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Camera sets the boundaries in Netflix’s new Sabrina

The first thing you’ll notice about Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is the way it’s using camera effects as a narrative element, specifically to separate the worlds that Sabrina Spellman is tightrope walking still days before her 16th birthday — the witching world and human world.

How? Study even the following two stills from the series premiere, “Chapter One: October Country.”

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Here’s a still from the opening sequence. Sabrina, played by Kiernan Shipka*, is at the movies with her friends (humans), seeing a horror flick from which she is comically, inhumanely entertained if not aroused. Nothing special about this still.

(*Welcome back to my life, *cough* Sally Draper *cough*. I’ve missed you, so much.)

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Here she is later, in the woods in which she was born and will be re-born on her 16th birthday by a dark baptism. Notice specifically the blurred edges of the frame surrounding her. It’s this blurred feature director Lee Toland Krieger uses consistently throughout the episode to share scenes that are happening, generally, from the witching world. It’s within this same scene that Sabrina’s visited by three bratty, seemingly full-blood witches* and cursed. That scene is practically a blur-fest, as the camera circles Sabrina over and over while the witches, blurred almost in their movements, creep closer to her.

(*Sabrina’s half-blooded.)

This technique is used over and over again — early when Sabrina wakes up from a nightmare just before a bat flies through her window or when a witch kills and occupies the body of Sabrina’s teacher, Mary Wardell, or every time the witch’s “Familiar,” a raven visits Wardell.

The debate my wife and I had was whether the difference was based on the scene being something of the witching world or it being something evil, but I think both can be true; after all, witching is considered evil. Even Sabrina knows that and embraces it. It’s one of the entertaining things about the story, of course based on the Archie comic. Our main character is evil, or at least has dark powers and dark tendencies, but she enjoys the heck out it just like those horror movies.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a dark contrast to the late 90s sitcom, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. There’s a zombie-like, dark-drive-on-a-country-road spook within the first five minutes and a bloody murder five minutes thereafter. There are spiders. So many spiders. There’s a possessed scarecrow, hangings and the dark lord.*

(*Not THAT Dark Lord, but, I’m pretty sure, the other one?)

But that’s what makes the Netflix series so appetizing and so promising. It’s intense. But it’s funny, too.

Sabrina, at least for now, has a human life, friends in high school, and she’s kind of badass feminist teenager in that part of her life, starting a Women Protecting Women club in “Chapter One.”

Harvey’s there. So is Salem, the black cat, though Salem is not just a jukebox of punchlines this time. And, of course, there are Sabrina’s aunties.

The story in front of us is this: Sabrina has a few days left for her normal human life. At her dark baptism, she will have to leave that world to covert to the witch’s coven and go to an academy for witches. Though, she has a decision to make. Maybe she won’t sign her name over to it. Why does she have to give up everything about her human world, she asks. Why can’t she have some of both? That’s the track we’re on.

It’s important, that idea of two different worlds. Sabrina’s not totally into the coven’s side yet, which may explain the blurring effect. That world, to her, is not fully realized yet. The one that is, the human side, is in perfect high definition, so long as you have a good internet connection.

The Favourite is an … odd comedy

The Favourite is not for everyone. In a theater of roughly 12, at a New Year’s Eve matinee, three checked out early — two just as Emma Stone, playing Abigail, performed a blasé hand job on Joe Alwyn while brainstorming aloud how to get rid of her rival Rachel Weisz, playing Lady Sarah, to usurp her as Queen Anne’s “favourite.” It’s not a movie for weak stomachs nor for audiences seeking a cookie-cutter comedy or, inversely, a historical drama to take seriously. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It can mean it’s just something different. It’s filthy. It’s over the top. Ridiculous. Silly. Stone and Alwyn tangle in the woods in one of the few airier scenes to explain this silliness. Alwyn’s diving all over the place, like a linebacker, chasing Stone and whiffing. The times he’s able to take her down, Stone’s playfully rolling around with him in heaps of leaves one second and whipping him across the face with an open-faced right hand the next. It’s just total hysteria.

The problem in me reviewing one of Emma’s movies is I can never be wholly unbiased. That said, here, I believe, she’s genuinely charming and a real crack-up. In light of Lady Sarah dismissing Abigail as her maid, Stone whacks herself senseless with a book until she draws blood and then she’s whiny-baby crying, her legs spread and shoulders hunched over, on the floor outside of the Queen’s room. The two act more like the Queen’s whiny children (for which she has none but 17 rabbits) — Weisz the snooty elder sibling, Stone the cunning younger one — than her maids, confidants and other things. The queen, too, played by Olivia Coleman, is anything but stable. Coleman’s a whole lot of a fabulous mess, in one of those sticks-with-you performances stashed for when we’ll be talking about awards. It’s all a little sloppy and out there, at times displeasing, but there’s also something so satisfying about watching a couple independent women, scheming, treating each other like shit, shooting down birds for target practice, and stepping all over men in their path to getting where they want to go. Being “The Favourite,” is being in the queen’s ear whatever way you can. It’s being in charge.

