This review contains spoilers.
1.2 The Dark Baptism
“My name is Sabrina Spellman, and I will not sign it away”
This lengthy episode has the unenviable task of covering not only Sabrina’s Dark Baptism, but her attempts to sever her ties with the mortal world as she preprares to embrace her magical future.
Naturally, things don’t quite go to plan.
Picking up immediately where the pilot left off, Sabrina addresses her concerns with Father Blackwood. Richard Coyne is exceptionally great in these scenes, delivering lines like “free choice child, that’s the bedrock on which our church is built” with such believable charm that you can’t help but believe him – even though you know as a representative for Satan that his avalanche of lies are held back only by the mask of charisma that he wears. But his words are enough to quell Sabrina’s doubts for the moment, and she turns her attention to helping ensure that the Baxter High bullies leave Susie alone.
Of course with her youth comes a certain degree of naivety, and Sabrina’s inherent belief in the good within people comes back to haunt her twice in this episode. First when the Wyrd Sisters’ assistance in getting revenge against Susie’s tormentors takes a sinister turn and, later, when she realises that Father Blackwood’s calming words at the the start of this episode were merely lies designed to trick her into signing the Book of the Beast.
It is to her credit that Sabrina understands her worth, and she is not willing to give up her independence for anyone… not even Satan himself. The evil that men do is an obvious running theme of this season, one that speaks of the real-life patriarchy and the countless problems caused by it. The fact that this parallel is done subtly makes a show that is on the surface about witches and dark magic actually the most feminist and political series of the fall season – and one that is utterly necessary right now.
Sabrina will not sign her life away, and she ultimately succeeds here in getting what she wants. “And so the girl who had to decide between being a a witch and being a mortal chose neither path – or, if you look at it another way, chose both.” It is somewhat telling that the character’s narration in the series is dropped after this point, because Sabrina has told you all that you need to know about herself for the time being, with her actions in subsequent episodes illustrating her strengths and flaws in ways that dialogue never could. She has turned sixteen, she has survived her Dark Baptism, she is ready for whatever lies ahead regardless of how terrifyingly uncertain it may be.
While Sabrina is the necessary focus of this episode, we are afforded insight into the compelling dynamics of Zelda and Hilda. As the older sibling, Zelda treats the kinder Hilda with almost a casual cruelty. She murders Hilda on a whim and for fun. “You can’t keep killing me” declares Hilda in a line delivery from Lucy Davis that is once very funny but also tinged with anger and a sadness that is deeper than the Cain Pit she was resurrected in. We get to watch the Zelda/Hilda relationship evolve and complicate over these ten episodes, and it’s surprising to look back upon this second episode having already seen the finale and remember how much growth is yet to come.
It’s a mark of a solid series that a mere two episodes in and already viewers feel like they have known these characters for ages. While this is largely the product of great writing and casting, we mustn’t overlook the fact that the chemistry between the actors is, forgive me, magical.
Furthermore, in a series where the supernatural reigns it is essential that the grounded everyday stuff seem natural. That’s not a problem here. We believe in Sabrina’s love for Harvey and her friends, in the sibling rivalry (heightened though it is) between Hilda and Zelda, and in the concern that Ambrose has for his cousin.
The only real bone of contention with this episode involves Ambrose’s investigation of slain witch Connor Kemper. Chance Perdomo is a fascinating actor to watch, so its a relief that he gets something to do other than brood here as his storyline is sidelined by those of his family members. But, and this isn’t a spoiler so much as a warning, (okay, its both) the Kemper plot is largely backburned for most of Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina‘s first season, a casualty of the series being greenlit for twenty episodes before one frame of it was shot. So while watching these scenes, just be warned that they are setting up for events that won’t be dealt with until next year. Keep this in mind and your enjoyment of the entire first season as a whole will be heightened.
Before we wrap things up, just a few thoughts on the Dark Baptism itself. There are a lot of truly eerie touches in this sequence, most notably how Sabrina’s white dress turns dark as nothingness as she passes through the blue flame on her way to the ceremony – a harbinger of things to come. It’s just a matter of time before fundamentalist groups get up in arms over this show’s occult trappings. Yet anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention knows that Satan is depicted here as just the worst, the ultimate bad man in a position of power who will destroy anyone to succeed. With the exception of the Spellmans, his worshippers seem, well, kinda nuts. (Enter Ms Wardwell’s worshipping of his cloven hooves and Father Blackwood barely holding back his murderous rage at Sabrina’s rejecting Old Scratch). This Dark Baptism sequence is an illustration that with earning Satanic powers comes a massive price, and that’s something that will be explored in gripping detail over the coming episodes. That’s something worthing of praise, whatever your beliief system is.