Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina episode 5 review: Dreams In A Witch House

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina gives us its most ambitious episode to date, in this nightmare-packed effort.

This review contains spoilers.

1.5 Dreams In A Witch House

“Yes, it’s divine that Sabrina’s duality almost got us killed”

We are at the halfway mark of Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina‘s first season, and by this point in the series viewers are either in or out. (It’s a safe assumption that whomever is reading this is in the former camp, in which we say congratulations, you appreciate quality prestige television – one of the only worthwhile things that remains in 2018). That said, it is still a daring move to throw a bottle show episode this daring at its audience this early in the series’ run. And while the resulting dark ride of an episode doesn’t quite completely succeed, it does wind up providing us with the most insight into these characters yet.

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Continuing where the last episode left off, the Spellmans find themselves dealing with a sleep demon, eye-rollingly named Batty Bat, whom Sabrina accidentally unleashed from her father’s puzzle box. We’ll overlook the fact that although Edward’s notes were seemingly crafted specifically for Sabrina’s eyes yet they still didn’t include a head’s up that any delving into his apparent Hellraiser fetishism would release a monster that could wreak havoc on the mortal world and instead say that the way the family united to defeat this beast was really touching, and underlined how they ultimately do love each other, Satan or not.

Unfortunately, their plan in capturing Batty Bat failed, though they didn’t realize this. And each of the Spellmans finds themselves at the demon’s whims. Batty’s plan? To torture her captives in their nightmares until they undo the spell imprisoning the demon in the house, allowing her to run free.

Cliche dictates that dreams are a mirror to our most deeply held hopes and fears. As someone who has been plagued by recurring dreams of returning jeans to Sears for the better part of a decade, I’m calling bullshit on this theory. Still, episode writer Matthew Barry and director Maggie Kiley make this hypothesis work by illustrating how these characters are driven by their longing and loneliness.

Of the dreams featured here, Sabrina’s is the most predictable: Her greatest fear is that Harvey, he of the witch-hunting Kinkle family, will learn her true nature and shun her. We’ve seen what happens when Harvey learns the truth before, and it didn’t quite go to plan. His response here is brutal and swift, and all of Sabrina’s worst anxieties are realised. They don’t call ’em nightmares for nothing.

Next up is Ambrose, an absolute cipher of a character so far, who fears he will die a “tragic shut in,” unloved and forgotten, with a bitter, broken heart. His nightmare of being “trapped in existential solitude forever” seems downright chilling, but it is quickly one-upped by Hilda.

The kindliest of the Spellmans, we discover that Hilda is still a virgin, and that she yearns to have a relationship. But years of suffering abuse at the hands of Zelda have rendered her self-esteem all but non-existent, and so she, ignoring her own worth, jumps at the chance to settle for a superficial sleazebag like Principal Hawthrone. Alas, even in dreams she can’t find love, and her greatest terror is revealed to be having to be literally tied to her sister Zelda for all eternity.

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But Zelda’s dreams hold some surprises too. At first, it seems that her abuse of Hilda will be the focal point of her nightmare as well. And it is, briefly, as Satan’s choosing her sibling’s vegetable pie over her own dish of cooked child sends Zelda into a murderous rage. Then the true nightmare is revealed: Zelda realises how utterly lost she would be without Hilda, and demonstrates true remorse over how she has treated her younger sister over the years.

This is the emotional centre of this episode, and one that highlights the changes that the Hilda/Zelda dynamic face as the season barrels towards its second half. From this moment forward, Hilda has a renewed drive to better herself and get out from the shadow of her overbearing sister – with a new job and a relationship on the horizon. As for Zelda, her reliance on her sibling becomes evident, which will lead to some soul-searching as Hilda starts becoming independent.

As solid as the first half of this episode is, it all begins to fall apart when the shifting of its focus turns back to capturing Batty Bat. As Ms. Wardwell tries to help the Spellmans (for her own sinister purposes, natch), the proceedings take on the air of a pop culture mash-up of everything from the Nightmare On Elm Street movies to the “Phantasms” episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Worse still, Batty Batt herself feels like a refugee from Charmed, too one-note and cartoonish to be any kind of real-threat. A much more interesting choice would have been to make the character sympathetic, especially since from what we know of Edward so far he does seem to be a bit of an asshole. Having to imprison an innocent being in order to survive would give the Spellmans something weighty to grapple with, and further illustrate the cost that comes with having their powers.

Now that we know what truly makes the characters tick, it will be fascinating to see where this knowledge takes us as viewers in the second half of the season…