Christmas, on the outside, seems like a weird choice for a special episode from The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: it’s probably the least Satanic day of the year? Plus, Christmas specials are usually a bit gimmicky, meant to be lighthearted, feel-good one-offs. But, surprisingly, the Sabrina Christmas special is not just a gimmick — it’s weirdly got purpose.RELATED
But I guess that’s the thing about Sabrina — it’s a bit of a weird show, and it’s meant to be. That’s some nuanced criticism right there — “a bit weird”. But honestly, Sabrina is a homage to b-grade horror, a teen drama, and an empowering supernatural action-thriller all at once, so it’s bound to skim across several levels of easy categorisation.
The Christmas special, officially titled The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina: A Midwinter’s Tale, is a continuation of the show’s commitment to pulp and horror. It’s fun and spooky and has just enough nog and wreaths to also be a satisfying holiday special. It seems like it could have happily been a simple promo to keep us excited for the second season coming next year, but they tried harder.
Along with all the stuff you want from this kind of episode, there’s more. I’ve spent the entire first season of this show wondering if lurking underneath the aesthetics and shiny witch hair and spooky chills there’s a greater sense of purpose, of plot. Is this just a random mash of events and characters like Riverdale, or are we working towards greater revelations and reveals?
I’m still not sure if this is the case, but the fact that A Midwinter’s Tale managed to somewhat beautifully continue a couple of plots, expand our awareness of the greater Sabrina universe AND create a fun monster-of-the-week style storyline fills me with tentative hope and mild joy for the prospects of longevity for this show which I’ve come to love.
A true Yule miracle.
T’was The Night Before The Winter Solstice
Yule obviously has pagan traditions for the witches of Greendale that are completed separate, and spookier than Christmas.
The episode revolves around an issue from the first season that has obviously and justifiably been weighing on Sabrina’s mind — the fact that her mother is stuck in limbo. That classic teen conundrum!
As the basic format of most Sabrina episodes go, Sabrina decides she should use the magical significance of Yule to help her conduct a seance and contact her mother in order to help her find her way out of limbo. Or, to put it more succinctly.
Everyone: Sabrina, no!
Sabrina: Sabrina, yes!
Mrs Wardell: (evilly) Sabrina, yes.
Obviously, things don’t go to plan — mostly because of Madame Satan’s meddling. TBH, Wardell’s motivation to keep meddling now that Sabrina has signed her name in the book of the beast is probably the thinnest part of the ep.
Ghouls and Goblins Etc.
The seance opens the house to some nasty spirits known as “The Yule Lads” which honestly, fine. Apparently, they are rooted in weird but real folklore, but they just sound like an exceptionally lame group of frat boys filled with festive joy. But they set the episode up for some effective spook jump-scares and dead-body possessions and other fun.
However, they work out eventually that the Yule Lads are only effectively handled by their mother, the witch Grýla, who is just a really cool and creepy character who enjoys drinking with Zelda and Hilda.
There have been quite a few comments about how The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is sometimes reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I think that this episode does hark back to the structure of monster of the week in a really enjoyable way.
The main plot of Sabrina can be a little vague and meandering — so it’s great to watch a problem pop up and be solved handily. I just like witches and monsters, and they give us those!
Also, Sabrina’s friends are around!
Now that the spotlight is off the rather wet-blankety Harvey, we get to have some adventures with her friends, with this one focusing on Susie getting a job as an elf. Santa, naturally, is a Krampus style demon who likes dipping kids in wax and keeping them forever, it’s pretty effectively creepy.
They resolve this pretty handily too, wrapping it up into the main Grýla plot — but Buffy was always the most compelling and strong when it focused on her friends, so hopefully, Sabrina keeps doing this. I was almost disappointed to have the Weird Sisters involved at all — mortals provide some stakes in an increasingly convoluted supernatural world.
But while all this is fun and enjoyable and interesting for a stand-alone episode, it also advanced the plot — we discovered more about Sabrina’s mum, about the mystery of her parent’s death, about the greater conspiracy around the Church of the Night. All good things to know.
I personally have a theory around where all this is going, and if I’m right, it’s a super clever storyline. If I’m wrong, I guess that’s fine too — I think something is rotten at the heart of the Church of Night, and season 2 will be about unwrapping that mystery.
Another weakness is that Sabrina is just… the same as she was in season 1. With some many magical moving parts, satanic pacts and shifting loyalties, it seems a worry that the consequences of her actions (devoting her soul to Satan, for example) aren’t expressing themselves beyond a subtle change in hair colour. But, maybe that will become more evident in the next season. Or maybe I am an optimistic fool?
But I’m just so happy that there’s evidence that this show isn’t going to immediately collapse under its own weight like a badly made wedding cake, as Riverdale did.
I’m full of hope for season 2. Merry Satan Christmas.