Miranda Otto

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) s01e11 – A Midwinter’s Tale

It’s a Christmas special—or a Winter Solstice special—set before winter break for the teens, which adds to the weirdness because even though Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) said farewell to beau Ross Lynch last episode… turns out they’re still going to the same school. Yes, even though she’s all in on the witch stuff now, Sabrina’s still going to the human high school.

Even though back at the beginning of the series it was assumed if she went all in on the witch stuff she’d just go to witch school. So when she went all in and said her farewells to the humans, you’d think that meant she was changing schools.

But no.

She’s still doing human school during the day and witch school at night. I guess being a witch means you don’t have to sleep? It’s about the only way anything in the show makes sense, twenty-four hours in a day.

The episode’s interesting because it does appear to have been filmed after the first season—so a real holiday special—because Tati Gabrielle’s all of a sudden got a new haircut, which you think Shipka’s going to mention then doesn’t, and the show seems to have realized it didn’t have any phones. There are two ostentatious phone calls this episode.

The initial main plot is Shipka deciding to hold a seance for her mom (a frankly eh Annette Reilly; they really should have stunt-casted the part). Even though everyone tells her not to do it and even though everything Sabrina’s done in the last, say, five episodes has resulted in emotional turmoil and worse for her, her friends, her family, she goes ahead and does it anyway.

And because of the seance, the house gets infected with “Yule lads,” basically invisible gremlins led by witch of some sort maybe Heather Doerksen. Doerksen’s real good.

But the Reilly stuff and Doerksen stuff is all just prologue to Lachlan Watson getting kidnapped by a child-killing demon. Sabrina’s got to save her, with the help of aunts Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto, which is pretty cool because seeing Otto kick ass is fun.

There’s some more with Lynch—Shipka uses their temporary holiday reprieve to… poison his father. For a good cause but still… poison his father.

The show really doesn’t seem to know how to do Shipka “out” as a witch to her human friends. All of a sudden Jaz Sinclair and Lynch are just at the house, even though they never went there earlier in the season and Watson didn’t even know Davis by sight. Even though the episode opens with a flashback to she and Shipka as kids going to see Santa.

Did they not have a show bible or did they not share it with all the writers….

There’s also a resolution to Otto’s adoption arc, which might be the biggest red herring of the show so far.

It’s an effective episode—Watson’s the most sympathetic character on the show—but… with some major qualifications.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) s01e10 – The Witching Hour

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Ross Maxwell co-write, sending off of “Sabrina”’s first season, with a deus ex machine of an episode where Michelle Gomez decides she’s been waiting too long for Kiernan Shipka to embrace the Dark Lord and it’s time to get drastic about things. If Gomez can’t sabotage Shipka’s friendships with mortals—in addition to the big action, Shipka also reconciles (enough) with boyfriend Ross Lynch and other friends Jaz Sinclair and Lachlan Watson embrace her immediately upon the big “I’m a Witch” conversation in the high school bathroom.

Incidentally, I don’t think the show’s writers know how to deal with telephones in general. Sinclair and Watson tell Shipka they’ve been calling her all weekend and apparently Shipka just hasn’t been answering… but they’d have to answer the phone at the house because it’s a mortuary and a business. Sure, they eat the bodies in the closed caskets, but it’s still a business.

Anyway, it’s a telling oversight. Same goes for astral projection, which was a huge no no in the first or second episode but now is literally how the witches check in with one another because they don’t have cellphones. Astral projection is the texting of “Sabrina” world.

Gomez brings back thirteen witches to destroy the town; the sequence where she brings them back is the only good use of the digital Vaseline filter in iMovie the series has done (and, sadly, not in all the shots), but it works because Gomez is flipping amazing in the scene. Just awesome.

So the witches are going to protect themselves and let the ghost witches eat the townsfolk and Shipka, along with Lucy Davis, Miranda Otto, and Chance Perdomo all decide they’re not going to let the mortals die, causing a rift between various parties. But the scene where Otto decides to play hero is pretty great. And Davis has some very nice stuff this episode, particularly with boss slash love interest Alessandro Juliani, who has been around for a while on the show but hasn’t made much impression apparently because I thought he was Taika Waititi.

Doesn’t matter. Nice stuff this episode.

