Sleepy Hollow’s Abbie Mills: From Law-Breaker to Law-Keeper

Review of Sleepy Hollow, Season 1 Episode 2

Just in case you missed the pilot: Revolutionary War hero/former Oxford Don Ichabod Crane has time-travelled to the present to save us from the devil’s plan to destroy the world. This battle was being fought in the 1780s by Crane and George Washington against Death, the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse (now, thanks to quick swordplay by Crane, also known as the “Headless Horseman”) and has continued into the present where Crane now works with Lieutenant Abbie Mills. This week’s skirmish means stopping a witch who is killing “the righteous” so that she can raise the army who will prepare the way for the four horsemen’s arrival, which will bring about the aforementioned end of the world. It’s a bit unclear exactly how the witch will do this, but it seems that, like the Mummy, she can’t get started until she’s eaten the right people in order to get her body back. [Spoiler alerts from here on out.]

There is, as I pointed out last time, much for the Christian to mull over in this series. For example, we might note the silliness of assuming that the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” can be stopped (much less beheaded), when in fact they are the servants of God who do his bidding as they go through the earth carrying out his inevitable will.

We could also talk about the contrast the show keeps drawing between good witches and bad witches. While this is a fairly common theme in fiction, we as Christians know that there aren’t good witches and bad witches. There are just bad witches—just as there aren’t good people and bad people, there are only bad people and bad people who have been forgiven by the atoning sacrifice of Christ.

Likewise we could talk about the X-Files-ish contrast which seems to be under construction wherein on the one hand we have Scully/Abbie’s “I just can’t believe that, it’s crazy and contrary to science and stuff, even though I’ve seen it repeatedly with my own eye” and Mulder/Crane’s “You could believe it if only you opened up your mind!” But since I suspect this will be a running theme for the show and will be something we can come back to later, I’ll hold off on discussion of this reason/faith contrast for now (despite the tempting Crane one-liner “belief is sanity” that would make such excellent fodder for reflection).

I think perhaps most useful to discuss from this episode is the sort-of picture of the Gospel on display in Abbie’s back-story. As we learn, following their traumatic supernatural experience, Abbie and her sister fell into a downward spiral of drugs and crime. When the law catches her (in the person of Sherriff August Corbin) red-handed, she is given the choice between punishment and repentance. “Five minutes to decide if you’re going to change your life, or if I’m going to take you to jail.”

This is in part a great picture of the Gospel. All of us are living lives of rebellion, lives of crime, against God. We have each of us broken His law and continue to do so and, so long as we are left to ourselves, have no intention of stopping ever. And we see from Scripture that one function of the law is to “catch us” in the act, to smite our conscience so that we understand that we are sinners who deserve punishment and wrath from a Just and Holy God. But that’s not all: another function of the Law is to point us to the salvation offered in Jesus. Just as it highlights our sin, so the Law reveals Christ’s perfect righteousness and obedience.

And here is where the image in Sleepy Hollow breaks down a bit (and that’s not a criticism—I don’t know that there’s a good way to capture this idea on screen). As people who have been caught by the Law and offered Christ, left to our own devices we always choose sin. If Abbie were a perfect picture of the natural human condition, she would have immediately said “jail.” We all inherently love our sin more than we love God, and choose it, of our own free will every single time. But that’s exactly the point where Christianity has such good news—your will, your choice cannot save you, but Christ through the Gospel can. Where the Law carries with it no power or ability to convince or convert, the grace of God through the cross breaks through our sinful wills and transforms our natures so that our love of sin begins to be changed into a love of God as we embrace the good news of the Gospel by faith. On a practical level, this means that we begin to understand and delight in the good news that our sin has been paid for by someone else, and that we are counted as righteous not because of a decision we made, but because Jesus has bought us into a relationship with God.

Again, I think Sleepy Hollow has given us a useful picture of this process with a good deal of truth to it. We just have to be sure to remember that the whole picture is ultimately not about a choice we have made, it’s about the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Also, in case you were wondering, Harold is NOT dead (or perhaps is only mostly dead) and still has work to do, much to my satisfaction.

Dr. Coyle Neal is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University, where to the best of his knowledge George Washington and Ichabod Crane did NOT fight the Apocalypse.  

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