Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, Chapter One Review: October Country

by Rachel Bellwoar

Last year, on the Friday before Halloween, we got the second season of Stranger Things. This year we’ve been gifted with Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. If Netflix isn’t careful, by the time October 25th, 2019 comes around, they’re going to be hard pressed to top themselves.

As of this writing, I’ve only watched the first episode of Sabrina. The plan is to cover the show episodically and you can’t unknow information once you’re watched ahead but, while I expected the show to be a little darker, going by the comics (though there’s room for that to come), right now there’s a lot to be said for the joy by which Sabrina and her aunts practice magic (and magic that they have no illusions about coming from their Dark Lord, and not some benevolent force).
Sabrina has little problem with it, anyway. Every witch, on their 16th birthday, is supposed to go through a Dark Baptism (Sabrina’s falls on Halloween and a blood moon) and sign their name in the Dark Lord’s book, but the stakes are higher than they were in the comics. If Sabrina agrees to the ritual, she must cut off all ties with her mortal life. In the comics she could continue to attend her old school and it was more about giving up her high school boyfriend, Harvey (Ross Lynch), than anything else. On the show Harvey’s still a no go (the coven has strict rules against human-witch relations, never mind that Sabrina was born of such a scandalous union) but Sabrina also has to say good-bye to her friends, Susie (Lachlan Watson) and Roz (Jaz Sinclair), and transfer to the Academy of Unseen Arts.
One of my favorite scenes is when Sabrina goes to her room, after unleashing some magical payback, and has the same expression on her face that she had after Harvey gave her a necklace and said ‘I love you’ for the first time. In that moment you understand how difficult this choice will be. There is no clear winner.

Courtesy of Netflix

Expanding Sabrina’s dilemma, so it’s not just a boy standing between her taking the path of light or the path of night, was a smart call on the show’s part, especially since Harvey’s a little underwritten so far. He’s not even a football player, like he was in the comics, so you can’t judge him for being a jock. We like him because Sabrina likes him (and because there’s no reason to dislike him) and he doesn’t get bent out of shape when he’s more afraid, watching Night of the Living Dead, than she is, but who Harvey is, outside of being her boyfriend, isn’t clear.
Susie is a new character, and the show hasn’t said yet whether they identify as nonbinary (the actor, Watson, does and the press seems to be pointing that way) but it would mean some much-needed representation, if that’s the case. Roz was an antagonist in the comics, down to having the same red hair and appearance as Cheryl Blossom. With Madelaine Petsch already owning that role on Riverdale, another Cheryl would feel derivative, so rewriting Roz as one of Sabrina’s best friends works.
While on a gut level you already knew this when she was announced, Kiernan Shipka is an unbelievably spot-on choice for Sabrina. Besides the uncanny, superficial resemblance, her work on Mad Men more than shows she has the acting chops. Also standing out right now (though it should be said the whole cast is remarkable) are Michelle Gomez, whose days as Missy on Doctor Who are serving her well in the role of Miss. Wardell, and Chance Perdomo, as Sabrina’s cousin Ambrose, in his first series regular role.

13 More Wicked Thoughts On The Series Premiere:

Courtesy of Netflix
  1. Either it’s a witch thing (since we’ve primarily seen them in Miss. Wardell’s office and on Sabrina’s porch) or the citizens of Greendale are exceptionally skilled jack-o-lantern carvers.
  2. A lot of Sabrina’s dilemma comes having been exposed to humans. While it may have been her parents’ wish, that she attend a regular school, why didn’t Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto) push for home schooling more? Is it that an attachment to humans was so outside her experience that she couldn’t imagine Sabrina feeling so conflicted about leaving them?
  3. Book Recommendation: Archie Comics’ Chilling Adventures is the place to start, but Image Comics’ Black Magick features a witch cop and similarly attributes magic to darkness.
  4. If you’re wondering what the art in Chilling Adventures looks like, that’s Robert Hack‘s drawings being used for the opening credits (if slightly altered to look more like the actors in places). In what feels like an oversight, though, Hack isn’t credited in either the opening or closing credits (not that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is credited for writing the comics but he is the show creator and writer of this episode).
  5. Another piece of trivia from the opening credits: the picture of Sabrina that appears next to the, “Based upon the comic book by Archie Comics” card is the first panel from Sabrina’s 1962 debut in Archie’s Madhouse.
  6. New word most likely to catch on: “Succubitches”
  7. Another big change from the comics: the show is set in the present day instead of the 1960’s. While this makes a crossover with Riverdale possible (at least if they want to have the shows be on the same time line — a very different Betty and Veronica show up in Chilling Adventures), it hurts some of the characters like Harvey, who was depicted as a horndog in the comics. TV Harvey’s more likable and evolved but he also suffers from lack of identity outside of his relationship.
  8. I love the glimpse at the real Salem behind the furry cat and he adds a bit of a rogue element to the story, since we’re not sure why he volunteered to be Sabrina’s familiar.
  9. On-going mystery #1: did Sabrina’s parents really die in a plane accident?
  10. On-going mystery #2: because the malum malus was infested with worms Sabrina saw a vision of the past, instead of the future. That creature that comes out of the tree looks like the Dark Lord from the comics, but what’s with the two babies by Sabrina’s parents? Did Sabrina have a twin or are we supposed to understand this as the two paths Sabrina could take, cleft feet or a mortal life?
  11. It seems like there should be an easier way to sabotage Sabrina’s apple picking than a scarecrow marionette (like planting a fake malum malus, perhaps), so is this our introduction to the rules and limitations of magic that prevent Miss. Wardell from intervening more directly? Also, was she responsible for the hay maze or was that a happy coincidence, resulting in an awesome set piece?
  12. In the comics, Aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis) frightens a little girl who calls Sabrina a “half-breed” with a giant spider, so it only seems right that Sabrina and Ambrose should follow in her footsteps on the show by teaming up to scare Sabrina’s principal (Bronson Pinchot) with spiders.
  13. A slightly less successful adaptation: Miss. Wardell’s sudden change in personality seems like it would draw more attention than it does. The comics avoided that by having Ms. Porter (different name, same character) come in to replace another teacher.

Season 1 of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is streaming on Netflix.

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