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.

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.

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.

“Witch Academy” the best episode yet of Sabrina

Kiernan Shipka has had a few many chances to test her emotional range as an actress, not only as the tortured daughter of Don and Betty Draper in Mad Men but more recently in horror flick The Blackcoat’s Daughter and as a different angsty child in Feud. She’s a proven holder of this skill, and she applies it to Sabrina Spellman, really for the first time, in “Witch Academy,” the fourth and best episode yet of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

So, what’s she need it for?

The deals she’s made are in the past. So, in this episode, we go with her into a whole new world as she begins her freshman orientation at the witch academy, and for the first time, she’s walking into a universe that she’s not wholly in control of.

At Baxter High, her human school, she has a devoted boyfriend and a strong group of friends, a group which she is the leader of. Her powers, that whole other world is a secret packed comfortably in her back pocket, almost like a safety blanket. If she’s really pissed about something — say, football players picking on her friend Susie — what’s to stop her from breaking out those powers and giving them a good scare? Nothing. We’ve seen her do it.

But at the academy, everything’s an unknown. Her schedule was selected for her (and it’s not what she wanted it to be).

That’s the start.

She doesn’t really know anyone — no one she can trust, anyway — and she doesn’t have friends to defend her, and everyone else has powers, too. What kind of fallback is it that you’re still hanging out in the mortal world with the rest of your time? None. In fact, these classmates consider it borderline disrespectful. “Her hearts not in it,” or “She’s half-assing it,” they could rightfully think.

Also, and this is most important, she’s a Spellman! Never before has that really mattered to anyone else, but at the academy, it puts a target on her back.

So, what’s Shipka need the range for? Sabrina’s the target of bullies, Prudence and the sisters. They’re ruthlessly hazing her, it turns out, at the instruction of the headmaster, Father Blackwood, and doing it with hazing rituals that, we also find out, have killed students in the past.

It’s really like real-life sleepover pranks gone horribly wrong, as it’s all things related to the 13 witches who were hanged — at first, overnight in a dungeon,* and then stripped and standing in front of that tree,** and finally, being escorted to that tree with a noose around her neck.

(*Salem comes to the rescue.)

(**There’s some serious Hunger Games shit going on in this one.)

It’s the second and third rounds, in my opinion, when Shipka whips Sabrina to her emotional bottom, and then so sweetly and vengefully back to her emotional strength from which we’ve seen this character mostly act in the first three episodes of this new series.

Shipka’s work this episode firmly plants Sabrina as the sentimental favorite of the show, which is different than us as viewers simply rooting for her because it’s her TV series. Now, we’ve developed an emotional connection to her; after all, the second round of The Harrowing, as they call it, was severely heartbreaking.

Sabrina’s stripped down to her undergarments, facing this tree she’s already a little weary of for other reasons, and told she must stay standing there until dawn and can never turn around no matter what, at the risk of death. What’s to cause her to turn around? Some Hunger Games shit. She hears voices behind her all through the night, first of her boyfriend Harvey as if he’s being tortured behind her, and later of her parents who just want to catch a brief sight of the daughter they never got to see grow up.

Camera close-ups help to focus in on tears running down her cheeks, show her shivering, and once morning comes, the first we see is the back of her,* and she’s hold onto herself, shaking, conveying that in these moments she’s the only person she has — a terrified loneliness, if you will. Once she turns around, she has dark shade around her eyes, she’s sweaty like she, all at once, went sleepless for a week and ran a marathon on a treadmill inside a house that was on fire.

(*We also find her this way the morning after the night in the dungeon.)

The third night, Sabrina’s ready and she gets her revenge on the sisters, and it’s a real, sweet, bad-ass bitch don’t-mess-with-me kind of turn that happens. I think it’s the first huge, OHHHHHHH! I’ve shouted in the series, so far. It’s a reunion of the kind of moxie that has made Sabrina so charismatic all along but with a darker, “Cheryl Blossom”-esque spin.

And, ooooooooh, baby, did I like it.

Kiernan Shipka knows how to bring it and, this time, she’s bringing it as Sabrina freaking Spellman.


Other things happened, too…

  1. At the academy, a possibly Love Interest No. 2 is introduced, Nicholas Scratch, played by Gavin Leatherwood. Seriously, though, either of those names could be a fictional character.
  2. In the human world, a sleepover between Roz and Susie goes horribly wrong. Susie’s uncle, it turns out, also “saw something” in the mines and has never been the same. When Harvey gets word of this, he wants to speak to him. But, I mean, this uncle of hers seriously has never been the same. He’s possessed by the devil and tries to kill Harvey when Harvey comes to his bedside to talk. So, what do we know? Not one, but two people have seen this monster in the mine.

The trial of Sabrina Spellman

Our scope of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina‘s universe, Greendale, is expanding with its third episode, “The Trial of Sabrina Spellman.”

We could see the central resolution of the episode written on the wall, not just because it’s in the title. Sabrina wins her case to continue living her mortal life while holding onto her powers, with the exception that she attend exclusively the school for witches. This is where the story’s been leading.

But thinking about how the show is digging in now for the rest of its 10 season one episodes, with its initial conflict basically resolved, the more important takeaway from the episode is how it starts to trace the town’s relationship to the underworld. Specifically, stories about Harvey and a new character we meet, lawyer Daniel Webster, begin to create a picture. Basically, at least these two people have been exposed to this other world that Sabrina is now making deals in.