The Favourite: ★★ 1/2

Sabrina’s universe comes crashing down on her

It’s not just that Sabrina’s decision to try resurrecting Harvey’s brother, in “The Burial,” was a dumb one, fueled by the hero complex of an over-confident witch. It worked, to an extent. Tommy’s back but as a soulless warm body. His body was resurrected, but his soul’s stuck in limbo. He needs to be put out of his misery. Everyone in the witch world, save for one Sabrina Spellman, knows it. Even Harvey and his dad begrudgingly admit it by the end. But not Sabrina … Sabrina, at first refusing to believe it so, then decides she can save him by entering human limbo to find Tommy and bring his soul to safety.

Further and further down the hole she goes in “The Returned Man,” the best episode of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina with one episode to go in season one. It’s an epic emotional tragedy. Here’s someone convinced they can fix what’s happened, first that Tommy has died and second that his resurrection didn’t produce perfect results, while only putting herself in a worse spot.

One of the problems with the idea in the first place was that even if it had gone perfectly, there’d be concern about how it happened. Sabrina’s assumption that “miracle” is sufficient is shortsighted. Tommy’s been gone an extended amount of time. Even if he had been alive in the mine, he’d die over time from the lack of oxygen. So, how in the world could he have suddenly emerged? Even though he’s back, he’s not himself. Why? People need answers, especially after the doctor’s diagnosis wears off. The answers require Sabrina to come clean about who she is, and that’s a lose-lose.

By conjuring the miracle, Sabrina’s risked the exposure of the witching world. And she’s created an imbalance in the mortal world.*

(*It’s owed a body.) 

That she’s done it without any one significant confidant knowing puts her on an island and prompts the most intense and emotional argument between Sabrina and Zelda. She’s cutting herself off from everyone around her — even Hilda! — by betraying their trust. This, she never considered.

Even more, Ros and Susie start to consider the secret Sabrina may be keeping because Sabrina’s asking Ros to do some strange things through her “visions” and it’s suggested by the ghost ancestor Susie’s been talking to. Ros and Susie, however, are about the only two friends who haven’t (yet) rejected Sabrina because she has not directly told them.

She ultimately has to tell Harvey, the conversation this entire season has been building to ever since she told him and immediately wiped it from his memory at the start of the series, and he unsurprisingly reacts negatively; after all, she’s put him through all of this with Tommy, instead of allowing him time to morn the loss. He then decides it should be him to kill Tommy and Sabrina walks home, completely heartbroken and collapsing into Zelda’s arms on the steps of the Spellman mortuary.

Everything’s gone so wrong, and Sabrina’s world is permanently impacted.

Darkness is upon Sabrina in “The Burial”

I’ve written a lot on this blog about Sabrina Spellman’s smarts and her hero complex. In more than one instance, those characteristics have defined her personality in concert to each other. When tricking Susie’s bullies in the mine, for example, Sabrina uses her knowledge of what’s possible to defend her friend rather harmlessly — magic is a slight-of-hand device used to embarrass the boys.

In “The Burial,” those parts of her personality are competing for her headspace, contaminating it.

A disaster in the mine has killed Harvey’s brother, Tommy, and Sabrina, being the merciful heroine, is bound onto the idea of resurrecting him. She knows it’s possible* and is steadfast in believing she’s capable of carrying it out.

(*It’s possible. What’s she care if it’s frowned upon or not? She’s already performed an exorcism.)

And she has the ammunition for it. Ros’ vision pins Agatha and Dorcas to the crime. Ms. Wardwell tells Sabrina she has the book with the spell to do it. Still, this isn’t tricking a bunch of teenage boys, capturing a demon in a spider’s web, or even exorcising a mortal. The implications are life and death, breaking the laws of gods. It means murdering one (Agatha) to spare another (Tommy). It’s dark magic Sabrina has her hands on and it’s consuming her.

It’s the dumbest idea ever, but I suppose Sabrina hasn’t seen what happens to Khal Drogo.

What’s even dumber: She’s going to try to pull a fast one by resurrecting Agatha as soon as she and her accomplices can drag her freshly-murdered body to the burial ground outside the Spellman Mortuary.

