In these troubled times, when America is polarized by political rancor and persistent social divisions, only one thing can unite the nation: A time-traveling patriot from the 18th century, and a 21st century cop, banding together to avert the apocalypse.
Fox's "Sleepy Hollow" is one of the year's biggest hits, and despite its "bonkersawesome" premise -- Revolutionary War spy Ichabod Crane and upstate New York sheriff Abbie Mills battle the Headless Horseman and a host of other supernatural baddies -- the show didn't just coast on special effects and loony developments. Throughout its first season, the show has displayed solid storytelling, er, chops and its two leads, Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie, have displayed the most crackling chemistry this side of Walter White's meth lab.
You wouldn't blame Fox for wanting to prolong the Horseman's run, but Mark Goffman, executive producer and showrunner of "Sleepy Hollow," said in an extensive interview with HuffPost TV that the network was steadfast in its commitment to a 13-episode first season. The show will air its next new episode on Jan. 13 and then "Sleepy Hollow" will have its two-hour Season 1 finale Jan. 20. After that, we won't see Moloch or Ichabod or the "Leftenant" (Crane pronounces Abbie's job title in the British way) until Season 2.
I am not sure what will we do when we can no longer revel in Crane's annoyance at modern life or watch the team converse with a man without a head (this actually happened). But would fans get our heads chopped off if we were to begin to hope for a Season 2 expansion?
"I don't know. My head would explode," Goffman said with a laugh about a longer second season. A representative for the network said Fox is committed to airing "at least" 13 hours of "Sleepy Hollow" when the show returns, but won't decide about adding to the episode order until next year.
I'll cross my fingers that Season 2 is longer than 13 hours, but not too much longer. One of the pleasures of Season 1 has been its density, its drive and the momentum it's built as it hurtles to a showdown between Moloch and Team Anti-Apocalypse (which also includes Ichabod's wife, Katrina, who is stuck in a kind of inter-dimensional purgatory. Long story). Twenty-two episodes of bonkersawesome frolics -- headless or otherwise -- would have probably been about six hours too many. As it is, 13 has felt just about right, and there have been some very memorable character moments amid all the beheadings and so forth.
Regardless of the length of the season, "Sleepy Hollow" would have felt very hollow indeed if Goffman, the writers and the cast hadn't grounded the characters' adventures in real and relatable concerns. Both Ichabod and Abbie know what it's like to be estranged from their families, and they and Abbie's boss, Frank Irving (Orlando Jones), know what it's like to make huge sacrifices in one's personal life for the greater good. Ichabod, Abbie, Frank and Abbie's sister Jenny are lonely, driven people in the process of forming a new family, one that is threatened by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Don't you just hate it when that happens?
Before I get to the Q&A with Goffman, I'll just say that a couple of the most welcome developments of Season 1 were the show's willingness to dive into the exciting espionage aspects of the Revolutionary War (some tales of derring-do arose from the writers' historical research into the period, others from Mison's training in swordplay). Even more impressive is "Sleepy Hollow's" disarming willingness to take on matters of politics, class and especially race.
Goffman said a future Season 1 episode addresses, somewhat in passing, the Second Amendment -- the right to bear arms -- and in previous episodes, the characters have discussed race, slavery and other thorny topics that don't seem quite as thorny when Ichabod Crane brings them up.
"I do think there's something innocent about the way that Ichabod Crane can approach it, because he is not from our culture," Goffman said. "So he can ask these questions out of a genuine curiosity, and they're not as loaded."
Spoilers ahoy: Don't read beyond this point unless you've seen "The Golem," Monday's episode of "Sleepy Hollow."
Below is a shortened version of my Q&A with Goffman, in which we discussed whether whether John Noble's Sin Eater figures into the show's future, whether Ichabod's newly discovered son Jeremy figures into the ongoing mythology and what Revolutionary War stories Ichabod and the Horseman might have up their sleeves. For the whole interview, check out the most recent Talking TV podcast, which has my entire conversation with Goffman and a discussion of the show between myself and Ryan McGee.
The first question is about Jeremy. Could he be revived or he can somehow still interact with the characters that we know? Is that a possibility?
