Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Bleach your hair, swipe on that purple lipstick, and swap your autumnal cable-knit for a black turtleneck: It’s a new year and Sabrina Spellman is ready for witchcraft. To which I say: FINALLY. You all know how I feel about Baxter High (it is boring) and its inhabitants (also boring, no matter how woke they are) and, alternatively, my attitude toward the Academy (spooky and amazing, if narratively inconsistent) and its students (name ONE PERSON there you wouldn’t make out with even if you’d just finished applying the aforementioned purple lipstick. Exactly).
Sabrina has a nightmare — Sunday scaries, so relatable — and it’s sort of like a Nativity scene, starring baby Sabrina, featuring the devil. She wakes up and does the first thing I would do if I were a witch: use magic to change her clothes a bunch of times until she lands on an outfit she likes. If I remember correctly, Melissa Joan Hart’s Sabrina did this too, no? So, cute callback to her ’90s self.
Aunt Zelda, who gave up that baby she stole very quickly and thus far with little fanfare, is now employed at the Academy, where she mostly eye-fucks her boss who thanks her by calling her a “hellsend,” and is obviously replacing his dead wife in, like, every capacity. Sabrina is ready to take a sabbatical from Baxter High — “sacred geometry is better than regular geometry,” show me the lie — and, though Zelda is delighted, Hilda is alarmed. Zelda is ready to write Sabrina an excuse, saying she’s contracted scarlet fever, which is definitely a thing that frequently afflicts teens in this year of our dark lord 2019. Sabrina’s already gotten the green light from Baxter’s new principal, who you may recall devoured her predecessor in the last season finale, Ms. Wardwell. In my notes I write lol Sabrina is a witch who is ghosting her mortal friends.
I am relieved that we will not have to spend any more time in these basic human halls, but my relief is short-lived, because we get an entire B plot about how Baxter High has no girls’ basketball team and Suzy, who has demonstrated exactly zero athletic abilities, is bullied for wanting to go out for the boys’ team. To which I say: GIRLS HAVE BASKETBALL TEAMS UNLESS THIS SHOW IS SET IN 1963.
I guess we need this extremely no-duh parallel to make us see that sexism is oppressive and everywhere? I think it would actually be a lot more interesting if Sabrina’s witch-world were the place with all the patriarchal bullshit and her mortal world were more progressive and modern. Because then there’d be real tension: Is she coming into her power by embracing her identity as a witch, or giving it up to abandon a place where the gains of feminism are more well-established and no anachronistic laws will prevent her from running for class president or whatever? But no one asked me, so here we are.
Nick Scratch is running for top boy, naturally, but in a very Torrance-fundraising-for-the-Clovers-to-go-to-Nationals move, he nominates Sabrina against Father Blackwood’s wishes. “I don’t mind a little competition,” he says. “Especially not when it’s so damn cute.” Remember Harvey? Neither do I.
The top boy competition involves three witchcraft challenges and apparently zero democracy. (This would be another cool contrast, re: Sabrina and power and her mortal life, if the show cared about that sort of thing as much as I do!) While Sabrina pulls an all-nighter at the library — are witches not allowed to use technology? Can someone please explain why there are no computers at magic school? Why doesn’t Sabrina have a cell phone with her? WHAT YEAR IS IT REALLY — the witch boys go out with Father Blackwood to this nightclub that’s like what Chuck Bass would’ve designed if he were a warlock. Nick is there with his bow tie untied, looking very dashing. It’s all fun and games and witch-strippers until someone puts a fake Sabrina head on a platter, just to remind Nick of the “only acceptable outcome” of this whole competition. Subtle!
Sabrina gets attacked by a demon during her study session. She thinks Ambrose’s boyfriend, Luke, is behind it, since he was not exactly supportive of her top boy candidacy. Again I am confused about how much power Sabrina has versus Ambrose, who is much older and more experienced, and what magic she knows and what she has to learn in school. But she makes things get all loud and trembly to freak Ambrose out. Good for her.
