Considering the first season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina delighted in toppling the patriarchy and undercutting nostalgia, in between proclamations of "Praise Satan," it should come as no surprise that the Netflix holiday special takes a relatively unsentimental view of Christmas -- or, rather, solstice. It's a time for family, both living and dead, but it's also a dangerous time, when mischievous spirits scurry down the chimney, demons kidnap children, and transgressions are forgiven, but not necessarily forgotten.
In short, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: A Midwinter's Tale is ideal viewing for fans who can't stomach another saccharine Christmas episode that shovels on platitudes like so much December snow. There's probably a moral to be gleaned here, but any excessive sweetness is tempered by sentiments like, "Satan bless us, every one!"
However, "A Midwinter's Tale" isn't a standalone episode that can serve as a welcoming introduction to Sabrina. It's directly connected to the events of the first season, and some of its threads will no doubt continue into the second.
A platinum-haired Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) remains distant from her mortal friends, determined to give them time to come to terms with the revelation that she's a witch. That won't be easy for Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch), who admits he still sees his undead brother every time he looks her. Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto) is trying to settle into her new life as a mother to Letitia, the infant she secreted away from Father Blackwood, while cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) slowly stretches his wings now that he's no longer on house arrest. Then there's the demonic Mary Wardwell (Michelle Gomez), who's desperate to learn why Satan has seemingly forsaken, yet still up to her old tricks.
Appropriate to the season, "A Midwinter's Tale" leans hard into the Yuletide folklore of Iceland and Central Europe, with key roles for the mischievous Yule Lads, a version of the giantess Gyra, and Krampus, or at least his not-too-distant cousin. They provide another layer to the developing mythos of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, while adding a nice holiday touch. But as fun as they are, they're merely garland; the centerpiece is, of course, is Sabrina and her friends and family.
The episode serves those characters well, carving out room for them to grow, even if they don't always learn in each instance. Sabrina, for example, determines her friends' new boundaries, only to promptly overstep them with her present to Harvey and her well-meaning attempt to help his hard-drinking father. Driven to reconnect with her dead mother, whom she encountered in Limbo, she enlists the Weird Sisters to help perform a seance, with predictably disastrous results. But while Sabrina appears doomed to repeat her mistakes, Harvey learns from his, and decides he can't allow any witchcraft -- even the beneficial kind -- around him, which promises to further complicate their already fraught relationship.
Likewise, Zelda's heart-breaking conclusion about baby Letitia, which exposes an emotional depth to the frequently cold auntie previously only glimpsed, is certain to have a ripple effect across Season 2.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: A Midwinter's Tale is, at turns, joyful, somber and spooky, but never, ever cloying, with an ending that's immediately relatable to anyone (whether witch or mortal) who's had to muster a semblance of holiday cheer for the benefit of loved ones. Because, really, isn't that what solstice is about -- family, friends ... and home invasion?
Arriving Friday, Dec. 14, on Netflix, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: A Midwinter's Tale stars Kiernan Shipka as Sabrina Spellman, Ross Lynch as Harvey Kinkle, Michelle Gomez as Mary Wardwell/Madam Satan, Jaz Sinclair as Rosalind Walker, Lachlan Watson as Susie Putnam, Chance Perdomo as Ambrose Spellman, Lucy Davis as Hilda Spellman and Miranda Otto as Zelda Spellman.