Harvey doesn’t know it, at least he’s not convinced he knows it. His story, that he tells Sabrina, involves him getting lost in the mine.* While he’s down there wandering around, trying to find his way back out, he sees a beast — yeah, that beast — and it terrifies him. Hearing this, Sabrina knows exactly what he’s describing but can’t say anything. He’s seen the devil and he doesn’t know it.**

(*This is the place his family — an angry dad and a caring older brother — is employed. Greendale seems like a mining town.)

(**Maybe, though, he subconsciously does.)

This certainly connects Harvey to Sabrina in an interesting way and makes you wonder what would’ve happened had she continued to tell Harvey the truth about the significance of her 16th birthday, rather than wiping that conversation from his memory.

The new character, Mr. Webster, was knowingly involved with the underworld; in fact, he made a deal with the devil that made him the world’s greatest defense attorney, but it cost him his daughter’s life.* He’s the one who comes to Sabrina’s aid to help her with her case, which he’s motivated to do because although he lost his bet with the devil, maybe she can be the one who finally beats him (the dark lord).

(*In his defense, he didn’t know it would.)

This episode tells us a lot.

Sabrina’s father signed her name into the devil’s book just days after she was born as his bargaining chip to marry Sabrina’s mortal mother. Her mother, however, baptized Sabrina in a human church a day earlier. Such a complex timeline is why Sabrina, here, had bargaining power to take the deal she takes.

But Greendale’s relationship to witchcraft, initially by the examples of Harvey and Mr. Webster, is important because of the John Doe brought to the mortuary, whose funeral was held during this latest episode. Ambrose continues to be concerned about the circumstances of his death, as he was a witch living in the mortal world whose death appears to have been premeditated.*

(*Another new character, Luke, is a warlock who shows up at the funeral and has apparently had a relationship with the deceased.)

Why is it concerning? Well, now, because this is the type of situation Sabrina is willfully walking into. How many other times have the worlds of Greendale and the dark lord crossed? And is there a certain negativity that exists because of it? Should Sabrina ever be found out, what does that mean for her?

Who killed the boy? Why?

We’ll see.

It’s a hurried baptism in second episode of Sabrina

This is what you’d call a rush job. It’s midnight in the middle of the woods, there are fires burning everywhere around Sabrina Spellman plus a coven of witches and warlocks looking on, her palm has been cut open*, she sees a vision of her parents and another of a red-hued future where witches are hanging lifeless from trees, and Father Blackwood is speeding through the reading of her, let’s say, rites. This is the chaotic, distracting setting we’re meant to experience, as directed by Lee Toland Krieger for “The Dark Baptism,” that of Sabrina’s, episode two of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

(*As is traditional campfire bro code.)

And suddenly, Sabrina catches an inconsistency between what Father Blackwood is telling her now and what he promised her earlier, where we left the premiere episode and pick up this one, in the family room of the Spellman house as he makes certain assurances of free will to her, to convince her to go through with her dark baptism. Interjecting into his spiel, Sabrina says, “That’s not what you said earlier,” and she starts to pull away, hesitate.

Really mentally present is this Sabrina, played by Kiernan Shipka, when few of us watching are. Two episodes in, I’m amazed at the way Sabrina compartmentalizes her life and stays so convincingly present in every part of it.

Earlier in this second episode, on Halloween, Sabrina’s birthday and day of the dark baptism, her Aunt Zelda is calling her niece out of school sick. When Sabrina asks why, she explains that the day is better spent in deep, internal thought. I didn’t think anything of this at the time because of course Sabrina doesn’t oblige — she goes to school and, not only that, a Halloween party that night, which makes her late* to the midnight baptism. But during the intense, hectic baptism scene, you bet I thought back to that explanation again.

(*Was she though?)

Yeah, I think I’d definitely want a day to think about what the hell is about to happen to me. But that’s just me projecting. When I’m about to go on a big vacation, for example, or even a three-day weekend, for goodness sake, I’m a useless warm body at my workplace for days. That’s not Sabrina.

Sabrina is so much more poised. She has an uncanny ability to compartmentalize her complicated life, so much so that not one of her friends really senses something’s up. So much so, that she loses track of, dancing the night away at her friends party, that she must sprint back to the woods to avoid being late to the biggest event of her life.

What must be going through her head? How long is she running for?

She’s in a full sprint all the way up to the gate, or what I’m going to call the gate, to the big show. Then, her white dress turns black, she walks through blue fire and up to her step, front and center to be baptized. It’s a jarring emotional and mental U-turn that develops so quickly, and is executed so perfectly on screen, but doesn’t seem to bother Sabrina, who’s still aware enough in the middle of it all to catch Father Blackwood in a lie and renounce her oath.

And that’s where we are. Much of the first two episodes was spent, as an audience member, wondering how Sabrina would get around the rules to have her cake and eat it, too.

This, honestly, was not what I expected. My expectation had Sabrina finding a way to maintain her human life, while committing to the coven. Either way, she’ll try to do both. But regardless, I didn’t see it coming that everything almost instantly returns to a version of normal — that, like, she says No! and then she and her aunties and cousin all just go back into their house.*

(*That part, I was kind of like, “Oh. Well, OK.”)

But of course, Sabrina’s not home free. Father Blackwood, Ms. Wardell and even the Dark Lord himself* will continue their efforts to recruit** Sabrina to sign her name to the list or, seemingly, make her life a living hell so long as she refuses.

(*If you read my last post, you saw the twist ending coming because of the blur effect.) 

(**Is it now, technically, recruiting?)

Sabrina’s conviction will be tested. What will happen to it when the two worlds she so expertly keeps apart start mixing together as the dark world aggressively seeks her?

What did you guys think of the second episode?

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.