Spoiler Warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “Sleepy Hollow” season two, episode eleven, titled “The Akeda.”
“Sleepy Hollow” has never been afraid to spill some blood in the name of averting the apocalypse, and Monday’s midseason finale upped the body count in a major way — first sacrificing the heroic Frank Irving (Orlando Jones) in the battle against War, then killing off the show’s main antagonist, the demon Moloch, after Henry (John Noble) had a change of heart about following the big bad’s orders when it came to murdering his mother Katrina (Katia Winter).
Variety caught up with Jones and executive producer Len Wiseman to discuss the fallout from the eventful episode, including where Henry goes from here and whether Irving will ever make a reappearance.
So, you just killed the show’s Big Bad halfway through the second season, which is a pretty bold move. Talk me through what went into that decision.
We were always leading up to wanting to [see how] Henry comes into his own. Henry has devoted his life to Moloch; he has served Moloch; and then to find out that he is just a servant, that another will take his place, and to see that he doesn’t have an importance to Moloch, is a big deal. We were always leading up to that fight within Henry. So where do we go from there, what happens? We also really wanted to present the idea that it’s not all about Moloch, and that’s why we decided that Moloch doesn’t die at the very end of the season, he dies at the midseason finale, because he’s not the endgame.
Obviously Ichabod (Tom Mison) and Katrina both want Henry to be redeemed, and killing Moloch seems like a step in the right direction, but is it as simple as that for Henry, or are there other motivations at play?
To your point, “is it?” That’s really the question: who is he doing that for, who is he trying to protect? Is he trying to protect his mother? Maybe. Is he trying to save himself? Maybe. What is the reason why he killed Moloch, ultimately? That’s what we’ll find out in terms of Henry in the rest of the season. And [that’s] what our characters are going to question. It’s not going to be clear to them why that move was made and how he benefits from killing Moloch.
The episode also said farewell to Frank Irving — what was the impetus behind that decision from a storytelling standpoint?
That decision, in terms of an ultimate sacrifice… He is controlled and he had sold his soul to evil, so that’s the one last power that he has — the fact that his soul is already taken — in having the power to wield the Sword of Methuselah. It gives him a strength and a power because he’s spent so much time regretting that choice that he made when he was tricked into selling his soul. He wants to be able to use that trick on Henry.
Since Henry was holding Frank’s soul, now that he’s dead, does that mean he can be raised by Henry in some way, or is he actually free?
It’s a pure sacrifice, it’s a soul for a soul, so it is a real sacrifice. He’s free, and where his soul goes may be something that we will find out and our characters will search out, but it’s definitely a sacrifice and he knows it is — it’s not a trick.
How does the second half of the season differ from the first 11 episodes, now that Moloch is gone?
What really takes a different turn is between Katrina and Crane, as well. There’s a lot of curiosity about why Katrina is struggling with her powers and her place in this war, and I’ve heard people say is her character underutilized — I would say there’s a difference between underutilized and not realized. When she discovers her full potential, things really get out of control.
The midseason finale saw Moloch and Henry beginning to merge our world with purgatory — now that Moloch is dead, has that process been halted, or will it continue to play out when the show returns?
The merge is still happening. We kick it off in the midseason finale here where you start to see that Moloch’s army was being raised and starting to merge purgatory with earth, and it absolutely will [continue]. There’s so much I want to talk about because the [season] finale is so exciting and incredible, and I’m really hopeful that it will twist things just as insanely as last season’s did. And part of that twist that I personally think is amazing [is] that we start to see how the cracks in that barrier between purgatory and specifically Sleepy Hollow open up, and purgatory starts to seep in.
You had a slightly longer episode order in season two — 18 episodes versus 13. In a hypothetical third season, what kind of order would you hope for in order to hit the sweet spot in terms of pacing?
I would hope for the same. I think it’s just enough to keep us really on our toes. It is more of a rush to get it done, but I think that I would be happy with 18. Any more than that… I think it’s always fun to have more stories, but I think [on] the production level, I would be happy with 18.
When did you learn that Frank would be making the “ultimate sacrifice” in the midseason finale?
I heard about it not long before we shot it, actually. It’s one of those things where the scripts change often and like any episodic television show, it’s not uncommon to get new pages when you show up to work, so even when you think you know where it’s going, you find out you don’t, and pretty early on, I figured out “there’s no sense in me guessing, here.” I knew with a little advance notice but not a lot, and certainly not that way. I didn’t realize it was going to be with the sword and all of that. It was surprising.
