You can exhale, "Sleepy Hollow" fans.
If you're anything like me, since the Fox show concluded its first season back in January, you've been haunted by moments of terrifying doubt: "What if the powers that be take what I loved about the show and screw it up in Season 2?"
Rest easy. The first two episodes of the new season of "Sleepy Hollow," which returns 9 p.m. ET Monday, do a solid job of getting the audience back up to speed on the challenges faced by Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) and Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), unlikely allies in an apocalyptic battle between good and evil. Even better news is: These episodes aren't just efficient, they're fun and exciting and bonkersawesome in all the right ways.
Yes, that sound you hear is me exhaling with relief. It's good to know that in the early going of Season 2, "Sleepy Hollow" has not lost the distinctive mixture of humor, heart, skewed history and adventure that made the first season so rewarding on so many levels. In the show's return, Ichabod's irritation with modern life is as amusing as ever, Abbie's wry dedication is as admirable as ever, the two leads' chemistry is as potent as ever, and Mison and Beharie are surrounded by a terrific supporting cast who make the whole endeavor effortlessly appealing.
The show has even stepped up its game in a couple of ways. Ichabod's wife, Katrina (Katia Winter), spent most of Season 1 in Purgatory, unable to affect the emotional narrative or plot in significant ways, but that's evolving in Season 2. More importantly, this season, the show's visual elements are even more epic and thrilling in Season 2. There's a fight in the second episode that left me with a grin plastered on my face for days.
All things considered, if the rest of the second season is anything like these first two episodes, I'll be a happy #Sleepyhead indeed.
So how did the show's creative team approach the challenge of building on what they'd accomplished in Season 1? Last July, I sat down with "Sleepy Hollow" executive producer and showrunner Mark Goffman (whom I'd also interviewed in late 2013) to ask that very question. We talked about the direction of the new season and the writing staff's thought process as they formulated their Season 2 plans, and Goffman noted what will be different and what will be the same as the show expands Ichabod and Abbie's world.
(Side note: I actually got to sit in with the writers as they broke the eleventh episode of the season, which will serve as the mid-season finale. Given all the spoilers that were discussed that day in the writers' room, a story on that key episode will have to wait until after it airs, but trust me, this season is leading up to some moments that I can only describe as truly "Sleepy Hollow"-esque. Another side note: I'm not often into the tie-in merchandise created for TV shows, but I was sent a copy of "The Secret Journal of Ichabod Crane" and I thought the book captured the Crane's voice quite well. I actually read a fair bit of it!)
The interview with Goffman, which is also available as a podcast, does not contain major plot information about specific episodes coming up. There are a few references to minor, comedic moments, and Goffman also talks about the character that Matt Barr will play in the new season (there's much more information about specific episodes and new and returning guest stars in this recent post). If you want to understand, in general terms, how Goffman and the writing staff approached Season 2, that's the main topic of discussion below.
When you’re in the writer's room and you’re guiding the discussion and you are all throwing ideas out, what are you trying to lean away from or what are you trying to go towards?
There’s a few things. When we’re first talking about a story, we always start with, what does the story mean for Crane and Abbie? How does it advance the relationship? What does it tell us about their relationship? With every scene, [we ask] how is that scene relating to the goal of the episode.
And then there’s very specific things we always want. We really work hard on surprises. What’s the unexpected thing that’s going to happen but that always feels organic and feels real? Sometimes you’ll have completely insane pitches which could work, but they violate too much reality in our characters. They’ll be too broad.
Violating the reality of the show or the emotional reality?
Usually [they don't work] if they violate the emotional reality. We can sustain pretty enormous swings, in terms of the reality of what’s happening to our characters. But it can’t violate any emotional reality. That’s probably where we spend the most time -- making sure that if something with a certain magnitude happens, that our characters have enough time to really process, react and unpack it to each other. "What did this event mean to us?"
