Friday, December 5, 2014

Sleepy Hollow is severely jacked up, but it's not yet unsalvageable

Once upon a time, there was an awesome little show that featured women and multiracial men in prominent roles, built on what made Supernatural addictive but in it's own way, and was delightfully bonkers. Like, super-bonkers, but anchored to reality in this world full of lots of different characters with lots of different points of view. Also a lot of factions, that you're not sure where on the good-evil spectrum they lie, and a rich mythos based mostly in biblical stuff with with a fresh sideways slant.

It was a hit immediately, and by the second episode had a strong and vocal fandom, and because of that, there was a second season the writer hadn't expected.

Red flag #1, because it's rarely a good idea to expand a show just because the network says so.

It started cool, with Ichabod and Abbie fighting together to get Abbie out of Purgatory and back to the goal of stopping the apocalypse. But, apparently, there were issues behind the scenes--writers let go, new writers brought on, a newshowrunner. And within two or three episodes, the difference was like night and day.

Hessians, Masons, those two warring witch covens we barely met? Gone, as if they never were. Guidance from Ghost Corbin? Gone without even ever deciding whether he was actually a ghost or if Abbie is cracking under the strain. Frank and Jenny, two strong, interesting, and awesome characters with complex interactions with the rest of the cast and the world, who were only just promoted to full cast members? Shuffled off and hardly in any scenes, with the thinnest slips of story to barely hang on to. Ichabod's weird and useful historical information, that both informs the case, illustrates his life, and shows the way he used to live is often in unsettling contrast with how the modern world works? Traded for this weird place where a) Ichabod knows everything, but at the same time b) Ichabod didn't actually know anything, and c) any actual historical context is removed entirely, so nothing is being recast in a new light anyway.

Hell, even the multifarious and constant threat from the otherworld? Headless was defanged, losing his threat and his spookiness, Moloch was normalized, losing the weirdness that made him so different and strange, and every single other villain we met was directly related to him--meaning every other evil they'd faced had somehow disappeared without comment, leaving only Moloch. And Henry, who had been neat and reluctant and powerful in a tragic way, and is now doing his best to act through the pile of one-dimensional "my daddy who didn't know I existed was a bad daddy" BS they've given him. I mean, he's War, but he's also physically separated from his power by remote control, and that seems symbolic of what has happened to the show.

Worst, though, than everything else, is that they've taken the core out of the show: the way two wildly different people come together to face impossible odds because literally no one else can. Abbie and Ichabod were the heart and soul, her teaching him about the modern world, him teaching her about the weird history she didn't know about. Now, Ichabod keeps talking a good gave and then totally disregarding Abbie at every turn. Abbie keeps rolling over and letting him. And Katrina, who could have been very helpful, keeps walking face-first into stupid situations without any hint of the power or knowledge she should have, and because he's her husband, Ichabod keeps ditching his own common sense to go along with it. Even the one time when she goes without his permission--something she shouldn't need anyway--he goes along with it, negating the need for her to have not told him, and leaving Abbie with this bad news that shouldn't have been dropped on her anyway.

Plus, with Corbin gone, and Frank in the assylum just when she was starting to trust him, Abbie is without guidance, and she hasn't looked elsewhere for it. Her relationship with Jenny was just starting to repair and is now, except for the one episode with their mother, almost entirely off screen because Jenny is off screen. Andy is dead again and has never even hinted at coming back, or even yet been mourned or reconciled, just ignored. Luke, who she once loved, is also dead and unmentioned. The new Sheriff is still entirely a blank wall, as far as how she even matters to the story. All interpersonal relating has been sacrificed to Ichabod coddling Katrina and Katrina continuing to say a lot of stuff she isn't proving.

And that doesn't even get into the new white guy who was supposed to be a needless love triangle, then took over most of Jenny's role without her arguing it or even working with him, and now is just sort of floating around having not much character. Or how Katrina was literally used in one of the grossest and most overdone bad tropes, just to make Moloch less interesting.

Ratings are down, and fans are pissed.

But! It's not dead yet!

At least, it doesn't have to be. There's still some episodes left this season, and it might yet turn out that this was all part of a long con on the part of the story--a gamble that they're hoping pays off with a huge season end.

It might be too late for that, but the story is only a little over half way through one bad season, coming off of one really good season, and it can be resurrected. Here's some ideas how:

Behind te scenes:
- Stop the writers from pi locally patting themselves on the back for the dumbest, grossest storylines that force the characters to act like they don't even know who they used to be.
- Make them pay more attention to the criticism.

On the show:
- Jenny back in the near-center of the story, working on her relationship with Abbie--including how, this season, she was ignored an awful lot.

- Frank, somehow not stupid, back from the dead--in a way that works with the plot: he's now the new War, and they have to make him remember who he is, or he's turning into a demon and they need to save his contested soul, or he's a ghost because of that contested soul and can't rest--and doesn't want to, because he has a job to do.

- Follow through with Jenny's promise to take care of his family--they've only just discovered that the supernatural exists, his daughter was possessed with no chance yet to process it, and now they've lost their dad. That's a chance to build the story, to give Jenny her own life, AND to make Frank's death matter, whether he comes back or not.