It’s the first time one of Sabrina’s ideas feels truly drunk in love, and it doesn’t seem that Ms. Wardwell, who no doubt wants Sabrina taking the darkest of paths, is working too hard to make her this bad either. This is an idea born and raised inside Sabrina’s head. Yet, even as she’s standing with the knife at Agatha’s neck, there’s conflict in her eyes. That combination of intelligence and her hero complex are at odds, and it’s as if she’s nearly coming to her senses in that moment but knows she’s gone too far. Seeing it, too, Prudence asks Sabrina if she’s really sure about this (because, really, no one but Nick is). Sabrina says she is, “I have to be,” and slices the knife across Agatha’s neck.

Whether those characteristics are competing or working in symmetry, they aren’t going anywhere, and the path Sabrina’s set herself off on is a dark one — one she can’t come back from.

With Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins indeed Returns

Unlike Julie Andrews, whose career blasted into orbit from virtual unknown to Academy Award-winner with 1964’s Mary Poppins, this winter’s sequel, Mary Poppins Returns could not have been helmed by a nobody. It needed an actress with a spoonful of pre-earned status because its legendary main character, in the half-century since her big-screen debut, has achieved a reputation set in stone. Emily Blunt may well be the best actress for movie musicals that we have. But something more than her lengthy CV (that’s versatile, but includes Into the Woods of the same genre) and English accent made her seem the perfect suitor to play Mary Poppins — and it shows up in the movie. Blunt rekindles Poppins’ energy and charisma for an audience of a new generation. She’s modernized Poppins’ personality, in a way: baffled, she is, when asked about her weight, aghast at the utter assumption that she’s aged. But what’s special is that Blunt, in getting to portray Poppins, is enjoying herself. She’s having fun! Blunt has as much appreciation for the role as you or I and it shows. Poppins, ever bashful about it, certainly feels blessed by her magic, which is not lost on Blunt in her portrayal of her. Blunt is thrilled by it, in that, in one example, when the camera cuts to Poppins during a complicated dance number of the town’s lamplighters (including the universally-likable Lin Manuel Miranda), Blunt, behind the Poppins façade, looks up at the dancers on the lamp posts admiringly — amazed — almost as if thinking, “I can’t believe I’m a part of this,” or, “I’m so happy to be a part of this.”

Poppins’ presence and impact on the story, to no fault of Blunt’s, fades as the film approaches its end. She’s once again come to save papa Banks, though this time it’s Michael all grown up, widowed, with three kids. The magic is lesser then, and the story proves less impacting than the original. Grown-up Jane (Emily Mortimer) is tons of fun, but as I was just sitting through the film’s final musical number, I was wondering why it couldn’t be Mary’s — more over, wishing it was.

Mary Poppins Returns: ★★★

This Ralph is even funnier than the first

Vanellope, the firecracker gear head of the Wreck It Ralph franchise, is the only animated character Sarah Silverman lends her voice to on the big screen. That’s a big deal. That alone makes the recently-released sequel, Ralph Breaks the Internet, independently and imposingly entertaining. Silverman, who is not always everyone’s favorite person at the movies, is a uniquely-gifted voice actor in that hers is a defining voice. It’s 90 percent of what makes this Last Week Tonight with John Oliver skit such a knockout. Hers is a central feature, a pillar to the overall characterization, in defining who Vanellope is. Little Vanellope von Schweetz is largely that voice. You wouldn’t say the same for her co-star John C. Reilly, who plays Ralph. (It’s probably his size, his strength. In this movie, it’s also his heaping insecurity.) That this the animated film Silverman features in makes it singularly significant and delightful.

Ralph Breaks the Internet is better than its predecessor. It has more feeling. It has more fun. It has more laughs. Partly, this is because, like the RPGs Vanellope dreams of breaking into, it has fewer boundaries. In building the world for this movie inside of a wireless router, it’s making a commentary on the internet and its users that’s equally as nostalgic as it is self-deprecating. It turns out it’s fun to laugh at the way we use the internet (or, sometimes, the way the internet uses us), to see a search engine imagined as a antsy, suggestive librarian and eBay as aisles of independent auctions happening in a large convention center (and, moreover, to see the two main characters get so entertained by the thrill of virtual bidding that they start essentially bidding against themselves). Oh, and Disney princesses. It invents an entire virtual world where bitmojis of ourselves are zipping around in bubbles. The imagination is palpable. It’s vibrant and colorful. It’s boundless and extremely entertaining.

