfast reminder that the show used to have cool costars until they killed or exiled them all. Instead of finding an individual purpose in her life apart from “Abbie’s sister”, she spent season 3 in forced romance with li’l Joe Corbin, which the early Fox press releases insisted was a “fan favorite” based on the one season-2 episode in which he turned into a Wendigo and really missed his much cooler dad. He brought to this team all the vaunted skills of hostage, gofer, worrywart, first-round fight loser, and cheerleader. Every other episode the writers would throw him a new trait that was supposed to make him more useful. (Did we mention he’s an EMT? Did we mention he’s ex-military? Did we mention he’s filthy rich? Did we mention we’ll keep approaching the male Mary Sue vanishing point until you promise to like him?) By my recount, the only fight he ever ended successfully this year was that time he smashed a fire zombie to smithereens with a big hammer, except he had to wait for Jenny to freeze him first, and then Joe hit him from behind and the day was saved. YO, JOE.
Last week Our Heroes were still treading water while the Hidden One crept ever closer to non-Biblical endtimes, in keeping with how the show has stopped hewing to the Book of Revelations ever since season 1 ended. Abbie and Jenny had brought in NYPD Blue‘s James McDaniel as Deadbeat Daddy Mills, who of course turns out to be a former best friend of the late, awesome Sheriff Corbin. Our Heroes teamed up with a scorned Pandora, but in the midst of foot-dragging chaos, a price was paid: Fan Favorite Joe Corbin reverted to killer Wendigo state and had to be killed before killing them. Oh, darn.
My live-tweets started with the usual intermittent chat-along, made more sense if you were watching the episode, and read as calm and reasonable at first…
Up to this point: after a stiffly staged showdown that largely consists of everyone standing still and yelling at each other across an empty room, the Hidden One has his power stripped, then Jenny caps him with a single bullet to the head, in such a delightfully simple way that would make Scott Evil proud (“I have a gun in my room…”). Pandora then reneges on the truce and decides now’s good for taking over the world. Crane brings back the Headless Horseman, who’s been incapacitated since the season premiere. He barely makes a difference, but eventually Pandora is stopped and her magic box destroyed, but at a price.
In order to save the world and make season 3 go away, Abbie sacrifices herself. The show kills her. One of its main characters. One of its two best characters. One half of the niftiest dynamic duo on current network TV. One of the two stars that put the show on the map and drew solid ratings in season 1 against all expectations. One of the precious few minority stars of a currently running fantasy/sci-fi show. It kills Abbie Mills dead.
As a parting gift, she gets an afterlife chat with special guest Clancy Brown as the late Sheriff August Corbin, who reminds us how much we’ve missed him since the pilot and his too-few flashbacks. And then he, Abbie, and Fan Favorite Joe Corbin all enjoy the afterlife in a way that’s meant to convey this is the kind of afterlife that forbids easy TV resurrections. The show all but reprises the Monty Python “dead parrot” sketch in making sure we know that Abbie has passed on. Abbie is no more. Abbie has ceased to be. Abbie’s expired and gone to meet her Maker. Abbie’s a stiff, bereft of life, resting in peace. Her metabolic processes are now history. She’s kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the Choir Invisible. Abbie Mills…is an ex-protagonist.
It took a while for me to work through the denial stage.
And so all the secondary characters move on, with Crane finding out that the “Witness” role now transfers from the late Abbie to another new Witness TBD, whom he’ll have to find and partner up with if there’s a season 4. So they’ve turned the show into a cut-rate Doctor Who in which the companion will regenerate every few seasons instead of the Doctor. Yay?
Crane tries to conclude the episode with something like a dignified, bittersweet farewell speech to Abbie’s headstone. But the showrunners decided they couldn’t bear to end on a moment of grieving or good acting, so in drives the Shadowy Government Conspiracy that we’d seen some boring interludes allude to in previous episodes. They cart Crane off in their evil SUVs for questioning or whatever, and the show ends on this bewildering, anticlimactic cliffhanger.
I was not happy. And I’m just some aging white guy. I had nothin’ on Black Twitter rage. And I don’t disagree with them.
I tried to work through it for the next few hours, with limited success…
By this time the entertainment sites had already been clicking “Publish” on their prepared post-show headlines, most providing verbatim quotes from separate official statements by the showrunners and by former star Nicole Beharie, each containing the same painstakingly worded sentiments that were approved by Fox and the PR reps of all involved parties. The Hollywood Reporter and Variety were more honest and troubling in their articles, in which her departure is officially confirmed and we’re just now told that Beharie had been unhappy for quite some time and wanted to exit the show months ago, but the producers took all year long to work up an exit strategy, only to throw up their hands and pretty much fail everyone on both sides of the TV screen in the end.
This was a terrible way to learn that during this mediocre season, meanwhile behind the scenes, things were falling apart.
For a while I just sat there reading through fans’ vitriol and heartbreak under the various hashtags — #SleepyHollow, #SleepyHolla, and the decidedly unhappier #ShadyHollow. ‘Round midnight I decided to say hi to west-coast fans when the Pacific Time Zone airing of the finale ended…
…and then, despite the typo, my phone exploded with notifications for the next few hours at the responses to this and subsequent tweets as the fury of both coasts united into a single, aggrieved, sustained roar.
Eventually I decided to head to bed early, skipping both writing and my usual Friday night gaming.
It didn’t help.
I spent most of today off-grid doing family stuff out of town. The break helped immensely. The finale still sucked, but the urge to type about it in all-caps has passed.
I mean, we knew season 3 would be a dicey proposition after season 2 wrapped up all previous plot strands with such a pretty bow. At best we’d be in for just another paranormal procedural. Maybe call it Grimmnatural X-Fringe. The important thing was we’d get more Abbie/Crane synergy, repartee, and tongue-in-cheek jabs at things that amuse or irk Crane. We got that on occasion, except for the numerous episodes in which they were separated, the episodes where one of the actors was on vacation that week, the episodes where Abbie’s personality was warped by her ten months in catacomb limbo, and the episodes where none of the show’s writers could figure out how to draw three straight lines and connect themselves a single love triangle.
We got a scant handful of always-lovable Abbie/Crane convos, and we got last fall’s creepy Tooth Fairy episode directed by Guillermo Navarro, more or less the highlight by default. Season 3 was largely a waste of hopes, but now the showrunners think in all sincerity that there’s a reason why Fox should let them keep their jobs. And they’re counting on us loving Tom Mison unconditionally with or without Leftenant Mills at his side.
Too bad they forgot what they wrote in their own scripts.
If you adored that final season of X-Files starring Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish, maybe you’ll love whatever Fox has in store next for Sleepy Hollow. Probably not six seasons and a movie.