Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Stories Don't Exist in a Vacuum: The Sleepy Hollow Finale Problem

I had fallen a few episodes behind on "Sleepy Hollow".  I didn't dislike this season as much as some did, I thought they were working to create some additional members of the Scooby gang, that was going to serve the show well.  Yes, I found Pandora and her whatever god dude and Betsy Ross annoying.  But I also didn't like Headless as much as other people did, so that seemed less a quality decline and more a failure to improve.  I agreed with the post imploring the show to give Abbie an onscreen love interest.  While the time skip was great, it seemed eternally unfair that Crane has had love interests in every season both in the past and present, and Jenny was now all snuggled up, and Abbie finally had a relationship...that took place entirely during the time skip.  I kept hoping they were working up to getting that reunion on screen for her, and well, I kept hoping. 
But Friday, my twitter rose up as one and cried out.  And so, even though I was still a few episodes behind I peeked at the hashtag, to learn that Abbie had been killed off. 
I am not privy to contract decisions, but whether the actress initiated it or not, ultimately the show decided to kill her off.  There were other ways, it would have been tough, but nothing a good writer team couldn't have done.  Off the top of my head, they could have determined that the witnesses power worked better in separate locations, she could have been transferred by the FBI (after all she somehow was able to go to and graduate Quantico in the time skip), she could have somehow transferred her witness-ness to her sister so that she could go fight supernatural crime in California, or she could have been sent off to hunt a specific magical thingamabob while Crane and the rest of the gang kept an eye on things in Sleepy Hollow. 
But they chose to kill her.  And look, I can see why they might have felt that was the only way to take out a main character.  I do not agree.  But if they felt that way, then I can only hope they looked around and realized strong characters who are not white, able-bodied, straight cis-men, often leave shows by dying.  There are huge examples of this.  And there are growing examples of fans pushing back.  Fans do not get the right to dictate how a show goes. But fans absolutely have the right to say that they are tired of finding again and again that shows that start off with diversity, slowly kill off the characters that made them diverse, and then claim the needs of the story when fans complain.  I confess I grew bored of "Heroes" long before this happened, but the number of white main characters, heroes even, that survived from season to season compared to non-white heroes is pretty hard to ignore. 
So, does this mean you can never kill off a character of color?  No.  There are all sorts of things that are tropes that you can do.  But, as the title of this post implies, these choices don't happen in a vacuum.  Your show will go on the list of shows that killed off a major character of color.  (Again. I haven't forgotten season 2.)  This was already a week where posts along the lines of "How many characters of color did TV kill this week?" were happening. (Or this one about female characters.) You could argue that the "Sleepy Hollow" writers had no way to know, or you could argue that a lot of shows are wrapping up and deaths tend to happen around this time.  Of course, that's exactly the point.  Yes, it happens a lot.  Because not an original choice.
And you may lose fans as a result, not because fans are fickle or never want things to happen to their faves, but because you have broken their trust.  If they signed on for a show that pushed story telling boundaries and instead got more of the same, they, especially in this time of peak TV, will move to a show that keeps surprising them in new ways.