And then we’re always looking to build in little scares and comedic beats along the way. [An upcoming episode's] motorcycle bit came out of [the thought that] it would be fun for Crane to get stuck in a small town with no reception, with a character who doesn’t have the same sense of urgency. All the guy has is this motorcycle that they can commandeer. We’ve always wanted to put him on a motorcycle because that would be funny. And, of course, he can’t drive so Abbie drives the motorcycle and he’s got to wrap his arms around her and speed off.
That will start a whole new wave of fan images.
Well yeah, we look for things that are going to be really fun, iconic, comic, highly visual moments. Always, when we’re in [the writers' room, we talk about] "What would this look like? How are we gonna visually describe it?" There are really great ideas that, while we have a healthy budget and a decent amount of time to produce things, you never have enough. The show’s incredibly ambitious and our schedule’s always over-packed. As much as we want to dream in there, there has to be a point where I say "Well, to create the merging of Earth and Purgatory and show that happening to a town and it's on fire -- that might not be something I can afford." Or if we do that, we’re not going to be able to do a Headless battle earlier in the episode. We’re constantly juggling how much is enough and entertaining all of these really big ideas. And everything we do, we put a lot of pride in making [the scenes] look and feel real -- I think the effects are pretty good. And to achieve those, you have to pick and choose.
You had 13 episodes in the first season and in the writers' room just now, you had broken up to Episode 11. So all told, you've now worked on two dozen "Sleepy Hollow" episodes. I'm betting there are not many hard and fast rules when it comes to the show, but do you feel like you really know now what makes for a "Sleepy Hollow" moment or story or character beat? Do you feel like you have an even better grip on that now?
Yeah. I mean it all starts with finding situations to put Abbie and Crane in where we get to see what they’re made of. What excites me is, the more I get to know them, the more I get to see them perform under pressure, the more fun it is. I love finding little bits of history that Crane can enlighten us about, and I think the secret history of the show is a real strong suit that not a lot of shows can go to.
What do you mean by "the secret history"?
For example, Benjamin Franklin this year plays a big part in our show, and we learn not only did Ichabod Crane apprentice under him -- reluctantly, because he liked to be the smartest guy in the room and Ichabod likes to be the smartest guy in the room. But [we also learn] that, for example, his experimentation with electricity [had another purpose that involves fighting evil]. That secret history is not something that you’d find on a lot of shows.
They did a similar thing on "Law & Order: SVU" last year. Just a heads up.
Damn. I thought we had that one cornered. [laughs] I love getting to go back into history and take these moments [where] we think we know what happened and then play with them and show not only how Ichabod Crane was a part of them but that it was a part of this covert war battle between good and evil. It’s a fun way to retell history, and to play with these characters.
We had a bit in our third episode where Crane goes into a bar, a tavern, and there’s someone drinking the Sam Adams beer. And he looks at that and he goes, “It’s not Sam Adams. It’s Paul Revere. Anybody should know that’s Paul Revere on that bottle because Sam Adams, he was an aristocrat. He would never roll his sleeves up." And I don’t know why, but the Sam Adams beer has a picture on Paul Revere on it. It’s totally true. I love finding all those moments.
Last year, we made a big deal of the zombie George Washington. That was based on a true story -- that four days after he died, Washington’s doctors tried to resurrect him. We didn’t make that part up. We just said, well, what if they really did. Finding those historic moments and then getting to play with them is fun.
So the show has got social commentary, visual moments, character moments, relationship moments, scary villains, humor. It’s a lot of stuff.
Yeah, and we go back and forth. It’s a challenge for directors. We have 500 people working in Wilmington on this show, and probably another 100 here. It’s a really ambitious show, and everybody has to be facile and comfortable with all of these different tones.
I think we have a couple of new editors this season and they need to know how to balance, within the same scene, going from a really funny moment between Abbie and Crane or a reaction that Crane has just had to learning about our banking system, to then seeing the Headless Horseman’s head in a safety deposit box in a bank -- and then there's a scare coming up. [Working in] all of those different tones has been a challenge. But one of the real achievements of the show, I think, is that balancing act. I don’t know if we always hit it, but we try to. In success, I think we do it well.
