Review: THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA, “Witch Academy”

Hello, bus riders. Best wishes and warmest regards, and sincere apologies for the very long gap in reviews. Life was very busy and I had no witching powers to help me out – but I’m back now! 

In episode 4 of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, “Witch Academy,” we see that Sabrina starts school at the Academy of the Unseen arts, where she notices Prudence, Agatha, and Dorcas lurking nearby waiting to skewer fresh meat. You know who else has paid attention to the new girl? Nick Scratch, a handsome bad boy warlock. He’s a dark-haired charmer who is not only an advanced student but he’s a snappy dresser and helps Sabrina, a girl he doesn’t even know, by giving her one of her father’s illicit journals. Father Blackwood’s not interested in educating Sabrina as he is punishing her for humiliating him by refusing the dark baptism and rejecting the Dark Lord. He challenges Sabrina to solve the Acheron, a big, mystical 12-sided dice that her father created while he was there. No one has been able to unlock it, and many go mad trying.

On her first night, Sabrina gets hazed, witch-style. The Harrowing is a rite of passage where witches are abandoned to face unknown dangers and fears. It’s designed to separate the weak and the strong.

On her second night of the Harrowing, she sees Quentin, the same little boy who greeted her at the academy door when she arrived. I don’t know whether Quentin has appeared to any other people who have been harrowed, but I think he’s appeared to Sabrina because of her profound empathy. The reveal that Quentin is actually dead, a student who was harrowed to death along with dozens of others, is played as a tragedy and helps kick off a great third act.

The last three episodes have had Sabrina proving her cleverness, but that was in solving relatively small problems. This time, she’s out of her depth at not just dealing with the Harrowing but also with the notion that students have died from it, and calls Zelda and Hilda. Zelda has no empathy for mortal problems but she abhors witches killing other witches. But it’s ultimately Hilda who knows what those children want, which is revenge. She was harrowed by Zelda, and still resents her for her cruel streak. Zelda clearly loves her sister, but hated her empathy, which is what she perceived as being weakness. Even in the witching world, empathy has a place. Hilda knows what those children suffered, and she understands they just want some peace.

When the children finally get their revenge on Prudence, Agatha, and Dorcas for harrowing Sabrina and for continuing the tradition, it’s another example of how this show relies not just on mood but sheer visual mastery of tone. It’s a gripping scene, full of great special effects as the three women get hoisted up by invisible ropes.  

This episode’s secondary plots aren’t as interesting but do help to deepen other characters.

After Harvey tells Sabrina that he saw something horrific in the mines, who we know is the Dark Lord, he finds out from Roz that Susie’s uncle also saw something in the mines. This scene is pretty much just exposition, but Ross Lynch’s steely eyes and delivery of “in the mines?” is fantastic. He conveys fear well, but also a spark of recognition that helps to provide some momentum to the secondary plot.

Unfortunately, there’s a clear weak point for me and that’s Roz and Susie. There is nothing to tether them to the main story, and their presence in this episode is only there to further Harvey’s story (Susie’s Uncle Jesse saw the Dark Lord in the mines, just like Harvey did). In just four episodes, Sabrina has left behind Baxter High, and the high school story that it started with but two of the characters from that story remain. The only mortal who has any real connection to the primary supernatural story is Harvey.

I actually find Harvey’s plot somewhat compelling because it’s not common for shows to depict men experiencing trauma and to cop to their fear without attempting to tamp it down or destroy it through some toxic, masculine thing. Harvey just wants the truth. I hope this develops further. I’d hate for it to just be about Harvey investigating his own memories, and it not lead to anything else.

This episode also features Ambrose and Luke on their first date, which Ambrose isn’t technically supposed to be on given that he’s under house arrest. He tries to get around it by astral projecting, which is dangerous if you’re gone from your body too long. I love Ambrose. I feel so bad for him, being unable to leave and especially when there’s someone who wants to see him. He begs Hilda to help him astral project to see Luke, and after Zelda reminds her that she was excommunicated and therefore, no longer useful as a witch, Hilda agrees to help Ambrose. I really like these two together. Hilda clearly sees Ambrose as an ally in empathy for mortals. Ambrose is the one who conducts the embalming when mortals die and come to the mortuary. He’s the one who helps give mortals some sense of comfort when their loved ones are gone.

So far, Sabrina has been a delightfully creepy show. We’re more than a month past Halloween now, but with the air so chilly and the trees so thin, it’s still perfect weather to continue watching.