Now THIS is the kind of creature of the week mayhem that I wanted from this show!
I loved this episode. I think it’s pretty nearly perfect and is (as far as I remember) the only episode that doesn’t undermine the previously set up rules of the series and doesn’t add any new ones to be broken later. It gives some really incredible insights in to the Spellman family of characters and we see some of the best performances of the entire series. If you only watch one episode of this show, watch this one.
We open on Hilda, Zelda, and Ambrose settling in for the night and reading what, at first glance, appear to be three very different pieces of literature. Hilda is reading some sort of erotic novel, Zelda is reading the Satanic Bible, and Ambrose is opening a pamphlet of men in their underwear whilst also undoing the drawstring of his sweatpants. It’s pretty easy to draw the connection between what Hilda and Ambrose are doing but one might hesitate to also group the Satanic Bible in with those. However, what we already know of Zelda, and what we learn in this episode, indicates that Zelda’s relationship with the Dark Lord is one that she at least wants to be intimate. I’d say they’re all winding down with some naughty thoughts about one thing or another and I think that is very fun.
I’m really excited about Batibat. What a great episode villain. She’s just sinister enough to provide a believable threat for Sabrina and her family but silly enough that the episode isn’t entirely dark. The nightmares she makes are horrifying but Batibat herself brings that little bit of humor in while she’s chasing Salem around the house and just sort of existing in general so we’re not just uncomfortable and horrified the whole time we’re watching the episode. They tie her existence to the past of the Spellman’s by referencing Edward’s trouble sleeping and they give her a clear goal (taking revenge on the Spellman family) that she can’t accomplish until one of the four Spellman’s succumbs to her tormenting them lest she be trapped in the house forever just as she was trapped in the acheron configuration. She’s also entirely (or at least mostly) practical in the general effects of her character. She’s not some weird cgi demon and I really appreciate that. That’s actually something I appreciate about the series in general. They use a lot of practical effects which I almost always prefer over cgi. There weren’t any moments that I noticed that were digitally altered to the extent that it pulled me out of believing the character. We learn something pretty important about Ms. Wardwell in this episode through Batibat as well. When Ms. Wardwell checks in on Sabrina (which was effectively set up in the previous episode so, gold star), she sees Batibat and they know each other. Batibat calls her both, “Mother of Demons,” and, “Demon Mother,” which I won’t fully explain here but if you’ve read anything about Christian lore you will definitely recognize these names and these are huge clues as to who Ms. Wardwell actually is. I will admit this is something that didn’t register to me during my first watch but I will also admit that I might not have been paying quite as much attention as I could have when I went through this the first time. We at least know from their exchange here that Ms. Wardwell is something very old and very powerful and probably isn’t just a witch. That’s most of what I have to say about Batibat. She’s a great episode villain with just enough impact that the Spellmans feel the weight of what just happened but with just enough levity that we don’t immediately just hate her and want her to be defeated. We want to see what she does and where she takes us. The actor, Megan Leitch, plays her affectations beautifully and effortlessly transitions between this harsh demon voice and the soft sing-songy voice used to lure and lull victims to sleep. Not to mention how difficult it is to be expressive with that much makeup and that much costume on. She killed it.
Now let’s get in to the dreams. I found them to be very well written and very insightful in to each of the characters. They believably played in to and honed the fears that we were already beginning to pick up on for each of these characters. Each dream, or nightmare if we want to be entirely accurate I suppose, takes something that each character desperately wants, and twists it in to the thing that they fear most will happen if they ever manage to come close to that desire. Sabrina’s dream starts out with both halves of her life being fully integrated. Her friends from school and her acquaintances from the Academy are both around her at what appears to be her high school. The fact that the dream version of her life integrates in such a way that the majority of aspects are from her human life is quite telling but we already pretty much knew that she placed more value on those parts of her life than the witch parts and just wants to keep the power from that half. Harvey proposes and they almost get married which is weird and entirely not legal I’m pretty sure but it is a dream so I’ll let it go. Everything goes well in her dream until Harvey’s brother and father enter the scene and incense the human crowd to turn on her while the witches just sit and watch. Harvey was fine to go along with everything until his family got involved, which may or may not be an important note going forward. Sabrina ultimately fears being rejected and not being able to make the two halves of her identity mesh. In her nightmare we see her human life reject her for being a witch and that is, of course, terrifying, not in small part because they literally start torturing her. But there’s another layer here as well. The witches, including her Aunts and Ambrose, don’t move to help her. In this version of the world Sabrina has effectively chosen the human world over the witch world even though they are still both in her life. She’s chosen to marry Harvey and to reveal herself to the humans around her, trusting that they will accept her. When they reject her, however, so must the witches she knows. They warned her and she didn’t listen so they cannot help her anymore. Whether to self preserve or to make an example, they reject the choice she made and refuse to come to her aid. Even as she is calling for help inside that torture chamber, no one comes. In choosing one world she has been rejected by both and that is what she fears. Being alone and completely powerless. When Ms. Wardwell comes to pull her out of the dream, she comes to her senses pretty quickly and is able to understand to an extent what is being told to her. How easily each of the four Spellmans is pulled out of their nightmare is important to keep in mind.
