Attention, Sleepy Hollow fans. Showrunner Clifton Campbell feels your pain about the loss of Abbie Mills (Nichole Beharie), who sacrificed her life for her time-traveling comrade, Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), at the end of last season. But Campbell also offered words of encouragement when asked by Yahoo TV what he hopes the legions of loyal #Ichabbie viewers can expect from the show’s fourth season, which launches on Jan. 6 on Fox. “We think we’re presenting an iteration of Sleepy Hollow that they will love and find very familiar. That they, like us, understand the tremendous loss the show has felt, but also that the show at its core is about moving forward and protecting.”
In the interest of “moving forward,” the season premiere of Sleepy Hollow very quickly lays out the show’s post-Abbie status quo. In the interim between seasons, Crane has been relocated from the titular upstate New York village to the nation’s capital, Washington D.C., where he acquires a new partner — Homeland Security agent and single mom Diana Thomas (Janina Gavankar) — and discovers a new “twistory” treasure trove that gifts him with two additional accomplices, Alex Norwood (Rachel Melvin) and Jake Wells (Jerry MacKinnon). Fortunately, there is one face from his recent past still in the picture: Abbie’s sister, Jenny (Lyndie Greenwood), who is taking point on finding the next Witness now that Abbie is gone. “I think fans are going to find that these new friends will become very familiar, and I think they’re going to enjoy the hell out of it,” Campbell says with confidence. We spoke with him about the move from Sleepy Hollow to D.C., this season’s new villain (played by Jeremy Davies), and the various monsters and historical figures who will be visiting Crane’s new stomping grounds.
The season premiere has to do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of establishing the “new normal” of Sleepy Hollow. Was it a difficult episode to break, story-wise?
Clifton Campbell: There was a lot of work involved in sitting down to break this story, really figuring out where the show lived best and what elements had always been strong that we still had to build on. One of the bigger questions coming out of Season 3 is: “How is this going to work?” We have Crane front and center; he’s lost his longtime partner and he’s on a mission to find out who the next Witness will be. There are so many intriguing questions we can answer as we walk the path to find out who that person is, so we roll [the revelation] out a little slower than people are expecting. If anyone is expecting to find out who the Witness is right out of the box, I think they’re in for a very fun ride. The premiere is a terrific episode written by [executive producer] Albert Kim.
Fans were understandably upset about Abbie’s death at the end of last season. What would you say to them about how their concerns might be addressed this year?
We deal with [Abbie’s death] right up front. Obviously, the partnership was everything to Crane, and for Jenny, the loss is devastating. Moving forward is something that people who fight evil have to do, and they do so knowing that they’re doing it for her.
Where do we find Ichabod emotionally as the season begins?
He’s sort of torn between his role as purveyor of this supernatural battle and the fact that he doesn’t feel at all at home. He not only has to get used to a new environment, he has to introduce his very bizarre backstory to new players who immediately respond to him and want to work side-by-side not knowing the full truth. Can he find his place in the modern world, and can he also find a family now?
How about Jenny — how is she dealing with the twin loss of her sister and her boyfriend, Joe Corbin?
She also feels like she needs to move on. Ichabod and Jenny have a very unique relationship, obviously, and it has been deepened by this tragedy and loss they share. So they’re at a crossroads. She’s never going to turn her back on Crane or the conflict she’s been involved in her entire life, but she does have to find her place in this new dynamic.
The setting has shifted from Sleepy Hollow to Washington, D.C., this season. Did you shoot any of the premiere on location?
It’s very difficult to shoot in our nation’s capital, as we found out, but we did do some shooting there. We also used some stock footage and very smart producing to double some areas. There’s a unique connection to the development and founding of Washington as the nation’s capital [in our show], so we really explore that this year.
The search for the next Witness will be one of the season’s overarching storylines. How are you balancing monsters of the week versus serialized narratives?
Once again we’re going to lean more into episodic, but we have a lot of serialization. We have a short order, only 13 episodes, so it’s easier to plot, and a more effective way to drop in certain character developments at certain points so we can maximize the effect. The rollout for finding the new Witness isn’t season-long, though the repercussions of that take us in different directions. We also have a brand-new team [helping Ichabod], and it’s been an absolute kick to figure out what those guys are about and introduce them to the world of the supernatural that seems to exist everywhere.
The most prominent new character introduced in the premiere is Crane’s new partner, Diana. What was the process of creating that role?
We knew the character was going to have to have a presence in law enforcement and have access to things that Crane and Jenny did not. So we started with that, and then talked a great deal about her personality and character. We had the opportunity to find a partner for Crane, who could challenge him and bring out new elements of him. We settled on Janina for the role very quickly. She embodies much of the spirit of the character we wanted and had been thinking about. We were able to develop the character further with her. Like a lot of women in the workplace who are also mothers, they’re juggling a lot. So we thought how appropriate it would be to hand off this very important partnership to someone who has already got a full plate.
What can you tell us about this season’s new antagonist, Malcolm Dreyfuss?
Malcolm’s a tech billionaire, and that personality type can get bored rather easily. They see the world in a different way than you or I, and the challenges they try to tackle have an interesting way of granting them godlike status within their worlds. When you’re insulated like that, surrounded by yes men, you find your ideas taking shape without fully realizing the consequences. In Malcolm’s case, we have a character who found a particular shortcut a lot more expediently than the usual tech billionaire.
Monster-wise, what creatures do you have planned for us?
We’re hitting a lot of new notes this season in terms of our monsters. Moving the show to Washington, we have a new Archives that turns out to be the larger secret history of America. So in creating demons of the week, we can now pull from the entire history of our country, not just those specific to Ichabod’s time frame. For example, in the premiere, we see a demon John Wilkes Booth. We also have a despair creature from the Revolutionary War, who attacks Crane in a very specific and personal way. We’ve got a coven of Beltway witches who we’re very excited about, as well as a wolf demon and a hunger demon.
How about any new historical figures who may be appearing?
That’s probably my favorite part of this new season — what we’re able to do with the new “twistory” given that we have a new secret history of the United States that brings with it new points of view. Now we can explore iconic moments in our history with new players that we can see through Crane’s eyes. This season, there’s an old friendship we discover with a man named Benjamin Banneker, the son of a Colonial-era former slave who grew up to be a skilled surveyor and city planner. He was champion of civil rights 200 years before there was a civil rights movement. [In our show] it turns out that he was bending Washington’s ear and had a huge challenge for Washington that is something our nation continues to strive for to this day.
Sleepy Hollow airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on Fox. Watch clips and full episodes of Sleepy Hollow on Yahoo View.