*In our best Captain America voice* So, you signed your name in the Book of the Beast. You claimed the power of hellfire to save your town from oblivion, but now the Dark Lord has dibs on your soul. The question is, what happens now?
As Ambrose tells Sabrina, life goes on.
It’s a pretty clunky return for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, coming back mere weeks after the debut of Part 1 with its first standalone holiday special, titled “A Midwinter’s Tale.” The 11th-hour stitches together two seemingly unrelated plots as the teenage witch deals with the repercussions of a seance gone wrong and her mortal bestie Susie falls prey to a child-napping demon, all against the backdrop of the coven’s Christmas holiday equivalent, the Winter Solstice. It feels like the most haphazardly thrown together job, structurally speaking, so far. Apart from that, it’s the same ole supernatural shenanigans.
The 10th episode of CAOS wasn’t the season 1 finale as some (including myself) thought, but rather the finale to Part 1, according to Netflix. Think of it as a midseason finale. “A Midwinter’s Tale” and the incoming Part 2 (to be released on April 5, 2019) are all part of the initial 20-episode season 1 order.
As we mentioned, the Spellman household is preparing for the solstice, which involves decorating a yule tree (don’t say Christmas tree around Aunt Zelda) and lighting the magical yule log to keep nefarious entities from sneaking down the chimney. Father Blackwood’s daughter — the one he still doesn’t know about because Zelda hid her from him — is now an unofficial member of the Spellman clan. Zelda passes baby Leticia off as a long-lost relative from the Old Country come to be raised in Greendale.
Sabrina has been keeping her distance from her mortal friends ever since she revealed her family to be witches. An awkwardness lingers over Susie and Roz when she’s around and Harvey is still figuring things out. Sabrina gifting him enchanted pencils and magically curing his dad of alcoholism doesn’t help.
As a flashback to a young Sabrina (played by McKenna Grace) sitting on the local Santa’s lap conveys, the holidays are already a difficult time for an orphan, but she has a plan to fix that. Sabrina wants to perform a seance to see her mom and, more importantly, figure out why she’s been trapped in Limbo.
She gets a Book of the Dead from Ms. Wardwell — because if her pupil intends to get one by any means necessary, she should lend a tome of dangerous magic, right? It’s the responsible thing to do. One might think Sabrina would catch on to how obviously Wardwell drives her towards darkness, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Plus, the Mother of Demons is once again making Sabrina’s life more difficult because she can.
The Weird Sisters agree to help their schoolmate with the ritual, but Wardwell casts a spell to quench the flames of the Spellman’s yule log. So when they conjure the spirit of Diana Spellman, these little invisible impish critters called Yule Lads, pesky little buggers that like to animate corpses, steal your kitchen knives, and cause further mischief. A scene reminiscent of the peekaboo bit from Robert Eggers’ horror film The Witch foreshadowed the Lads snatching the infant and placing her in the oven. Only the witch Gryla, their mother — just like the Lads, she’s a figure from Icelandic folklore — can banish these supernatural bedbugs. The only thing is that Gryla will need an offering in exchange for helping them, and with a fondness for children, she might claim baby Leticia as her own.
Sabrina tries to keep Leticia quiet in the basement during Gryla’s visit, but the baby’s wales rat them out. The spirit of Diana appears before them as Gryla and Zelda fight over the babe and, through some verbal hula-hooping about crowns and ferrying souls, convinces them she’s the authority on who gets Leticia. Diana offers them a challenge, Gryla and Zelda will each take hold of one of the baby’s arms and pull. Whichever side Leticia ends up on will signify her parent. Zelda gives up when she sees the baby in pain, but it all turns out to be a secret ruse from Diana and Sabrina. They placed a glamour on a stuffed animal to make Gryla think it’s Leticia, but the witch was long gone before the spell wore off.
But, while Sabrina’s was keeping away from her friends at Baxter High, Susie got kidnapped. She was working as an elf for the local mall Santa, played by Mr. Bartell, who turned out to be a Yule demon named, as it happens, Bartell. He’s been taking children and dipping them in wax for years, as evidenced by the missing kid mentioned in the episode’s opening flashback scene. So they summon Gryla again and conveniently she’s not mad that the Spellmans tricked her because hurting demons that prey on kids is her favorite pastime. So Susie is saved. Yay!
So everything’s good now, right? Well… Zelda makes the decision that Leticia shouldn’t stay because the past events that didn’t have anything to do with Father Blackwood have apparently convinced her the baby should be raised in hiding by Dezmelda, that one-eyed witch that lives in the woods. Because… whatever. She’s still not as bad of a decision maker as Archie.
Sabrina finally gets time to speak with her mother’s ghost at the end, but there are no dramatic revelations to be made. In Limbo, her spirit was muttering about how an unknown “they” took Sabrina away from her after the baptism, but she says she was trapped in Limbo because she feared Sabrina wouldn’t be loved. She does mention, though, that she followed Edward down the Path of Night as much as she could but she would never want to lead anyone else there. So… who knows?
I, for one, was hoping for a bigger horror show for the holiday special, maybe something with a little Krampus vibe to continue the series ability to playfully reference the horror genre’s filmography. Instead, “A Midwinter’s Tale” was much more Riverdal-ian than freaky, and far less adept at the feat of character juggling.
Let’s just get on with Part 2, shall we?