Last week was a hard week for female characters on TV. One in particular, Abbie Mills, sticks out for me, but she’s been no more than a footnote in articles about the death of women on TV.
The Mary Sue ran an article about women on TV dying, and their focus was on Laurel Lance from Arrow, which is their prerogative, but these two deaths were paralleled as equal and “inevitable” due to the “sidelining” of their stories.
Equating these two deaths is a fallacy.
Enough time has been spent talking about Laurel Lance in various forums around the internet. Katie Cassidy has made her exit in such a way that we’ll all remember how poorly she handled it. But what Katie and Laurel Lance fans fail to realize is this: Arrow is greater than the story of Laurel Lance.
She was a part of the journey. She was a part of the team in part of season three and season four, but the story of Arrow is the story of Oliver Queen’s journey. She may have been the top billed female cast member, but Arrow still remains the story of Oliver Queen. And it will remain so after Laurel Lance’s death.
Conversely, Sleepy Hollow has always been billed as the story of TWO witnesses, bound together to stop the oncoming apocalypse. Abbie Mills was not a minor character--she was HALF of the show. Half of the witnesses. She could not have been more important to the plot and the raison d’etre of Sleepy Hollow. Dismissing her as “just another female character to die” on TV is not only shallow, but lacks any kind of nuance about how important a representative Abbie Mills was on TV.
Season one of Sleepy Hollow was a dream. A literal dream. I’d never been so excited for a show before in my life where black female lead had agency, autonomy, family, and a well fleshed out story.
What a bright spot this show was for me, week to week. I got to watch a black woman on a supernatural TV show kicking ass, taking names, being vulnerable, having relationships, being scared, being brave--being a person. A fully realized person.
And then season two happened.
And Abigail Mills, one of the two witnesses, was sidelined for Ichabod Crane’s rescued wife. She was no longer at the center of the action or the story. She was relegated to being a part of someone else’s story and all of a sudden, the magic that was season one fizzled away.
Admittedly, I stopped watching. I stopped watching because the story no longer made sense. This story about two witnesses became the story about a straight white male, and his wife--the most boring character to ever exist.
The show stopped being about the two witnesses and their adventures to stop the apocalypse from occurring, but about Ichabod and Katrina Crane, their son Henry, and the drama therein. It was awful. The amount I’ve ever cared about Katrina resides in the negative. The removal Abbie from the center of the story was a devastating blow for me and for the fans of season one. The dynamic between Abbie and Ichabod made that show.
Abbie was absolutely critical to the story of Sleepy Hollow.
Enter season three. I gave it a shot, but they were still unable to capture the magic of season one. Abbie had a new job with the FBI, but still somehow managed to spend a lot of time in Sleepy Hollow. We met other people critical to Abbie’s story, but there was still this balance shift that didn’t quite work. The introduction of Betsy Ross in the flashbacks added an element of Abbie once again being sidelined in her own story.
And then the season ended with her death.
The rumors swirling around Beharie’s unhappiness with the show is not something I can verify, but if she did want to be let go from the show, there were other ways to have that done rather than killing off her character.
WOC characters, and in this case, a black female lead character, is not a given on TV. Sure, we live in a world with Shonda Rhimes, a fact I’m grateful for, but on supernatural/superhero shows, WOC in lead roles are few and far between.
There’s criticism to be lobbied Arrow’s way about the treatment of their recurring WOC characters to be sure, but at the very least, Arrow is a show that’s unafraid to have them as part of their world. Agent Carter, Supergirl, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, etc all seem to be allergic to WOC in any sort of recurring capacity, or showing them as anything more than outdated and outmoded stereotypes.
The death of Abigail Mills isn’t just “another woman dying on TV,” it is the death of a representative character that gave so many of us hope. That allowed so many of us to believe that just maybe, black women and WOC could be seen as more than stock characters to prop up white male leads.
Abbie Mills of season two and three became a shadow of what she was in season one.
The focus of these articles on simply the death of these two women, and not the WHY is troubling.
The death of Laurel Lance has been hinted at since the beginning of season four. And as the season progressed, it looked as though there was no other choice of who was in the grave, spoilers aside. She had a hand in her own demise when she brought back her sister, and subsequently destroyed the Lazarus Pit. Her death isn’t really a surprise to those of us who have been paying attention.
Abbie’s death, especially with the rumors of renewal swirling about, was devastating and not predictable from the start of the season.
It was pointless.
Articles, like the one by The Mary Sue, purport these deaths to be stepping stones for their male white counterparts, and I will say that this is true for Sleepy Hollow, but not for Arrow.
Arrow is the journey of Oliver Queen. It has never been billed as anything else. Laurel was a piece of that story, someone who was a part of that journey, but was not necessarily integral as the show progressed. Oliver, furthermore, appears to be the only one not utterly changed by this death. The fluidity of Arrow and it’s plan versus what it actually became through organic storytelling made Arrow season four look very different from Arrow season one.
And for me, that’s a good thing.
However, Sleepy Hollow’s plan was always about two witnesses. Two people coming together to fight the evil coming to destroy the Earth. How can you tell me then that killing half of this team means the show is in any way sustainable?
Abigail Mills was a black female character with a story, with family, with a career, with vulnerabilities, with strength and with courage. Taking away her blackness to just say she’s “another dead woman on TV,” is removing a part of what made Abbie so special.
As black women, we don’t often get to see ourselves as fully developed people on television. It’s an either/or situation, and it’s frustrating.
Almost never does a show like Sleepy Hollow even think about WOC, so that in and of itself was something that was delightful to see.
And now it’s gone, but it’s okay, because she just gets lumped in with “other dead female characters” on TV. What’s one dead black woman to the sea of white female characters that continue to persist and survive on television?