Ralph Breaks the Internet: ★★★ 1/2

Greendale’s history is complicated for a half-witch

Whether or not one influenced the other, I don’t know, but it is awfully Hunger Gamesian of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to have a Feast of Feasts, a coven tradition, in place of Thanksgiving, in which tributes are selected for a lottery that determines a witch to be sacrificed and feasted upon in honor of a witch, a long, long time ago, who sacrificed her body for the starving coven to survive. Sure, several of the details don’t match up — Panem’s hunger games vs. the Church of Night’s feast — but it’s not as if this tradition is all by itself being compared. I wrote, from “Witch Academy,” how a segment of Sabrina’s harrowing was not unlike Katniss Everdeen’s jabber jay attack.

“The Feast of Feasts,” like “Witch Academy,” ranks, for me, a top-three episode (so far) of the show. Not far from the top of my reasoning is that both are especially-good Sabrina showcases. Where “Witch Academy” puts on a display of Sabrina’s badassness, “The Feast of Feasts” showcases her sensibility, framed to be very funny. It’s her human nature to call bull shit on the tradition of Feast of Feasts, just as if she’s someone from the pre-apocolyptic Hunger Games world time-traveling to the reaping and being so totally like, “Seriously, you guys?” Not as if to say, “You’re just gonna take this?” 

It’s an honor to draw the unlucky straw to be killed and eaten by your peers, to put it as ironically as possible, because then, as Prudence puts it after being the one chosen (as “Queen”), you’re a part of every single person in the coven … and, I mean, literally you are. Sabrina tries her darnedest to figure out why in the world Prudence would be so pumped to die because she just doesn’t get it, because of course she’s human. That’s the humanizing way to see it, and it’s absolutely hilarious by Sabrina’s facial expressions alone. Moreover, it’s funny because this is exactly the way we react to the show as a whole or any other one like it that asks its viewers to imagine something totally different — norms and traditions that go against everything we believe. In “The Feast of Feasts,” we live vicariously through Sabrina’s perplexity with what’s going on.

But this is not the sole reason why the episode is so good. What separates it from everything that’s come before it is how much is going on and, specifically, how many people are involved.

There’s more intermingling of the two worlds than ever, all because Sabrina invites Prudence to Baxter High in an attempt to entertain her during her final days as she’s obliged to do. It’s a pretty air-headed idea, of which Sabrina is not immune to making, and it’s the precursor to the cliffhanger at the end of the episode. Because the roots of it will certainly grow into the next episode, we’ll save many of those details for the next episode recap.

Earlier this season, in “The Trial of Sabrina Spellman,” we started to learn about the history of Greendale, it’s humans and it’s witches and the connection between them. In “The Feast of Feasts,” we learn a heck of a lot more. It turns out witchcraft has a much more significant influence on the town’s history than we realized — spotlighted this time is how it impacted the families of Harvey and Ros.

Ros is going blind remember, which is turns out is hereditary because a witch cursed their family many years ago. We meet her grandmother, who is also blind and bluntly reminds Ros that, yes, it’s going to happen to you soon, too.

It’s much less black and white for Harvey but it’s pretty clear that when his grandfather was a young adult, there were towns people and “hill people,” people who lived up on a hill, some distance away from central part of the town. (Ask Prudence, the “hill people” were the real settlers of Greendale). The “hill people” are witches, though it’s never specifically stated. The Greendale towns people ran them off the land and hunted them, Harvey’s grandfather being one of the primary hunters.

Neither family history would be great news to Sabrina, who, like us, is only just beginning to see the full scope of the complicated history between the human world and the coven’s world.

At its best, Bohemian Rhapsody celebrates the music

One could say this Queen movie could’ve been made in the time it takes any other to be, had the Freddie Mercury movie not taken eight years. Bohemian Rhapsody is both things.

Given the mythic-like stature of the band’s legendary lead singer in popular culture, there was immense pressure not to get the casting of Mercury wrong — an inverse to the alternative (getting it right), purposely written here. On top of that, there was significant skepticism about telling the right story of him; after all, there were many parts to the icon. Mercury, who died of AIDS in 1991, is universally regarded as one of the greatest singers in the history of popular music; however, he was also the subject of intense media prying focused on his sexual orientation and rumored wild, if irresponsible, private life.

