Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered Part 1: October Country

Welcome to the first installment in a series of posts about Chilling Adventures of Sabrina! I’ll be discussing every episode of Chilling Adventures one at a time with no spoilers beyond the episode I’m addressing in each installment. I’m calling the series Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered because honestly that covers the range of emotions I’ve experienced on my journey with the show so far. There’s also a secret second reason. Let me know if you figure it out. It’ll probably take a few installments before I get into a real groove so bear with me. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. I think the series has great characters that have the potential for growth and development and I find many of the themes to be poignant and personally affecting. However, upon completing my viewing and thinking some about the world and characters that were created, I found that I was left with far more questions than answers. Some I hope will be answered in the future episodes of the series, some may even be answered over the course of this project, but some I think will never and can never be answered because the answers probably don’t exist. You see, once one begins to peel back the layers of this series it begins to crumble atop what is, to my eyes, a very unstable foundation. My intent is not to take the enjoyment out of watching the show. On the contrary I think this is the most fun I’ve had watching a series for quite some time. Perhaps we can decipher some of the mysteries together. At the very least we can all enjoy the ridiculously nonsensical Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

The first thing I want to establish just quickly, I hope, is where we are in time during this series, because I desperately need to ground this wild ride we’re on. This is potentially important for some questions I’ll have later in the series. I also think having a clear timeline will be useful to determine other important details in the series. In this first episode we are told as the audience that this is all happening in October of “this year,” i.e. 2018. That, in my opinion, does not actually mean what it appears to mean or is intentionally misleading for a reason I have yet to discover. I would place the events of Chilling Adventures somewhere around the early to mid 80s. First of all, the cars we see are all older models. None of the smoothed edges we’re used to now but all harsh angles and bulky structures. I don’t know much about cars but these certainly aren’t what I would imagine in a contemporary setting. I’d put some of the fashion in Greendale in the early 90s at the very latest but still, definitely not contemporary. The music heard on the various radios throughout the series and in the sound track in general is all from the 70s or 80s. The most important evidence, however, is the technology in the series. The most modern things we see in the whole series are Ambrose’s laptop in this episode and Harvey’s cell phone in a later episode (this isn’t a spoiler it doesn’t play much of a part at all). Both of these devices are more advanced than what was available to us in the 80s, the first cell phone being sold in 1984 and the first laptop being sold in 1981, but they are certainly not contemporary models. We don’t see anyone using other computers, the library still uses a card catalog, and everyone communicates over landlines. In the scene where Principal Hawthorne is overrun by spiders, we see his television turn to static right around midnight. Yes, the static could have been caused by the spiders but I believe it would have shut off anyway. 24 hour television programming didn’t begin until the late 80s. We also hear Roz talk about the Black Panthers (originally 1966) which at least puts us after the beginning of the 70s but this isn’t a super important detail and only gives us a backstop for our timeline and not a solid idea of how far from then we are. What is most telling, in my opinion, is taking all of this information and comparing it to the world of Riverdale, a confirmed contemporary series which, judging by how much it’s mentioned in Chilling Adventures, and just because it’s a fact, is in the same universe as Chilling Adventures. There is almost an absurd amount of tech in Riverdale. From laptops, to smartphones, to the development of the internet, Riverdale is years, if not decades, ahead of the Chilling Adventures timeline. So, I have decided that the events we see take place somewhere in the early to mid 80s with the introduction of magic into the timeline somehow having a small effect on the advancement of some of the tech we see being used, but that tech still being less than widely available. I have no idea if anyone else cares about this but I’ve spent entirely too much time researching these things to leave them out.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get into the episode.

In the first few minutes of this, our first glimpse into the world of Sabrina, we’re introduced to the gaggle of teenagers that we’ll be following for much of the series; Sabrina the witch, feminist Roz, bullied yet resilient Susie, and good guy Harvey. After watching a horror film, and running into a teacher from school, the teens discuss the film at a diner. Their conversation is strange, to say the least. They bring up relatively advanced topics; the Cold War, civil rights, the collapse of the nuclear family, which I find a bit unbelievable for a group of 15 to 16 year olds. I only really excuse this because they seem to just be saying phrases they read in a book or heard in class and don’t really delve into them or convincingly display an understanding of those topics. This mostly just stood out to me as a “your writers are showing” moment. It won’t be the last.

When Sabrina gets home we see her do the first bit of magic in the series and it is very exciting. It’s nothing major but that little finger flick to turn on the radio got a smile out of me and was reminiscent of this shows predecessor, Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I used to watch that every day.

At breakfast the next morning cousin Ambrose briefly mentions he can, and would be happy to, do necromancy and Aunt Hilda tells Sabrina to drink something with, “ a cupful of vanilla,” in it. A CUPFUL OF VANILLA. Aunt Hilda what the unholy hell are you talking about?! That is an absolutely ridiculous amount of vanilla.There’s talk of getting Sabrina a familiar, with a weirdly disturbing shot of what I can only discern to be a taxidermied hound of some kind, of cleansing the temple of Sabrina’s body, as Aunt Zelda casually sucks on what will be the first of many cigarettes over the course of the series, and Sabrina mentioning she wants to do something her own way instead of the traditional way. I wonder if that will become a theme. I really like this scene. I think it does a great job introducing Sabrina’s family and the different ways each of them operate. It definitely establishes the conflict between the bubbly, kind, accepting, slightly wacky Aunt Hilda, and the strict, harsh, full of expectation Aunt Zelda. This scene, however, is also where I started to notice one of the most infuriating style choices that has ever crossed my computer screen. Everything is blurry. All. The. Time. There’s no thread of reason to it that I can detect, and trust me I’ve checked, and the only thing it manages to do for me is give me a headache. It’s distracting and I hate it.

