Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Chapter Three: “The Trial of Sabrina Spellman”
Directed by Rob Seidenglanz
Written by Ross Maxwell
* For a recap & review of Chapter Two, “The Dark Baptism” – click here
* For a recap & review of Chapter Four, “Witch Academy” – click here
Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) can’t escape the reach of the Dark Lord, most recently appearing through Principal Hawthorne (Bronson Pinchot). And Madam Satan (Michelle Gomez) keeps on posing solely as an older feminist woman looking out for the young girls at school when she’s really one of the Devil’s associates on Earth.
There’s “fascism afoot” at Baxter High. Rosalind (Jaz Sinclair) finds trouble with novels being banned, such as Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Susie (Lachlan Watson) suggests using WICCA to help with her fight. Naturally the principal gives them the party line of the educational system. So, the ladies go on a book hunt seeking other controversial novels, discovering the library’s missing “bad books.”
Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) finds the dead boy Connor’s iguana familiar sitting atop his casket. He wants to get the familiar to communicate with him. Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto) doesn’t like familiars. Worse, an “Infernal Summons” has arrived at the Spellman house. The young witch is charged with “breach of promise” for not signing the Book of the Beast. This makes Sabrina more defiant, until she hears Aunt Zelda and Aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis) are also on trial. The aunts have it even shittier, being stripped of their powers, making them age rapidly.
“Witch law is the complete opposite— guilty until proven innocent.”
We get more great references from the series when Ambrose suggests contacting a man called Daniel Webster (John Rubinstein), who specialises in Witch Law. Supposedly he beat the “Devil himself.” This is an allusion to “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” a short story by Stephen Vincent Benét. Sabrina tracks down Mr. Webster, hoping the occult lawyer can be of service. He claims retirement. Something haunts him from his own past, and he may just wind up representing Ms. Spellman after all.
We’re given a deeper look at the home life of Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch) and his older brother Tommy (Justin Dobies). Harvey wants to work at Cerberus Books. His dad’s (Christopher Rosamond) not into that, wanting Harvey to work in the mines. Mr. Kinkle’s a real prick.
At their sacrilegious court, the Church of Night convene to determine Sabrina’s fate. If convicted, she has to give up her humanity once and for all, and then when she dies she’ll burn for “333 years” (i.e. half of 666) in the pits of Hell. Suddenly, Mr. Webster turns up to defend Ms. Spellman, much to the chagrin of Blackwood and Aunt Zelda. Seems Daniel was taught Witch Law by none other than Sabrina’s own father. Lots of the trial involves parallels with feminist issues concerning consent— y’know, the witch was asking for it, going into the woods in a wedding dress and then backing out at the last minute. Just like patriarchal expectations of women, who believe men – like the Dark Lord – shouldn’t be ‘led on’ then denied. One of the reasons why the writing on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has been EXCELLENT!
Faustus Blackwood (Richard Coyle) breaks out the book showing an infant Sabrina signed her name days after she was born. How? Faustus calls Aunt Zelda to the stand to testify she was there when it was signed. Even the young witch’s father had a part in it, betraying his own daughter by giving her away to Lucifer. She was an exchange for marrying a mortal. An ugly slice of family history.
Harvey’s terrified of the mines, telling Sabrina about going into the them eight years ago while playing hide and seek. He got lost inside when nobody could find him. In the darkness, he saw the horned goat beast, just like the one Sabrina saw, too. This has haunted him ever since.
In a scene eerily reminiscent of A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s school hallway sceneschool hallway scene, Sabrina sees a bloody girl outside her classroom. She follows the corpse down to the library. She’s shown newspaper clippings about Mr. Webster having saved killers, child rapists, and the dregs of society.
Sabrina goes to see the “Defender of the Damned,” concerned with her lawyer’s previous cases. She doesn’t want a man like that defending her. Daniel tells her about his deal with the Devil to be the best lawyer who ever lived. He signed his own name in the book. He paid the price when of the men he freed eventually butchered his daughter. He wants to buy back a piece of his soul. This prompts Webster to use Sabrina’s half-human, half-witch status to throw the court into disarray.
Ambrose meets a young man at Connor’s funeral, Luke (Darren Mann). This guy’s also a warlock, like his dead buddy. This gives us a bit of a look at the Spellman cousin’s sexuality, alongside his quest to figure out who/what killed Connor. After their hook up, Ambrose wakes to find Luke gone, and the iguana dead.
The Dark Lord has an offer— if the young witch signs her name, she can see her friends once a year, her punishment’s waived, but she has to go to the academy immediately and otherwise renounce her humanity. Sabrina wants to see if she has a witches’ mark. She asks Harvey to look over her body. The two strip down together, in a sweet, tender scene. She finds there’s no mark on her body. Later, Webster insists there’ll be a retrial in a “human court” instead. Her aunts are withering away into deep old age as things linger on. There’s also Hilda and her secrets, which she worries will be exposed. What could those be?
Hilda bursts into the court with new evidence. She reads out the birth certificate for her niece from the Holy Mother Church of Greendale, issued a day before Sabrina’s name was signed in the Book of the Beast leaving that signature useless. Lucifer opens his “private chambers” to Faustus and Daniel, giving the court a recess.
A compromise is reached— Sabrina has a type of “dual citizenship” between humanity and witchcraft. She keeps her human life, but also has to go to the Academy of the Unseen Arts. Hilda and Zelda are given back their powers. And, for the time being, life returns to a sense of normalcy for the Spellmans. Aside from Hilda getting “excommunicated” from the Church of Night because of her part in a Catholic baptism. Oh, and Madam Satan is working her dark magic on all those around Sabrina, trying to hurt her in the subtlest ways, like speeding up Rosalind’s deteriorating eyesight and other mischievous shit.
Fantastic chapter in this excellent series! Loving all the ways Sabrina’s used as a feminist character, because there’s much to dig into with witchcraft and its historical connections to the issues women face. Chapter Four “Witch Academy” is next.