This Chilling Adventures of Sabrina review contains spoilers.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Holiday Special
“Christmas is the best time for ghost stories”
Bridging the gap between the end of the first season and the second season that debuts on April 5th, the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina holiday special finds the Spellman family celebrating the Winter Solstice. It’s a week before Christmas, and Sabrina, still emotionally raw from her breakup with Harvey and having to sign her name in the Book of the Beast, is feeling confused. She yearns to chat with her late mother, Diana (Annette Reilly), whom she glimpsed in limbo back in episode nine to get some guidance on how to balance her mortal and witch sides.
She decides to hold a séance to contact her mom, which leads her to Mrs. Wardwell/Madame Satan (whom we last saw eating Bronson Pinchot’s Principal Hawthorne character in the season finale). Wardwell is experiencing her own twisted version of Seasonal Affective Disorder as Satan has yet to reward her for bringing Sabrina into his kingdom. So when Sabrina fortuitously arrives, she agrees to help her by lending her a copy of the Book of the Dead that is necessary to perform the ritual.
Apparently Greendale is still smarting from the closure of Toys R Us, which explains why Sabrina didn’t just take the easy route and buy a Ouija Board. Before once again messing with forces she doesn’t fully understand yet, Sabrina meets up with Harvey to give him a set of enchanted pencils that will never dull. Even though she’s fully aware that he is uncomfortable with magic. An Amazon gift card or something from Etsy would have more than sufficed.
Realizing that she can’t contact the spirit world on her own, she turns to Roz and Susie for help…and her friends promptly shut her down. While they are cool with her witchness, it still makes them uncomfortable and they need some time to adjust. Besides, Roz is busy with holiday family obligations and Susie has a job working as Jingles the Christmas Elf*– a Greendale tradition – at the local department store. With her friends unavailable, she enlists the assistance of the Wyrd Sisters, who are more than happy to participate in some Yuletide supernatural tomfoolery.
Meanwhile, at the Spellman home, Sabrina’s aunts have prepared a Yule Log in the fire that must burn through the solstice on December 21st in order to keep evil spirits away. (You can see where this is going). All of the holiday merriment is clearly having an effect on Zelda, who lets her cold guard down in front of Letitia, the baby she abducted from Father Blackwood in the season finale and intends on raising as her own.
In her bedroom, Sabrina is joined by Prudence, Agatha, and Dorcas for the séance. However, this being Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, things go wrong rather quickly. Since the Solstice is the time of year when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead are at their most narrow, some evil spirits cross over into our realm when Sabrina contacts Diana – extinguishing the Spellman’s Yule Log and genuinely portending dark things to come.
Meanwhile, Susie’s job as Santa helper takes a dark turn when it is revealed that the not so Jolly Old Saint Nicholas she works for is actually a Yuletide Demon creepily seeking to immortalize her forever in wax to become a permanent part of his Christmas tableaux. While Mr. Putnam and Roz (whose Cunning told her that something was up with Santa) start to investigate Susies’s disappearance, the Spellmans must endure holiday mischief caused by Yule Tots who backdoored their way into the household through Sabrina’s botched séance. To rid themselves of this Christmas chaos, they are forced to enlist the help of Gryla (Heather Doerkson) a witch who clearly takes fashion advice from Siouxsie Sioux and is known for eating children — resulting in the best line of the episode delivered by Sabrina: “Seriously, what is it with witches and cannibalism?”
When Sabrina returns from giving Harvey’s dad some enchanted eggnog that will put an end to his drinking, she hides out with Letitia in the mortuary’s enbalming room while Gryla meets with her aunts. While this is happening, Ambrose, who once again tragically doesn’t get much to do, goes to a super lame and totally un-Hogwartsian Yule Ball with Luke.
For the cost of some gin (I would have rather had the baked treats that Hilda offered, please and thank you), Gryla agrees to rid the house of the puckish Yule Tots. That is until she hears Letitia crying. Now wanting the baby for her own, she plans on taking the child until Diana suddenly appears and claims that Zela and Gryla must determine who is worthy of parentage by playing tug of war with the newborn. Zelda clearly isn’t up for this barbaric game, and defers to Gryla, who leaves with the child, a belly full of rum, and the smug satisfaction that comes from besting your opponents. But PSYCH, turns out they weren’t fighting for Letitia after all, but rather Ambrose’s teddy bear that Sabrina enchanted to look like the baby.
But when Sabrina learns that Susie is in the clutches of the Yule Demon who was posing as a department store Santa, she and her aunts are forced to enlist the aid of Gryla to defeat the wax-loving foe and save Susie — which they do in the most garish way possible. This crisis averted, Sabrina sees Harvey again and is told by him that while he is on the path to accepting her she is never to use magic around him ever again. To these terms she agrees, at least until the season premiere in March. The episode ends with everyone in the Spellman house with Sabrina giving the Yuletide affirmation “And Satan bless us, everyone.” A quick shot of demons follows reminding viewers that despite the message of goodwill on display here, evil is very much still on the horizon.
This was an interesting, if disposable, holiday special that felt shoehorned in continuity wise. While some narrative threads of the previous season are paid lip service to, for the most part the lingering questions from the finale are glossed over. More annoying is how quickly Zelda backtracks on her decision to raise Letitia, which seemed to be a major plot thread for the second season.
The biggest carry over from the first season came in the brief scenes featuring Harvey. He is clearly suffering from PTSD involving his brother’s resurrection and Sabrina’s meddling with his family. Ever oblivious to the negative impact that her powers have, Sabrina again uses magic to screw with Harvey’s family, and frankly, she’s a terrible girlfriend. And we all know the cliche about what the path to hell is paved with.
The most frustrating aspect of this episode is how little so many of the leads were in it. Father Blackwood didn’t even appear, and Roz, Susie, Madame Satan, and Ambrose were underused once more. And seeing how Diana’s séance was the impetus for this story’s action, the character herself didn’t really have much to say to her daughter.
While this installment was somewhat lightweight, it did evoke feelings of Christmas wonder, with the cinematography being especially, forgive me, enchanting. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a gorgeous show to begin with, and even more so when given a Currier and Ives makeover. On the whole though, it’s inability to move the story forward left me wanting. But maybe that wasn’t the point? Perhaps the ultimate goal of “A Midwinter’s Tale” was to relate a low-stakes adventure with the Spellmans that leaves you feeling as buzzy as some spiked eggnog. In that case, mission accomplished.
*A quick bit of comics trivia, Jingles the Christmas Elf is one of Santa’s helpers who has been causing holiday mischief for Archie and the gang since 1961. The fact that Jingles got a shout-out in this Yuletide special made my dead Grinch heart grow three sizes.