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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Premiere Recap: Not a Girl, Not Yet a Witch

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

October Country
Season 1 Episode 1
Editor’s Rating *****

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

October Country
Season 1 Episode 1
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

Meet Sabrina, your classic teen. She happily chomps on popcorn during the goriest parts of horror flicks. She loves headbands, her feisty, woke girlfriends Suzie and Ros, and her dopey-cute boyfriend, Harvey Kinkle.

Also, she is an orphaned half-witch who, on her 16th birthday, has to relinquish all of her connections to the mortal world (though I think/hope she gets to keep those headbands) as part of her “Dark Baptism,” which is basically: What if your bat mitzvah, but terrifying? Whether or not Sabrina will undergo this rite, and what will happen to her if she does or doesn’t, is the big question of our delicious, spooky series, which exists in the same thematic universe as Riverdale but is heavier on the horror, lighter on the campiness.

What does it mean to be who you are when who you are is more than one thing? Is it worth it to have superpowers and age veeerryyyy sloooowwllllyyy, much like the forever-teens on regular television shows, if it means you have to go to diabolical Hogwarts, abandon your friends just as you were empowering them through intersectional feminist after-school activities, and break up with your cute boyfriend who literally just told you he loved you?

One thing that’s especially juicy here is how the magic world is made out to be this dangerous, oppressive patriarchy, in which women relinquish free will in order to have powers. But the mortal world is also a dangerous, oppressive patriarchy, and I can’t zap the radio on with my index finger and do a Lydia-from-Beetlejuice dance sequence whenever I feel like it. However, Sabrina is rightly alarmed at the prospect of leaving the lowercase-d devil she knows for the Literal Devil, a.k.a. Dark Lord, whom she has only heard horror stories about, and we find her, in an extremely Britney turn of events, at a crossroads.

You know what the Dark Lord is really not into, it turns out? Women having choices, especially when that choice is not to serve him. (Is the Dark Lord the original incel? Discuss.) He sends a witch to body-snatch Sabrina’s favorite, previously mousy teacher, Miss Wardwell, to ensure that Sabrina’s sweet 16 goes according to his plan.

Also onboard with the Dark Baptism are Sabrina’s aunts. Hilda (Lucy Davis, whom you last saw playing Chris Pine’s secretary in Wonder Woman) is the nervous, nurturing one whose idea of getting Sabrina ready involves making her some magical Goop smoothie thing for body-purification reasons. Zelda (Miranda Otto, whose Homeland character committed a double homicide and then LITERALLY SHOT HERSELF IN THE SHOULDER so she wouldn’t get caught; this is important because that’s the level of stone-cold killerdom that we’re dealing with here on CAOS) is obviously underwhelmed by everything non-magical and doesn’t really seem to understand her own niece. Sabrina already has her own way of doing things — she wants to summon her own familiar, not just pick one out of a book, and they’re going to be partners, okay? — and Zelda doesn’t seem like she’s down to indulge such flights of independence, even for her own blood.

Sabrina hasn’t even transferred to the Unseen Academy of Dark Arts when this little Craft-clique, the Weird Sisters, find her in the woods to talk shit about how she’s a half-breed and also suggest that her parents’ oh-so-tragic death in a plane accident wasn’t an accident at all. And then they curse her! NOT A METAPHOR. They just actually curse her. As Sabrina mutters under her breath when they leave: Succubitches.

Down at Baxter High, a handful of jocks keep beating up Sabrina’s friend, Suzie, so Sabrina and Ros decide to start a club-slash-sisterhood for support. Principal Hawthorne, however, is unlikely to sign off because all men in positions of power on this show are straight-up misogynists. (Ros: “He wouldn’t let me start a Daughters of the Black Panthers club last year!”) Sabrina enlists the assistance of her cousin, Ambrose, who (1) is 75 years old but looks 19, (2) isn’t allowed to leave the Spellman property, for reasons unclear, and (3) also somehow has a laptop even though the prevailing aesthetic of the show comes from the 1960s? Anyway, they scare the bejesus out of the principal by casting a spell that sends a spider swarm to his house, and while he’s out recovering from that waking nightmare, the girls get the green light to launch the Women’s Intersectional Cultural and Creative Association. (WICCA, lol.)

Ambrose tells Sabrina that she has to tell her mortal friends something before she goes off the grid, but sweet, sweet Harvey, whose primary contributions to this program thus far are cute kisses and goofy reaction lines, sees through Sabrina’s (admittedly poorly thought-out) lie about boarding school in Connecticut. She tells him everything, and it does NOT go over well, so she magics his memory clean.

Familiar summoned — hi, Salem! — Sabrina confesses to her aunts that she’s having doubts about her Dark Baptism. “I have reservations about saving myself for the Dark Lord. Why does he get to decide what I do or don’t do with my body?” And why would she want to join a group that almost banished her parents for their scandalous intermagic-marriage? Ambrose tells Sabrina, on the sly, that she should bite from the fruit of knowledge and see if that helps. In my notes I write, “Wow, even witches are basic and want their boyfriends to take them apple-picking!”

Sabrina makes a wish, takes a bite, and HOLY SMOKES, IT IS THE UPSIDE DOWN. (Does Netflix just recycle lighting schemes for this sort of thing?) She is horrified. I do not blame her. She comes home to report that she’s made her decision but finds that her aunts have invited a guest: Father Blackwood, some vampire-looking dude who is the high priest of the Church of the Night. Praise Satan! Based on everything we’ve seen so far, I’m going to go ahead and say that just the fact that he’s a man is a real red flag.

Ongoing mysteries: What do we think is up with that dead boy’s witch’s mark? Is no one going to notice that Wardwell is all sexy and confident now? Where do the Weird Sisters get those cute witch-pilgrim dresses? Could this show do with, like, 50 percent fewer extremely on-the-nose music cues? And what do we think really happened to Sabrina’s parents?

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.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Premiere Recap