Friday, February 14, 2014

Strong Female Character Friday: Jenny Mills (Sleepy Hollow)

First of all, Happy Valentine's Day! I've reached the point in my life where I no longer feel sour grapes about this festival of cuteness, which I think is a nice thing. I mean, I'm still single, but I've been reminded that being single means being able to choose your burger place with autonomy, so there's that. Mmmmmm, burgers.

Second of all, Happy African-American History Month! I've been kind of out of it the past two weeks, what with my sister's all-consuming wedding, and then getting a healthy does of wedding-crud (you know, the thing where you're so tired after the thing is over that you pretty much collapse and sneeze everywhere), so I haven't actually been posting about it. But I am aware, internet! I am aware!

And, for the record, I did kind of sort of mention it already, albeit on January 31 (a fact that drives my neuroses up the wall) - on our last SFC Friday, with Jessica Pearson.

But all of that is just to say this. Happy Whatever You're Into - we're going to talk about Jenny Mills! Yay!

Jenny Mills (Lyndie Greenwood), if you don't know, is one of the main characters on FOX's Sleepy Hollow. Her sister, Abbie (Nicole Beharie), is the main character, and it's genuinely refreshing to see an African-American woman as the lead on a supernatural action show (or, you know, any show), but today we're going to talk about Jenny, because Abbie's got the main heroic arc, but just because Jenny's more secondary doesn't mean she's not still super rad.

The show itself follows a completely bonkers formula that happens to be pure awesomesauce in execution. Lieutenant Abbie Mills works in the little town of Sleepy Hollow, and is totally planning on transferring to the FBI when some deeply weird crap starts happening. First her boss and mentor literally loses his head. Then a strange man in dirty old clothes shows up and claims to be Ichabod Crane from the Revolutionary War (Tom Mison). Oh, and then there's a prophecy that Ichabod and Abbie have been chosen to stop the apocalypse. Because of reasons.

Folding into all of this is Jenny, Abbie's little sister. Jenny's been locked up in an insane asylum for years, a result of the deeply traumatic supernatural experience the two girls had when they were little. But Jenny's not in there because she's crazy. No, she's actually there because she told the truth when asked about the event, and since Abbie denied it, everyone thinks Jenny is crazy.

But she's not. And she knows it. Moreover, she knows exactly why she's been locked up while her perfect older sister has gone on to have a reasonably stable and nice life. Jenny is less than thrilled.

She's also Ichabod and Abbie's best hope at getting through this whole apocalypse thing. Even though everyone's thought Jenny was crazy for years, she's not let that get in her way, and actually went so far as to make a name for herself in certain circles. Tracking down religious artifacts, stopping demons, hunting for the ways to save the world. Jenny isn't just some crazy chick stuck in the closet. As the show goes on, she slowly begins to prove herself as one of the most valuable members of the team.

And I know that it's sort of the point, but I can't help feeling as though there is something deeply revolutionary about having the main force for good fighting the apocalypse be a lower-income, legally insane, criminal record-having black woman. Angry black woman, it should be noted.

Like, isn't that awesome? Jenny is pretty much every stereotype of a person we would normally see as cannon fodder in the first few minutes of the show, or, at best, a liability that the other characters have to lug around. But no. She's the most competent one there. And she's funny to boot.

More than that, even, Sleepy Hollow is the rare show that manages to pass the Bechdel Test and the Race Test in literally every episode. It's not just Abbie and Jenny, it's also Captain Irving (Orlando Jones), and his awesome wife, and his adorable daughter...Jenny isn't an isolated incident. There's a whole cast of color here, and so many amazing female characters I want to die. Of happiness. Don't worry.

And it doesn't stop there. The reason I picked Jenny to show up on this very special Valentine's Day edition of Strong Female Character Friday is because her story is a love story, albeit not a romantic one. Jenny's whole story on the show is about love - the love between her and her sister. Which is awesome. Who says Valentine's Day has to be about romantic love? Let's celebrate some sisterlove up in here!