Originally, actor Sacha Baron Cohen was tabbed for the role and a different filmmaker was picked to direct, though neither lasted the course. Rumors put it that those two creatives had one idea about a darker, more risqué Mercury-centric biopic, which Bohemian Rhapsody still somewhat is, while band members Brian May and Roger Taylor and long-time manager Jim Beach, overseeing it as executive directors and rights holders, had broader visions of the film. Their version was Queen’s story, and it’s what this film ultimately becomes once Cohen and the first director were ousted. Sure, those who intimately knew Mercury* had emotional investment into how the story was framed, but it’s not as if they demanded Mercury’s private life (and its influence on him publicly) be ignored.

(*Makes you wonder if Mary Austin had any input or, if not, what she thought of the film.)

Bohemian Rhapsody follows Queen’s assent* all the way to Live Aid in 1985 — Mercury’s final live show, and his most renowned.

(*Outside of Mercury’s raging parties, it doesn’t very clearly illustrate how famous the band had become to someone who doesn’t already know.)

Mercury’s private life told therein is a bit cringeworthy. It’s comes off kind of as an alternative personality to the man and in moments of mistreating people and selfishness, it makes your teeth grind. It’s enough to capture the divisiveness of that side of him. I wouldn’t wish for a two-hour movie all about it, as it was originally written to be (or so it sounds like), because while it’s not enough to make you totally hate him, it’s enough to reasonably assess that he was not an easy person to be around. Even if that’s accurate, it’s not what I want out of the movie.

Always reeling the focus back into Queen and their music is what’s best for the film*, and that’s when it’s at its absolute best. This is a great concert movie, a must-see from inside the big, surround sound cineplexes in your town, the most entertained I’ve been at the theater in a while.

(*I now have a newly discovered appreciation for their hit, “Seven Seas of Rhye,” because of this movie. Specifically, the effect that happens at the 1:08 mark of the song.)

Possibly Cohen was too focused on portraying darker, private aspects of Mercury that it perturbed the observant producers, but not Rami Malek, who ended up with the role. With him, there’s an almost-scientific interest in stage performance — to portray that part of the singer that made him beloved. That, combined with reaching into Mercury’s emotional psyche, maybe earns Malek some award-season nominations later this year. It’d be warranted.

But no matter if it’s on stage or one of the many scenes inside the studio, Bohemian Rhapsody taps into Queen’s genius — Mercury’s keen ear to mix tracks, May inventing stadium anthems, Taylor’s high notes on “Bohemian Rhapsody,” bassist Joe Deacon fighting for “Another One Bites the Dust,” and much more.

The film presents the Live Aid gig almost in full and its brilliant. The sound reverberates within you, like you’re watching it live. If you go watch the real thing, this portrayal cares for every details, down to how Freddie interacts plays with the cameraman on stage. What it adds is little checks — over to Taylor, to May, to Deacon, to see them practically watching Mercury in awe while their muscle memory keeps the beat of what they’re supposed to be doing with their instrument. And at the end of the set, they go to the front of the stage to bow, knowing, in that moment, it’s probably the last time any of them will every do that with their lead singer, and that packs an emotional punch. But just being a witness to his greatness, to their greatness, is just what the doctor ordered. Don’t overthink it.

Bohemian Rhapsody: ★★★

Wardwell sets her trap for Sabrina

Here’s the story, as Ms. Wardwell tells it.

She was a private secretary to Sabrina Spellman’s father and an admirer because she, too, was pursuing a relationship outside of the coven. The two became close, so close that he asked her (not Zelda, not Hilda) to watch over Sabrina not long before his death — so close that she’d fallen in love with him. That’s why she showed up in Sabrina’s dream. That’s why she stays close to Sabrina at Baxter High. She’s just trying to protect her, to keep her promise to Sabrina’s father.

This is the explanation Wardwell gives to Sabrina in “An Exorcism in Greendale,” the sixth chapter of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, after the youngest Spellman showed up on her doorstep at the end of the previous episode. Whether her story is meant to get Sabrina sympathizing for her or to extract a false sense of total trust in her, it actually peeves Sabrina off. Just another secret her dad kept from her. She’s so ticked off, in fact, Sabrina demands Ms. Wardwell keep her distance. She doesn’t need someone looking after her. She’s an independent witch, and she’s been doing just fine.

But Ms. Wardwell is able to keep herself close by when Sabrina’s plan to save her friend’s uncle isn’t a slam dunk. Sabrina wants to perform an exorcism on Susie’s uncle to rid him of the demon inside him, something that she, as a witch, is not allowed to do. Soon, Wardwell is back by Sabrina’s side because she’s a willing assistant to it. Maybe it’s not allowed, but you sure can still do it. 

Why’s she so willing to help? It’s all a part of her plan.