Ambrose fears being forgotten when he dies, being trapped forever, and ultimately not mattering. When his body first appears, Aunt Hilda doesn’t recognize him, doesn’t remember him, and he is left alone to ponder his life and what he amounted to. His desire is ultimately to be freed from this punishment of being trapped in the house but when the dream gives him this freedom he can’t even get out the door before he is cut down in a brutal attack. I swear the first time I watched this that the person that came in and stabbed Ambrose to death was Ambrose. Honestly I think that would’ve given his dream another layer of interesting meaning but I obviously misremembered because it’s Batibat who kills him. I also think it would’ve been better if he’d been the one to kill himself because this is the only dream in which Batibat is directly involved in the outcome. I think it’s a bit strange that she would implant herself like that in to one of the dreams. Either way, Ambrose is ultimately trapped in this oroboros type loop of being freed and then dying and having to perform his own gruesome autopsy which, in my opinion he seems to be enjoying a little too much for it to actually be a nightmare. I think he thinks he wants to be free but also fears the concept of being free because he really wouldn’t know what to do with himself. If nothing else he knows he’s safe in the Spellman house and doesn’t know how to deal with the possibilities that await if he were to be able to leave. I also think it’s interesting that the manner of his death in this dream is very similar to how we know Connor died. Ambrose saw how the people around him reacted to the death of this boy whether or not he was a witch and how most of them really didn’t end up caring. He knows that no one will remember Connor and saw himself in this boy that had only his parents to grieve him. I think that’s why he seems to be the only character that cared enough to keep asking questions about his death. He needed someone to remember and care. One very small detail that I found interesting and that I believe we can assume is something pulled from reality is that Edward apparently is the one who punished him and trapped him in the Spellman house. It’s not elaborated on really but it’s something that made my ears prick up a bit and may be important. Ambrose is also the easiest to rouse out of his nightmare when Sabrina makes her rounds, and he seems to have the most control over his dream, which reinforces my theory that he isn’t really having all that bad of a time. Somewhere in there he’s absolutely loving the fact that he gets to be this dramatic about his existence. He’s trapped but he’s trapped where he feels comfortable.
Hilda, apparently, really just wants to get laid and for Zelda to shut up for two seconds. Simple, but so valid honestly. All Zelda ever does is torment Hilda and damn if she’s not sick of it. We’ve seen her over the past couple episodes start to try to break out from under Zelda’s thumb a bit by going against her orders and thinking about getting a job so she’s not in the house all the time. She wants a little bit of freedom from her sister. Which is why her nightmare scenario is her literally being attached to Zelda at the hip. She can feel herself being crushed by the weight of Zelda’s expectations and she just needs a bit of time apart from her so she can breathe for once. Hilda is also pretty easily taken out of the nightmare when Sabrina comes in and is able to be coherent enough to tell Sabrina how to defeat Batibat. Where I think Ambrose was able to be brought out because he was enjoying himself, I think Hilda was able to be brought out because she has been actively working, recently, to free herself from Zelda’s influence and she sees the light. She knows she’s close so the dream doesn’t have as strong a hold on her as it might have just a few weeks ago.