Prudence, having learned of her lineage last season, is now … a glorified babysitter who isn’t even “allowed” to use her own name. Why not just use it anyway? All Prudence has going for her right now is her continued sartorial and styling excellence. She and her sidekicks help Sabrina cheat through the first challenge, which is arcane witch trivia. Based on this unearned victory and general teen moxie, Sabrina announces her plans to become high priestess one day. Father Blackwood is apoplectic.
Next up is the “boil and bubble” challenge, which I think is like The Great British Baking Show but with magic. Hilda is a champion bubbler and helps Sabrina prep. At this point Sabrina reveals her real reason for keeping her distance from her mortal friends, and shockingly it is not because they are dull and/or less cute than Nick Scratch: Sabrina says the Dark Lord can summon her at any time to do his bidding, and she wants to protect her human buddies by staying far away from them. Does this make Sabrina special, though? I thought the whole point was anyone who signed their name in the Book of the Beast could be the Dark Lord’s emergency contact.
Since Sabrina won the first challenge, we know she is going to lose the second challenge. Literally on Sabrina’s second try, the potion putrefies. She has to chug it, for reasons. She pukes and everyone cheers for her. Then she swings by Baxter High to, yet again, use magic on her friends without their knowledge or consent. SABRINA. WE HAVE DISCUSSED THIS AT LENGTH. Also, how does Sabrina know how to do whatever spells she’s doing here but she doesn’t know how to throw newt’s eyes in potions? If I roll my eyes any harder they’ll get stuck that way, so let’s skip ahead to the end of tryouts, wherein Suz announces she goes by Theo now. Her friends are all very kind and accepting of this, as you would expect, even though they go to a school that is too sexist to field (court?) a girls’ basketball team.
This is maybe an unpopular opinion, but I feel like the real parallel between Theo and Sabrina here is: While their big-picture politics are correct, they personally are really not qualified for the positions they want. Sabrina has been a student at the Academy for all of 30 seconds. She barely knows anything about magic and has spent almost zero time at the school. Theo is bad at basketball. It is not sexist to say people who are bad at basketball should not make the basketball team! And I say this as someone who was once extremely bad at basketball. Probably I still am; haven’t checked in a while. Anyway, this whole episode is basically “Fight Song: The TV Show,” and as with that anthem, I am left feeling wildly uninspired.
The only person inspiring me now is Zelda, who has a DTR talk with Blackwood after being called “a wanton hussy” by a fellow faculty member. She cares little about the opinions of “a gaggle of withered hags,” amazing, but she “must have clarity.” So she cuts the benefits out of their friendship for the time being.
Principal Wardwell has a little chat with Sabrina about the “provocatively named Nick Scratch” and Sabrina remembers Nick’s a conjurer, which means maybe he is the one siccing all these demons on her. I want you all to know I never believed this blasphemy for a SECOND.
They team up for the final challenge to bring all the demons into the chalk circle, because nothing could possibly go wrong with that. Still, I enjoy this because of the dramatic hand-holding. These demons have but one wish: to kill the “half-spawn,” who “must not ascend.” Father Blackwood banishes that little trio and then says neither Sabrina nor Nick can be top boy. I write pick Prudence!!! but Father Blackwood, a Sexist, picks Ambrose. He doesn’t even go here! Also: Isn’t Ambrose supposed to be really old? Why would he enroll in school? I love his velvet blazer, though.
Roz has a vision where she and Harvey make out against some lockers. Nick asks Sabrina on a date and they wind up at that “warlocks only” club from before. Everyone is drinking; it is not clear what the norms are for witches and booze consumption. The important thing is that Nick is attracted to Sabrina’s ambition and they live to flirt another day. And meanwhile, the Dark Lord is making a house call. He and Principal Wardwell have some catching up to do.
Ongoing mysteries: Um, where’s Salem? Will we get any guidelines or rules here about how magic actually works and what Sabrina is and is not capable of? What do we think it means to ascend? Who will hook up first: Roz and Harvey, or Sabrina and Nick?