‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ Episode 3 Summons Us to the Court of Witches (RECAP)
After three episodes of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, I have to admit; I’m completely bewitched by the residents of Greendale. It’s surprising to me just how quickly I’ve fallen under the spell of this darkly comic, and at times, remarkably empowering show about witches, warlocks and goat-faced demons. It reminds me of watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the first time in how it instantly draws you into its unusual world and odd characters. And, of course, both shows feature kickass women fighting the evil forces on both a human and supernatural level.
I think what also makes Sabrina such an easy watch is that it doesn’t suffer from the pacing issues common in many other Netflix series. It isn’t afraid to move the plot along, and so, you never feel like it’s trying to squeeze five episodes of material out over an entire season. For example, in a lesser show, Sabrina’s choice of whether or not to join the Church of Night would have taken up at least half a season. Instead, by the end of the second episode, the honey-haired hellcat had made her decision.
The third episode, written by Riverdale writer Ross Maxwell, deals with the consequences of that decision. Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) is summoned to the Court of Witches to stand trial for breach of promise. The Dark Lord seemingly subscribes to the ideology of “where there’s blame, there’s a claim” and demands Sabrina and her aunts Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Zelda (Miranda Otto) be judged and tried in front of the entire coven.
In witch-law, it’s guilty until proven innocent, and so until a verdict is reached, the Spellman’s are without their powers. That means Hilda and Zelda start losing their teeth and sprouting white hairs. The rapid decomposition of the aunts over the course of the episode is one of the show’s best visual gags so far. It also makes Zelda even more urgent to fix the problem, hoping to settle the issue out of court with Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle), who agrees to drop the charges if Sabrina apologizes and submits herself to the Dark Lord.
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Sabrina is not one to kowtow to the Devil’s demands and instead hires herself a lawyer, Daniel Webster (John Rubinstein), based on the real-life New Hampshire Congressman and famed lawman. There have been several fictional versions of Webster over the years, in print and film, the most famous of which, and most relevant to this episode, being The Devil and Daniel Webster, a short story by Stephen Vincent Benét that was later adapted into a critically-acclaimed 1941 movie (and a less successful 2003 movie starring Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins).
The Devil and Daniel Webster tells the Faustian tale of a farmer who breaks his deal with the Devil and is later defended in court by Webster. The Webster in Sabrina serves the same function for our troubled heroine. A mortal who is well-versed in witch-law and renowned for being the “Defender of the Damned.” Now retired, Webster initially shows reluctance in taking up Sabrina’s cause but changes his mind out of gratitude to her father, Edward, who it’s revealed taught Webster all he knows.
Sabrina, likewise, shows hesitance about working with Webster, especially after she discovers he helped set free countless serial killers and child rapists. The tormented lawyer explains that he too once made a deal with the Devil, to become the greatest lawyer in the world. He got his wish, but the trick was that every case he won thereafter was for the most obscene, depraved crimes. And in a grim, Twilight Zone-style twist, Webster’s young daughter was murdered by one of the sick degenerates he helped keep out of jail.
At the trial, Blackwood accuses Sabrina of leading on the Dark Lord, pointing to the wedding dress she wore at the baptism as evidence of her guilt, essentially witch-shaming the young woman. When Webster argues there was no formal contract, and therefore no case, Blackwood calls to the witness stand Aunt Zelda, who reveals she was present when Sabrina’s father signed her name in the Book of the Beast soon after her birth. Zelda explains to an angry Sabrina that it was a bargain Edward made for permission to marry her mortal mother.
The family revelations don’t stop there, however, as Hilda proves that her sister isn’t the only one hiding secrets. Before Sabrina is made to strip and prove she has no witch-mark, in a last-ditch attempt to gain a human trial, Aunt Hilda hobbles into the courtroom waving a document of her own. A certificate that shows Sabrina’s mother, Diana, had her baptized at the Holy Mother Church of Greendale one day before Edward signed her name in the Book of the Beast – rendering the unholy agreement null and void.
Sabrina is granted her mortal life on the condition she attends the Academy of Unseen Arts and weekly Black Mass. A sort of dual citizenship, which she readily accepts. Webster advises her to take advantage of the victory; to use the time at the Academy to learn everything about her adversary and fight for what is hers. “Nobody’s ever beaten the devil,” he tells her, “but you just might.”
While Sabrina’s battles might be the strangest, she isn’t the only one railing against the system in this episode. For the first time this season, we start to delve deeper into the lives of her friends and their problems, which are far more human but no less important. Harvey (Ross Lynch) has his own familial issues; an aggressive d**hole of a father (Chris Rosamond) who forces him to work in the mines – uncaring and unaware of his son’s talent for drawing. Luckily, Harvey has a guardian angel in the form of his older brother Tommy (Justin Dobies), who promises to protect him.
Meanwhile, Roz (Jaz Sinclair) goes to war with Principal Hawthorne (Bronson Pinchot) after Baxter High bans Toni Morrison’s 1970 literary classic The Bluest Eye – a story which explores topics of racism, incest, and child molestation. The novel – which Time magazine once ranked in the Top 10 most controversial books in America – has been the subject of numerous real-life attempts to have it removed from schools and libraries on the grounds of its sexually explicit content.
When Roz is told she has to wait three months to present her case to the school board, it becomes too much to handle for the well-intentioned student, who in three months may never be able to read again. She tells her friends that she has been diagnosed with myopic atrophy, and in a matter of weeks, she will lose her sight completely. A disability which is very much real but perhaps influenced by the meddling Miss Wardwell/Madam Satan (Michelle Gomez).
Miss Wardwell spends the majority of this episode lurking in the shadows and using her position at the school to get closer to Sabrina and her friends, whether it be through sisterly advice or a secret WICCA book club. In her taunting sessions with Father Blackwood, Wardwell scoffs at the High Priest’s very “male” approach to handling Sabrina.
“It’s always brute force with you men, isn’t it? Real corruption is a thin, subtle blade,” Wardwell remarks. It’s clear to see that the possessed teacher is quietly biding her time and sharpening her knife in preparation to sever Sabrina’s mortal bounds. And I don’t know about you, but I fear that Madame Satan is more dangerous to Sabrina than any court in the land, supernatural or otherwise.
-Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) flirts and later hooks up with Connor’s ex-boyfriend Luke (Darren Mann); at Connor’s funeral no less. I guess in the same way weddings make some mortals frisky, funerals have a similar aphrodisiacal effect on witches and warlocks. The important thing to note here is that Luke is indeed a warlock… and we also say goodbye to Connor’s iguana.
-Hilda’s stunt with the baptism certificate gets her ex-communicated from the Church of Night. Does that mean she loses her powers? Will she start aging again?
-Harvey explains to Sabrina that the reason he’s so afraid of the mines is because he got lost down there when he was a kid and saw “The Goat Guy” (aka the Dark Lord).
-Whoever picks the music for this show is doing a great job. I heard a snippet of K.Flay’s excellent “Blood In The Cut” in this episode.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Streaming, Netflix