Lynch and romantic rival Gavin Leatherwood team up to protect Lynch’s drunk-ass dad, while Sinclair and Watson protect Sinclair’s grandmother, L. Scott Caldwell, from the ghost witch attack. Throw in Shipka’s turn to the Dark Side of the Force—relatively speaking—Zelda kidnapping one of Richard Coyle’s newborns, Perdomo joining Coyle’s Jordan Peterson-esque like cult of male students, not to mention Gomez’s big reveal where she lays it all out to her captive audience.

Literally captive audience; she narratives the episode, from the beginning, like every episode is some tale she’s telling to her listener. As the episode progresses, we find out more and more about the listener, but we’re all in it together. Fantastic finish, fully delivering on all the promises of Gomez’s character throughout the season, including expectations from the comic. It’s very good.

In fact, everything’s so good it makes up for Shipka’s wanting arc. Once she gets the proverbial Force Lightning, she stops being the protagonist and becomes the subject of the show. Not a great place for the next season setup, though maybe it’d work better if they hadn’t wasted a couple minutes flashing back through the entire season when Shipka’s got to make her big choice. Instead of let her act the season, they let the clips do it for her. Not a good move.

But otherwise a successful end to a very successful season. Though I do hope they get Shipka back as show lead next season. They didn’t take it away from her—turning it into an ensemble—until the very end of the episode, but they’ve been moving in that direction for a while now. Fingers crossed for next season.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) s01e09 – The Returned Man

This episode could also be called Everything Falls Apart. It puts Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) through one ringer after another; Shipka’s antics of the last couple episodes have resulted in some very bad, very dangerous situations—soulless cannibalistic husk people bad and dangerous—and she doesn’t seem to want to take much responsibility for it.

It’s kind of weird when “Sabrina,” the show, has less faith in Sabrina than it’s conveyed to the audience. Sometimes when she makes an incredibly bad choice this episode, it seems forced.

In order to put everything wrong back right, Shipka’s got to manipulate this set of folks, gaslight this set of folks, ignore this set of folks. It’s a very intense time and the pressures eventually blow—coming out in a yelling match between Shipka and Miranda Otto (who’s awesome) before Shipka runs off to Michelle Gomez for a more sympathetic ear.

Even with Gomez obviously operating with a suspicious or worse agenda, Gomez and Shipka make a good team. But will Gomez’s enabling of Shipka lead to success or will it all crap out, getting Shipka and family in trouble with Richard Coyle (who’s just hired Otto at the school and made her night mother to his unborn babes) and possibly revealing the witches to the world.

Though the mortals are starting to figure it out. In addition to counseling her to steal books from the bookstore, Lachlan Watson’s ghost ancestor (Anastasia Bandey) also tells Watson how the Spellmans are all witches, probably including Sabrina. Jaz Sinclair also figures out, because after she tells Shipka about the Shining, Shipka enlists Sinclair’s aid in one of her schemes to fix the disaster in progress and Sinclair’s able to figure it out.

Plus Shipka finally goes too far for Ross Lynch, which leads to a great scene for Lynch where he gets to hear the truth (for the third time) and a bad one for Shipka. She makes forced bad choices and you feel for Shipka; she’s not getting the scene she ought to get.

Lucy Davis and Otto get a great scene together earlier. Don’t want to forget about that one, but the scene with Lynch and Shipka… First it’s clear Craig William Macneill’s direction isn’t cutting it, then it’s obvious Axelle Carolyn and Christina Ham’s script isn’t good enough either. It’s a big scene and too bad the show bungles it.

The epilogue is… okay, but relies entirely on pre-existing sympathies for the characters, particularly Shipka.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) s01e08 – The Burial

Maggie Kiley directs this one and Kiley’s so far the best director on “Sabrina,” so I went in with high hopes. It doesn’t disappoint, which is something given how much the episode does. It starts with a mine collapse in Greendale, last episode’s cliffhangers—mean girls Abigail Cowen and Adeline Rudolph (but expressly not Tati Gabrielle can’t forget) smash effigies of Ross Lynch and Justin Dobies with rocks (payback for hunting and killing a witch’s deer familiar), while they’re in the mine, hence the collapse. Lynch gets out but Dobies doesn’t.

