'Chilling Adventures of Sabrina': Sabrina Chooses Her Own Path in 'The Dark Baptism' (RECAP)
On the night of her "Dark Baptism," the second episode of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Sabrina rejects tradition and chooses to forge her own path, but not before raising a little hell.
"Free choice, my child. That's the bedrock of which our church is built," the deceptive Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle) tells a conflicted Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) days before her baptism. Sabrina is still hesitant about signing her name in the Book of the Beast if it means giving the Dark Lord dominion over her soul. There is nothing more important to Sabrina than free will and being her own woman. Why should her desire to practice the dark arts come at the expense of her self-identity and personal freedom?
The first episode of the Netflix series wastes no time in throwing us into the thick of the story.
Blackwood answers Sabrina's valid questions about the Church of Night with half-truths and false promises. He undersells the dark ceremony, referring to it as a "symbolic gesture" rather than a literal commitment to evil. He entices with vows of immortality and exemption from Hell. At one point, the High Priest even refers to the Devil himself as the "embodiment of free will" and assures Sabrina that she can choose to leave the Academy of Unseen Arts at any time. He's like a shady real estate agent pushing a property and failing to mention the leaky roof and the corpses buried under the floorboards.
The truth is, for all the fanciful pledges and assurances, Sabrina will never be granted freedom AND power. "The Dark Lord is terrified of that," Prudence (Tati Gabrielle) says later in the episode when Sabrina expresses her desire for both. When the blond sorceress asks why, Prudence's response is simple but telling: "He's a man, isn't he?" The Dark Lord is not the embodiment of "free will," he is Chilling Adventures of Sabrina's representation of the patriarchy.
"The Dark Baptism" is all about men's attempt to strip women of their power. At Baxter High, the football team jocks tear down a poster promoting WICCA (Women's Intersectional Creative Cultural Association), the women's protection club Sabrina and Roz (Jaz Sinclair) started in light of their friend Susie (Lachlan Watson) being bullied. When Susie calls out the "d**ks-for-brains," she is branded a "dyke" and subsequently punched in the face after she tries tackling one of the football goons. The school then suspends Susie for her actions while the boys go unpunished.
"They have to be held accountable," Sabrina tells Miss Wardwell (Michelle Gomez) in regards to the jock bullies. Still under demonic possession, Miss Wardwell suggests Sabrina "fight fire with Hellfire" and that "sometimes a little hellraising is what's needed to move the needle." It’s a timely comment in a society where the outcome for reporting through the proper channels is at best a mere slap on the wrist for the perpetrator and at worst complete repudiation and public humiliation for the accuser.
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It comes as a cathartic release then when Sabrina strikes a deal with the Weird Sisters (Tati Gabrielle, Abigail Cowen, and Adeline Rudolph) to torment the a**hole athletes. Using their egos and out of control libidos to lure them into a darkened mine shaft, it isn't long before the tough men become "scared little boys." After encouraging them to strip, the witches cast an illusionary spell over the boys that makes them believe they're hooking up with the girls, only to realize they've been making out with each other. Sabrina takes photographic evidence which she uses to blackmail the jocks into stop bullying Susie and the other girls at school.
The above isn't played as a "haha gay joke," it's about using the boys' own homophobia against them. Then, in a truly creepy scene, Prudence and her sisters go a step further, morphing into disturbing skeletal-faced figures as they magically remove the guys' manhood, effectively making them impotent. While Sabrina didn't agree to take things that far, she doesn't stop the Weird Sisters either. Prudence, beginning to see Sabrina in a new light, promises she too can gain great power at the Academy of Unseen Arts.
As her 16th birthday draws closer, Sabrina seeks advice from her closest friends and confidants. Her boyfriend Harvey (Ross Lynch) says he would never give up his freedom for power, even if it meant he could fly. While Aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis) privately shares her regrets of joining the Church of Night, telling her niece that she sometimes dreams of walking into the Greendale woods and watching the whole forest burn. And yet, like most women in this story, Hilda never had the freedom or power to do anything differently. "Us girls didn't have any options back then," she says. "It's just simply what was done."
Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto) overhears Hilda's confession and later murders her in the vegetable garden, no doubt spilling blood all over the marvelous turnips. "She annoyed me, so I killed her and buried her in the yard," Zelda casually explains to Ambrose (Chance Perdomo), as if she's done this countless times. It turns out she has. Hilda eventually rises from her grave and returns to the house caked in dirt. "You can't keep killing me," Hilda states. Davis and Otto play off each other brilliantly and I suspect their chemistry is only going to grow stronger over the course of the season.
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The reason for Zelda's sisterly murder comes back to Sabrina and this idea of free choice. "Sabrina has no choice," Zelda tells Hilda. "To pretend otherwise is reckless." Zelda has the steely attitude of someone who has learned the hard way that fighting against the system is a fruitless endeavor. She wants the path of least resistance for her niece. And yet Sabrina ultimately does make her own choice. A choice which is sure to have drastic consequences for herself and her friends and family.
Sabrina turns up late to her own baptism, wearing her mother's wedding dress, and appears willing to follow the Path of Night. She goes through the ritualistic blood ceremony, committing herself to the covenant and reciting the Satanic mantras. But when Father Blackwood tells her she must give her mind, body and soul to the Dark Lord, Sabrina realizes everything the High Priest said was a lie. There is no free will in the Church of Night. Encouraged by a vision of her dead parents, Sabrina refuses to sign the Book of the Beast and runs into the woods and back to the Spellman house.
"There is another path for me just as there was for my father and mother. A third way," Sabrina tells the torch-carrying congregation who gather outside her home. "And even if there isn't, my name is Sabrina Spellman and I will NOT sign it away," she yells. The statement becomes not only a defiant warcry but marks Shipka's true arrival as Sabrina Spellman and Peak TV's latest badass heroine.
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What is the third way? It's the choice to follow neither path. Or both. Two covens. Half-witch, half-human. Sabrina believes she can balance her human high school life alongside her supernatural studies. She can have the freedom and the power. But you can't just ditch the Devil and expect to get away with it. Sabrina's defiance summons the Dark Lord himself to Baxter High. Possessing the body of a returning Principal Hawthorne (Bronson Pinchot), the Dark Lord tells Sabrina that she cannot defeat him because her flesh is mortal.
"And in the end, all mortal flesh must burn." Uh-oh.
-Ambrose continues to "meddle in mortal affairs" and finds out that Connor the cadaver used to frequently talk to his pet iguana. That sounds very "familiar" (get it?!). Ambrose wonders if there is a witch-hunter in their midsts.
-After Sabrina fails to sign the Book of the Beast, we see Miss Wardwell/Madam Satan on her knees, begging for forgiveness from the goat-headed Dark Lord. She even kisses his cloven hooves, showing that even in the underworld, a powerful figure like Madame Satan is subservient to a man.
-We have our first reference to Riverdale in this episode, when one of the jocks asks if that's where the Weird Sisters are from. So despite Netflix dropping the spin-off idea, the door is still open for a potential crossover down the line.
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