And I think also, there’s sort of an epic nature to the show -- we really look at each episode as the next chapter in this epic adventure. So with that comes a certain amount of urgency, a certain amount of crisis mode that the characters are in.
But that can be exhausting -- if it’s always super dangerous then, you know...
There can definitely be a fatigue, and so we’re constantly trying to balance that, too. In fact, there was a script outline that came in the other day and it mentioned that a certain artifact was going to stop the Apocalypse. And I was like, well, we can’t say that because that’s too big of a statement. You can’t ring that bell every week. So we have to find that balance of things being incredibly important and that make sense for the episode -- [elements that are] important enough for us to care about. But every week can’t be the end of the world, or fatigue sets in. People feel like you’re crying wolf.
But I think finding humorous moments and finding human moments for our characters and expanding the cast, as we’re doing this year, all help with that.
Speaking of that though, you’ve got a new character this year, Hawley (Matt Barr) -- this arms dealer who sounds like a little bit of an outlaw, an operator.
Kind of off the grid, yeah. Matt Barr is charming and, I’ve been told, handsome, and a lot of fun to write for. Just a really, really good guy, and a very different energy than Crane. I think they complement each other well in the series. It’s a very different character, different skill set and a completely different point of view of the world. When you talk to him about the Apocalypse, he’s like, "Which one?" There’s an Apocalypse in every culture, in every nation around the world. They all have a different vision for it, and they all have their own sets of rules and hypotheses.
So he’s not worried about that. He’s much more out for himself and having a good time and living for the moment. Part of the reason we came up with this character was because of the idea that there’s the weight of the world on our characters with the Apocalypse, and we didn’t want it to always feel heavy. We need that levity, we need to show that life still is going on. I think that’s an important part of what he’s actually bringing to Abbie this season -- seeing that life is still happening. People are still getting in relationships and despite the urgency of the Apocalypse and everything that she has to do and her duty as a witness, there still may be time for fun. There still may be time for relationships and love.
I think it’s going to take a while to find that because Abbie’s pretty tough, and I really like that about her. But I think letting her see that world and giving her some freedom to explore a relationship is exciting territory.
Although the thing is, all of you talked about this the other day at a panel -- you talked about how crucial the Abbie/Ichabod relationship is. I know that Ichabod is married and Katrina’s still there there are many different layers of complexity to Ichabod and Abbie's relationship. But I was picturing the fan reaction to Hawley -- "Wait a minute – what?"
Well, first of all, Hawley – even though he’s an incredibly simple character [in terms of his] point of view on the world, these relationships get complicated. He has a past with Jenny. They are both people who are kind of ships passing in the night -- no commitments, no attachments, easy hook-ups. I don’t think either of them were really looking for a serious relationship, but that made it even easier for them to have an on again-off again thing for a long time.
Now that Hawley's back in town, suddenly he doesn’t want that relationship any more with Jenny. He’s starting to develop feelings for Abbie but he’s fighting it too. Neither of them are particularly looking for this relationship. I’m kind of with the fans. I don’t think I would believe it if either of them fell easily or instantly in love with each other. I think that they’ve got to earn that relationship. As we get to complicate and introduce more characters into Abbie and Crane’s lives, all of their relationships will evolve. I mean, having Katrina around is going to be really interesting this year.
Mindy Kaling tweeted something the other night: "Ichabod is the new Darcy." So many things clicked into place in my mind, because I love Jane Austen. I love the dynamic of characters who are wary of each other and don’t particularly like each other but are forced to be around each other or work together. And there’s another element that Nicole talked about at the panel -- that Abbie’s not defined by her romantic or sexual desire. I think that’s one of the reasons that Ichabod and Abbie work. It’s not just because of the skill of the actors and their chemistry, which is huge, but because of the way that they’re positioned. It's kind of a classic Jane Austen dynamic. Do you agree or disagree?