She put the demon inside Susie’s uncle, thinking that Sabrina, being the loyal friend and self-assigned heroine of those friends, would ultimately want to save him by performing an exorcism. An exorcism, as Wardwell later privately reveals, is one of a string of things she must get Sabrina to do to make her into what she and the Dark Lord, who’s also orchestrating this, want her to be.

What that is, is not so clear yet. What’s alarming is that Sabrina is, it seems, falling into Wardwell’s trap.

We haven’t seen Sabrina outsmarted to this point in the series. She’s always out ahead of everything coming to her. But by the end of this episode, she’s sitting in Wardwell’s living room, sad that her plan — the exorcism — didn’t work, as Susie’s uncle died soon after.*

(*Spoiler: Wardwell killed him.)

She’s second-guessing herself. Worse, she’s doubting her entire plan that she can outsmart the devil himself. And beyond that, she makes a reference to that plan when she’s confiding in Wardwell. Wardwell, you bet, doesn’t miss Sabrina’s slip. She’s at least got Sabrina accepting her tall tale about who she is — even if she didn’t particularly like the explanation — and it keeps hidden her real intentions. But, now, is Sabrina giving up the truth about her own personal intentions to the last person she should be telling them to?

If so, the dark lord is winning this match. So far.

What did episode five tells us about the Spellmans?

So much of “Dreams in a Witch House,” the fifth chapter of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, happened while the Spellmans were asleep. As I wrote about yesterday, you can file this episode away as a standalone feature — inconsequential to the show’s overall storyline but for Ms. Wardwell’s role.

In the least, however, it told us a lot about each person in the Spellman family — Ambrose, Hilda, Zelda and, duh, Sabrina — specifically insight into what drives them and what terrifies them. I’m not talking about type of transportation or a fear of spiders. I’m getting psychological. What can we learn from seeing inside their dreams, the dreams manipulated by the demon loose inside their house to test them by exposing their fears? Let’s investigate.*

(*Sabrina’s going last, guys. Stay with me.)

Ambrose Spellman

WHAT: His is the second dream the demon invades, after Sabrina. Batibat — that’s the demon’s name — works her way from youngest to oldest dreamer, as if that’s the most opportunistic escalation from easiest-to-trick to hardest.*

(*You could argue it was the exact opposite.)

Ambrose’s is the most surreal dream, which would make you think it’s the simplest one in which to realize you’re sleeping — and that something’s screwing with you. It starts with him heading to the cellar to carve up another corpse, led down by his aunt Hilda. The thing is, the corpse is his own body. Hilda does not recognized the resemblance, but of course he does. This spooks him, but he goes for it — tears out and takes a bite of out his own heart.

Then, Hilda comes to fetch him. Father Blackwood is upstairs with some good news: The spell that’s bound him to the house has been lifted. He’s free to go out into the world. But when he’s cheerfully on his way out the door, the demon jumps on him and stabs him a bunch of times.

WHY: One part is obvious: Ambrose’s greatest desire in life is his freedom. Lately, he’d like to be able to go out and visit Luke without the threat of death catching him. The rest is a little less clear, but I think his distaste of his own heart speaks pretty loudly. He may fear that he is either emotionally unable to give love or can never be loved by someone.

Hilda Spellman

WHAT: Hilda’s dream is certainly the most dynamic. There’s a lot going on in so little time. While attending Sabrina’s Parent Teacher Conference alone*, a meeting with Principal Hawthorne, she’s admired by Hawthorne for how she’s raised her niece. Hawthorne invites her to his place to cook her dinner. At dinner, she’s wooed, for sure, and drinking. She’s letting loose.

(*She’s there alone. Hold on to that.)

The strange thing is that Hawthorne is telling Hilda about his twin brother, whom he consumed while in their mother’s womb. But the brother is still very much there, on his stomach with eyes and everything. This spooks her and seemingly rattles back into Hilda’s head memories of her sister, Zelda.

The demon’s spin on it literally ties Hilda and Zelda together at the waste, siamese twin style. They wrestle to get away from each other but can’t because, well, they’re attached. Forever.

WHY: Hilda wants a life beyond the mortuary. It comes up later, in Zelda’s dream, that Hilda, apparently, was hesitant ever to sign the devil’s book in the first place, all those years ago — and it makes sense why. She wants her own life. She wants to find love and wants to be an individual, to be Hilda, not just known as her sister’s sister. That’s her greatest fear; simply put, that she’ll always been in her sister’s shadow or never be able to get out from under her sister’s command.