Again with the first act bait and switch—the episode sets up one expectation, then turns it into just a plot point—Lachlan Watson is the only one who can fit in the collapsed mine to search, which leads to her just finding a crushed helmet. A crushed helmet Lynch and Dobies’s dad, Christopher Rosamond, is more than happy to bury the next day so he can collect on the insurance. Writers Christianne Hedtke and Lindsay Calhoon Bring do not shy away from Lynch confronting Rosamond and the repercussions, which only stay “calm” because Miranda Otto’s not going to allow any fighting during a funeral. It’s a great sequence, easily the most impressive acting from Lynch in the series to date.

So Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) gets the great idea to resurrect Dobies—even though they technically don’t know for sure Dobies is even dead—which violates the witch’s prime directive; they can’t meddle in mortal affairs. There’s also the problem resurrection spells don’t work right on humans, Shipka can’t even convince cousin Chance Perdomo to help her, and the whole thing would have to be a secret from Lynch as well. But Shipka’s got to do it because—the whole town agrees—with Dobies around, Rosamond will beat Lynch to death because he’s an extremely abusive drunk. There’s a beat everyone just sits with, “oh, yeah, the dad will totally beat him to death, for real, no joke, hashtag real talk; it’s sad, huh.”

Subplots include High Priest with the pregnant wife at home Richard Coyle sniffing around an interested Otto and Lachlan having more visits from her ghost ancestor, Anastasia Bandey.

There’s some of the virtual Vaseline rub and it’s bad but the episode holds. It’s got a terrifying cliffhanger too.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) s01e07 – Feast of Feasts

Netflix did drop “Sabrina” all at once so who knows if this Thanksgiving episode was meant to “air” on Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving theme doesn’t last long—enough to introduce the hilarious idea of Miranda Otto sitting and watching football all day for the violence–but once the witch alternative, the Feast of Feasts, comes in… it’s all about the Feast.

Apparently witches don’t do communal Thanksgiving every year and only some people get to attend. The Spellman family—Otto, Lucy Davis, Kiernan Shipka—just haven’t been invited since Shipka’s been old enough to remember. Because she’d remember the event where a woman is chosen as Queen of the Feast and then eaten at said Feast.

While the episode sets it up for Shipka to be Queen—she demands to be the Spellman Family contestant, even though Otto’s already doing it—that setup is just… garnish. Oanh Ly’s script for the episode is strong, dialogue, pacing, plotting. So it comes as a big surprise when Sabrina (Shipka) doesn’t “win,” losing to witch academy nemesis Tati Gabrielle. But to keep Shipka essential to the episode—“Sabrina” has yet to give any of the supporting cast a showcase, it’s very much Shipka’s show—Shipka becomes Gabrielle’s handmaid, which means pampering her until she gets eaten by the coven. A great honor, especially after Gabrielle moves into Shipka’s; they don’t have a slumber party, in fact Gabrielle doesn’t even invite Shipka to the orgy.

One assumes the teen orgy wouldn’t have made it past Standards and Practices at a network, even the CW.

Shipka’s disgusted at the whole “eating another witch” thing and tries to get Gabrielle to see reason, which doesn’t work, but the subplot does prepare the audience for Shipka then discovering things are not what they seem and maybe it isn’t Satan who wants Gabrielle gone but someone else. The discussions of blind faith are fairly sharp so one’s got to wonder if the show’s aware the commentary it’s making on Christianity or if it’s actually as unaware as it appears to be; along with the lack of cellular technology, the world of “Sabrina” also seems absent the Religious Right.

Bitchin’.

Pal Jaz Sinclair has a subplot involving grandma L. Scott Caldwell, who tells her about the family curse—the women go blind, but they get the Shining in return. It’s called the Cunning. It’s whatever psychic power the show needs someone to have to nudge the plot along. It’s not an eye-roll so much as a squint and a nod. Sinclair and Caldwell are good enough to get through it.

And now for the big lede bury—Michael Hogan guest stars as Ross Lynch’s grandfather. They’re all going hunting this Thanksgiving, first time for Lynch, which is important family bonding because they used to hunt witches not deer. Lynch being in a family of witch hunters is a great reveal, especially for episode seven; anyway, on the hunt, they kill a witch’s familiar—in the form of a deer—and get on Sabrina’s witch acquaintances’ bad side.

It’s an excellent episode. Not just because Hogan. It’s got the right mix of Shipka’s justness, witch creepiness, and supporting cast material.

