4 Ways to Fix Sleepy Hollow Before It’s Too Late

sleepy hollowSleepy Hollow, Season 2, is driving me insane. If the damned show had been horrible from the beginning, I would have watched once and walked away. But Season 1 was flawed but fabulous; even the stuff that was stupid about it was so much fun, I couldn’t skip a single episode. So watching the people who own it systematically dismantle and discard every single good thing about it this year to add in a bunch of crap that just doesn’t work is just about more than I can stand. Since the mid-season premiere, it’s been breaking my heart so much, I find myself spending valuable time and brain energy I ought to be using on my own writing trying to figure out how to fix it. I don’t pretend for one minute that anybody cares what I think or that a post on my little backwater blog will help the actual show in the slightest. But in the grand tradition of magnolias everywhere, I’m hoping having my say will be enough.

1. How do you solve a problem like Katrina?

Love her or hate her, the character of Ichabod’s wife is the single biggest issue unraveling the fabric of the show right now. It’s time for the writers and producers to make two important decisions about Katrina: Is she good or evil? and Will she live or will she die? And they need to share those decisions with the audience sooner rather than later.

Any of these options could work. No, seriously–here, watch:

A good Katrina lives: This seems to be what they want, and they can have it; they just need to do it better. Katrina needs to stop swanning around like an undead supermodel–Morticia Addams is a great character, but she’s been done, and she doesn’t fit in Sleepy Hollow. So we soften her up, get back to more of the sweetly sexy Quaker chick she started out to be in Season One with a generous smattering of the witty girl who was digging reality TV when she first came out of Purgatory. She needs to reconnect with her coven (remember, they’re still around) and start doing more fun witchy stuff and less life or death dark magic that invariably falls short because that shit is just annoying. (For fans of Practical Magic, more Sandra Bullock, less Nicole Kidman.) Most importantly, she needs to get the fuck into the background of the story. The leads are Ichabod and Abbie; the quest (or quests-of-the-week under the new game plan) are ultimately theirs. If Ichabod is happily married, that could be totally awesome. Katrina could provide valuable information and the occasional assist, and their domestic life could add a lot to the whole “man out of time” side of Ichabod’s character–they could be cute as hell discovering the 21st century together if they weren’t constantly wading through sticky bogs of angst. If this is what we’re aiming at, we need to resolve the whole redemption of Abraham and Henry and Hitler and anybody else Katrina wants to save RIGHT THE FUCK NOW, let the Cranes be in love with one another, and move on.

Good Katrina dies: This is a quicker fix that would silence the cries of a lot of haters (and raise the wails of the small but vocal Katrina Fan Club). Let Katrina and Ichabod’s relationship stay ambivalent and angsty, have her working on some big project to prove herself to him or, better yet, save him–maybe she knows something about the spell that resurrected him that she hasn’t told us yet. In the eleventh hour, she enlists Abbie’s help, and Abbie does everything she can to help her. And the project succeeds, but Katrina dies. Maybe she always knew she would; maybe her magic can only resurrect one 18th century hottie at a time. The Abraham Conundrum could be solved as part of this same storyline–he can be redeemed and waiting for her on the other side. This would leave Ichabod and Abbie with a lot of survivor guilt to deal with and doesn’t really seem to fit in with the lighter mood the show’s producers say they want. But it could work.

But let’s say Katrina is a baddie . . . .

Bad Katrina dies: The same scenario as above, except her big project is destructive rather than redemptive. I would introduce this with a flashback from Henry’s point of view to the night Moloch was killed. At some point in the action, while everyone is focused on Irving or Moloch or whatever, Henry sees his mother do something horrible, casting some spell that takes Moloch’s force into herself or something–Henry sees Katrina become the Big Bad. And either he really has had an epiphany where he wants to save his dad and be good as it seems (and has disappeared all this time to whip up a way to beat Mama) or he’s still bad but literally mad as hell to see Mama stealing his thunder. In any case, it all builds to a huge confrontation that shatters Ichabod and kills Katrina. Less survivor guilt, but way more melodrama.

Bad Katrina lives: This is the one that is almost but not quite impossible. Katrina is a bad witch, but not so bad that she has to be destroyed. She shows her hand, and Ichabod denounces her, but either he can’t bring himself to kill her or Abbie convinces him that he’d never forgive himself if he did. And either Katrina would go away and never come back, taking Abraham with her, or she could be a secondary villain next season, Ichabod’s evil ex living in the woods, selling magical beauty products and occasionally causing trouble. I would call this the least satisfying possibility just because it plays into the Katrina-hatred and makes it worse going into a new season – assuming there’d be a new season at all.

