‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ Episode 4: Sabrina Is Initiated Into ‘Witch Academy’ (RECAP)
In continuing with its rapid pace, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina‘s fourth episode, “Witch Academy,” written by Donna Thorland, sees Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) arrive at the Academy of Unseen Arts where she is put through a series of tests, both mental and physical. And while the action at Greendale so far has been entertaining, there is no denying that the show picks up an extra energy once we find ourselves in the hallowed halls of the Academy.
The Academy is a sort of hellish Hogwarts, where creepy Children of the Corn-looking spirits stalk the corridors and evil-minded students inflict misery on new arrivals. There is no Sorting Hat, instead, Sabrina is put through the ringer by both Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle) and the Weird Sisters (Tati Gabrielle, Abigail Cowen, and Adeline Rudolph).
Blackwood, for his part, refuses to let Sabrina enroll in the more advanced classes, such as conjuring and demonology. He believes she’s more suited to Latin lessons and choir practice. For Sabrina, the only reason she’s attending the school is to learn how to defeat the Dark Lord, and so, as powerful as her voice might be, joining ghoulish glee club is not a top priority. Luckily, Sabrina finds support from her Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto), who agrees that lessons in herbalism are beneath her niece.
As a compromise, Blackwood sets Sabrina a test in the form of an arcane puzzle called the Acheron Configuration. Acheron is a river in Greece which in Greek mythology is believed to flow into the underworld. It turns out the puzzle was invented by Sabrina’s father, Edward, and that nobody has ever been able to solve it. However, if the blond enchantress cracks the code, Blackwood says he will allow her to join the conjuring class.
A satanic Rubix cube is the least of Sabrina’s problems though. She also has Prudence and the Weird Sisters making her life a living hell. The twisted sisters put Sabrina through something called “The Harrowing” – a sorority-style initiation for new students. The hazing involves a night locked in the Witches Cell and a night alone in the woods where demonic voices mimic Sabrina’s parents and her boyfriend Harvey (Ross Lynch).
Sabrina survives her night in the forest and learns via Quentin, the freaky ghost child, that The Harrowing has been a ritual for hundreds of years and has resulted in the death of numerous students, including Quentin himself. After informing Zelda and Hilda (Lucy Davis) that children are dying at the Academy, Sabrina and her aunts come together to plot their revenge on the Weird Sisters.
It’s great to see some camaraderie between the Spellman women, especially after the tension between the family in the first three episodes. Even the usually cold and callous Zelda shows a softer side, apologizing to Hilda for the torture she put her through during her own Harrowing back in the day. Though Zelda agrees to midwife for Blackwood’s wife Constance (Alvina August) , the Academy’s music teacher, she does certainly not trust the High Priest enough when it comes to looking out for Sabrina’s best interests.
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And so, with the help of the Harrowed apparitions, Sabrina turns the noose on the Weird Sisters, who by all accounts were set to hang the “half-breed” from a tree in the woods. Reciting the mantra of a classic levitation slumber party game (“Light as a feather, stiff as a board”), Sabrina and the spirits (sounds like a hipster indie band) string up the Weird Sisters by their necks until they agree to end The Harrowing once and for all.
“If you say another thing about my mother and father, to anyone, ever again, I’ll choke you to death on your own blood,” Sabrina warns a truly humbled Prudence. I have to say, as badass as Shipka is in this scene, it’s Gabrielle’s performance as Prudence, a despicable school bully, that really helps sell the comeuppance as cheer-worthy. However, we later see Prudence’s mean-girl act may be just that, an act, simply following orders of an irate Father Blackwood who is intent on making Sabrina suffer.
Despite a grueling first three days at the Academy, it isn’t all doom and gloom for our witch in training. She does meet Nicholas “Call Me Nick” Scratch (Gavin Leathwood), a charming warlock and aspiring conjurer who speaks highly of Sabrina’s father. Nick shows a kindness to Sabrina and helps ease her into her new surroundings – he also sneaks out one of her dad’s journals from the library which helps her crack the Acheron Configuration. But as with Prudence, I suspect there is another side to Mr. Scratch; there is an undeniable air of sleaze about him.
The one issue with the Academy storyline being so compelling is that it makes the events happening back in Greendale feel rather humdrum. Don’t get me wrong, there are some fun horror movie tropes in Roz (Jaz Sinclair) and Susie’s (Lachlan Watson) “mad uncle in the attic” storyline, but it lacks the excitement of Sabrina’s arc. Its main function is to remind us that Harvey saw the Dark Lord in the mines as a child, and apparently so did Susie’s sick Uncle Jesse, who was driven to madness by whatever he experienced underground.
A little more intriguing is Ambrose’s (Chance Perdomo’s) struggles with dating while being a housebound warlock. After being invited on a date by Luke (Darren Mann), Ambrose convinces Hilda in helping him astral project to a coffee shop. Hilda warns him that only the dead are allowed to travel the astral plane and that if he spends too long in there he could be carried to the hereafter by psychopomps (more Greek mythology: psychopomps are bird-like creatures which guide souls to the afterlife). The date doesn’t exactly go well, with Ambrose confessing to having once tried to blow up the Vatican.
While Hilda is assisting in Ambrose’s out-of-body dating experience, Miss Wardwell/Madam Satan (Michelle Gomez) takes the opportunity to enter the Spellman house. Wardwell wanders into Sabrina’s bedroom in her dark shades and black latex overcoat and wipes her saliva on the mirror hanging from the wall. It’s not a weird act of vandalism, it’s a spell, as we later see the possessed teacher doing the same spit trick to her own mirror, essentially giving herself a spycam into Sabrina’s room.
Thirty seconds of Sabrina whispering sweet-nothings on the phone to Harvey is more than Madam Satan can bear to watch, but in turning her attention away, she misses the young witch crack the Acheron Configuration – which releases a nightmarish demon into the Spellman house. We’ll have to see if Sabrina learned anything at the Academy to help her fend off this evil spirit.
-I want to take this moment to applaud production designer Lisa Soper and costume designer Angus Strathie for their work on this series so far. The 60s-chic outfits and colorful, spellbinding sets, particularly in the Spellman house, pop off the screen.
-In case you were wondering when exactly Sabrina is set, this episode proves that it takes place in the same alt-reality world as Riverdale. The group talk about David Cronenberg’s 1986 body horror classic The Fly at the start of the episode and later Harvey is seen using a cell phone.
-Major props to Salem this episode for coming to protect Sabrina through her Harrowing. He may not talk, but this ain’t no scaredy cat.
-It’s revealed that Lady Blackwood has miscarried twice before, which makes Father Blackwood even more reliant on Zelda, who is known throughout the coven for her skills in midwifery.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Streaming, Netflix