Yeah. One of the great things about this show is that dead doesn't always mean gone. The important thing in this episode for us was really for Ichabod to have closure with what happened to his son. In the episode prior, it was the first time that he ever learned that he had a son. And I think it was really about, for us, all of the feelings it had stirred up in him, knowing that he and his wife did have a son, this family that he had always dreamed of.
There will be a lot more opportunity to do flashbacks where we get to see other pieces of [Jeremy's] life and how that related to Katrina and Ichabod, and how he factored into everything that was happening after the war ended. We placed Ichabod's suspension in 1781, which is toward the end of the Revolutionary War, and part of that is so that we can play some of the aftermath. I think we'll find out a lot more about that in future seasons.
The coven that exiled Katrina -- are they going to come back into play in the present day? Will they necessarily have the same agenda as Ichabod and Abbie?
Well, it remains to be seen just how many of the witches are still around. The Revolutionary War took a major toll on the coven and a lot of the supernatural forces that were around. In this episode, we saw that the Four Who Speak of as One still had been around but they were in hiding, in a way. In the pilot, we saw Reverend Knapp, who was around during the Revolutionary War. He was another warlock who was killed protecting the secret of the Headless Horseman's head. Unfortunately they're a dying breed, but we'll see how they get to interact and how many more of them are around.
It's interesting to me that the show is exploring this era in history because it seems like there's kind of a hunger to know more about that time. From what I understand, you studied history and public policy -- is it a dream come true to be able to unleash your history fixations on the world?
Yeah, it's a blast. You never really know where life's going to take you. I got a master's in public policy from Harvard and had planned on becoming a speechwriter, and actually did a bit of speechwriting, and I've always loved Washington D.C. I lived abroad a couple of years working in government and public service. And then I got to write for "The West Wing" for a while, so I definitely have a background in all that, and a real love of history and government and our founding fathers.
This show offers a really great opportunity to dig into the world of revolutionary times and recast it [as part of an apocalyptic scenario]. Having Ichabod Crane as this character who can comment on both what we were fighting for back then, and who gets to look at America and look at how our society works today and give us the point of view of our founding fathers is really exciting and fun to write.
One of the things that grounds the show is the aspirational quality of trying to save the world, and the sincerity of the core characters too. Was that one of your goals -- to try to keep it as grounded in individual human beings as possible?
Yeah. It's part of the tightrope walk of the show. But one of the really fun aspects is to, as much as possible, put ourselves in their shoes. And yeah, it opens us up to being able to relate to these characters. Both Ichabod and Abbie are flawed in certain ways and very human. And the two of them together -- they complete each other in a certain way. They're both witnesses, they both have these major voids in their lives. Abbie's family was really wrecked through no fault of her own and she grew up in the foster-care system. And Ichabod, to wake up 200 some years later is an impossibility to try to fathom.
There are moments when the show is doing something I just don't see a lot of, or I haven't seen elsewhere. Like them talking about slavery in the midst of trying to trap the Headless Horseman. There's a combination you're pulling off in some of those scenes that can be really enjoyable.
Well, we feel like there is a way to talk about these things in a grounded, real, modern way and we don't have to shy away from it. There's an upcoming discussion about the Second Amendment -- it's brief, but I'm curious what Ichabod Crane had to say about that. We know that [the Second Amendment came about] because British soldiers were quartering themselves in the homes of Americans. So what were those discussions like at that time? And what would they think about where we are today? And whichever side you're on on that argument, I think it's fascinating to know the truth and have these characters just have a little bit of a conversation about it.
It's really interesting that the show addresses race. It doesn't shy away from it. Having this somewhat fantastical premise -- maybe that's what gives you the license to go to these areas that many other shows avoid?
I do think there's something innocent about the way that Ichabod Crane can approach it, because he is not from our culture. So he can ask these questions out of a genuine curiosity, and they're not as loaded. But I think that the cast of the show and the casting of the show makes it very organic to both either talk about race, or not talk about race, and it feels natural. I think that's great. In any of our daily lives, sometimes you talk about race and sometimes it doesn't matter at all, and that's sort of our approach in the storytelling.
Are there a lot of other Revolutionary War stories -- real people and events -- that you want to draw upon?
