Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Sweet suffering Salem, we need to talk about pacing.
After an episode in which a whole lot of nothing happened, we get one in which so much everything happened it was just about impossible to process or follow it all. Quests that could have (really, should have) been episode-length escapades are over seconds after they begin. It’s still unclear what the big mystery of the show really is — is it whether Sabrina’s parents were murdered or died in that plane crash? If it’s obvious to us, mere mortals watching from our couches, that no one “just” dies in a plane crash in this world, why don’t Sabrina’s aunts have any suspicions about the circumstances of Edward and Diana’s deaths? Or are we supposed to be most invested in whether Sabrina will choose the path of light or the dark? Is light synonymous with mortal? Or is there a way to be a witch, in service to the Dark Lord, without going full evil? All of this is — still! — extremely unclear.
And look, I’ve been team Kiernan Shipka since she put that dry cleaning bag over her head during a poorly supervised playdate in Ossining. But I am still very confused about what makes Sabrina so special, beyond the accident of her birth. The fact that she’s a half-mortal/half-witch is all very cool material for her own soul-searching journey, but that alone does not explain why everyone is so obsessed with her. Why does the Dark Lord even want a half-witch by his side to reign over hell?
Also still totally unclear: how magic works here. We don’t even know what Sabrina is learning at the Academy; it feels mostly like summer camp for witches and warlocks, not real school with classes and exams and homework and such. Which, whatever, I don’t need to see her study, but can you at least tell me what she does and doesn’t know? Is she good at magic? In this world, is that even a thing? Or is it binary — you sign the Book of the Beast and boom, you’re a full-blown witch with the same powers as anybody else?
I bring this up because what I guess is supposed to be the crux of the episode/season/series — how and why Sabrina’s parents died, and what they would have done if they lived — is raised and resolved so speedily by two teen witches, only one of whom has been studying magic for any length of time. This show burns through some serious plot in ten seconds, eliminating any obstacles that would actually be entertaining, but then wastes away vast stretches of time on stories that go absolutely nowhere (dopey tarot-card readings) or aren’t central to Sabrina’s journey.
On top of the pacing issue, nothing about the manifesto-recovery makes sense. If everyone knew that Edward was headed to Rome to tell the anti-Pope about his manifesto, and the manifesto went down with the plane, why did no one even look for the thing until now? (Also, you’ve got to at least throw in a line that’s like, “It is written in the blood of the wolf mixed with the raven on cursed parchment, which cannot be dissolved by water nor destroyed by fire, and once it falls it cannot be lifted except by a warlock’s hand,” or some shit because otherwise how is it still intact at the bottom of the ocean, I swear to Satan.)
I’m not asking for, and would not even enjoy, a magical world that held up to scientific scrutiny. But the absence of all this crucial context and information is extremely distracting. It pulls me out of the show. Does it do the same to you? I know it is my job to overthink it but maybe I’m over-overthinking it. I trust you to share your qualms or non-qualms in the comments!
So we start the episode with Father Blackwood and his Ben Affleck–level back tattoo getting interrupted by the Weird Sisters, who are wearing Little House on the Prairie nightgowns, like the kind Taylor used to make her friends wear at slumber parties during the 1989 era. They had a dream which — this will shock you — is a warning that the Spellmans will be the undoing of the Blackwoods. Blackwood insists Zelda is in his thrall, which is hilarious. Prudence is desperate for her dad’s acceptance; he won’t call her a Blackwood. Not sure what his hang-up is about this now that Constance is dead and no one cares that he slept around.
Everyone’s all excited and anxious because Zelda and Blackwood’s wedding is only days away. (We could have spent an entire season building to this wedding!) The Witch Pope is coming from Rome to perform the ceremony, because I guess no one wanted to just get ordained online and keep things simple. Zelda manages to get Hilda, her maid of dishonor, un-excommunicated (recommunicated?) so she can perform all her sisterly duties, which include watching over her sister on the eve of her wedding while they wait for the Dark Lord to show up and have sex with her (!!!), as he’s allowed last licks of any bride before she’s off the market for good. Ew. Everyone is trying to be supportive about the whole thing but Sabrina is scandalized that Zelda would marry someone she neither loves nor trusts, and Ambrose is grieving over Luke. Also, his familiar (a mouse) is MIA and he thinks Salem (who, to be fair, is a cat) ate him.
Nick tells Sabrina about the anti-Pope, who is above all the high priests. “Oh, so he decides the rules I’m always breaking,” she says. Cute! The current anti-Pope was a big fan of Sabrina’s dad. I am remembering now that Nick was also a big fan of Sabrina’s dad — so many interesting threads introduced in season one, never to be picked up again, sacrificed to spend precious time watching Baxter High basketball tryouts — and right on cue, the ghost of Sabrina’s dad pops by to just exposition-dump all over the place. “Faustus Blackwood brought down the plane that killed your mother and I,” he says. And then just in case you didn’t catch that: “He murdered us.” WHERE WAS THIS INTEL LIKE FIVE EPISODES AGO, EDWARD? Could Sabrina’s mom’s ghost not have hinted at this when she was in town?
