The Problem with Katrina

katrina-heartless-end Somebody save Katrina from Sleepy Hollow.

I have to admit, I've been on Team "Why is Katrina even here?" before. In the past, she hasn't been given much to do except play the damsel, she's a "powerful witch" only because people keep insisting it's so, and her lack of chemistry with the other actors made her few scenes less than compelling.

But after the past couple of episodes, she's been catapulted into the camp of "female characters grossly misused by their writers," along with, to a lesser extent, Abbie herself. It made me regret everything I have ever said about her being the weak link in the show, about her needing to be written out, because dear lord, this was bleak, bleak stuff. She needs to not be in the show any more, because I don't trust the writers to write another word about her. Because when they want Katrina drama, it seems, they turn to some of the worst misogynistic tropes in the book.

First, and most obviously, she's the damsel in distress, despite her supposed witch-y powers. She runs and screams and screams and runs, and is taken captive, and talks to evil, and wears floaty dresses, and never uses her supposed great powers to make her "undercover" captivity worthwhile. After a couple of episodes of supposed adventure, she's back where she started, except now instead of her floaty dress, she's wearing a form-fitting corset and skinny jeans, because of course those were the only clothes available to her after being in hospital.

All of this is bad enough. But her "poor damsel" status was ramped up beyond bearable in the recent episode Deliverance, when Katrina fell victim to the demon pregnancy trope. Feminist Frequency has a whole video about this trope, but I'm sure most sci-fi/fantasy/horror viewers are familiar with it without any further explanation. A female character is impregnated with a demon, in this case through an evil spider crawling through her mouth. The pregnancy grows at an alarming rate, usually taking less than a day, and the woman spends a huge chunk of that time writhing in agony and watching evil moving within her stomach. The time comes to give birth, and she screams, and the end of the world is nigh, and she either dies or comes close to death before someone else swoops in to save her and the day.

Kill me now.

I really thought Sleepy Hollow was better than this, but it follows the trope to the letter. Katrina writhes and screams as horrible veins cover her stomach. Ichabod throws a fit about how she could possibly be pregnant, even though they've already discussed the fact that there's something supernatural and evil going on. We get scene after scene showing Katrina's pain, Katrina's helplessness, as her stomach shifts and bubbles and she comes closer and closer to death. And she can do nothing to help herself, instead forced to wait for others to come back and save her.

It's hard to put into words how horrific this trope is, especially since most of the notes I made during the episode are just capslocks and swearing. But let's try. It steals a female character's agency and bodily autonomy. It metaphorically rapes female characters without that element ever really being addressed. It puts a supernatural horror spin on the genuine fear of unwanted pregnancy, but takes away any chance for the female character to fight it herself, leaving her helpless. It turns the female character's biology against her, physically forcing her deeper into the helpless damsel role. And it's sickening to watch.

Then we have the fact that, through this episode, Katrina lost any previous power or moral ambiguity, and simply became "the mother that believes in her son." She knows that Henry is good and that he'll help her if Ichabod asks nicely. She knows that he can be saved, and she'll continue to insist it the following week. He's her son, and she won't ever give up on him! In any other context, this is frustrating and seems lacking in character depth. In the context of Katrina as the pregnant vessel of Moloch, it feels like she's been reduced to being The Mother and absolutely nothing else.

If that wasn't enough, she ended the most recent episode looking entranced at a baby that, it seems, she'll now be willing to fight to protect. Thanks to the hints about the necklace, it seems likely that it's a demon, if not Moloch himself, but she sees it as a baby, and she's going to protect it. Not only does this again put her in The Mother role, it also again steals her agency for the sake of a "baby." If Katrina saw the creature as helpless or with the potential for good, at least she would have a story arc of her own. But she's been hypnotized. Once again, she doesn't have any choice.

And these sexist trope-filled moments are replacing the show's more compelling, non-insulting elements. Where has Jenny been the past few weeks, apart from the occasional chance to flirt with Hawley? Abbie continues to be the most sensible of the group, but she's been sidelined too, and has even been pulled into a sideplot with her and Katrina practically fighting over Ichabod, apocalypse be damned.

Let's not talk about how the show followed up a demon pregnancy episode with an evil succubus episode. Mothers and whores, amirite, guys?

In a few quick strokes, Sleepy Hollow has gone from one of the most progressive and downright fun fantasy shows on TV to a mess of problematic tropes and gross misogyny. And it makes me very reluctant to tune in again.