This review contains spoilers.
1.4 Witch Academy
“Don’t show them you’re scared or they’ll kill you”
The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina comic is set in the 1960s, and it’s easy to forget that the series isn’t as well. Apart from the occasional appearance of modern technology, it could very easily be set in an earlier time. Greendale is a community tethered to its own past, and this anarchronistic aesthetic has permeated the entire town. Yet despite all of the backward-glancing that seems to separate the town’s residents from truly living in the present, thematically this is a programme very interested in being invested in the right now.
We’ve already touched upon the parallels between the Devil and patriarchy in general in our review of the second episode, and this time around the perils of hazing are being explored. (If you somehow don’t believe this is still a current problem, familiarise yourself with the tragic story of Tim Piazza, who died while pledging a Penn State fraternity in 2017). It’s laudable how this series can utilise timely subject matter into a show focused on witchcraft, but here we are again.
It is Sabrina’s first day at Satan’s Hogwarts, AKA the Academy of Unseen Arts and already things aren’t going well. She’s bummed that she has to take core curriculum courses (like dark choir practice, which is the goofiest idea the series has floated to date) when she much rather be learning how to cast spells that would help her in her plan to vanquish the Devil once and for all.
The Wyrd Sisters – Prudence, Dorcas, and Agatha – apparently already over their bonding session with Sabrina in the Kinkle Mines in episode two are back on their bullshit, giving our heroine a hard time because she is a “half-breed” witch. They torture her in a “harrowing” ritual, kind of a rite-of-passage for all Academy of Unseen Arts students that goes back decades. (Unsurprisingly, Zelda ruthlessly harrowed Hilda in their Academy days, something that Hilda rightfully still isn’t over).
The harrowing is designed so that Academy students go through the same things that the early Greendale witches did. It isn’t an officially sanctioned ritual by the school, but it isn’t actually frowned upon either. (And given what we learn about the “Greendale Thirteen” later in the season, it’s kind of shocking that the Academy would allow this to go on, if for no other reason than to save face).
Sabrina is able to get through the first night of the harrowing with Salem’s help, but familiars aren’t allowed at the Academy for some murky reason. Fortunately, not everything is bad at the Academy. Fellow student Nick Scratch (Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina definitely shares Riverdale‘s love for goofy names) is a genuinely decent guy, who helps Sabrina get some information on the puzzle box her father created – one whose solving will earn her admission into a conjuring class – by stealing her one of Edward’s journals.
However, before she can solve the puzzle’s mysteries, the Wyrd Sisters return for another bout of abuse. After surviving this second round of punishment, Sabrina meets the ghosts of all those who have died during their harrowing… ones who will assist her when the Wyrd-os return.
And they do.
This time, they want to end Sabrina’s suffering by hanging her in the very tree where Greendale’s witch hunt went down. Only this time, she turns the tables on her tormentors and made to agree that the harrowing must end. Thankful to be alive, they agree, but Sabrina once more gets the last word when she coldly declares that she will make Prudence choke to death on her own blood if she dare comment on her parentage again.
As Sabrina is contending with her bullies, Susie and Harvey are bonding over how the creepy Kinkle mines have impacted their lives. In the last episode, Harvey revealed that he saw some sort of evil creature in the mines. He’s not alone either, as Susie’s Uncle Jessie also did, and he hasn’t been the same since – lying in bed seemingly possessed by an evil spirit. Dramatic irony be damned as much as poor Jessie is, we know that the dude saw evil miles below Greendale… and he’s going to need an exorcism as a result.
Once again sidelined with a peripheral subplot, Ambrose at least gets to get away from the Spellman estate in this episode. (Even if it is via astral projection and psychopomps want to drag him to the afterlife). Sadly, the date with Luke at Cerebus Books is a disaster. We do get some valuable insight into what the cause of Ambrose’s house arrest was though – he was caught attempted to blow up the Vatican. Hardly the type of usual first date talk. Then again, these are warlocks, so maybe this sort of this is perfectly normal.
The astral projection subplot gives us some great moments from Lucy Davis as Aunt Hilda. Her frantic “don’t be dead” as she tries to yank Ambrose back into the realm of the living is comedy gold. We also get some insight into Hilda’s character here, with yet another dismissive comment from Zelda causing her to back peddle on her concerns about disrupting the natural order and help Ambrose astral project to his date. The Zelda and Hilda relationship continues to be the most complex on the series, as it is clearly abusive but also weirdly loving? It is as interesting to watch as it is dysfunctional.
All in all, as solid instalment. One nagging question though: Did Sabrina ever get her pajamas back?