Which brings us to Zelda. I mentioned a few episodes ago that Hilda might be my favorite character but Zelda definitively has my favorite and just the best character arc. We established early on that the most important things to Zelda are her religion and her family. She puts on this big show of being strong and distant and critical but she needs her family, specifically Hilda and Sabrina. Over these first few episodes we’ve seen Zelda begin to have to struggle with how her religion and her family interact. With Hilda having been excommunicated, and Sabrina constantly questioning and rebelling against the traditions of their belief system, Zelda is losing control and the world feels very unsteady. The things she thought she could rely on are slipping from her grasp. The trial really shook her and when Father Blackwood wouldn’t help with the Harrowings she began to realize that the trust she had placed in these structures and the people who uphold them might not be compatible with the direction her family is going. It’s becoming more and more clear that, at some point, Zelda is going to have to decide whether to cling to the traditions that give her life structure and control, or protect the family that gives her life meaning. Zelda’s nightmare is the most complex and ultimately horrifying of the four. She finds out that the Dark Lord is coming to dine at their home and, desperate to impress and please him, she kills and prepares a child for their dinner. However, since this child was a follower of the Church of Night, her actions ultimately disappoint the Dark Lord and he rejects her entirely. He chooses Hilda instead. This rejection might seem like a nightmare in itself but her torment hasn’t even started yet. In her rage that Hilda has managed to ruin yet another extremely important event, Zelda kills Hilda, just as she’s done so many times before. But this time Hilda won’t be coming back. This is the nightmare. Zelda is devastated. I want to really emphasize the gravity of the effect that Hilda’s true death has on her. There is nothing that can get through. When Sabrina comes to try to ask for help, Zelda looks right through her. She barely even acknowledges that Sabrina is there. This strong, powerful, amazing witch and woman has been absolutely ruined by this loss. This loss that she brought on and can do nothing to fix. The rejection of the Dark Lord doesn’t even register as an event anymore. There is only regret that Hilda is gone. Regret that she was only ever cruel to Hilda. Regret that her selfishness and stubbornness ultimately destroyed the person she loved the most in this world. There’s even another layer here to the terrifying realization that Hilda is gone. We know that Hilda has been excommunicated. In most religions this means that an individual no longer has access to the benefits that the religious entity provides. Now this all really depends on how strict the rules of the church are but, from what we’ve seen, I think we can assume that Hilda probably won’t have access to whatever death rites the Church of Night provides. Hilda isn’t just dead. She’s unable to join the Dark Lord in that death. Despite all of Zelda’s best efforts, her family is the furthest it has ever been from the Church and the Dark Lord and everything she does seems to drive them farther apart. Sabrina refused her baptism, was rejected at the Academy, and seems at every turn to put new strain on her own relationship with the Dark Lord. Hilda has not only been excommunicated but is also pulling away from her personal relationship with Zelda. Zelda is losing her grip on everyone around her and, on top of that, is beginning to question the Church and their practices and leadership (which began when Faustus would not help with the Harrowings). This nightmare she gets trapped in doesn’t just highlight these fears and unsteadiness, it exaggerates them. Where the other three more or less rouse themselves from their own dreams, Zelda never escaped. And she’s still spiraling.
As the episode winds down each of the Spellmans has to reckon with the fact that Sabrina saw them at their most vulnerable point, and with what they saw in themselves during those vulnerable moments. Many of their decisions going forward will hinge on what was learned in this episode.
There is so much more I could talk about but I’ve already gone on far too long so I’ll just highlight a couple of interesting things I noticed before this week’s questions. The Weird Sisters and Father Blackwood appear in all but Hilda’s dream. This might have to do with her excommunication but I’m honestly not sure because there wasn’t a whole lot of reason behind why they were in the other three either. I understand why they would be in Sabrina’s dream but they don’t really belong in the other two, especially the Weird Sisters in Ambrose’s dream. They just stand there silently. The only dream in which an actor plays a different role than the one they are usually assigned in the show is Zelda’s. Father Blackwood takes on the mantle of the Dark Lord. I think this ties very nicely into what I was saying earlier about them all having naughty thoughts before bed. There was clearly tension between Faustus and Zelda in previous episodes and Zelda wants to be as close to the Dark Lord as possible so it makes sense that the two would merge in her dream world. Sabrina also does some interesting stuff. She actually has a conversation with Salem that makes sense and seems two-sided (I was beginning to think they never spoke and she couldn’t actually understand him). We also see her put a glamour on Salem which isn’t interesting in itself but is to me because the first time I watched this I thought Salem just shifted into looking like her. And in the very last moment of the episode we see Sabrina confront Ms. Wardwell. She knows now that Wardwell is not just a teacher and demands to know what’s going on. I’m sure that conversation will be very interesting in next week’s episode.
Alright I only have two questions this week and they aren’t even directly tied to this episode but they are things I think we should ponder going forward:
How old are each of the Spellmans?
I won’t get in to it now but I’m collecting information because timelines are important to me apparently.
How is Ambrose related to them?
We know that he is definitely a Spellman, that he calls Sabrina his cousin, and Hilda and Zelda his aunts. However, the way they talk in this episode and others seems to indicate that there were just the three siblings; Hilda, Zelda, and Edward. He can’t be Hilda’s because apparently she’s a virgin (this is information we get in her dream but I think this, along with the information about Ambrose being punished by Edward, can be assumed true because there’s really no reason to have made it up). And even if he was the child of one of the sisters wouldn’t he call one of them mom? He’s not Edward’s kid either I’m pretty sure because Edward seemed pretty keen on just Sabrina’s mom but who knows really. He could’ve dropped a love child somewhere along the way. But why then call Sabrina ‘cousin?’ It could just be one of those things where he’s adopted terms for people around him because it’s easier but what’s the point honestly. This is just another of many examples of things that really do not need to be questions in this show. And yet another one that I doubt will ever be addressed.