Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Chapter One: “October Country”
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
* For a recap & review of Chapter Two, “The Dark Baptism” – click here
In Greendale it “always feels like Halloween.” This is where witchy Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) lives. She’s into George A. Romero movies and zombie logic. At the theatre, she and her friends run into Mary Wardwell (Michelle Gomez), a teacher at Baxter High for whom Sabrina feels bad. Later, the teacher runs into trouble on a dark road when she nearly hits somebody. She finds a woman begging for help in the rain. Mary takes her home, intending to bring her to a doctor in the morning. She tells the young woman of witches hung in the nearby forest, whose “angry spirits” haunt the town. The woman asks about Sabrina, revealing the witch’s father broke “Sacred Witch Law” by marrying a mortal. After that she puts a pair of scissors in Mary’s neck. Looks like Ms. Wardwell’s being possessed by the devil, becoming Madam Satan.
Sabrina and her friends dissect horror movies at Cerberus Books. Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch) would rather just watch a zombie flick instead of “a metaphor“— Sabrina loves him for his sweet, simple approach, too. At home, the young witch lives with her family in a funeral home, the Spellman Mortuary, and she rocks out to classics like “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes. She’s a pretty cool young lady. She’s nearly 16. On her calendar she marks her birthday as the “Dark Baptism.”
Her family includes Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto) and Aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis), as well as Ambrose (Chance Perdomo), her British cousin. The aunts are trying to get their niece to pick out a familiar before her Sweet Sixteen. Sabrina’s been studying spells in the Demonomicon— Father Gore knows this is from the comics, is it also a Dungeons & Dragons reference? She wants to put out a cosmic call for a familiar rather than picking one from a book.
“The great work begins”
In the woods, Sabrina’s looking for her potential familiar. She’s confronted by Prudence (Tati Gabrielle), Agatha (Adeline Rudolph), and Dorcas (Abigail Cowen)— the Weird Sisters, fellow students we’ll eventually see at the Academy of the Unseen Arts. The trio are real “sucky bitches” whose group from the comics are a reference back to William Shakespeare’s own Weird Sisters from Macbeth. These girls put a curse on Sabrina, viewing her as a “half–breed,” being half-human, half-witch. The sisters also suggest the accident that killed her parents was not an accident.
Sabrina discovers her friend Susie (Lachlan Watson) has been physically accosted by some of the local football players. Susie’s non-binary, constantly being bullied, and feels a “constant state of fear” at school, getting no help from dickhole principal, George Hawthorne (Bronson Pinchot). (Pretty sure ole George’s last name is inspired by John Hathorne, a leading judge at the Salem Witch Trials.) Meanwhile, Mary’s back at school acting much differently, which Sabrina notices.
Sabrina’s working on spells at night and school protests by day. She wants to start a club for young women. Her pal Rosalind Walker’s (Jaz Sinclair) into the idea. The friends are just as concerned about their girl’s birthday. However, Sabrina has her Dark Baptism to attend. At home, the aunts “praise Satan” for the availability of human blood for the party, receiving a stabbing victim’s corpse at the mortuary. SO WONDERFULLY TWISTED!
“When will the world learn? Women should be in charge of everything.”
When Sabrina’s faced with telling Harvey about moving away to the mysterious academy, she shows him where she was born in the forest grove. She explains she’ll be “reborn” in the same place under an “eclipsing Blood Moon.” Sabrina tells him about her witchy lineage, and having to say goodbye to her human connections in order to follow the sacred laws. Harvey’s upset, so she makes him forget the whole conversation. Putting a spell on someone is, effectively, denying them autonomy and their ability to consent. A weird situation for a witch, as a supernatural being and a woman at once.
Trying to wash off her blood curse in the bath, Sabrina has a vision of her parents in the woods. They arrive to a bassinet holding two babies, one of whom has hooves for feet. That night, Sabrina enlists Ambrose to put a “good scare” into Principal Hawthorne, infesting his house with creepy crawlers. Afterwards, in her room alone, Sabrina gets a visit from her familiar: Salem!!!! HE HAS ARRIVED! Father Gore’s a sucker for black kitties— we own a beautiful Bombay named Salem after the same character.
Sabrina has trouble with Satan requiring her being a virgin. More issues of consent! She wants to make an “educated choice” about giving herself over to the Dark Lord in return for “extraordinary, delicious gifts.” A bit of commentary in here about internalised misogyny. Despite a distinction between men and women as witches, witchcraft is so deeply tied to womanhood. The aunts are adamant, especially Zelda, that their niece joins the Church of Night like they did, they don’t care about her individual choice as a witch or a woman.
“But no mercy you grant, and no mercy you’ll get.”
At school, Sabrina and Rosalind push their women’s group forward while the principal’s out. They call it WICCA – the Women’s Intersectional Cultural and Creative Association – and simultaneously, Madam Satan’s keeping tabs on the young witch.
Great use of Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” while Ambrose is in the morgue, looking over the stabbing victim’s body. He finds a curious mark on the inside of one arm, alerting the aunts. What appears as a birthmark is actually a “witches’ mark.” The family wonders if there might be a witch hunter in town. We also get hints about the Spellman family, like how they “haven‘t had long pig for ages,” implying they’re not afraid of cannibalism occasionally.
Sabrina’s searching for answers about what she should do. She walks a hay maze, hoping to conjure a decision about the academy. Suddenly, a scarecrow comes alive by way of Madam Satan’s familiar, attacking the young witch. Lucky for the girl she’s got Salem on her side, who sounds panther-like as he takes down the nasty scarecrow.
In the most feminist scene yet, Sabrina comes to an old tree – the “mallum malus” which, from Latin, roughly translates to “tree(or fruit) of evil” – where she’s left with a choice: pick an apple. Biblical Eve and witchcraft rolled into one surreal package. She picks a bright red one, biting it, and asks if she should go through with her baptism. She sees visions of hanged witches. A terrifying horned beast comes out of the tree’s trunk. She spits out the apple and comes back to reality.
Back at home, she’s greeted by her aunts, Ambrose, and Father Faustus Blackwood (Richard Coyle)— a High Priest from the Church of Night. This guy’s the Pope of Satanism, dressed well, sporting a cane, and rocking fingernails straight out of Robert De Niro’s wardrobe in Angel Heart. Their guest hopes to convince Sabrina to join their ranks.
What an episode! Father Gore was hooked immediately. One of those updates of a property many loved 20 years ago that’s WAY BETTER being taken more seriously and with more edge.
Chapter Two: “The Dark Baptism” is next.