(Spoilers from the first season of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina and the holiday episode, “A Midwinter’s Tale,” will be found below.)
Netflix’s strenuous 2018 holiday vibe is partially due to Kurt Russell playing a hot Santa in The Christmas Chronicles, but the streaming service is also celebrating with series-based content, including the Chilling Adventure Of Sabrina: A Midwinter’s Tale. The deliciously childhood-ruining series’ popularity shall be rewarded with season two in only a few months, and the teaser trailer, set to “Cherry Bomb,” could lead some to believe that the teenage witch has truly gone bad after joining the Dark Side. Now, a holiday episode that could have easily been written off as a fluffy standalone shows that Sabrina’s still the same headstrong young lady. That is to say, we not only see a Happy Solstice but Sabrina further fueling her quest to challenge the patriarchy.
This is a relief to see, for despite relenting and signing her name to the Book of the Beast in the Season 1 finale, I wasn’t at all convinced that Sabrina had given up on her feminist drive. I mean, look at this winking Kiernan Shipka.
That’s the look of a witch with a plan. While evoking The Craft and flanked by the Weird Sisters, the newly minted Church of Night disciple could be a Trojan horse inside the coven. Satan may have met his match, and not in the way that he’s intended, given that one of Lilith/The Mother Of Demons’ raven familiars suggested that Satan wants Sabrina as his queen.
Obviously, Sabrina didn’t want to pledge her soul to the Dark Lord. She spent the entirety of the first season justifying reasons for not doing so, but Lilith, as Satan’s footsoldier, whipped up enough of a threat to Greendale’s citizens that Sabrina relented in order to save lives. Yet showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa recently told Vanity Fair that she’s still the same Sabrina, and her “hair really is the biggest thing” that underwent a transformation. So in addition to treating the Netflix audience to Christmas ghosts and demons, the series acts as a bridge for Sabrina’s continuing quest. And even if you’re not into holiday episodes, this one brings plenty of hijinks and is enjoyable as Hell. Christmas demon Krampus gets rewritten as a sinister Santa named Bartel, and poltergeists known as the Yule Lads (the adopted children an Icelandic witch) raise a ruckus.
Most importantly in terms of character development, Sabrina performs a few séances that arrive with touches of Beetlejuice. She eventually bonds with her dead mother, Diana, who reminds her daughter that her half-human side remains and positions her uniquely within the church (possibly to do real damage one day?). Likewise, the Weird Sisters are finally on Sabrina’s side for the séances because they know what it’s like to have no mother. And Aunties Zelda and Hilda spend this episode shielding the High Priest from learning that his wife birthed a daughter because he’d sacrifice a girl. In the end, the holiday episode serves to unite the coven’s women and remind Sabrina that even witches can embrace their humanity and come together against true evil.
As such, we’re reminded of season one’s approach to addressing the gender paradox within the coven. Many would assume that a series about witches would be a fully feminist one from the beginning, but it’s not quite that simple. There’s no debating that Chilling Adventures follows a female-centric narrative, but there are no shortcuts to the protagonist’s journey (unlike with the current Charmed reboot). Yes, witches are considered wild women, but in this series, they initially obey the men (the High Priest and the Dark Lord) in charge. Even Sabrina, who resisted her Dark Baptism, later learned that she’d been pledged (and betrayed) by her dead father, a powerful warlock. Still, she mightily fought against the prophecy that she would join the church and save herself for Satan. (Sounds familiar, right?)
This protracted power struggle — which I don’t expect to end next season — is what makes this series addictive as well as aesthetically pleasing. Sabrina didn’t impulsively leap at the chance to gain immortality, power, and social ties after she learned the price: Her individuality and free will. Somehow, she’s the first one in the coven to act this way, and it’s only when Sabrina was horrified by a cannibalistic holiday (in which disciples pray for the chance to die) that anyone began to believe her at all. This is a horror series through and through but, of course, the villain here isn’t really Satan but the status quo. On that note, it’s worth revisiting the words that the duplicitous Lilith (played spectacularly by Miranda Otto) used before Sabrina signed the Book of the Beast:
“I know you’re afraid, Sabrina, because women are taught to fear power. Own your power. Don’t accept it from the Dark Lord. Take it. Wield it. Save your friends … what’s more important, your pissing with the Dark Lord or the safety of your friends?”
Lilith ironically believes she can handle Sabrina’s rebellion, but she’s met a worthy foe. Sabrina did not blindly submit to the Church of Night and chose to mull things over while making an informed choice. Her fellow witches didn’t immediately understand and urged the problem child to stop questioning the existing order. Sabrina’s family and classmates now sort-of get it, yet Lilith has no idea what Satan’s up against next season, does she? I’ll also add that I’m tickled to see Kiernan Shipka in the titular role, given that she played Don and Betty Draper’s Mad Men offspring, a character who’s likely still coping on a therapist’s couch as we speak. Meanwhile, more Chilling Adventures can’t arrive soon enough.
Netflix’s ‘A Midwinter’s Tale’ premieres on December 14, and ‘Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina‘ Season 2 is due in April 2019.