What was your reaction when you found out?
Whenever you sign up to do this sort of thing, my first obligation is to the character and what I do for a living, so I was really more concerned with… I often believe there’s this emphasis on action sequences, and that’s cool, but that’s not what I respond to as a fan. I respond to what that character is going through emotionally and how that informs the action, and less the action [itself]. I was just focused on what the sacrifice meant to Irving, given where he’s gone and given where it’s falling in the course of this season. So I was really obsessed about how to make you care, and less about “oh, I’m dying” — whatever with that. [Laughs.] There’s that thing — the 12-year-old boy in me — I remember really well being older than 12 and watching Michael Jordan having to go play basketball after hearing reports that his father had died in this very mysterious death, and then he had the flu, and here he is going into game 7 of the championship, and I just wondered what that must’ve felt like, because his career legacy was going to get judged on whether or not he won that game, but what he had to be going through emotionally, he lost his dad… That really stuck with me, and so I thought, Irving hasn’t seen his family, and so what must it be like to be in that moment, wondering about his wife and daughter, how they’re going to respond, how they’re going to react, never having had a chance to say goodbye? That really was where my head was.
His death scene was so powerful — especially Abbie’s (Nicole Beharie) reaction to it; it was a very visceral, affecting moment.
Yeah, it’s rare that that happens. I often feel like they’re reaching for it [with emotional death scenes], and in this case that wasn’t the case. I always feel that death is really about how it affects those you leave behind and not about the death itself. Those are the parts I’m excited about.
Tell me about the process of filming that fight sequence with War — it seemed like it must’ve been fairly complicated to shoot.
I do all my stunts so I feel like it’s an acting thing for me — there’s a way I want things to land and the way I want him to feel about things. I was really focused on just trying to deliver the elements that were most important, and as a fan of the show first and foremost, I really wanted to see more of Irving’s struggle and how that impacted Macey and Cynthia because he made those choices that he made for his family. Amandla Stenberg and Jill Marie Jones are amazing and I hope that they get to come back to the show so we can see how they’re dealing with the trauma of his passing. I was happy that he got a heroic death, because I felt like that was important. But that’s where I focused, because obviously it’s complicated in the sword work and all that jazz. I love those elements, it was fun to film, because it really is grandiose: he is emotional, he is fighting War who has proven to be a formidable foe, and technically kind of fighting Henry as the operator of War, so it was super personal, and I wanted to make sure it felt very personal and very visceral and not like an action sequence. I wanted you to forget that there was a sword involved at all, so that with each moment of it happening, what you really took in was how much it meant to him.
John Cho has proven that death isn’t exactly final on “Sleepy Hollow,” so do you think there’s a chance we could be seeing Frank again at some point down the road?
I certainly would like to think so. I would like to see how his death has impacted Abbie and Ichabod and Jenny and Katrina and Macey and Cynthia and the host of other characters that are on the show, so if it’s an impetus to really get down to the nitty gritty of what happens when you lose a loved one and what happens when you lose a comrade in the war, that’s awesome. I don’t know, I’ve been a fan of the show since I’ve been on the show so I’m hopeful, certainly, about it, but not well-educated.
What was your take on Frank’s character trajectory as a whole, since fans have taken notice of the fact that he was somewhat sidelined this season?
From the beginning of “Sleepy Hollow,” the co-creators, Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci and Len Wiseman, have always talked about the amazing diversity and representation on the show, and they also talked about how it wasn’t a conscious choice on their part — they just went with the best actors for specific roles, but the fact that it ended up the way it ended up was very exciting for me. So if you think about the episode where we reveal the true story behind what happened to Abbie and Jenny’s mom, you realize that there’s so much exciting ground to cover with those characters and their backstory, and to learn more about how Abbie became one of the two Witnesses, how we arrived here. I had legit man-tears seeing the interaction between Nicole and Lyndie [Greenwood] and Aunjanue Ellis; I look forward to seeing more of that in the show. And even though Ichabod is obviously a highly evolved man considering the era in which he came from, I look forward to seeing further character development for him that challenges his preconceived notions about the modern world. So if Irving becomes the impetus for us to explore those stories, then as a fan I’m really happy, because I really think that’s an important part of why “Sleepy Hollow” has been relevant as a show in the first place.
