'Chilling Adventures of Sabrina' Brings Yuletide Hauntings in Spooky Holiday Special (RECAP)
'Tis the season for a séance in a spooky holiday edition of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's hit Netflix series cast a spell on us this past Halloween with its witchy drama, dark baptisms, and ghastly demons, and now the show is back to lure us in once more with a special one-off Christmas treat.
"A Midwinter’s Tale," written by Aguirre-Sacasa and Donna Thorland, acts a sort of stopgap between the conclusion of the first season and the events to come when the show returns proper next April. Yes, there is holiday music and gingerbread houses and nods to creepy Christmas folklore, but it isn't the standalone festive frolic I was expecting going in. In fact, a large chunk of the episode is spent dealing with the fallout of the season one finale.
Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka), sporting a platinum blonde bob, is now a certified subscriber to the book of the Dark Lord. She is still coming to terms with what that means and how it affects her relationships with her mortal friends, Harvey (Ross Lynch), Roz (Jaz Sinclair) and Susie (Lachlan Watson), who are now all aware of her true nature. When Sabrina tries to bring them into her world, often through the use of magic, there is a fearful reluctance on the part of Roz and Susie, or in Harvey's case, an outright refusal.
The growing distance from her friends leaves Sabrina lost and confused, and even though she has the comfort of her Aunts, they are preoccupied with their own distractions. Hilda (Lucy Davis) is in her holiday bake-off zone, while Zelda (Miranda Otto) is looking after Laticia, the secret baby she stole from the High Priest. Her cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) is there to lend an ear, but all Sabrina really wants to do is talk to her mom, Diana (Annette Reilly), who we know from the season one finale is trapped in Limbo.
Sabrina decides she is going to hold a séance to contact her dead mother and ask for some advice, while also helping solve her mom's unfinished business, thereby freeing her from Limbo. Not finding support from her Baxter High buddies, Sabrina borrows the Book of the Dead from Miss Wardwell (Michelle Gomez) and recruits the Weird Sisters to help perform the ritual. The young enchantress is certainly becoming laxer with her use of dark magic, and she is still keeping secrets, despite the warnings last season.
The séance is a success, Sabrina reaches through to her mom, but it also opens up the door for other spirits to pass over, helped along by a meddling Miss Wardwell who extinguishes the yule log meant to keep malevolent forces from the Spellman house. This is where the episode really picks up. Sabrina works best when it's putting a spin on old fables, and the show does that here by adopting some classic European Christmas folk stories.
Most of the action centers around Grýla, an ogress who, according to Icelandic legend, kidnaps, cooks and devours children who don't obey their parents. Grýla is guardian to the Yule Lads, a sort of twisted version of the Seven Dwarves, mischievous trolls who cause mayhem around Christmastime. The story in Sabrina isn't quite so gruesome, here, Grýla is a witch who takes in abandoned children, and her Yule Lads are basically playful poltergeists. She also likes to drink gin. I mean, Grýla is still scary, but her motives are powered by a sense of protection.
Grýla is used thematically for the episode's focus on mother-daughter relationships. There is a tense scene when she and Zelda are made to fight for baby Laticia - whoever has the strength to pull the child from the circle first being the victor. Obviously, Zelda is unable to go through with it, not wanting to hurt the baby. Thankfully, it was all a ruse designed by Sabrina and Diana to trick Grýla into leaving with an enchanted stuffed teddy bear.
The Christmas Witch does get her redemptive moment later in the episode against another European festive folklore legend, Krampus, here called Bartel and working as a shopping mall Santa. The "half-goat, half-demon" kidnaps Susie, who is working her dream job as Jingles the Elf, and plans to submerge her in hot wax like he's done to countless other children over the years. As Zelda says, there is nothing Grýla detests more than people who prey on children, and so the witches team up to save Susie and take down Bartel.
Protection is at the heart of this episode. An emotional Zelda realizes it's not safe for her to continue looking after Laticia and promises that after the winter solstice she will hand her into the care of Desmelda, the elderly witch who lives in the woods. Diana, likewise, learns to let go, after revealing that the reason she couldn't move on was because she was afraid Sabrina wasn't protected. Now she can see Sabrina is loved. "You have mothers and a family that adores you," Diana tells her daughter.
Sabrina also gets to chat with her mom about her Harvey problem. Diana offers some parting wisdom, explaining that while she chose to marry Sabrina's father and follow him into the Path of Night, she would never lead anyone else down it. Sabrina understands that she needs to push Harvey away, for his own protection, but her former beau ends up being the one to do the pushing. He tells Sabrina that he doesn't trust magic and to never use it with him or on him or near him ever again. Perhaps that witch hunter blood still runs through the Kinkle family.
"A Midwinter’s Tale" is an enjoyable episode which clears up a couple of lingering plot points from season one while setting the table for the feast to come in next year's second chapter (an ominous cliffhanger sees three demonic wise men emerge from the Greendale mine). I wish there was more time spent with Grýla and Bartel, and Michelle Gomes was sadly underused here, but overall this special holiday episode was a fun little stocking filler that will tide us over until the new year.