Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

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) 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.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) s01e01 – October Country

The opening titles of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” are, for the most part (if memory serves), Robert Hack art from the source comic book. Now, not only is the comic super-gory, it’s also a period(ish) piece; the show is set modern but none of the teenagers has a smartphone, so it’s a bit removed from reality. The episode opens in a movie theater, with Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) hanging out with her group of very modern friends. While boyfriend Harvey (Ross Lynch) is a non-jock White guy, Jaz Sinclair is the only Black girl in the town, and Lachlan Watson is non-binary. There’s a somewhat awkward thing about the bully-enabling principal—a fully dramatic Bronson Pinchot—isn’t an ally.

So some of the dialogue’s a little forced, but all the acting is good and, hey, at least there aren’t some mean girls causing problems too. Just some jocks, who bully and—oh, wait, physically assault—Watson, which Pinchot’s cool with because Watson doesn’t want to give up any names. Shipka tries to convince Bronson otherwise to no avail, which will eventually lead to her using witchcraft to even the playing field.

Shipka’s got the opening narration to set everything up: half-human, half-witch, raised by aunts Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto, T-minus five days until Shipka’s got to sign her soul over to Satan and go off to witch school in New England. Only Shipka’s not entirely sure she wants to leave her human friends, especially since her future witch classmates are mean to her for being half-human.

Further complicating matters is Michelle Gomez, one of Shipka’s teachers who just happens to have been possessed by a witch from Hell, whose job it is to make sure Shipka commits to her future as a minion of Lucifer only Gomez has to pretend to be the teacher. Of course, Gomez is playing a character from the comic and the show seems like a sequel to said comic, which show creator and episode writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa never finished because he started making TV shows. So I’ve got baggage and expectation with Gomez.

But it all works out, partially due to the great pacing.

Though Richard Coyle seems to be going way too hard on a Ewan McGregor impression; Coyle’s the cliffhanger arrival guest star… the Dark Pope, arrived to tempt Shipka to the cause. For the amount of build-up he gets, it’d be better if it were Ewan McGregor… It needs a final oomph.

Or would if Shipka’s acting weren’t on point enough to cover, which it is, which she does.

The show works because it’s well-written, Shipka’s a great lead, and the soundtrack is awesome.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 8 (October 2017)

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #8There hasn’t been much Sabrina in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina lately. At least two issues, maybe three. This issue is all Sabrina. It was, like Chilling Adventures itself, worth the wait. Aguirre-Sacasa and Hack put Sabrina through a romance comic adventure, one with some good girl art, while never losing the twisted reality of it all. Aguirre-Sacasa’s writing is stellar, on plotting, on characters. He does this close third person narration, mostly between Sabrina and her dad (who’s possessing her reincarnated zombie boyfriend). It’s twisted and great. Then there’s a witch battle. Hack does it all. There’s even a Jughead cameo. Sabrina has held strong without its lead, but it’s so nice to have her back.

CREDITS

Witch-War, Chapter Two: The Psychopomps; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist, Robert Hack; letterer, Jack Morelli; editor, Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 7 (August 2017)

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #7This issue of Sabrina has almost no Sabrina. None as the lead. Instead, it’s got her dad, Edward, coming back to life in the body of Sabrina’s dead boyfriend, Harvey. It’s a frame for a flashback. You know, while Edward, in Harvey’s body, eats Harvey’s parents.

Because it’s a really gross comic. Aguirre-Sacasa knows Hack can sell the creepiness of the behavior while implication. There’s no need for gore. As horrifying as the visuals might get, Hack’s artwork is always lovely. Especially for the flashbacks, in which Edward appears to be a young Eddie Munster type. It’s downright fun for a while–Aguirre-Sacasa enjoys the less gory content fine, he just always punctuates with gore. And after it’s fun, it starts getting creepier and creepier.

It’s awesome. The creators aren’t trying to recreate the gothic, melodramatic horror comic, they’re just doing a good one.

CREDITS

Witch-War, Chapter One: The Truth about Demonology; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist, Robert Hack; letterer, Jack Morelli; editor, Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

Afterlife with Archie 10 (October 2016)

Afterlife with Archie #10Someday, someone will do tragedy in mainstream comics better than Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, but if this latest issue of Afterlife with Archie is any indication, it’s not going to be any time soon. This issue–a done-in-one prologue to the series–features the Afterlife version of Josie and the Pussycats. Once again, Aguirre-Sacasa mixes pop culture sensibility, horror and so much good characterization.

It might be impossible to talk about the issue without spoiling anything, but I’m going to try. Aguirre-Sacasa structures it as an interview, set in modernity, with Josie telling a reporter all about the Pussycats’ history. There’s a lot of social history, some hints at ties to the overarching Afterlife story and some singing and dancing. There’s also friendship and tragedy.

There’s also a lot of unbelievably good Francesco Francavilla artwork. How Aguirre-Sacasa comes up with the content to give Francavilla the opportunity to do these panels–whether it’s a rock concert, a scene set in a small town in the South or an airplane ride–not to mention the interview panels themselves–it’s awesome, over and over again. Francavilla does the horror, he does the characters, he does the relationships between the two. There’s so much tragedy, the issue practically bleeds it.

This comic book, out of nowhere, isn’t just consistently excellent, it’s consistently exquisite. Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla put Afterlife in a league all its own.