My point if I have one is, they can do whatever they want with Katrina and make it work; they’ve just gotta go ahead and do something.

2. So what about Hawley?

Hawley’s gotta die. There’s no hope for it; this Matthew McConaughey as the lost Winchester brother by way of Uncharted has got to go. The actor playing him is just cute as the dickens–and that’s the problem. If they wanted him to be a viable member of the team (and a viable rival for Ichabod in the affections of Abbie and the audience), they needed an Alexander Skarsgard, not a Ryan Kwanten. Edgy as a grilled cheese sandwich, mysterious as corn flakes, the best function he can serve right now is as a blood sacrifice to the plot. The Mills sisters shouldn’t be fighting over this slab of plain cream cheese.

3. Henry? Irving? Jenny? Sheriff Reyes?

All of these background characters have been nicely established, and there should be plenty for all of them to do in a story that still keeps Ichabod and Abbie at its center. Whatever the deal is with Irving, it needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible or conflated sufficiently to make him (or whatever oppresses him) a viable Big Bad for a brand new storyline. Ditto with Henry. I love Jenny; I think she could easily take on the functions of both Katrina (witchy-poo stuff and arcane magical knowledge) and Hawley (kick-ass magical weapons and a little black book full of convenient dark side contacts) while still having an emotional stake in what happens with her sister that can’t be shaken. And Sheriff Reyes has evolved from being another needless cipher to the obligatory exasperated authority figure this kind of story needs.

4. Okay, smartypants, you’re fooling no one,  you ‘shipper, you. What about Ichabbie?

I admit it; I would love to see Ichabod and Abbie become a couple eventually. They have great chemistry; they have great banter; and they look absolutely beautiful together. But with all the Katrina stuff they’ve had so far, even if they pluck Ichabod’s wife out of the equation for good before the end of this season, I think it would take at least another season to work back to that being a viable, non-skeevy plot option.  And if the show lasts and at some point there is an Ichabod and Abbie love connection, I would really, REALLY hope they would get together, stay together, and MOVE THE FUCK ON. These two could be a great couple – but that should never be what this show is about. Whether they’re lovers or friends or just fellow travelers, they’re on this journey together; they’ve got stuff to do, a world to protect, evil to vanquish. Would I like to see them having a little pillow talk between battles? Of course; I’m a freakin romance novelist. Do I think the show needs that to succeed? Absolutely not. And if that ever became the primary focus of the plot, it would kill it faster than Katrina in a little black dress. And the way to make it a non-issue is NOT to create more angst with an on-again/off-again; will they/won’t they conflict but to let them be happy in their relationship and get back to fighting monsters.

I still don’t think any of this is what’s actually going to happen on the show, but I feel better. No one can say I didn’t try. Anybody else got any ideas they need to get off their chest? My comments section is your comments section.

AHS: Ready for the end game . . . .

FX_AHS_ImageGallery_0000_03Last night I was laid low with a migraine and didn’t live tweet American Horror Story: Coven, though I was watching and shrieking right along with everybody else.  So I’m thinking maybe now, as we go into the long dry spell that is the holiday break, might be a good time to stop and take stock of where we are in more than 140 characters.

Regular readers of the blogness might recall that I started off the season after the premiere saying that I loved this new story of the New Orleans witches and the voodoo queens who loathe them even though it punched nearly every button on my hate list for horror.  Poisonous poontang, crazy church ladies, rape rape and more rape, and anal atrocity when all else fails to shock – those tropes are all still there in almost every episode, and I don’t like’em any better now than I did in October.  But the good still outweighs the bad, and even if it didn’t, I couldn’t give up this story without finding out how it comes out to save my sanity.