After Ambrose reveals that he’s probably at least 100 years old (I think it’s closer to 200 but more on that later), we’re introduced to the weird sisters. They are...well they’re weird. They appear out of nowhere, point some witchy racism at Sabrina for being only half witch, put a curse on her, and then disappear again. How did they get there? How does Sabrina know them? Why do they dislike her? Will we ever find out? We certainly don’t in this episode.

Sabrina runs to school which is apparently already in session when she arrives but that doesn’t seem to matter. The school is just like any other school in a show about high schoolers. Jocks vs. Everyone. Boys vs. Girls. Adults vs. Students. The usual. And here’s where we see the beginnings of how queer characters are going to be treated by this series. Susie is not only being bullied but physically assaulted and the best the gross patriarch principal can come up with is that she should go to a different school. Awesome. This isn’t a problem for me because of what happened really. It’s not an uncommon, or even unlikely, situation, especially if this takes place in something resembling the 80s as I believe it does. I’ve had enough portrayals of what terrible people do when confronted with difficult situations that challenge their world view though. What I’d really like, and what I think we deserve at this point, are portrayals of decent people, in positions of power, confronting bullying and assault and other difficult situations with action and justice.

Then on the walk home, good guy Harvey insists Sabrina tell him the truth about what’s bothering her. Something that’s clearly weighing on her and causing distress. It’ll be ok, he says. There’s nothing we can’t handle if we’re honest, he says. And when she finally manages to try to come out to him, he immediately flips on her. Sure Sabrina is doing a pretty crappy job of explaining everything, but what we’ve seen of Harvey indicates that he is a very supportive, accepting, and loving boyfriend and friend to Sabrina. Their dynamic as far as we’ve seen seems to be that Harvey rolls with whatever Sabrina wants to do at any particular moment. He’s genuinely a good guy. Which is why this scene seemed very strange to me. Perhaps if Sabrina had given him more than approximately 10 seconds to process this admittedly overwhelming information, he would have accepted this too.

The dream sequence is pretty good. Aside from some questionable teen side-boob, the scene provides some interesting foreshadowing for Sabrina and some other parts of the show. The duality of her own nature, the fact that she has to choose between these two worlds, and a couple of other things that you’ll see when the episodes come up.

The last major thing I want to bring up is this boy that was murdered. When they begin to suspect that the boy was a witch, they immediately also posit that a witch hunter would have killed him. They have no evidence to suggest a witch hunter was involved aside from the supposition that this boy may have been a witch. Which begs the question; do witches have to be killed in some specific way that only witch hunters know about? Wouldn’t it be just as likely for this to be a random stabbing like they initially thought even if he was a witch? They don’t seem to think so. But despite this now being a question, they don’t seem very concerned with checking up on if he was a witch or not. Someone would have to know him. And another thing, Aunt Zelda seems to think that if he was a witch, he didn’t have a coven. We find out from Ambrose a couple scenes earlier that, unbaptized, a witch’s powers fade away. If this boy was a witch but didn’t have a coven, how would he have been baptized? If he wasn’t baptized he wouldn’t have any powers and, being raised by what seem to be obviously mortal parents, probably wouldn’t know he was a witch at all. So, as far as they know, this boy couldn’t possibly have been practicing even if he was a witch. Why would witch hunters be concerned with, or know about, an unbaptized, non-practicing, completely unknown witch? Oh and they also casually mention that they’re cannibals sometimes. No big deal.

Honestly so much happens in this episode, a lot of which is character and major conflict introduction, there’s no way I could cover everything I have thoughts on in detail and still expect people to read it. I think I’ve at least touched on most of the major themes I think are important that come up in this first episode. Look forward to future ramblings on issues of queerness, questionable character motives, timelines that don’t match up, and plotlines that may or may not ever resolve. I’ll finish up with some lingering questions I have that can be possible topics for discussion either in future installments or in the comments for this first one.

  • Why is everything blurry?

  • When are incantations necessary for spells?

  • When do most witches start school?

  • Can witches teleport? @theweirdsisters

  • How old is Ambrose? How old are Hilda and Zelda?

  • Why is Hilda British? Honestly why do any of them have accents at all?

  • Why was Edward going to speak at the Vatican?

  • How many familiars can one have? @hildasspiders Are the spiders all one goblin broken up into bits or are there like 50 different goblins that Hilda has wrangled into doing her bidding?

  • Why is the Dark Lord concerned about virginity?

  • Do witches have to be killed in a specific way?

  • How long has it been since they’ve eaten “long pig” (a person)? Was Sabrina there?

  • Why doesn’t Sabrina know who the High Priest is? Or even what that is? What does she know about her own belief system?

**Try to keep the comments spoiler free as well.