Yeah, I mean -- it helps that he’s from this different era, and so he’s approaching life from [the point of view that] everything around him is impossible to start with. I really like what Nicole said and agree completely. I think sometimes, to her own detriment, Abbie has ignored the relationship part of her life. She’s been isolated. She’s had a tough life where she’s had to grow up early and on her own and fend for herself. And that’s created some walls that have helped her survive, but she’s also been blessed with having somebody. First it was Corbin, who really changed her when she was going down what could have been a pretty bad path. And the moment that he disappeared, Crane came. So there have been these non-romantic men in her life who have helped her along the way and that may help with the idea of her not seeing Crane necessarily as a romantic interest but as a partner.
There’s an attraction that both of them have to just completely ignore and keep blinders on because of the task at hand and because it’s just a place they can’t go. At some level, you have to step back and say, "We’re witnesses to the Apocalypse. There’s a biblical prophecy about us. I think I’m going to have to just step back and put some of the normal things that everybody else gets to do on hold. I don’t want to screw this up."
But at the same moment, the flip side of that is that you’re very aware of your mortality and you want to live life to the fullest.
That’s exactly what I think Hawley gets to do and say as a character. He’s living for the moment. He is there to say, "It’s very liberating. I’m not burdened by the Apocalypse like you guys are."
I do think that Abbie and Crane are living life to the fullest. But it’s a different worldview. Whether they like it or not, like Moses, they have been appointed with a task and they can try to deny that. But they have this responsibility and duty and they take it seriously and they embrace it.
There’s nobility to that -- that they’re both willing to do that.
Part of the difference between Season 1 and Season 2 is, in Season 1, I think both of those characters were just trying to get their bearings. "What does this mean? What is happening to us? Where are these monsters coming from?" This season, they come back with a knowledge and an energy [due to the fact that] they’ve now survived the ultimate trickery, after they get out the [problems they face in the first two episodes]. They’re taking this really seriously. They’re not going be fooled again.
This is war. There’s a purpose to their life and a meaning to it that I think they embrace and actually will enjoy, whereas last year, they were really caught off-guard and off-balance and they could be fooled by somebody like Henry. I don’t think it will be easy to fool them this year.
It’s kind of a burden and a gift, this special status that they have. It’s not for everyone.
Seeing it that way -- that’s what I mean. I think they do and they will live life to the fullest. They’re not saying, "Oh my God, there’s so much that we’re not getting to do. They’re all willingly ready to sacrifice their lives for the greater good and for a cause they believe in. And they embrace that and they’re handing that baton back and forth and saying, "Now you, now you, now you." That’s really exciting and noble and not everybody would do that.
I wanted to ask about callbacks to Season 1. I specifically want to know if there’s going to be another Yolanda scene, of course, though I'm guessing you probably won’t want to do that. But in general, callbacks to things like that and building out those elements of Season 1 -- is that important to you at all this year?
Yeah, it is. We worked hard to establish a certain fabric to the world of Sleepy Hollow. I think the most important thing to me is that the show remains accessible to everybody, so that you can tune in and watch an episode and not have to have watched all of Season 1. But I also think that there’s a huge benefit both from a storytelling perspective and for fans to pay off people who are loyal to the show.
It’s much easier for us to tell stories when you have the knowledge of what’s happened before. So we definitely carry over a lot of ideas, themes. We reference things that happened last year but we also try to approach each episode [with the thinking], "Okay, if you’ve never seen the show, or if you tune in only sometimes, will you be able to still follow the emotion of what these characters are going through" -- that’s important. But it’s equally important to reward people for staying with us.
There’s so much territory still to explore that’s so funny with Crane. We have a whole board [of ideas]. Crane has never been in an elevator. Crane has never been to a beach and seen scantily clad women in bikinis. There are dozens of moments that I think we can play that I think will be really fun. We have a couple coming up where he learns to drive, which I think is really fun. In the second episode, he goes to a bank. He goes on a whole rant from there about Adam Smith and the invisible hand and the wealth of nations.
"Sleepy Hollow" airs 9 p.m. ET Monday on Fox.