Man. After a long string of sub-par, at times downright terrible episodes, Sleepy Hollow finally came back strong with last night’s episode. Er, well, I say strong, but I really just mean “stronger than the last episodes”—not that that would take much. “Mama” illustrated both the show’s strengths and its weaknesses, and gives us some idea as to where the show is headed as it barrels towards its mid-season finale.
Sleepy Hollow has been praised, and rightly so, for its inclusion of women and people of color, yet for a show that’s seemingly open to viewers whom other media often overlook, I’m surprised that this particular episode did not come with a trigger warning at the beginning. If even Teen Wolf can do it, Sleepy Hollow has no excuse. And this episode certainly needed some trigger warnings, so let me provide them for you here: trigger warnings for mental illnesses, psychiatric wards, solitary confinement, impersonation of trusted authority figures, suicidal ideation, and explicit depictions of suicide after the jump.
Sheriff Reyes assigns Abbie to look into a case at Tarrytown Psychiatric—three people have killed themselves in the past three days, and apparently that’s pretty unusual for them. Ichabod, who’s down with a cold, wants to come along, but instead Abbie gets Hawley to look after Ichabod and takes Jenny with her to Tarrytown. There, the two sisters find that a “ghost” may be killing the patients—and that ghost looks like their mother, Lori Mills. Lori was held at Tarrytown for some time and also committed suicide there. The sisters’ suspicions only get stronger when Lori steals Abbie right out of Jenny’s and Hawley’s grasps and teleports her to an old abandoned wing of the hospital.
However, Abbie quickly discovers that Lori was only trying to deliver a message about the real killer: a “nurse” by the name of Gina Lambert. Lambert, a demon sent by Moloch, had been sneaking into patients’ rooms as a “nurse” and offering them drugs that made them very susceptible to suggestions, and her suggestions were what led to both Lori’s suicide and the suicides and attempted suicides in this episode. Fortunately, Abbie, Jenny, and Lori, in a stunning show of amazingness, were able to defeat Lambert, and Abbie and Jenny were then able to send their mother to rest.
I don’t want to spend too long on the evil asylum trope part of this episode, but as that is the setting, let’s discuss it first and get it out of the way. Tarrytown hasn’t been the best representation of a mental hospital ever, as it perpetuates ableist tropes about its staff and about its patients, but this episode actively worked to make that representation even worse. We already know from Jenny’s and Irving’s experiences that the nurses and staff in Tarrytown are not the most attentive or the most caring; why did “Mama” have to revolve around a nurse who literally did not have the patient’s best interests at heart? Tarrytown is already swathed in lonely greys and dull sepia; why did “Mama” feel the need to up the ante and introduce entire abandoned hallways with flickering lighting and wrecked furniture? Why is the representation of mental hospitals in speculative fiction too often this horror movie ideal?
But, moving on, for the extremely objective reason that talking about this for too long makes me feel nauseous. What was awesome about this episode? The. Mills. Family. If I had to pick Mills family drama or Crane family drama, I would pick Mills family drama all day, every day, twice on Sundays. The show almost made us believe that this would be a monster-of-the-week episode, but by tying Lori Mills into this plotline, Sleepy Hollow took a gigantic leap out of its current rut and made a passable run at glory. We never knew much about the Mills parents; we only knew that Abbie and Jenny were in foster care from a young age. Now we finally got to delve into some of their background—and what a background it was, too. It turns out that Lori had been hounded by demons who wanted to come after her and her children, particularly our Witness, Abbie, and what Abbie and Jenny had seen as their mother’s overbearing demands had actually been Lori’s heartfelt attempts to keep them safe. Even after Lori was in Tarrytown, she had tried to keep the demons away from her children, and even after she died, she watched over Jenny in Tarrytown. Talking to their mother finally gave the sisters some closure.
Strength runs deep in the Mills family, and that strength is readily apparent in every family member. To prove this, you need look no further than Jenny Mills. Stuck in a place that had nothing but the worst memories for her, faced with a traumatic family history, and confronted with the task of saving her sister at the eleventh hour, Jenny Mills looked pain and possibly PTSD straight in the face and said “Not today, motherfuckers!” (Hawley got to hold her flashlight.) Jenny’s actress, Lyndie Greenwood, was a true revelation this episode, and having her on my screen for almost the entire episode made me seethingly angry at the writers for absolutely wasting her character in all the previous episodes.
And speaking of amazing Millses, Jenny’s discovering Grace’s notebook may possibly imply that Grace was a witch herself, with some powerful spells at her disposal. This could be both good and bad—good, because now at least Grace Dixon has some agency and something to her character outside of delivering Katrina Crane’s doomed child, and because we now have some canonical hints as to the Mills’s ancestry (though I would have preferred a little more specific than “West Africa”). It was also bad, because Grace Dixon is the one who raised that child for at least part of his life; if she were a witch, wouldn’t she have recognized the signs in Jeremy as well? What is plot, Sleepy Hollow?
And as we’re on witches, this is a good place to talk about what didn’t work this episode. What exactly does it take to be a witch, or to have magic, in the Sleepy Hollow universe? Katrina is a witch, and so far Abbie has been doing a stellar job at being a witch by repeating some of Katrina’s words or reading her incantations. So, for that matter, has Ichabod. This episode, Jenny also reads an incantation and it also works. Is reading an incantation all that’s needed for magic to happen? If Grace was a witch and has bequeathed her witch knowledge and spells to the Mills sisters via her notebook, and if all you need to do to be a witch is to read some stuff, what is Katrina’s purpose in the plot? To be a mother figure to Henry and demon baby Moloch? And if she has no plot or character relevance outside of that, how long can we keep up this charade of Katrina being a useful character?
For that matter, Ichabod was pretty much benched for this entire episode due to a convenient illness. Abbie, Jenny, and Lori had a very strong plotline going, so that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing; sometimes shows with ensemble casts choose to focus on only a couple of them per episode, and as long as there’s no Crane-esque “wait in the car” moment, it’s an acceptable part of storytelling. No, the problem is that Sleepy Hollow seemed to bench one white guy for a different white guy: Hawley. Who then proceeded to do nothing but hold hands and bring Ichabod soup. Listen, if you want someone to bring Ichabod soup and hold the Mills sisters’ hands, Tumblr has a line of volunteers longer than a Black Friday queue at Wal-Mart, but that doesn’t mean that Hawley was at all a necessary part of this episode. Hawley started his Sleepy Hollow stint by taking Jenny’s rightful role as master amoral badass with shady connections, and now he’s taking Ichabod’s role as master Abbie suitor. In short, he doesn’t bring anything unique to the narrative—he’s only there to do things that other characters could do better. How long does this have to keep going on before the writers see that Hawley is unnecessary?
Next time on Sleepy Hollow, Irving’s finally out of Tarrytown, Moloch has grown into a little kid, and Katrina continues to be a mother trope for Moloch and Henry. What do you think will happen as we head into the two-part finale? Come on down same time next week and tell us your answer.