CREDITS

Betty: R.I.P., Chapter Five: Interview/Interlude with the Pussycats; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist and colorist, Francesco Francavilla; letterer, Jack Morelli; editor, Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 6 (September 2016)

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #6Aguirre-Sacasa starts this issue of Sabrina with some rather showy exposition. The series always has good exposition with a fluid narrative distance, but this opening is something different. It’s Aguirre-Sacasa using some of the goodwill he’s built up; he’s asking the reader to get excited. It’s almost like he’s pep rallying what’s going to come.

And it’s deserved. It’s a great issue, covering the histories of Sabrina’s family’s familiars. Samuel the cat is the focus of the comic, but Aguirre-Sacasa wants the reader to have to wait. He and Hack deliver a fantastic origin for the asps in the house. Then it’s Samuel’s turn and Aguirre-Sacasa starts it off really slow. He’s dragging the reader along, holding them hostage–is this origin going to be worth it? Because Aguirre-Sacasa sets it up to be a big deal–Samuel doesn’t want to reveal his origin and then he makes the asps promise never to bring it up again. That behavior, even for a witch’s familiar in the form of a cat, is weird. Is the origin worth it?

Yes, but not for the plot twists. Sabrina looks like homage to seventies horror, but it’s not. Aguirre-Sacasa does something different with it, mixing the psychological scares and the visual ones in different combination. The “disturbing” visuals in the series aren’t scary (well, maybe somebody mutilated but I mean the really freaky witch designs Hack comes up with). This issue has lovable witches even. Aguirre-Sacasa deals with the witch trials and he goes far making them sympathetic. Samuel might not like them, but he’s kind of a jerk.

While Aguirre-Sacasa is busy showing the reader how to read the comic, Hack is making sure the reader keeps going at the right pace. The creators seem more enthusiastic about the comic than they want the readers to be. But it’s also expertly rendered. Like I said, it’s a great comic.

CREDITS

Familiars; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist, Robert Hack; letterer, Jack Morelli; editor, Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

Afterlife with Archie 9 (July 2016)

Afterlife with Archie #9This issue of Afterlife has a couple surprises. It’s mostly just a really tightly told tale from Aguirre-Sacasa, with some great art from Francavilla, but there’s a strange development at the end. Aguirre-Sacasa isn’t just doing Archie and zombies, he’s doing a horror comic. While zombies are part of it, the human cost is a bigger part.

This issue centers around Reggie, who I barely remember from my limited Archie exposure. He’s the dark Archie (who really quickly gives him up for dead and replaces him with Kevin, which just seems un-Archie) and Aguirre-Sacasa structures the comic around Reggie’s revelations to Kevin, his first person narration, and his deep fear of being a sociopath.

When the Bride of Cthulhu shows up to convince him to join the dark side… well, it’s unclear why Reggie’s choice is a surprise, but Aguirre-Sacasa makes it one. Even though Reggie shouldn’t be sympathetic, Aguirre-Sacasa writes him like a scared, confused kid. It results in a sympathetic character.

It’s an unpleasant issue. There’s no gore, there’s a lot of self-depreciation, there’s a lot of awkwardness. Aguirre-Sacasa utilizes a lot of flashbacks to tell Reggie’s story and, much like how the character’s mind operates, a lot of the book takes place in the imagination.

It’s not an exciting issue, however, not narratively speaking. It’s excellent work from Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla though. Assured, deliberate, freaky.

CREDITS

Betty: R.I.P., Chapter Four: The Trouble with Reggie; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist and colorist, Francesco Francavilla; letterer, Jack Morelli; editors, Victor Gorelick and Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 5 (July 2016)

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #5Has it been a year since the last Sabrina? I guess it has been. Thank goodness Aguirre-Sacasa opens with a text recap (though I didn’t read it closely enough, which caused me some minor confusion).

Sabrina is on trial for cavorting with mortal boy Harvey, who is now dead. She wants to bring him back, unknowingly enlisting her nemesis to aid in the effort. And then Aguirre-Sacasa has a big surprise for that part of the story too. Sabrina is full of surprises and none of them are good for its protagonist, which is sort of weird. It feels like a melodrama, more than anything else, it feels like Aguirre-Sacasa is doing this giant teenage period piece melodrama with witches. It’s awesome.

Excellent art from Hack, who gets to do a nice variety of things here. There’s the witches trial, there’s the high school, there’s some other stuff. It’s great looking. There’s a lot of humor in the art this issue too. Hack’s having fun.

Sabrina is an excellent book. It has to be to be worth this kind of wait.

CREDITS

The Crucible, Chapter Five: The Trial; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist, Robert Hack; letterer, Jack Morelli; editor, Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 4 (September 2015)

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #4Aguirre-Sacasa doesn’t mess around this issue. He keeps taking Sabrina down its dark path, spending the entire issue dealing with what happens when witches have to make a regular person disappear. Because if you’re a witch, sometimes you need to make hard choices and significant sacrifices to the Dark One.

While all this darkness is circling the regular cast, the kids from Riverdale show up–it’s not a full fledged Archie crossover but Aguirre-Sacasa does hint at future complications.

On one hand, the comic is just masterful horror. Hack’s art is simultaneously luscious and horrifying. The script–and the narrative design choices–are great. It’s terrifying while still being assuring. Aguirre-Sacasa finds the exact balance to keep it going just on the edge.

But he’s also doing a very aware reinvention of a (somewhat) familiar franchise and negotiating all those implications.

Sabrina is awesome. Just plain awesome.

CREDITS

The Crucible, Chapter Four: Harvey Horrors; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist, Robert Hack; letterer, Jack Morelli; editor, Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

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