Even if it not being a Thanksgiving special seems like a missed opportunity given how funny it’d be to watch Otto and Hogan watch a football game together.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) s01e06 – An Exorcism in Greendale

The opening showdown with Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) confronting Ms. Wardwell (Michelle Gomez) about Wardwell being a witch, spying on Sabrina, saving Sabrina from the sleep demon. Wardwell gives her a questionable tale about how she’s fulfilling a promise to Sabrina’s dead dad to protect her, which Shipka doesn’t quite buy and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be buying it either. But am I not buying it because I’ve read the comic and know more of what’s up or because of the show’s handling of Gomez, who’s definitely “protecting” Shipka but also actively working to harm those around her.

Turns out it doesn’t matter because Gomez joins Shipka’s witch gang by the end of the episode and it works out, albeit with Gomez as an unrevealed black hat in the operation. Because it turns out Shipka’s going to need all the witch help she can get this episode, as she tries to organize an exorcism to save friend Lachlan Watson’s possessed uncle, Jason Beaudoin.

What’s interesting is how right after Gomez goes from lying to Shipka about her backstory, Shipka goes and hangs out with her friends—Watson, Ross Lynch, Jaz Sinclair—and finds out whatever demon is possessing Beaudoin has been terrorizing them in their dreams. At this precarious moment in their friendships, Shipka proceeds to gaslight her mortal pals about the demon invading their dreams. It’s maybe the first time on the show Shipka’s ever appeared unsympathetic. It’s frankly disquieting to see her do it. Sure, she runs home and tells her family she’s got to save the humans and all but… still.

Especially since Shipka’s then got to back things up with Lynch especially, as he thinks he once saw the same demon in the mines, not yet realizing they really are just tunnels to Hell and who knows who he would’ve seen as a kid. Lynch and Shipka then go down into the mines to try to figure out what happened to Beaudoin, which at one point gives Lynch the great line, “this isn’t The Goonies.” Even if it doesn’t seem like the right line for a sixteen year-old in 2018 to spout.

Meanwhile Sinclair has a weird freakout she’s not religious enough.

Lots of Exorcist references throughout the episode, including a great shot of the suitcase and some not so welcome projectile vomit. The way the exorcism plays out with Shipka, Gomez, and aunts Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto is fabulous.

Even with the iMovie Vaseline smudges appearing at the end, it’s definitely the best directing I’ve ever seen from Rachel Talalay. Though I didn’t know she directed it when I was watching, so maybe I wasn’t looking out for issues as much. It’s a good episode. Though I wish Watson’s arc, which involves Beaudoin being… gay maybe… possibly queer… ish, was better. Whatever Joshua Conkel and MJ Kaufman are trying to do there doesn’t work. Especially with Beaudoin’s demon calling Beaudoin a sodomite, especially with Sinlcair’s religiosity becoming a plot point.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) s01e05 – Dreams in a Witch House

This episode starts immediately after the previous one—Kiernan Shipka has just opened a demonic Rubik’s cube, designed by her dead father when he was in the same witch academy she now attends, and released a sleep demon (a make-up encased and excellent Megan Leitch). The episode is just the demon getting into everyone in the house’s heads. So Shipka, aunts Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto, cousin Chance Perdomo. Meanwhile Michelle Gomez finds out about it because she’s been remote spying on Shipka, turns out she knows Leitch, they don’t get along—Leitch is going to kill everyone to take revenge on the father, Gomez doesn’t want Shipka harmed—so Gomez ends up traveling through everyone’s dreams.

It starts fairly amusing then starts getting really good and not stopping that upward quality climb. It’s the first episode of “Sabrina” to really deliver a special hour or whatever of television. It’s terrifying. Leitch is great. Even when the nightmares are predicable—Shipka’s worried about human boyfriend Ross Lynch rejecting her (like he did before she magicked his memory away in the first episode)—they’re well-executed and full of emotional weight. Like when Perdomo finds himself in a loop of performing his own autopsy from both perspectives simultaneously, it all turns into great acting material. Everyone in the cast—save Leitch because make-up—is able to find extremes for their characters and, well, frolic in them.

Like witch aunts (and sisters) Davis and Otto; turns out have very different feelings about one another, which gives them an endless fount of acting possibilities. It’s all excellent character development as well. The episode has a decompressed narrative but does a bunch of expository work with that extra time. I’m not sure if Matthew Barry writes the best “Sabrina” script or Maggie Kiley directs the show the best, but this episode’s a definite standout. It leverages the actors far better than any of the previous episodes, giving them a lot more range, while still acknowledging their caricature aspects.

