Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Strong Women Series #2: The Women of 'Sleepy Hollow'

STRONG WOMEN SERIES #2: The Women of Sleepy Hollow
Deborah lives in Florida, where she spends her time writing things she never shows to anyone and occasionally some things that she does. Although she’s attending college for a degree in Communications, the only things she really enjoys communicating about are television, books, the art of storytelling, and how much she dislikes Florida weather. She has somehow accumulated an outrageous number of ballpoint pens, which is useful but rather peculiar.
Jenn did a fantastic job introducing this series, so I'm not really sure how to open this particular entry without simply repeating everything that she’s already said. Suffice to say that Sleepy Hollow has some fantastically strong, heroic, wonderful female characters, all of whom display a range of traits that vary from flawed to inspirational but consistently come off as incredibly, refreshingly human.

This is a show about a bunch of people – two Witnesses, a "freelance acquisitions" worker, a police captain, and a witch – who try to stop the Apocalypse from starting in a homey New York town where there are rose bushes on every block and a questionable number of Starbucks. In order for Sleepy Hollow to work, these characters have to be as real, as relatable, and as human as possible – and, thankfully, they are.

Lieutenant Grace Abigail "Abbie" Mills

"I lied to protect myself. I was a coward and I betrayed my sister. I turned my back on her when she needed me, and I will not do it again… It's my fault. You can come at me all you want, but I see you – and I'm not afraid anymore."

There's a moment in the first episode of the show, toward the end when Abbie's leaving Ichabod in his new psych hospital digs, where Ichabod calls out to Abbie and expresses his condolences for the loss of her partner/friend/father figure, Sheriff Corbin. As Abbie's nodding her thanks, her expression crumples – like she's trying her hardest not to cry. Captain Irving basically says the same words earlier in the episode – so why do these words from Ichabod seem to affect her, when Irving's just earn a brusque "thank you, sir"?

Because Abbie's job is over.

From the moment she discovered Sheriff Corbin's body, Abbie had a job to do: first, it was to figure out if Ichabod Crane had something to do with her mentor's death. When Ichabod was cleared, it was to figure out what his connection was to the actual killer, and when that was taken out of her hands her only job, really, was to get Ichabod to that psych ward cell. Once she's on her way out, Abbie's out of missions and she allows herself to feel again.

(Until, of course, she finds herself another mission. The new one's gonna last seven years, so she's in the clear.)

But in the first episode, the show does a great job setting up who Abbie is. She's strong and professional, almost to a fault. She's focused, even if it means denying her feelings and emotions. She's a survivor, and she knows she can't survive as a police officer if she lets her feelings get in the way of her job, so she stifles and compartmentalizes and keeps going forward.

This isn't always a good thing. Abbie's survival instinct is what made her betray her sister. It's probably what made her turn to lawbreaking when she was younger, what made her go to drugs and break into a pharmacy, might've been what made her want to skip school with Jenny and drink beers in the woods at fourteen in the first place. Abbie is a good person and a true hero; she is undoubtedly strong and self-sufficient, but these traits that make her a good witness to the Apocalypse, a good cop, would've made her a good FBI agent, they are the traits that lead to her only real friend being her boss and a breakup with a coworker that apparently involved Abbie simply not talking to him for days. Abbie is guarded; she doesn't like being hurt and she doesn't let people in because she knows that once she does, they can hurt her.

It seems like Abbie's need to survive, her prickly dealings with people and compartmentalization of her emotions, her sketchy past and terrible mistakes, all those things should conflict with her role as the hero. But they don't. Because being a hero isn't an all-encompassing state of existence that means you're flawless, that you're never allowed to hurt anyone – and I don't mean hurting people for the greater good, or hurting them on accident, but actually, willfully hurting them because it was the best way to save yourself at the time. I mean hurting people in that messy, selfish way that humans sometime do, because they're human and sometimes messy and selfish.

Being a hero doesn't mean you're never allowed to do anything wrong or your Hero Card gets revoked. It means trying and acknowledging your faults and doing your best to overcome them, to atone for whatever sins you've committed and doing your best not to commit more, and Abbie is undeniably doing that.

I have no doubt that Abbie became a cop because she wanted to help people and Sheriff Corbin taught her that being a cop was a way to do so. I have no doubt that Abbie's first instinct in any situation now is to help others rather than herself, because she's been burned by her own self-preservation in the past and it cost her her sister, the only family she truly had, and made her too ashamed to speak to Jenny for a long, long time.

Abbie is fundamentally good. She's caring, she's intelligent, she's loyal, grounded, considerate, competent, giving, and brave. She's also made some devastating mistakes in her life and is handy with a lockpick, did some drugs and some underage drinking in the woods and terrorized a few authority figures before she became one herself. Abbie isn't good with her emotions and isn't good at saying she's sorry but that doesn't mean she's not a hero and it doesn't mean she isn't strong, because she is absolutely, undeniably both.

Jennifer "Jenny" Mills

"I kinda learned long ago that if you don't fight for the things you stand for, then you don't really stand for them."

If Abbie is guarded, I'm not really sure what Jenny is. Hardened? Sharpened? Jenny's taken emotional compartmentalization to the extreme, put all her energy in learning how to keep herself safe and alive and sane, how to shoot a gun and fight her way out of trouble, but also educating herself on all the things in the world could cause her trouble. (Honestly, Jenny's knowledge of the arcane and legendary could probably rival Ichabod's, but she gained hers by doing while he mostly gained his from casual study.) On the surface she is probably the most "strong female character" of the lot, because she's taken all the levels in Badass and could teach the class a thing or two if she really wanted. Which she doesn't, because she's got other things to deal with and a world to help save.

