It’s episode two and we’ve got some character development, a heaping helping of religion, and, to top it off, a dollop of gay shaming blackmail. Let’s get started.
First of all, there are some really great performances in this episode, and in the whole series, if I’m honest. These actors are giving 110% and they are nailing it. From Ms. Wardwell grabbing a massive handful of candy corn to Sabrina screaming and fighting her way through the woods away from her baptism, I am nothing if not impressed and excited to watch these characters portrayed, with all their complexities and nuances, by these people.
This is the first time we get a glimpse of why Aunt Hilda is probably my favorite character in the series. She’s tucking Sabrina in to bed when she goes to this very dark place and reveals that sometimes she wants to burn the entire forest down. Talk about great performances. What this means, to me, is that Aunt Hilda constantly makes the active choice to be happy and accepting and loving because, if she didn’t, she’d likely be just as pleased to watch the whole world crumble around her while she laughs through a ring of hellfire. She’s got layers, she’s got demons, she’s got secrets, and I love every bit of it.
We also learn some stuff about Aunt Zelda in this episode. She desperately needs to be in control all the time. This is why she seems to be slightly on edge or irritated all the time. When things don’t go the way she thinks they should, she begins to unravel and tries to find a way to correct course. She knows exactly what she believes and clings to that as a foundation for everything else. Sabrina questioning her baptism, and Hilda revealing that she may have regrets, shakes that foundation and Aunt Zelda flounders a bit because of it. She goes so far as to literally murder Hilda. She knows that Hilda will come back, sure, but that is still a massive reaction to the events unfolding before her. But, because she kills Hilda, we also learn something else about Zelda that might be a bit more subtle. When Hilda comes back we see that Zelda has been waiting out on the porch probably all day and however much of the night it took for her to resurrect. I think she needed to make sure she would. She grimly points out that the more times she does this (because it’s happened before apparently. Get that temper in check, honestly, Zelda), the longer it takes Hilda to return. On the surface this seems almost like a threat but I see it more as a verbal reminder to herself that there is a chance that one day Hilda will just be dead. There is a chance she might kill her sister. In the same breath pretty much she reveals that Sabrina doesn’t have a choice in being baptised. That if Sabrina doesn’t sign the book that they will have failed, and implies that there is a chance they could lose her if she doesn’t. She is desperate to hold on to her beliefs but she is terrified of losing her family. This is the root of Aunt Zelda’s character.
The Dark Lord Himself becomes a character in this episode. We learn that Satan is a very present and involved deity. He doesn’t just sit on the sidelines and let everyone else do all the work for him. We see him in two different forms in this episode. He first manifest physically and wholly in his true form (I assume) in front of Ms. Wardwell who obviously already has a relationship with him and wants to see him. Later he possesses Principal Hawthorne to communicate with and intimidate Sabrina. I wonder if this means he is limited in who he can physically appear to. But I also wonder if this possession was a choice. What’s more psychologically scarring; a large anthropomorphic goat demon, or someone you know who has some power over your life being puppeted by a god that you just pissed off? We also learn from the weird sisters that the Dark Lord is afraid of witches having too much power so he takes their freedom in exchange for magical abilities when they sign the Book of the Beast. When Sabrina asks why he’s afraid of them she says, “He’s a man, isn’t he?” Which hints at some misogynistic foundations to this religious structure they find themselves in.
This episode lays some important groundwork establishing the Church of Night, and the coven, as a religious entity. There are many references to scriptures, commandments, and satanic verses (none specifically but generally they’re brought up quite a bit), there is a leadership structure that they follow, and they have a deity which is in apparent opposition to the Christian God (makes sense). We kind of knew this was a religion already, being introduced to the concepts of the Church, the High Priest, and the baptism, along with phrases such as “praise Satan,” in episode one, but this episode really lays it on thick. Honestly I think this show’s relationship with religion is one of it’s best, most well-done aspects. It’s one of two major parts that got very personal and very visceral reactions out of me and it’s one of the few things that I really don’t have a lot to say on that’s critical.