Wonderful scene for Bronson Pinchot too.

And the cliffhanger with Shipka confronting Gomez? Awesome. It’d be really frustrating to have to wait another week for what comes next.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) s01e04 – Witch Academy

I’m very confused; the witch school is within walking distance from the farm where Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) lives. I thought it was a boarding school far away. Turns out it’s a boarding school—Shipka has to do three nights there—but it’s within walking distance. So she was never going to see her human friends again by just not… going to town anymore. Or something. It’s not explained and confusing but fine.

Because the welcome to witch school episode, which is mostly about how the other witches haze Shipka, works out. The characters it introduces, the twists it introduces, the whatever—they all work out. Shipka being terrified when the mean girl trio of witches (Tati Gabrielle is the leader and good, the other two are fine but background) lock her up in a well or simulate burning her or hanging her—it’s called harrowing and the established students put the new ones through it because it’s what the witches went through back in the olden days and the witch trials. Or something. The backstory on it isn’t very important, not after we find out Miranda Otto majorly harrowed sister Lucy Davis back in the day. Also not after Shipka discovers she’s fairly old to be a new student, apparently, because the school grounds are inhabited by the ghosts of all the little kids who died in their harrowings over the decades. They’re not exactly haunting the place, not exactly not.

The ghost kids leads to a great subplot for Shipka, Otto, and Davis, where the show does a fantastic “girl power” move and never pauses to acknowledge it much less congratulate itself for it. “Sabrina”’s very comfortable doing well.

But Shipka not being able to get through the harrowing just doesn’t fit; it does the hazing PSA and well, but it doesn’t really work with Shipka’s character as she’s developed to this point.

Anyway. Simultaneous to Shipka being away for a long weekend—she tells her human friends she’s at the state fair or something—boyfriend Ross Lynch gets some more information about the creature in the mines after it turns out Lachlan Watson has a possessed uncle living in her house and never told friends about it even though the guy’s obviously demonically possessed. It’s a scary subplot. Very effectively done.

Overall, it’s a solid episode. Not perfect, but very solid. They succeed at introducing the school, including warlock love interest for Shipka but not really Gavin Leatherwood.

So, solid.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) s01e03 – The Trial of Sabrina Spellman

No Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa script this episode, Ross Maxwell instead, which initially confirmed my idea about how the first two episodes were the extended pilot and now we’re getting into series proper.

Actually, no, because this episode serves to set the series up to be, you know, a series. The episode opens with teenage half-witch who denied the Dark Lord Kiernan Shipka running out of principal and temporarily possessed by said Dark Lord Bronson Pinchot’s office and bumping into teacher Michelle Gomez, who’s also possessed—unknown to Shipka—by a demon in the Dark Lord’s employ. Their goal? Get Shipka to sign her soul over to the Dark Lord.

Then Shipka goes off and has flashbacks about the event, which occurred at the end of last episode. Like we didn’t just stream it. “Sabrina” seems like it was intended as a weekly show. Possibly with a two hour pilot episode. Meaning Aguirre-Sacasa left it up to Maxwell to get “Sabrina” from pilot to series, meaning a resolve to what came before while still allowing for an interesting future. So a trial.

Where Dark Pope and not Ewan McGregor Richard Coyle is going to try Shipka for not signing her name in the book—she breached contract, implied by her wearing a wedding dress to her Dark Baptism—and Shipka has to convince human lawyer named Daniel Webster (John Rubinstein) to defend her in court. Witch court. Meanwhile her boyfriend, Ross Lynch, has to contend with a bullying father sending him to work in the mines, which would be unpleasant even if Lynch hadn’t wandered down into them and seen the Dark Lord once in childhood.

Then Shipka’s friend, Jaz Sinclair, has a subplot about discovering Pinchot’s soft-censoring books from the school library while Chance Perdomo has a romance arc with fetching, suspicious warlock Darren Mann. It’s a full episode, with yet another strong lead turn from Shipka. The supporting cast is all good too. Rubinstein does a lot with a guest spot, Gomez is fantastically evil… Lucy Davis is really good. The story even seems to be going in a direction Miranda Otto could work out.

I would just like the show to start now. Like, a full quarter turn at the end of next episode should be expected at this point; the show hasn’t had to settle in yet.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) s01e02 – The Dark Baptism

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.

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