I started this episode very happy Lee Toland Krieger was directing and then immediately regretted it because Krieger uses these camera filters—the iMovie version of wiping Vaseline on the lens—to center viewer attention. So while “Sabrina” has that questionable streaming 2.1:1 aspect ratio… the action takes place in a traditional 1.33:1 TV frame. Not even 16:9.
It gets really, really, really annoying this episode, which just turns out to be a testament to the rest of the show’s quality. Save Miranda Otto, who’s not good enough, not opposite Lucy Davis, Kiernan Shipka, or even Chance Perdomo. Davis gets an amazing scene this episode. She’s a star reserve player.
Continuing from last episode are the days of the week title cards, including a very nice homage to Halloween, and by the finish, it’s clear Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wrote this episode and last as the pilot. I wonder how it plays without an artificial break, like a two-hour pilot or like a very open-ended two-hour feature. I’m thinking the former, just because of Aguirre-Sacasa’s attention to detail.
Sadly some of that detail is in a… I’m not even sure what the right phrase is—a gay panic blackmailing bit. Shipka’s done with the football players who are bullying friend Lachlan Watson and decides to teach them a lesson. So she enlists the mean girls from the witch school she’s going to be attending to help her. Her plan involves using witchcraft to get the guys to do gay stuff, then taking polaroids and blackmailing them. It doesn’t play well. Even if the scene ends up being effective because lead mean girl Tati Gabrielle is good and because Shipka’s able to act through even when the script’s off, which is both a good and bad thing.
The episode resolves what Shipka’s going to do about her sweet sixteen, which is also when she signs her soul over to Lucifer and goes off to witch boarding school, leaving her human friends behind.
The beginning of the episode has some more bonding with secretly possessed teacher Michelle Gomez—who’s awesome—the end is mostly about the soul signing ceremony and fall out. Dark Pope Richard Coyle is a little more effective when not a peculiar stunt cameo but he’s still not enough; Shipka, even when she’s playing coy, dominates their scenes. Coyle’s bombastically clawing at scraps while Shipka’s nonchalantly walking all over him. It works for the character too. The show, two episodes in (one episode in?), is a great showcase for Shipka.
Though type-casting fears are probably justified.