Sabrina’s dad was an insomniac who trapped a nightmare demon in his mystical, supposedly uncrackable codex-kaleidoscope thing. Now this demon, adorably named Batibat, has two dreams of its own: get revenge, and fill the world with nightmares. Not in love with that vision, but I have to respect the ambition.
Any of you Buffy fans? This episode reminded me so much of the fourth season finale, “Restless,” the one with the original slayer hunting down the four major Scoobies by infiltrating their dreams which were definitely more like nightmares. What’s extra exciting about the Sabrina twist on this story is that our heroine is the one who visits everyone else’s nightmares — which means she gets to see what’s hiding in everybody’s psyche. She knows their deepest fears. When it’s all over, she pretends that she’s forgotten. But she’s just being polite, and surely everyone can tell.
You get the sense that Sabrina, whose initial dream is made to seem like reality, has the most accurate read on everyone in her life: her dream-Zelda is snarky and brilliant, and her dream-Hilda is nurturing and gentle. But after being lulled into thinking the crisis was averted, Sabrina and her family tumble into “a symphony of nightmares,” each more graphic and disturbing than the last.
The best reveal of the episode comes not from anybody’s dreams — did we learn anything about Sabrina, Zelda, Hilda, or Ambrose that we didn’t already know? — but from the awake-world, where it is revealed that Witch Wardwell is the Mother of Demons, and this nightmare-monster is her kid. And in order to save Sabrina’s life, Witch Wardwell has to out herself to Sabrina, a confession that’s sure to bring some delicious consequences for everyone involved. (I also love watching Wardwell pop in and out of everyone’s dreams, just to excuse herself when she sees Sabrina isn’t there: “I believe I’m in the wrong nightmare.”)
Sabrina’s subconscious reveals to her something that her waking mind would never admit: that she loves Harvey, but she doesn’t not want Nick to swoop in on a broomstick and fly away with her. It of course unearths her deepest fear: that Harvey would never accept her for who she really is, and to tell him her true identity is to sentence herself to death.
Naturally Ambrose’s nightmares are about his crippling isolation and his rage at having brought this on himself. The demon literalizes this by making Ambrose perform an autopsy on himself and eat his own heart. Gross!
Hilda has the hots for Principal Hawthorne (!!!) or maybe it’s just because he’s the only man she ever gets to see? I still have a lot of questions about the lives of the aunts beyond their guardianship of Sabrina. Hilda is a virgin who is paralyzed by the fears that she is unlovable and that her sister is actively conspiring to keep her miserable. And Zelda starts her dream thinking she’s all about winning over the Dark Lord, but it’s realizing she killed Hilda for good that renders her totally inconsolable. I found this very heartening, actually!
Everything gets this heightened, Twin Peaks–y visual treatment, the fairy tale twisted-ness of Tim Burton stop-motion animation (the way the aunts are stitched together in Hilda’s nightmare reminded me so much of The Nightmare Before Christmas). If you’ve been holding out for classic gore, this was the episode for you. And I thought the use of a real dreamcatcher —in this case, a spider’s web, woven by Hilda’s familiars — was very clever. But I will say, for all the internal exploration we got here, I felt like this episode was a lot of treading water. Again, what did we find out about these characters that we didn’t know before? It’s visually stunning, sure, but now that Sabrina’s finally in the witch school, this felt like a plot lull at a moment that things should really be barreling forward.
Ongoing mysteries: How much of the truth do we think Wardwell will reveal to Sabrina? I have a feeling the truism about how “sometimes, the oldest, simplest magic works best” is going to come back around by the end of this season, do you?
Update: While early reports on Chilling Advetnures of Sabrina indicated this was a period piece and the retro aesthetic is strong, the series is set in the present day. This recap has been updated accordingly.