So, the bad:

  • When Queenie begged the Minotaur to “love” her in the garden shed and ended up with even lower self esteem and obvious internal injuries.  They almost lost me with that one.  Queenie deserved better as a character, and though she did a fantastic job of playing the scene without flinching, Gabourey Sidibe deserves better as an actress.   In a recent episode when Queenie slaughtered a would-be rapist, I saw what they did there, contrasting the old Queenie with the new.  But it still felt clumsy, cruel and unnecessary.
  • All those damned crazy mamas.  What. The. Fuck, Y’all?  Did Mare Winningham lose a bet?   And unless she’s going to rise up with something brilliant in the final act, the Patti Lupone character is a waste of space put in for no better reason than to make mean fun of Christian fundamentalism in all its repressed, Lysol-wielding glory.  All I can say is bleah.
  • The way nobody on the voodoo side of New Orleans has any personality except Marie Laveau.  Over at Miss Robichaux’s Academy, even the portraits hanging on the walls have an intricate backstory.  At Marie Laveau’s, people just come in to get their hair done and get shot.
  • The pacing on the witch hunter plot.  While the writers may have known about Hank’s family history and the big bad Delphi Trust from the beginning, it felt like this was a great big daemon ex machina brought in last night to push everything to a crisis for the final act, a brilliant notion that occurred to somebody over their Thanksgiving turkey.  I like it; it works; it just seems like too big a plot point to have been a secret until this point in the story.  But I’m willing to be talked out of this one; this may just have been a slow reveal on Hank.

But enough nitpicking; on to the Very, Very Good:

  • Kathy Bates, Kathy Bates, and ever more Kathy Bates.  No other actress could have played the character arc of The Education and Dismemberment of Delphine LaLaurie and made it not only make sense but be genuinely moving.  We know she’s a monster, the worst on display here, and yet we’re rooting for her; we want her to get better; we want Queenie to save her soul.  Last night watching her disembodied head weep to hear Odetta sing about freedom should have been Grand Guignol comedy, but it wasn’t.  Intercut with the horrific images of Hank’s massacre in the hair salon, it made me cry.  And that’s the thing about this whole story, the thing that makes it better than the first season.  It’s not just cool and edgy and scary and shocking – it’s human and heartfelt, too.
  • Every little thing about Fiona.  Speaking of touching scenes, nothing has gotten to me more all season than Fiona helping the grieving mother in the hospital resurrect her stillborn daughter.  I love her twisted love for Cordelia; I love her desperate love for herself; I love the way she loves the Axe Man and the way he loves her back.  This part was obviously written purely as a love letter to Jessica Lange, and she’s proving she’s worth every word.
  • The weird-ass love triangle between Zoe, Kyle (better known at our house as Frankenwiener), and Madison.  It tickles me to see these two teen-age girls, one outwardly shy and inwardly certain, the other just the opposite, create their own version of Prince Charming and share him like a toy.  Extra points for the way Fiona has taken him up as a pet.
  • Every moment between Queenie and Delphine.
  • Every shot of Angela Bassett’s exquisitely beautiful face which somehow manages to be stony and expressive at the same time.
  • Myrtle, the most specific and cuckoo version of the classic crone figure I’ve ever heard tell of.
  • All the incredible visual details and layers of gorgeous horror, from Madison’s outfits to the sight of Myrtle burning at the stake – this is what gothic should always look like.  For once, a piece of art lives up to its title sequence.

So now we wait until January 8.  Truth be told, I don’t really care who the new Supreme is; I just want to know what happens next.

From one scary magnolia to another . . . American Horror Story: Coven

AHSCovenOkay, my kittens, it’s not going to sound like it, but I promise you from the bottom of my twisted heart, I really, really loved the premiere episode of American Horror Story:  Coven.  I hate stories about torture, people being burned alive, gang rape, and that most misogynistic of symbolic horror tropes, the deadly vagina dentata (or as my extremely clever baby sister, Alexandra Christian, described it in this incarnation, Black Magic Pussy).  I  hate stories where every woman is either a mealymouthed victim or a murdering bitch.  I hate stories about the South where pretty much everybody native comes off as a f*cking crazy person.  Coven;  Episode One was oozing with all this nastiness like pus oozing out of a boil; by all rights, I should have hated it.

But I didn’t.  Because the one doing the torturing was Kathy Bates, playing Delphine LaLaurie, a real life psychopathic southern belle who would make Annie Wilkes cry for her mama.  And the girl who was burned alive by crazy Loo-Zee-Anna fundamentalists is gonna come back and kick ass.  And the girl who was raped blows up a whole bus to get even. And that Black Magic Pussy is attached to a character with potential to be either a sensitive witness or an avenging angel,Ophelia or Medea or both, and I can’t even begin to predict which it will be.

And maybe that’s the point.  So much of what we saw is so familiar, archetypal, plugged straight into my own Southern gothic woman’s sensibilities that I felt immediately at home, but nothing is how I would have written it.  It’s like watching the story my evil twin would write on a steady diet of tabloids and absinthe.  That bitch is crazy, but I gotta know what she’s gonna show me next.