At the beginning it's not much of a love story at all. Jenny is stuck in an insane asylum because of Abbie, and they both know it. There's not a lot of love lost there. But then Abbie reaches out a hand to her sister, gets her freed, and it starts to mend. It starts to mend because they both work at it. This isn't a magical love story where everything is immediately better. Nope. Abbie reaches out, and Jenny kind of bites her hand for a while. And then she stops. It gets a little better. Jenny forgives Abbie just a bit. Abbie tries some more. Jenny lets someone help her. It's good. It's slow, but it's good.

On Valentine's Day we often get fed the idea that love happens in one fell swoop. It doesn't. Love is slow and hard and good. Love takes effort. Love is two people trying to get past all the crap in between them because they know that the end result is worth it. And love takes a lifetime. You're never perfect at it. No one ever really wins love. You just keep playing and it gets easier, and then harder, and then easier. And there is nothing wrong with that. If love were easy, it wouldn't be worth nearly as much.

Towards the end of the season we get to see exactly what Jenny has sacrificed for her sister. Jenny was possessed by a demon years ago, a demon who was determined to kill Abbie. And Jenny wouldn't let the demon get her sister, at great risk to herself. Later, when the demon was finally gone, Jenny stayed away. She didn't want to hurt Abbie, and she was willing to make sure of that, even if it meant alienating her only family.

Now, it's funny, because this kind of story isn't actually all that uncommon. But usually when you see the "I have sacrificed for your good, and I stayed away from you to protect you," it's coming from the white male action hero towards his equally white beautiful love interest. Black girl to black girl? A bit rarer.

I mean, really what's going on here is that Jenny Mills is every slightly paranoid, conspiracy theory loving, paramilitary trained action hero ever. Only she's not a dude. She's not white. And she's not given any respect in the community. Jenny Mills: breaking down barriers. With her machine gun.

So Happy Valentine's Day to all of you out there. Remember that love isn't easy, and that it's not just about romance. Love is hard, and it's for everyone. 

And I love all of you.

Especially you.

8 comments:

  1. Great post! I was so glad when she got more of a story towards the second half of the season. The actress plays her so well, too. There are times when she gets to be a kick ass Lara Croft type but, for example, when talking to Irving's daughter, she's nervous and looks young and out of her element because she's stunted socially from being out of society for so long.. and it just plays really well. The show actually did a good job of explaining that they had a rough time because their small town discriminated against them because of their perceived mental illness and family situation and has very diverse cast in general. LOVE IT.

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    1. I think one of my hands down favorite of her scenes was the one she had with Irving's daughter - the "Are you sleeping with my dad?" "Ewww, no!" conversation. Because it was funny to realize that even though she is physically and mentally the most capable one of them, she's also effectively the same age as Irving's daughter (I can't remember her name for the life of me) emotionally.

      So, so good. This show makes me happy on pretty much all of the levels.

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  2. This is the first post I've seen on this series that makes me want to watch it.

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    1. And that is the best compliment I've gotten all week.

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  3. And now I'm getting a chance to see it (only a few episodes in so far), and I'm kind of hoping for a twist where it turns out that Abby and Jenny are the captial-W Witnesses rather than Abby and Ichabod, and Ichabod's involvement was metaphysically incidental until the thing with the blood.

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    1. That would be awesome. But it really does work for me that Jenny isn't a Witness, because I kind of like the idea of having a WOC character whose significance isn't mystical or preordained or anything (because we already have one of those and variety is great), but who is just really really good at what she does and super important because she's a resource they need and has their backs. I like that we get to have it both ways.

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    2. That is a good point; good enough that I withdraw my hope. :) (I've seen the whole first season now).

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    3. I love her season relationship arc with Abby. So cool to have an entire season devoted to the reconciliation of two sisters. It makes me so happy!

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