Like her sister, she's the sort of person who prioritizes survival and stifles the emotional stuff that might get in the way. But unlike Abbie, Jenny's got the added influence of a serious (and seriously justifiable) grudge against all the people who have ever wronged her. This makes her more prone to lashing out and, while Abbie shoves all her feelings deep down and pretends she's okay even when she's not, Jenny lets hers out in the form of violence and strong, often hurtful words.

Jenny's also an incredibly convicted, morally black and white character – and by "morally black and white" I mean that Jenny judges friend and enemy based off whether or not the person's on her side. She doesn't seem to care if a person's iffy on the ethics so long as they're working for whatever goal she's got lined up. She is the good and the ones against her are the bad, and that seems like a bizarre worldview for a heroic person to have but you have to remember that Jenny's been embedded in the end of the world survival stuff since she was a teenager. She's been crying Armageddon – truthfully – for years, and no one thought to listen. By all accounts, Jenny's only been able to truly trust a single person for over a decade, and that person is herself.

There has always been a goodness to Jenny, though, underlying the jagged pieces of her personality. Even though she's her only ally, even though she's constantly angry and still hurt by Abbie's lie from way back when, she still cares enough about her sister to help her from a distance. It's revealed in episode 11 of the first season that part of the reason why Jenny stayed away from Abbie was because the demon Ancitif had possessed her and left behind a fear that Jenny might hurt – or kill – Abbie. So Jenny broke the law to keep herself behind bars, and maintained the impression that she hated Abbie and never wanted to speak to her, and had her blacklisted at Tarrytown Psychiatric just in case.

Jenny wanted so desperately to keep the sister she claimed to hate – a person against Jenny and therefore the enemy – safe that she sacrificed her own freedom in order to do so, because although Jenny Mills has been hardened and sharpened through years hurt, and perceived madness, and loneliness, she's still someone capable of acknowledging that she loved her sister even when she hated her, still wanted to look out for Abbie and, maybe, be able to forgive her. That's a strength Jenny possesses that didn't come from push-ups or learning to shoot a gun, but from her own inherent goodness.

Katrina Crane

"I do not wish to go to the effort of creating an independent country only to have it dictated by the same senseless customs as the motherland. If and when I marry, it will be out of love – otherwise, I know not what I'm fighting for."

That quote above, there? Said by a woman in the 1700s. Yeah, Katrina was a certain kind of strong long before the Apocalypse came along.

It's very clear that Katrina spends most of her time terrified. Terrified for herself, for Ichabod, for the son she never knew, and even for Abbie, a woman she'd never even met except through dream-walking and brief Purgatory visitations. She's had good reason to be terrified, since she was a pawn in this big Armageddon game and forced to spend hundreds of years in Purgatory (which, from what we've seen of Ichabod and Abbie's visits, is not the simple forest that it presents itself as for most of Katrina's interdimensional cryptic meet-and-greets) with the knowledge that she might have a part in the end of the world.

I think most people would be pretty terrified.

But Katrina is also pretty strong, too, because she tries her hardest to help Ichabod even though she can't actually help him, tries to do the best she can with what she has, and is also, like, a witch. So there's that.

Katrina’s role in season one had been a passive one, one that required strength of endurance rather than strength in action. She’s had to endure so much in her life (and afterlife) that it’s a wonder she hasn’t gone entirely insane like the other souls in Purgatory apparently have. She’s endured the death of her husband, the loss of her son to an unknowable future, being hunted down by her own coven, and finally being burnt for being a witch and sent to Purgatory to just wait, and wait, and wait, and hope that the two Witnesses could maybe, possibly save her – and the world – from the threat of Moloch.

Season two has Katrina prove that she has strength beyond the ability to endure, though she does have to endure quite a bit before her plans are in place. She shows that she’s smart and self-sufficient when she rejects Ichabod’s rescue attempt and says that she’s going to stick around in order to gather information for Team Anti-Apocalypse. This means that Katrina is willingly putting herself in harms way – staying within range of not one but two Apocalyptic Horsemen – so that she can do some spying and maybe save the day later on down the line. There’s also a hint that Katrina might be trying to turn her long-lost son over to the side of good, which is an impressive (if a bit na├»ve) endeavor that deserves some respect.

(I really hope she doesn't turn out to be evil after this is posted. If she does, though, I guess the strength is the fact that, well, impressive heel-face turn?)

So those are the women of Sleepy Hollow in all their strong, flawed, human, world-saving glory. Thanks for sticking around while I discussed at length why I think these characters are so wonderful, and thank you to Jenn for giving me the opportunity to do so. It’s been fun!

(Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t slip in a little plea here for everyone to watch – or keep watching – this fantastically weird show. Here’s hoping for a lot more episodes to showcase these strong women in the future!)
Thank you so much to Deborah for covering the women of Sleepy Hollow so beautifully and explaining why each one of them can be defined as "strong," even though on the surface, they appear to have nothing remotely in common. You can follow Deb on Twitter (@wordybee) and keep the Sleepy Hollow (or #CreepyHollow or #SassyHollow) conversation going. :)


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