Other goodies that make it all worthwhile:

Jessica Lange dancing to Iron Butterfly and firing off killer one-liners like Bette Davis run magically amok.

The gorgeous way everything is lit and framed and filmed, no matter how ugly the action.

Frances Conroy’s red hair and cigarette.

The feeling, for the moment at least, that everything means something, that everything has a point, that the story is going to hang together and make some kind of awful sense.  Season 1 of AHS fell to tatters by the end, and I hear Season 2 was plagued with a swampy middle.  But watching this first episode, I can still have faith.

Lex and I are live tweeting every episode (@LucyBlueCastle and @LexxxChristian), so by all means, come watch with us next week.  In the meantime, what did y’all think?

 

Sleepy Hollow: All I expected and just enough more

sleepy hollowNot that anybody cares, but Washington Irving’s original “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was not a scary story.  Not remotely gothic beyond some lovely travelogue-like description of the Hudson River Valley, it’s an early American satire, a comedy about how the salt of the earth manly men of an American wilderness town turn an artistic, intellectual, woman-stealing nancy boy’s own poetical imagination against him to run him out of their territory and away from their potential mates.  There was no headless horseman, and Ichabod Crane was nobody’s idea of a hero.  Disney did a pretty straightforward cartoon adaptation as far as story, but the imagery of the Headless Horseman was so deliciously scary, nobody remembers he was a fake.  Johnny Depp, with his portrayal of “Ichabod Crane, Girl Detective” (his words, not mine, and utterly perfect), hit close to Washington Irving’s original skittish schoolmaster in his mannerisms, but he was a forensic detective who pushed past his fear to kick ass when courage was required, saving the day in the end.  And oh yeah, the Horseman really was an evil Redcoat from beyond the grave.  And there were witches.

FOX’s new series, Sleepy Hollow, seems to pick up where Tim Burton left off, adding a time link element to this new Horseman mythology.  Ichabod is a Revolutionary soldier/spy who looks like he stepped off the cover of a nicely-designed 1980s romance novel.  He finds himself in the Sleepy Hollow of today, a fish out of water with Oxford diction, allied with Abbie, a gorgeous lady cop in mannish clothes that show off her cleavage, a pretty pro straight out of the Dana Scully playbook.  Watching the promos, I anticipated one more network supes show where the Magic Man spends half his time trying to convince Miz Pragmatic he’s not crazy and Miz Pragmatic spends half her time with her head in her purse.  But they’ve got sexual tension and a pile of corpses to explain, so gosh darn it, they better team up.  <yawn>  I mean, just look at that promo picture – could those four characters look any more focus group ready?

But  . . . . I watched the first two episodes.  And while yeah, it starts out very much as expected, it veers straight off that rail and into fun stuff almost immediately.  Ichabod (Tom Mison) is stalwart and intense and handsome, yes.  But he’s also snarky and warm and ready to fight back not only against the Headless Horseman but against the modern day skeptics who think he’s delusional and possibly dangerous.  Abbie (Nicole Beharie) is smart and capable and rocks the hell out of a scoop neck teeshirt.  But she’s also kind and vulnerable in a genuinely womanly way (not the “she goes in the bathroom and cries for ten minutes every day about her ticking biological clock just to prove she has a uterus” way writers of this kind of show usually fall back on) with her own connection to the supernatural events that’s just as real and strong as Ichabod’s.  Plus we have Orlando Jones as the usual doubting cop in charge – except this time, he may have a secret of his own, a reason for roadblocking our protagonists that goes beyond the “I’m too cynical for this shit” cliché.  And John Cho is wandering around as a zombie cop with connections to the Horseman.  And best of all, Clancy Brown haunts the warmest corners of the story as the ghost of Abbie’s mentor, the late sheriff and the Horseman’s highest profile victim.  Any show that uses Clancy Brown as a good guy pretty much has me at hello.

There are problems – I’m not convinced yet by the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” angle (must the stakes ALWAYS be the end of the world?), and Ichabod’s witch wife, caught between worlds, seems more like a plot complication created to keep the leads from smooching until sweeps month than a necessary element of the story.  But of all the new shows I had hope for this fall (I’m looking at you, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D), this one has been the happiest surprise.

Watch tonight at 9 o’clock on FOX – and come over and live Tweet with me (@LucyBlueCastle)!