- Katrina is a whole other post in herself, but to start, give her actual power--or reveal that she's been actively hiding it; stop making her a ties up useless princess without some indication that she's doing it on purpose, or playing everyone, or at least learning that women don't allow themselves to be used like that anymore.

- Make Ichabod realize that he's been an ass all season, and actively try to repair all the friendships he's sacrificed for this wife who just causes trouble.

- Give Hawley something substantial to do, that involves character arc without shoehorning him in as a needless love interest no on has time for. Or, if he's going to be one anyway (though I think that got scrapped), give him enough story and development that he earns the right to be one. Let Jenny use her skills, though; he was a flipping full on Tomb Raider, and she's used none of that since he showed up.

- Bring back the whole rest of the world. The local Masons were all slaughtered by Headless, so who took their place? What are the Freemasons themselves doing about that? What about the Hessians who are hiding in plain sight all over the town, being a sleeper cell of evil? What about the good witches and bad witches that were established in the first episode, but that we've never met modern examples of? Who are they? What do they think about these Witnesses? How has magic-using changed in the two hundred years Katrina was in Purgatory? And what about the Native American wiseman and Big Ash? Are they another side to this battle, or aligned with one of the main powers? What about Templars? What about psychics? What about priests like the one from the first episode, who know what's what and are guarding the truth?

- Give Ichabod other context. His dad was a piece of work that he had to try to escape--did he never try to get his son back? What happened to his mom? Who were his friends and fellows who were not historical figures? And while we're at it, if she's determined to stay around and not be evil, let's get Katrina learning about the modern world and having opinions about it, her catching up on arcane lore, her making contact with local magic users and being amazed at how hippy-dippy it all is, her having friends and a life and flashbacks that don't involve only how she impacted Ichabod's life--give her a life and a history of her own. Tell us whether she was born magic or found it? Apprenticed or stole the knowledge? And once and for all whether she's good, bad, or on some unknown third side she would then speak for.

- Make the flashbacks useful again--not just explaining, but contrasting the old world and the new.

- Expand (or start to expand) on the whole Witness thing. Like, Ichabod and Abbie are a whole history of a country apart. Why are they the pair? Did each of them have a match in their own time that died, or was never called because they met each other, or was corrupted by evil? If the mantle of the Horsemen can be stripped, can Witness be stripped and given to someone else, too? If actual real demons are behind the Horsemen, are actual real angels behind the Witnesses, and are they the weird kind from the Old Testament, with too many faces and eyes and stuff? Are there two other Witnesses or Witness-likes who are supposed to evenly match the Four Horsemen, as opposites, and are they still out there? Have Abbie and Bod even started to access their power as Witnesses?

- Bring back Corbin. We barely scratched the surface of this guy who mentored both Abbie and Jenny in very different ways, while keeping them both separate and ignorant of each other's training. Why? How? What else does he know? Can he be their Jedi-Force-Ghost mentor, making them stronger and better? I think he can.

- Give us other villains. Opportunistic ghosts and spirits. Other demons with no shared plans who step up now that Moloch is deposed (if not actually dead). Old gods who have something to say about all this broo-ha-ha going on these days. Native creatures and creatures brought over from Europe with the settlers. New monsters made by the modern world. Back of on the main villain to every thre or four episodes, so the cast can learn and develop skills, and so his movements come as actual surprises, not a sort of "what the crap is he doing now" sort of annoyance because we're sick of him. Give him his mystery back. Give evil in general their mystery back. Remember how spooky those black-oil Harry-Potter-looking ghosts in the church looked?

- Bring it back to the biblical apocalypse and back off on the famous white guys history--flesh it out with other ideas of apocalypse that maybe Abbie knows more about, or that they have to find new experts on, and make friends with. And give us more of Grace and her tragic descendants--and maybe more like her, people who were or had been slaves, but had a secret mission. Native Americans (ancestors of the current dudes?) who knew about this stuff, too, and had to preserve their knowledge through the genocide of their people. Unrelated people through the last two hundred years who guarded history and were ignored by it, who saved sacred artifacts, who recorded weird events that can help our heroes, who tried to be Witnesses--and who were, but who died anyway, like when Buffy met the old Slayers and had to figure out how not to do whatever they did. 

- Take all the opportunities to comment on historical idiocy while also staying light and cheerful and optimistic and active--instead of ignoring those chances while being heavy and angsty in a bad way, and walking in circles without making any headway.

Me too, Ichabod! That's the dream of how the show could be, and that, I think, should be where it aims.

Barring that, cancel it now, but sign te whole mess up for Amazon Kindle Worlds or whatever it's called, and let the fans write how it should be, and get paid for it, and make it something amazing and powerful and world changing--since Fox, yet again, seems incapable of doing it. Or sell it to another channel that will allow it to be what it is--charming, cheerfully off the rails in the way that means they're doing unusual things and commenting on story tropes, not the way that means they don't know what they're doing, full of complex emotions and interactions, diverse characters moving through and impacting a complex and detailed world, and all the good stuff that a supernaturally-based story can bring, and that very few shows have, to date.

Give me that.
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