Absolutely. The Revolutionary War lasted seven years. We set up that Crane's been in the country for about 10 years, so he was there before the revolution started. There are just incredible events, and we like to start from the premise of what we know or things we may have heard about, like Paul Revere's Midnight Ride. And then we tell part of the true story, [as with] Roanoke, and we get to give the "Sleepy Hollow" version of what happened next. Whether it's the Liberty Bell or the Boston Tea Party, there's some really terrific events in the Revolutionary War that I'm excited to get to play out.
We already saw a little bit of the Boston Tea Party, are we going to see more of that?
I think there's more to that event, and there's more to see in Boston -- the Boston Massacre and several other events that led up to the war, to "the shot heard around the world."
The Liberty Bell, we haven't seen that yet, but that's coming?
Yes. There will be something with that. I can't say which season, but that's something we're planning. We do a lot of research on the war and we have biographies of a lot of the founding fathers. And there are actually some really interesting true facts that are going to come to light about George Washington. [He was famous] not just for being a cartographer, but for being a leader in spycraft in the time, and he started something called the Culper Ring, which had spies all throughout Manhattan during the war.
How do you all go about making this show grounded when so many bonkers things are happening?
We've definitely embraced the bonkersawesome mantra, and we talk a lot in the writers' room about the elements of an episode that people are going to find difficult to believe. We're always straddling that line. We work hard to make the impossible seem possible, and it is hard, but I think that's where we have a lot of fun.
How do you make a Headless Horseman talk? That was a conversation for a long time, because we knew we wanted to capture him. We knew we wanted to interrogate him. We went through a lot of iterations before we landed on the Necromancer, and then it really seemed to make sense and felt right.
Obviously Ichabod and Abbie obviously have a deep connection that they're still just figuring out, and obviously the fans enormously respond to that relationship in many different creative ways. I spend hours on Tumblr just looking at "Sleepy Hollow" fan art and photos and things.
Oh yeah. It's inspiring, actually.
They're so creative. But I just wonder, does it have to go in the direction of a romantic relationship? I mean obviously Ichabod is still married in his wife in his mind …
In his wife's mind too, I think.
Do you think at this point, Ichabod and Abbie's relationship as friends, colleagues and witnesses is really all that you want to focus on, and the idea of something beyond that just doesn't enter into your thinking? I mean, is there going be a love triangle? Where is your thinking on all of that?
Well, I think we really have to first identify that we're in the middle of -- or not even in the middle, we're at the very early stages of an apocalyptic reality for these characters. They are dealing with an incredible amount of change in their lives and in the possible change of life as we know it. And so I think romance, to some extent, takes a back burner to that.
In addition, we still have Ichabod, who's madly, deeply in love with his wife, trying to understand who she really was, now that it's come out that she's a witch and she had a number of secrets that she had to keep from him. There's a lot of reconciliation that needs to [happen] there.
Right now [Ichabod and Abbie] are there for each other in this incredibly heightened time in their lives. And that's most important, because look, they're also very different people and I think as they get to know each other, we're going to get to see that they have a lot of differences as well as similarities in value systems, cultures, the worlds that they come from. And so all that I think is going to be great to explore. It's going to be hopefully a long time that these two characters get to know each other better and we get to experience all of their trials with them and see what happens with Katrina. Abbie even has a former love interest. So I think there's still a long way to go.
At this point, Ichabod just wants his wife to exist on this physical plane -- that's job one, probably.
But even with that, as important and as critical that is for him, he also knows that there's a larger picture. We're constantly pitting those competing goals against each other. I think we saw in this episode, the simple fact of going to visit her for his need for information [about Jeremy] had very real consequences on our world. And that challenge, that problem isn't going go away, and now he's seen very real consequences from his actions, and that's going to make him think twice about doing anything that dangerous again.
Just briefly to touch on John Noble -- is he in the last three hours of the season?
He is just phenomenal. He's in at least two of the three coming up in January. He's definitely in the finale. It's a great character, really fun to write and just a fantastic actor. So hopefully there's a lot more of him. [Note: Goffman also said we'd see Sheriff Corbin again in a January episode.]
"Sleepy Hollow" returns to Fox with a new episode 9 p.m. Eastern time Jan. 13. The two-hour season finale airs 8 p.m. Eastern time Jan. 20.