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.

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.

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.