At the beginning of this episode, during her conversation with the High Priest, she’s told that she will always have a choice. That, even after she is baptised, she will always have the option to step away from the Church of Night. He even encourages her to question things. To take her baptism and then challenge their beliefs and to make their religion better in doing so. But the more questions she asks the more questions she has. Some ideas seem to be contradictory and the more she thinks about it, the more she knows she needs more time to think about it. By the time she has that pen in her hand this whole ceremony feels wrong, like she’s been lied to, but the pressure of the crowd and her family who love her and want the best for her are pushing her to sign her name. Everything she’s ever been told is that her belief system is based on free will and her ability to make choices without judgement but as soon as she is unsure they try to coerce her and force her to just accept and trust the plan and the will of the Dark Lord. Father Blackwood literally takes her hand and tries to physically force her to write her name. Committing herself to this structure, this entity, that she doesn’t know anywhere close to everything about, relinquishing control of her life, her will, her soul, when she doesn’t fully know what it means to have control over those things, and sacrificing parts of herself that she’s not even sure she should have to sacrifice; her friendships, her humanity, her love that fundamentally goes against one of the core tenets of her religion, is terrifying. Making the decision to run, when she has no idea if her family will support her, if she’ll have the opportunity to make this choice again, because she knows something just doesn’t feel right about the way she’s been told this has to go, is just as terrifying. But she has to believe that there is another way because what is the point if there’s not? These are two halves of her very real whole identity and she cannot possibly fathom a world where one exists without the other. So she runs. She runs and she is nearly torn apart in the process. She runs and nobody understands. Some people are angry. Some are confused. Some are disappointed. But despite that, thankfully, she is protected. She stands her ground and goes with her gut and resolves to make her own decisions when and only when she has all the information she needs. She does not relinquish her faith entirely, she still believes what she believes, but she needs to walk this path of her own volition. Not be pushed down it. This is important. This is powerful.
On a small side note, the revelations in this voice over segment don’t make a whole lot of sense. According to Ambrose circa episode one, she’s about to lose all her powers and just be mortal. But she, and the show, seem to have forgotten that little bit of information.
And, finally, we come to the last thing I want to address in this episode. Billy, Ed, Seth, and Carl, Susie’s bullies, get their comeuppance in this episode. Sort of. These four are truly in some state in this episode. They can’t go more than approximately two lines without the word queer or dyke coming out of one of their idiot mouths. Pretty much all of their bullying centers around gender, sexuality, or sex. After Susie gets suspended for starting a fight with them, Sabrina resolves to enlist the help of the weird sisters to get them to back off because there’s no way she’ll get help from the administration. Fine. Aside from going a little too heavy on all the “queer” terms in my opinion, I can accept all of this as being used to vilify these characters. What’s not fine, and what really angers me to no end, is what Sabrina does in response. Sabrina, the protagonist of this television program, who we are supposed to like and identify with and care about, decides that the best course of action to help her pretty obviously queer friend, is to gay shame and blackmail these boys, by literally tricking them into kissing each other, so they’ll leave Susie alone. Of all of the hundreds of thousands of other options she has before her as a witch with three other powerful witches and the entire might of Satan himself behind her, this is what she comes up with. Why? Literally anything would have been a better choice than this. She could have taken away their ability to speak, or their ability to play whatever sport it is they play, or, hell, make them impotent. Wait what’s that you say? They did make them impotent? In addition to the whole gay blackmail thing? Then please explain to me why that was there at all. Because I’m really having a hard time understanding what the thinking was behind putting that in this show, or how anyone can claim that this show is in any way revolutionary or even just positive representation of queer subjects. And before anyone says anything about how this was written by a gay man, I am aware. But here’s a fun fact; gay people, and specifically this cis, white, gay man, can be shitty writers just like everyone else. To add insult to injury here, Susie isn’t even involved in making these bullies pay for what they’ve done to her. She has no agency in any part of this interaction. Sabrina has to step in and save her and she doesn’t even know it’s happening. Susie remains passive. Beaten and passive and completely in the dark.
Anyway here are some more fun questions for you to ponder:
Is Faustus High Priest of the entire Church of Night or just their coven?
Does he perform all dark baptisms?
Why is it so important that Sabrina, specifically, be baptised?
Why doesn’t she have a choice?
Why is the Dark Lord so personally invested?
What exactly makes her so special?
Why did she have to take her dress off at the baptism? They spent all that time preparing it, and I might understand the choice if she had to be fully naked (though she definitely shouldn’t have been), but she still had a slip on underneath so what was the point?
Why didn’t the slip also turn black?
How did Connor have a familiar if he was never baptised?
Greendale isn’t a big town. If he was young enough to still have powers and not have been baptised, i.e. a child, why is nothing being said at Sabrina’s school? If he is beyond the age of baptism, and Faustus possibly performs all baptisms, how would he have gotten a familiar?
I have a lot of questions about Connor…
Is the potential for losing powers only because Sabrina is half mortal?