Friday, December 14, 2018

REVIEW: 'Chilling Adventures of Sabrina' - The Spellmans Have a Monstrous Holiday Season in 'Chapter Eleven: A Midwinter's Tale'

Netflix's Chilling Adventures of Sabrina - Episode 1.11 "Chapter Eleven: A Midwinter's Tale"

As the winter solstice approaches, Sabrina orchestrates an emotional séance with serious consequences. Susie's merry plans turn menacing.

In 2018, it makes no sense to provide full-length reviews of each individual episode for shows released all at once on the streaming services. Sure, there are some shows out there that value the power of the episode. They do make a point in differentiating each episode to ensure it's not just one big slog to the finish. However, the ability to watch the entire season at one's own viewing pace has largely changed the way we consume and discuss these shows. So, some brief summary thoughts are really all that's actually necessary with these seasons. As such, here are my thoughts on the next episode of Netflix's Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

"Chapter Eleven: A Midwinter's Tale" was written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Donna Thorland and directed by Jeff Woolnough

This hour is a solid mix between holiday special and season premiere. It features a number of plot points that allow it to be a standalone hour set in this universe with these characters. And yet, it is also vital to the plot of the overall season while providing some teases of how everyone is dealing with the way stories were concluded earlier this year. There also just happens to be a bunch of plots stuffed into this episode. That makes it seem a little too busy without much nuance to any given situation or story. There are still a number of really entertaining sequences that show just how terrifying and unique this world can be. But then, there are other moments where it just seems completely pointless and only meant to draw out a thematic plot point that has already been made clear at this point. Some of the stories that are featured here include Sabrina hosting a séance to communicate with her mother, yule children breaking into the Spellman house, Sabrina helping Harvey's father kick his alcoholism, Susie getting abducted by a devil posing as a mall Santa, and Zelda caring for Father Blackwood's new baby daughter whom she has essentially kidnapped. That's a lot of plot. It doesn't even include the brief flashback near the start of things to really reiterate just how much Sabrina has missed her mother for her entire life. That's really the only point of that sequence as well - even though McKenna Grace is solid casting as young Sabrina. Plus, the show doesn't always offer a solid explanation for how Diana's spirit can communicate with everyone at the Spellman house. When Sabrina is conducting the séance with the Weird Sisters, Diana can only speak through Agatha. It's not long before more trouble comes down the chimney to terrorize the family. After that point though, Diana appears and can make rational arguments for Sabrina and help the family out of their latest situation. It also gives a voice to this character who has long been revered even though no one knows for certain what her relationship was like with Edward. Here, it becomes clear that she loved him and walked the path of night alongside him. She just wouldn't recommend that for any other mortal. As such, she is essentially pushing Sabrina away from Harvey. That's the advice given to her here. But it's also clear that Sabrina can't follow it because she just has to keep meddling in his life. She seemingly learned her lesson about the cost of witchcraft when she brought Tommy back to life as a shell of what he used to be. But now, she is once again perplexed when Harvey urges her not to use magic around him after she crafts a spell to keep his father from wanting to drink any alcohol. That is very repetitive. The show runs the risk of telling the same story over and over again as well. There are only so many times when Madam Satan's influence can be felt by the Spellman family without them knowing that it's her causing all of the panic and chaos. Moreover, there can only be so many invasions of the home with the family still insisting that it's a safe place for them. Sure, there are ways to ensure that the stakes remain high even when these characters are constantly in peril. It helps that there is awareness that this is somewhat the life of witches. Roz doesn't know what to expect but also greatly appreciates Sabrina and her family's help in order to save Susie. And yes, all of that does come together in a meaningful way by the conclusion of the hour. The audience cares about the bond Sabrina has with her friends. It's rewarding to see her rescue them from the danger that they are now fully aware that they are in. That also fuels Zelda's decision to send the baby away even though she has quickly formed an attachment to her. Now, that moment could feel like whiplash for the audience because it was just in the previous episode that it was established that Zelda has kidnapped this child for her own protection. That was bound to shake up the family dynamic. Instead, this hour cleans the slate to ensure that nothing is ever going to change because things are still complicated dealing with Ambrose and Sabrina at home.