Sabrina reports this to Zelda who makes a solid point: “You were sitting in a bar drinking absinthe in the middle of the day.” Sabrina’s bridesmaid duties are revoked; she is too young to see this as the gift it is. Also, apparently ghosts love weddings because Constance is back, looming over the proceedings and haunting Zelda. I’ve never done that to an ex’s new girlfriend but I respect it. Hilda does some dirt magic and captures her, preventing Constance from crashing the actual wedding. Turns out Shirley Jackson (LOL) has been egging her on — she loved Edward and couldn’t have him because he fell for “that mortal tramp”; it’s been almost 20 years but she is HOLDING THAT GRUDGE — so Hilda lures her over for a chat and offs her the old-fashioned way: cyanide in her tea.
Though Sabrina got the brush-off from the aunties, Ambrose believes her. And so we get to this part of the episode that lasts all of three minutes but could have easily been an episode unto itself: Somehow Nick, with no real direction beyond, “It’s in the devil’s triangle,” and, “It looks like a piece of paper, I guess?” astral-projects into the ocean and comes back, manifesto in hand. That said, this does give us a beautiful moment of Nick rising up from the bathtub all wet and shirtless as I write in my notes, YES GIVE THE WITCHES WHAT THEY WANT.
Back at the Academy, the Judas boys are up to exactly the gestapo-style chanting and hail/heil-ing you’d expect. Edward’s manifesto is all about equality, respect, and unity — between men and women, between magic and mortals — while Blackwood’s, naturally, is a misogynistic hate-filled dream journal. Who will get to show their work to the anti-Pope? (In a bit of perfect casting, this father of fathers is played by Ray Wise of Twin Peaks fame.) The anti-Pope tells Sabrina he was a big fan of her father and his philosophies. He also hits on every single woman he talks to, regardless of age, which is … weird! There’s a lot of face-stroking. Father Blackwood introduces his daughter Prudence as “a gutter orphan.” Strong parenting right there. It makes it a little hard to buy Prudence’s devotion to him at the end of the episode, after he finally accepts her as his own flesh and blood.
Time to discuss my new favorite couple: Wardwell and Adam. She asks him if he’s even thought about what marriage is, and his answer is the verbal equivalent of a flock of animated bluebirds chirping around his head. Wardwell’s take: “Marriage is a walk down the primrose path towards a woman’s destruction. It’s nothing less than the complete obliteration of a woman’s personhood. It takes everything from her: her body, her independence, even her soul. And gives nothing in return. Nothing she’d want, at any rate.” Will someone please ask Rebecca Traister if she has seen this episode and has a comment?
But Adam says all he cares about is her; marriage is not important. He is handling this extremely well! He can tell she’s been hurt and though he cannot tell it was the real-deal devil who messed with her, his compassion and her vulnerability seem pretty authentic to me. I must say: I ship. Especially when the Dark Lord shows up to dare tell Wardwell, “You belong to me and only me.” Buddy, you’re a shitty boyfriend. LET HER LIVE.
Squeezed into the remainder of this episode are all of the following developments: Prudence almost kills her dad in his sleep; the anti-Pope gets murdered, the wedding becomes a joint wedding/funeral; Dorian Gray’s name finally pays off because he hides Ambrose, framed for murder, in an actual portrait frame; Ambrose coughs up his familiar which was snuck inside his body somehow as a mind-control device Father Blackwood used to get Ambrose to kill the anti-Pope; Sabrina and Nick use glamours to disguise themselves as the ghosts of her parents and out Blackwood as the killer of Sabrina’s parents at the wedding (“reads Hamlet once”); Blackwood officiates his own wedding ceremony; Ambrose tries to murder Blackwood but Prudence stops him; Ambrose goes to witch-jail for treason; Zelda and Blackwood get married and leave for their honeymoon; Blackwood is already making Zelda walk behind him and she somehow is surprised by this development even though he is not exactly subtle about his devotion to sexism. See what I’m saying?
Also, I just want to add here that I really like Sabrina’s outfit for this adventure. Plaid mini, full zipper? Here for it. Prudence also looks fabulous, and may I say that I admire her decision to go full-cleavage at her father’s wedding. Let Prudence be a sartorial inspiration for us all, even though her personal choices — loyalty to a dirtbag dad over the excellent Ambrose, for starters — could really use some work.
Ongoing mysteries: Why is everyone trying to commit homicide by stabbing when they’re all magic? Don’t they have spells for this stuff? What do we think really happened to Luke?