The Spool / TV
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, “A Midwinter’s Tale” Review: A Christmas Séance
The spooky Netflix series returns for a fun, but inessential holiday special.
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Greendale gets festive in this holiday episode of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

This piece was originally posted on Alcohollywood

The trees are lit, the presents are under the tree, and the smell of Hellfire is in the air as Christmas comes to Greendale in “A Midwinter’s Tale” – a fun but inessential holiday episode of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

When last we saw the titular heroine (Kiernan Shipka), she left her mortal friends behind to attend the Academy of Unseen Arts full-time, in exchange for saving their lives from the vengeful Greendale 13. Now it’s the eve of the Winter Solstice, when the veil between the mortal world and the spirit world is at its thinnest, and Sabrina misses her mother, trapped in limbo for reasons unknown. She wants to hold a séance to contact her, and though cousin and fellow witch Ambrose (Chase Perdomo) strongly advises against it, she goes ahead and does it anyway. You’d think that, after turning ex-boyfriend Harvey’s brother into a zombie that Harvey (Ross Lynch) had to destroy, Sabrina would have learned her lesson about meddling in dark magic she knows nothing about, alas, she has not.

Though the séance alone could have generated enough plot to carry the whole thing, this episode is jam-packed with subplots involving enchanted eggnog, a child-killing demon disguised as a department store Santa, an infestation of poltergeist-like beings called “yule lads,” and a visit from Gryla, a witch from Icelandic folklore. While the series itself did a commendable job juggling multiple plots in what could easily become another “monster of the week” show, here it feels a bit slapdash and unfinished, like these were all rejected individual episode ideas cobbled together.

The Santa demon could have easily been developed over several episodes, but instead is set up and resolved in less than five minutes of screen time, and leaves more questions than it answers (and it doesn’t answer any to begin with). A similar plot was done much more effectively in a season 7 X-Files two-parter (“Sein und Zeit” and “Closure”); here it feels forced and, frankly, a little tacky, a gimmick to turn Christmas on its head, like Sabrina’s holiday toast at the end of the episode.

Another potentially interesting plot that isn’t given enough time to cook is Sabrina’s realization that things with her mortal friends can never be the same now that she’s told them what she really is. There’s an interesting smugness to Sabrina’s personality now, a self-assuredness that she’ll always be able to solve everyone’s problems with a little magic, even if sometimes it makes things worse. She’s taken aback to discover that her friends are uncomfortable in her presence, and unenthusiastic about her otherworldly abilities. Harvey particularly wants nothing to do with them, even rejecting a minor gift of colored pencils with tips that never wear down. But who can blame him? Sure, his brother died in an accident, but that wasn’t nearly as bad as what happened after Sabrina tried to “help” him.

Presumably this episode mostly serves as a bridge between season one and season two, which premieres next spring. Though it seems to bring Sabrina and Harvey’s story to a close (and it should), it probably won’t, because such is the nature of television to drag out a storyline seasons and years past its natural conclusion. Nevertheless, understanding that her friends aren’t as impressed with her talents as she is might be just the perfect gift for Sabrina this holiday season. A little humility never hurt anyone, not even a witch.

“A Midwinter’s Tale” will deck the halls with boughs of hellfire Friday, December 14 on Netflix.