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.

Making It is clean, therapeutic fun

Making It is America’s answer to The Great British Baking Show, and that’s precisely the point. There are no simpler terms to put it in than that.

All of the things that make the British baking show a hit (recently here, thanks in large part to Netflix, and longer overseas), even a flawed aspect or two about its setup, are what make* Making It equally as good.

(*Yeesh! Uncomfortable annunciation.) 

Chief among reasons for, first, the personal enjoyment and, second, real success of these shows is the communal, people helping people, vibe. It’s therapeutic. A handful of competitors are chasing patches, week-to-week, and ultimately a cash prize pennies compared to what most reality talent competitions are giving away these days. No competitor is above helping another finish their tasks, which represents correctly the crafting and baking communities that these individuals play around in. It’s been said before: It’s nice seeing people being nice to one another.

Pun-ny and funny are the hosts — for Making It, that’s Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. These hosts don’t have to be experts (the shows have those, though Offerman, in this case, is one), but what they do successfully is riff. Where Amy and Nick separate Making It from the baking show is their side skits — pun-offs, or the clever little episode-enders from the porch of their tiny house in which they involve the crafter eliminated that week. What NBC must be discovering, in case it didn’t already know, is that there’s an audience for anything involving Amy and Nick together. People like me miss Parks & Recreation everyday* and long for comedic timing of that duo.

(*Except when we have a DVD popped in for re-runs. Ahem, we’re on Season Six.)

What else? Both competitions take place in a field — barn and tent. Both shows are 30 minutes. There’s a star crafter or baker every week and someone is eliminated, which brings to mind what some consider a weakness from these two shows: the judges.

They never change. They’re the same each week. So, saying you’re making judgements solely on the current week is difficult to believe, but also kind of just silly to attempt. But I get it, each episode tests a different skill. One’s exceptional macaroons shouldn’t make it OK that they plated a disaster the following week. It makes it more unexpected who’s kicked off week to week. But if that’s the case, why not bring in a wider variety of judges if it doesn’t matter not knowing what’s happened in past weeks? I haven’t gotten any impression yet from Making It‘s judges, Dayna Isom Johnson and Simon Doonan, but there are weeks on the baking show when I think Paul’s definitely got it out for somebody.

The big difference here is how contestants are able to prepare — or, in Making It‘s case, apparently not. There were a couple mid-crafting emotional breakdowns on the episode title “All the Holidays at Once,” when it was mentioned that not only do these makers get no time and no heads up about their next task but also, apparently they get very little time off — not enough to see your family, whereas the bakers spend their weeks prepping and living their lives. You bet that’s rough, but maybe that changes as the show has the chance to perfect its structure.

Still, as a viewer, it’s fun to see these contestants dreaming up and bringing to life something you never could’ve imagined or done yourself. They’re not just someone singing a cover of a chart-topper you’ve sung a million times in the shower. It’s pure creation. That’s what makes it perfect.