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Netflix’s Sabrina holiday special is caught in limbo

Sabrina’s holiday special tries too hard to lean into season one, when it should really just revel in what makes a holiday special...special

Dean Buscher/Netflix

After dropping a 10-episode debut season in October, Santa (and Netflix) delivered a gift for fans of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. “A Midwinter’s Tale,” the series Doctor Who-like holiday special, brings us back to the town of Greendale, in the days leading up to two very important holidays for the residents: the Winter Solstice for the witches and Christmas for the mortals.

But while the juxtaposition of the cheery traditional celebrations and the Spellman family’s occult holiday makes for amusing moments, the special serves as a bridge between what we’ve seen and where the show is ultimately going in season two. The answers aren’t totally satisfying.

[Ed. Note: This contains spoilers for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina through “A Midwinter’s Tale.”]

The Winter Solstice is when the veil between the mortal world and the one beyond is at its thinnest, so naturally — against everyone’s wishes, as continues to be the theme — Sabrina decides to take advantage and conduct a séance to contact her mother.

The fact that Sabrina wants to turn to her mother for guidance over her freshly broken heart reminds us again that despite the magic powers, she is a teenage girl with teenage problems. But while this setup does lead to some supernatural encounters, the special saps all the fun out of the unanswered questions of season one by sticking some easy answers on them.

Why is Sabrina’s mom trapped in limbo? Because she wanted to make sure her daughter grew up happy and loved!

Is Sabrina forbidden from seeing her friends now that she’s finally signed her name in Satan’s book? Nope. And apparently she still goes to school with them, even though the last scenes of season one implied that she was attending the Academy of Unseen Arts full time. Why was she so hesitant about signing it?

Characters in Sabrina’s orbit mostly spin their wheels and enjoy the holiday. We see Miss Wardwell ominously speaking to her raven about how she’s going to ruin Sabrina’s séance, then munching at cookies cut to look like the Spellmans instead. Ambrose gets a tiny bit of screen time, but then goes to a swanky witch bar to meet his beau — who we don’t get to see. Release the Ambrose-at-a-swanky-witch-bar extended cut!

And then the scene just cuts!
Courtesy of Netflix

The most enjoyable elements of “A Midwinter’s Tale” don’t answer (or flirt with) overarching, season two questions so much as build on the characters and the world. When the focus is on Sabrina and how her relationships have been altered by her decisions, the special is the strongest — and hey, it’s a holiday special! That’s what these are meant for!

After signing her name into the Dark Lord’s book — and post-breakup with longterm boyfriend Harvey — Sabrina turning to her magical family for comfort, and her mother’s ghost not just for answers about her mysterious death, feels genuine. So does Sabrina and Harvey’s strained post-breakup relationship; her ex isn’t super open to magic — or Sabrina’s meddling, and rightfully so, considering Sabrina’s botched resurrection of his brother. It’s tense and awkward and most of all, refreshing, since Susie and Roz, though hesitant, are more or less okay with her magical powers.

That pair of friends, too, is finally given a plot worth their time, as Susie takes on a job as a Christmas elf, while Roz’s slight prophetic abilities warn her that something’s not quite right — and it’s downright terrifying.

The atmosphere, as usual, is rich and feels even more macabre than Nightmare Before Christmas. The séance and the scenes leading up to the reveal of just what got into the house — particularly the story about a witch who devoured her own child (“Seriously, what is it with witches and cannibalism?” asks Sabrina) — are perfectly creepy, as are the ominous figures at the end of the episode. The ever-continuing plot hole of why Sabrina, who was supposedly raised by a very devout member of the Church of the Night, constantly doesn’t know the basic traditions of witch holidays, continues to itch, but we’ll brush that aside this time around.

“A Midwinter’s Tale” also ties up another loose end from season one with a glistening red bow — namely what happens to the child that Zelda kidnapped from Father Blackwood. Before we can even explore the fact that Zelda kidnapped a literal infant from a patriarchal, evil father, she’s sending the baby safely away. That, topped on with Sabrina’s easy duplicity between witch and mortal life and the simple answer as to why Sabrina’s mom is in limbo almost makes us wonder what’s even left for season two.

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