And I also would add that the writers have a lot of ground to cover on this show, and it’s always been a bit of a balancing act to tell numerous stories. I guess in the current entertainment and pop culture landscape, the IP is not the only asset; the audience is an essential asset as well. It’s easy and convenient to pigeonhole the audience into being concerned about things like shipping — but they’re unambigiously clear about what matters to them in the programming they watch, and they want characters and storylines that reflect their lived experiences, so I’m glad the show has laid the groundwork for that. I hope they continue to earn it with the audience. And don’t get me wrong, I’m the biggest shipper of them all — I love that people feel invested in the potential pairing between Frank and Jenny after one episode, that kinda blew me away, and Lyndie Greenwood and I are definitely working together in the future on other projects. But the hope and promise that this show began with is still something very close to my heart, and it’s why I was always very proud to be a part of it.
You’ve inadvertently become the show’s unofficial social media ambassador just by being active and creative on Twitter and Tumblr, and you’ve connected with the fanbase in a truly meaningful way that’s still fairly rare to see from content creators, even in today’s connected entertainment industry. What has being involved in the “Sleepy Hollow” fandom taught you, or given you, in your opinion?
I’ve made friends, which was not [something] I thought was gonna happen. I learned a tremendous amount; I’ve always been involved in fandom, since I drug my black ass down to Comic-Con on “MADtv” when no one was even thinking about it and you could park across the street from the convention center and walk in. I’m really grateful, because I believe what has been special about “Sleepy Hollow” for me has been the interaction with fandom and the fact that “Sleepy Hollow” began as the most multicultural show in network history. And it also showcased women with agency for the most part; Jenny and Abbie were women of color who weren’t subservient or dependent on men and I thought that was important — as the father of a little girl, that was important. Amandla Stenberg is one of the only representations I’ve ever seen of a woman of color who’s handicapped. There were big elements here that I thought were big fish, so I’m really proud of the fandom, and I’m proud to be a member of this particular fandom and the other fandoms I’ve been a part of, like “Supernatural” and “Orphan Black” and the like. It’s a special time for the entertainment industry, but I also think that time is underscored by the conversation about diversity — about the status quo — changing. I truly believe there’s an us versus them, and the “us” is people who want to leave this world better and see stories that really reflect what we see in our everyday lives, and the “them” is the people who are okay with the status quo, and I’m not okay with it. In that regard, I am very much a fan, but my position in it as an actor, as a writer, as a producer, is challenging, because I hear it all very loud and clear, and it’s difficult when it’s not my call to make.
How integral do you think social media is for a television show’s success or longevity in the current pop culture climate?
I think it’s essential. We live in a digital world and a connected world. And the belief system that the primary portal is a movie screen or a television screen is just simply not true anymore; that’s 1980s-1990s thinking, that’s just not where we are. I don’t know how much Hollywood is aware of that, because as you say, what I do, what Misha [Collins of “Supernatural”] has been doing, there’s just not a lot of that around. And we’re not interacting with the fanbase as agents of the show, we’re interacting with the fanbase as members of the fanbase, so that’s a very different thing. How much of that has taken root in Hollywood remains to be seen. If I’m looking for examples of it, there aren’t a lot.
Do you have any other projects in the works, so that fans can continue to get their Orlando Jones fix? I loved your webseries, “Tainted Love” — are there any new developments on that front?
Well, Lyndie Greenwood is gonna be Jezebel — we’re making the feature version. That’s gonna be super exciting, I think she’s gonna be incredible and I’m looking to poach as many of my other castmates as I can because I really enjoy working with them, so that’s gonna be fun. We’re finally going to do our official launch of our multicultural emoticons, iRoc Emoticons, that’s gonna be fun. I just believe that diversity is a huge thing and looking at how much of the world is underrepresented right now in mainstream media is troublesome to me, so I’m excited to be a part of projects that continue to tear down those barriers. I’m probably going to drop another mixtape. [The first one took] nine days — it was kind of a fluke idea out of nowhere and we were like “let’s do it” so I threw caution to the wind and jumped in and it’s been exciting. It seems to have hit a cord, I think we’re at 15,000 downloads and picking up thousands every week, so that’s been really fun just to watch it. I’ve gotten a lot of requests to do another, so I think I’m going to do a workout party version of that, and I’m gonna drop another one which will have some of the stuff that’s on this one and then a bunch of new stuff too.
“Sleepy Hollow” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on Fox.
What did you think of the “Sleepy Hollow” midseason finale? Are you sad to see Frank Irving go? Were you surprised to see Moloch dispatched so early? Hit the comments with your reactions.