Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Holiday Special Recap: You Better Watch Out

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

A Midwinter’s Tale
Season 1 Episode 11
Editor’s Rating 2 stars

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

A Midwinter’s Tale
Season 1 Episode 11
Editor’s Rating 2 stars
Photo: Dean Buscher/Netflix

Bright Solstice, witches!

Before we dig into this not-so-special holiday special, let’s clear up one confusing point from the first ten episodes: This show is not a period piece. Instead, it’s almost a period piece, but not quite.

In my professional recapping opinion, this show should totally just be set in the 1960s! If we’re in 2018, the near-absence of technology makes absolutely no sense, to the point of being very distracting in an undermines-the-plot kind of way. Why does anyone have to astral project if they can just use their cell phones? Why do we never see any of these teenagers use their phones or social media, except for the one time Harvey picks up an iPhone? You see where I’m going with this. Judging by early press materials — which, I promise, said the show was a period piece — I can only assume they made a late-in-the-game change resulting in the confusing situation we have now.

I suspect they just bumped things up to 2018 to facilitate an inevitable Riverdale crossover, but that hardly seems worth messing with CAoS’ wiring so completely. Why not just give the witches a spell that lets them time travel and get on with it?

Anyway: back to Greendale, where kids (who look like they are straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting FROM THE MIDDLE OF THE LAST CENTURY, okay, I’ll stop, I’ll stop) are lining up to meet a dreary, creepy mall Santa. Baby Sabrina, played by Kiernan Shipka’s formally recognized doppelgänger McKenna Grace, tells Santa all she wants is to see her mom again.

In the present, it’s a week before the winter solstice, the time when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. I was so excited for what cool witchy stuff would go down — maybe a visit from saint Nick, if you get what I mean — but instead we get exactly four minutes of the Weird Sisters and then some Monster of the Week nonsense with Sabrina’s way-less-interesting mortal friends that wouldn’t have made the cut for the first season of Buffy. We also get the potentially very tantalizing return of Sabrina’s mom, but oddly most of the time they spend together is just like, platitudes and repeating that they don’t have enough time to talk. Lots of missed opportunities, here.

In probably the least plausible turn of events in this entire episode, Susie’s dream job turns out to be … the elf who takes pictures of kids with the creepy mall Santa. Seriously? That’s what she’s always wanted to do? Doesn’t Greendale have some Abercrombie-equivalent where the cool mall teens would want to be working for the holidays?

Aunt Zelda has named the baby she abducted Letitia and is spoiling it with solstice gifts. Sabrina is moping around because she’s sad about Harvey and because she misses her mom. Sabrina, having learned exactly nothing from her previous attempts to cross the boundary between her world and the afterlife, asks Madam Satan Wardwell to borrow the Book of the Dead, since it has séance instructions inside it. Sabrina tries to recruit Roz and Susie but they say it’s too soon and too weird for them to be involved in her magical life. Meanwhile, Harvey confirms that looking at Sabrina still makes him think of his brother and how she wasn’t not responsible for his untimely demise in the mines. I’m desperate to know what everyone at Greendale High thinks of Sabrina’s new bleach-blonde look, but no one is discussing it.

Having failed to assemble a séance team at home, Sabrina gets the Weird Sisters to help her out, “orphan to orphan.” Using Sabrina’s mom’s dress, which is magically white again, they use what I will assume is the witchy equivalent of dial-up internet to get in touch with Diana. It’s so easy to do that I’m a little annoyed by it; if Sabrina could’ve talked to her this whole time, why is this special? (This is a recurring issue with CAoS: How hard is magic, anyway? If Sabrina hasn’t ever taken magic classes, how is she any good at it?)

Of course, this séance makes the yule log go out and some baddies get in through the chimney. Sabrina is in trouble, but she explains to her aunts that she saw her mom in limbo. Zelda is offended Sabrina didn’t come to her for assistance, and I agree! The best part of this is how, the next morning, Zelda tells Sabrina, “It is a blessed morning, considering none of us had our throats slit by malevolencies in the night.” Think I just decided what to write on my holiday cards this year! Sabrina is not having it. “You’re allowed to kidnap babies but I’m not allowed to want to contact my mother?” God, Sabrina, don’t be so dramatic. She kidnapped one baby.