Zelda Spellman

WHAT: Here’s the least surprising dream of all. Zelda’s teaching the devil’s bible to a bunch of witch kids when the weird sisters arrive to tell her that she’ll have the opportunity to dine with the devil on this evening. This excites her, more than maybe anything ever. She’ll make him his favorite meal. It’ll be a great night. But it isn’t. It all goes horribly wrong. The devil doesn’t like the Zelda had to kill the warlock little boy to prepare the meal (numbers are down lately) and, worse, he takes quickly to Hilda instead.

So frustrated with the way the evening went and that her sister was such a hit, Zelda does her usual thing: She hits Hilda over the head with a shovel, knocking her dead to the ground, buries her outside and gets some peace and quiet time to reflect. Only this time, Hilda’s not going to come back to life, as the devil tells Zelda when he returns looking for her sister. So now, she’s murdered her sister. For real.

The demon doesn’t have a specific spin on this one; merely, Batibat tries to take advantage of Zelda’s general unhappiness and emotional fragility.

WHY: If you hadn’t already known, Zelda desires recognition and commendation, from one person in particular. She’s fiercely loyal to the dark lord and would just like get some damn credit for it. But her greatest fear is that she won’t be, or, worse, that the dark lord doesn’t really care anyway.

Maybe fearing that you’d screw up the meal plan for dinner with the devil is a small, quirky part of it, too. But killing her sister also brings a certain sadness she maybe wasn’t expecting. It’s pretty evident, the morning after this particular night, Zelda’s rattled by the things she felt in her dream. She’s worried, too, that Sabrina’s seen them.

Sabrina Spellman

WHAT: Sabrina’s is her own little teenaged fantasy. The thing that should set her off, early on, is being at Baxter High with everyone — Ros, Susie and Harvey, but also Nick and the weird sisters, too. But how could this set her off when five seconds later, (gasp!) Harvey’s proposing to her.*

(*She initially gets the impression he’s attempting to break up with her, which is a brief spin from greatest fear to greatest dream, within her dream — well before it gets really weird.)

She’s marrying Harvey, and all that’s left to do before saying her vows is to tell him she’s a witch. She works up the courage to drop the hammer, but he’s totally accepting of it.*

(*Whew! That was close.) 

Small oddities are all around her. Her dad walks her down the aisle. Father Blackwood is there to officiate the wedding. Nick is there, offering Sabrina one last chance to fly away (on a broom!*) with him forever.** Saucy is Sabrina’s dream. Spicy!

(*Do you think he plays quidditch?) 

(**This is the naughty side of Sabrina’s brain operating in full capacity, just like she’s teasing herself for fun. It’s so entertaining.)

But then (catch the trend), it all goes wrong. Harvey’s dad and brother show up and start chanting to kill the witch. Off with her head! Harvey starts to choke Sabrina to the ground and blames her, telling her it would’ve been easier had she never told him she was a witch. Then, she’s shoved into an iron maiden and, well … you know what happens inside one of those.

WHY: All the little things going right in her dream are all dreams we’ve known of Sabrina’s. Altogether, it’s a future that sees Sabrina freely and successfully living both of her lives. Does the school crowd insinuate a dream of the witch and human worlds coexisting far beyond her? Sure, maybe. Does the proposal suggest she’s still devoted to Harvey over Nick?? Of course. Does it mean she’s a daddy’s girl that her mom is nowhere to be found? Probably. Does the fact that Salem’s not the ring bearer mean HE WON’T BE THE RING BEARER AT HER WEDDING?!?!?!?! God, I hope not!

What about where tiny things go wrong? What does that say about Sabrina’s fears, specifically what she doubts about the dream of her perfect life?

Rejection, that’s the big one. Not only is she rejected by Harvey’s family, but Harvey himself attempts to choke her to death, and, worse, he blames her for being honest with him, which is still the biggest hangup she has about telling him the truth. She doesn’t want to be hated by him. She also fears what could happen to her as an openly-witching witch in the human universe is something similarly as bad as what happened to John Doe. She doesn’t want to see the pitchforks come out.

Subtly, something else happens. No one in her family does anything to try to help her as she’s being shoved into the iron maiden. That’s a nugget to think on, if you catch it.

What I take from it is this: All this time, she’s gone against the wishes and advice of everyone in her family and those in the witching world. Would they still protect her, if she were to get into trouble in the mortal world? Would they have her back? Or, at this point, are they trying to tell her: You’re on your own, kid. You think you’re so smart. Figure it out yourself. Has she outsmarted even herself? Has she played with fire, and won, too many times?

Overall, I take this little nuance back to rejection. But rejection from those she’s supposed to have in her corner, by blood.

That she’s trapped in an iron maiden? That’s too specific a device not to stem from a deep-rooted fear of chests lined with spikes on the inside.

