Sleepy Hollow does have a way with phones. The apocalyptic time-traveling series caught our attention (or maybe tightened its grip; it is an apocalyptic time-traveling procedural, after all) early in its first season when displaced colonial soldier Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) shared a moment with OnStar. The standout scene of the series’ second season also paired Crane with a modern communication device, though the circumstances couldn’t have been more different.
The season 2 finale, “Tempus Fugit,” flipped the script on Sleepy’s pilot, sending Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) back in time to 1781. Abbie was jailed and rejailed — with Benjamin Franklin’s beheading in the interlude — while her fellow Witness tried to make sense of her story, but what finally convinced him to trust her was a video on her phone. As part of our end-of-year coverage, EW spoke with Mark Goffman, who penned the hour and also served as Sleepy Hollow’s showrunner for its first two seasons, about the trip back in time that led a colonial Ichabod Crane to slide a phone across a table.
“Two of my favorite films of all time are Back to the Future and Terminator. Sleepy Hollow is one of the few shows on the air where you can believably and organically mash up both of those films,” says Goffman. But sending Abbie to the past came with its own set of challenges. “You get what we often refer to in the writers’ room as ice cream headaches when you start talking about time travel,” he says, “because there are so many paradoxes. I was actually at my computer, and I wrote something I didn’t like, and I hit the undo button… and that’s what made me realize: The only way we can successfully do time travel on this show is if I can just undo it all with a spell. Fortunately, we have magic. So that was what the goal of the episode became: There’s a critical amount of time in which we can undo everything that happened if we can just get to Grace [Dixon].”
For Abbie, getting to her ancestor’s house required convincing Crane that she was actually from a different era: a direct reversal of the series’ initial setup that allowed for a lot of nods to the Witnesses’ first meeting. “In the pilot, Abbie’s very skeptical of Crane, but there’s that gnawing feeling inside that there’s more to his story than she would like to or want to believe,” Goffman explains. “And Crane has that same feeling about Abbie. Despite the preposterousness of what she’s saying, there’s also some incongruity that he can’t make sense of.” His curiosity about the woman who claims to know him in the future eventually leads Crane to a box of her personal effects — and the phone that holds the key to it all. So how did the first meeting between Revolutionary-era Ichabod Crane and modern technology come about?
“I actually did this little exercise,” says Goffman, “where I pretended as much as I could [not to know what a phone is]. What would I do when I picked up a phone? How would I even turn it on? It’s just this black box, basically. I shook it. I tapped it against the table, and then when I pressed the button it finally came on. Then the ‘slide to unlock’ bit is something we came up with on set. I told Tom and Paul [Edwards, director], ‘We can have a lot of fun with this intercut. I think we can spend forever in this moment. It’s just adding more tension as Crane is baffled by modern technology.
“So Tom put the phone down, and then when it said, ‘Slide to unlock,’ we were like, ‘All right, let’s move it across the table.’ And Tom is just so genius. The moment he did it, we knew it was definitely going to be a moment in this montage. We had him do a number of things with the phone, including tapping it against the table, but it just made sense: If you don’t know what to do with a phone, and it says to slide, you try moving the actual phone.”
Goffman also reveals that the video Crane finds in the phone after entering his birthday as the passcode (“which was a nod to my wife, actually”) was originally intended for the season premiere. The scene in which Abbie tries to teach Crane how to take a selfie “was initially written as a memory Crane had in the casket in the season premiere,” Goffman says. “He was thinking about his relationship with Abbie, and he was on his phone watching it. Just for timing reasons and story — it didn’t fit there, but as I was conceiving this episode, it seemed like it just worked, so we got to use parts of it.”
The comedy of Crane’s selfie is cut against Abbie’s tense escape from a jail cell, pitting her against a colonel with dishonorable intentions. “Nicole is such a phenomenal actress. She played it brilliantly,” says Goffman. “I mean, her poor captor never stood a chance.” Crane’s reservations didn’t, either. “When we’re in Crane’s world, he is much more comfortable, but also culturally of that time,” says Goffman. “We were very careful to give him a much more colonial etiquette, especially with Abbie. There’s a moment toward the end of the episode where Abbie gives him a hug, and he just has no idea how to respond to it… We looked for those things throughout the episode. We wanted to keep his character as fun and as smart as he is in modern times, but now these are all his cultural idioms, and it’s Abbie who gets to be the one to point out how strange things seem.”
Not that Crane isn’t also translating between worlds — as best he can. “Just like when Crane is with Abbie and she has to introduce this guy in a strange jacket and long hair,” says Goffman, “now he’s got to figure out a way to walk around town with her. And even when he notices people staring, Crane says, ‘Well, they’ve never seen a woman in a pantsuit.’ So he’s trying to get by.”