Sabrina — who, I can’t stress this enough, is apparently incapable of learning anything from her past transgressions and experiences, to the point that I wonder if the peroxide may have seeped into her skull and zapped her brain — has made a batch of magical eggnog for Harvey’s dad so that he never wants to drink alcohol again. Harvey has explicitly told Sabrina not to meddle in his life with magic, and definitely not to do so with without disclosing that she’s doing it, and Sabrina was all “I won’t, I promise,” and DOES SHE NOT REMEMBER HER FAILED ATTEMPTS TO ZOMBIE TOMMY BACK TO LIFE? So, naturally, she gives Harvey the eggnog with no explanation or disclaimer.

As you probably predicted, something wicked is lurking in the Spellman house, making scary giggle sounds and just generally fucking shit up. They’re poltergeists called “Yulelads,” who are mischief-child ghosts, and they have a mom who is a very dangerous witch. Didn’t we already do the thing where the demon has a mom-demon who has to come fetch it?

The demon mom comes and some baby-trickery ensues. Diana, who never really left, shows up wearing a crown. Trippy! She speaks with the authority of the day and the night or whatever. Who gets to keep baby Letitita? Time for a classic Judgment of Solomon situation: The baby goes in the circle, each wannabe-mom takes an arm and tugs. But in a witchy twist, when Zelda lets go, Diana gives the baby to the demon. Rude! But in another twist, we learn that that baby was just a decoy and the real baby is safe.

Now everyone realizes that Susie’s been missing for two-thirds of the episode, and because this show is set in the year of our lord two thousand and eighteen, the aunties start looking up numbers in the white pages and making calls from a rotary telephone. Evil Santa is dipping humans in wax and keeping them as part of the Christmas display; how no one in Greendale has put duh and duh together here is beyond me, since the wax-people look the same as the regular people, but here we are in this psycho’s basement, trapped in a B-plot from Pretty Little Liars.

The demon mom has a thing about people who hurt children (this seems pretty universal and not all that special of a shtick, but okay), so she frees Susie and kills the Santa. Hilda makes some magical baked goods so Susie’s dad will forget this ever happened. All these witches are awfully lax about their mind-altering substances.

Diana pops up again to let Sabrina know why she was in limbo: Her unfinished business, which is sweet if anticlimactic, was worrying about her daughter. Sabrina wants to know what to do about Harvey: Can a mortal and a witch make it work? Diana tells her, basically, no. That is, she loved Sabrina’s dad and all, but she wouldn’t ask anyone else to walk down the path of night. “I think I understand,” Sabrina says, and I shout, GIRL, GET CLARIFICATION, YOUR MOM IS ABOUT TO VANISH AND BECOME A LITERAL GHOST AGAIN. But no one on this show listens to me.

On Christmas Eve, Harvey comes over to tell Sabrina that he knows the eggnog was enchanted. While he’s very happy his dad is no longer a wildly destructive alcoholic, he would like to remind Sabrina for the 10-millionth time to stop casting spells on him and his loved ones. “Don’t use magic with me or on me or near me,” he says, as he returns her (relatively benign but still not muggle-made) colored pencils that never need sharpening.

Our holiday special ends with Ambrose reading A Christmas Carol. Oh, also, some demon men are coming out of the mines. But we’ll deal with them when the show comes back in April!

Ongoing mysteries: Do the writers of this show need to me to rank its characters in order of how interesting they are? Because all of the top most exciting people (Prudence, Nick, Madam Satan Wardwell, Father Blackwood) were virtually MIA for this entire hour. Since Diana gave the flight number of the plane she was on during the crash, does that mean the “mystery” of how Sabrina’s parents died is a mystery no more? Or do we still think something suspicious went down?

Chilling Adventures Xmas Special Recap: You Better Watch Out