Wardwell plays her hand in “Dreams in a Witch House”

“Dreams in a Witch House” is a 90 percent standalone episode in the middle of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina‘s first season. For that much of the 54-minute episode, the action — a demon wreaking havoc on the dreams of everyone inside the Spellman Mortuary — has little consequence over the greater storylines of the series. We learn a bit more about the aspirations and fears of the main characters, certainly, but little else is progressing or suspending the direction the overall story is moving.

The episode takes place almost entirely inside the walls of the Spellman house, after all.

The part that does advance the plot is the other 10 percent, that involving Ms. Wardwell.

For some time now, I’ve quietly been a bit confused by, very generally, what Ms. Wardwell is doing and why — more specifically, what separates her intentions from Father Blackwood, for instance. And why those two, Wardwell and Blackwood, seem so at odds with one another.

In “Witch Academy,” the motivations of Blackwood and the weird sisters’ actions became much clearer. You know, they’re just not big fans of Sabina’s.

On one hand, Blackwood feels emasculated by Sabrina. She has come out on top every time they’ve butted heads. How her baptism played out, he feels embarrassed and insulted. Because of her trial’s result, he feels less in control.

The weird sisters are jealous of Sabrina. Not only does it seem like this half-witch gets to do whatever she wants (see results above), but, god damn, she’s got pipes! She can sing!

It’s been less clear, to me, about what Wardwell is doing, creating a portal to see into Sabrina’s room, keeping a close eye on her at school by the demon inside her occupying the body of one of her teachers. Aren’t both Blackwood and Wardwell trying to deliver her to the dark lord all the same?

This episode now, “Dreams in a Witch House,” makes me think differently, at least a little bit.

Blackwood ordered hazing upon Sabrina, at the hands of the weird sisters. He’d like to see her tortured. But in this episode, Wardwell comes to Sabrina’s rescue. It’s crystal clear: She intends to keep her protected, first by pleading with the demon, Batibat, to leave the Spellman’s alone, and then by entering the dreams which the demon is manipulating.

Crucial to surviving this night is knowing you’re asleep when the bad things happening to you in your dreams are starting to happen, that way you don’t forfeit the key to the demon escaping the house. This important piece of information goes on forgotten by each character inside their dream — Zelda thinks she’s in fact killed Hilda; Hilda thinks she’s in fact tied to Zelda. Ms. Wardwell interferes in Sabrina’s dream, just when Sabrina’s seemingly bleeding to death, to tell her it’s a dream, and then to wake her up. Waking up is your one chance to escape — Wardwell pleads to Sabrina to wake up, then run. Save yourself. Get out of the house. Leave the others behind. You need to survive.

Sabrina, being a loyal Spellman and heroine of a main character, wakes up but does not leave. She puts her own ideas* and powers to the test to trick the demon into a trap. Trapping Batibat, eliminating it as a threat, ends the dreams (now nightmares) of all the others — saves the day.

(*What I love is when fictional TV and movies, like this one, play with our culture’s ideas and tropes of witches and wizards to accomplish something in their stories. Here, Sabrina weaves a dreamcatcher with yarn around her fingers. It’s that “Hand Trap” and “Cat’s Cradle” game we all played with our friends as kids. It makes what Sabrina’s doing here, although already awesome, all the more fun because it directly attaches it to, likely, a happy memory from your very own childhood.)

Sabrina is safe, as are the others, and Wardwell has played her hand. She’s entered a world of Sabrina’s that she’s not supposed to be able to — not, if she’s, as she presents to be, a human person.

It’s one thing that confuses Sabrina most during her dream. Ms. Wardwell enters the room and she’s explaining the situation to calm Sabrina down, while Sabrina’s thinking, What are you doing here? How do you know that? Why do you know that? How are you here?

Once awake, as is often the case, you forget details about your dreams — like that your teacher showed up to save you and had a perplexingly significant amount of information about what was going on and how to escape it. What Sabrina remembers is that Harvey, who she’s marrying in the dream, tried to choke her to death. So, lying in bed awake, Sabrina calls to ask him for some assurances that he’d never hurt her. It’s Harvey who brings up Wardwell’s name, that he’s looking forward to seeing Sabrina in Wardwell’s class the next day, and then it’s this that resurrects that part of her dream.

Wardwell was there. Why? How?

Like Sabrina, we’re trying to put the pieces together, too. Wardwell’s intentions are clearer than ever now, but we’d still like her to explain it herself.

Sabrina shows up at her door well past midnight.

This an explanation we’re about to get.