A Complicated History
So before we get into the meat of this video, I wanted to talk a little about the history of Sabrina, since it’s quite unique. The Netflix show is based on a short lived graphic novel series from 2014, called “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”, which was a reimagining of an earlier comic, called “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” or “Sabrina” depending on the time period.
The original comic was a spinoff from the popular Archie series, “Archie’s Madhouse” Published by Archie Comics, (issue #22 if you were wondering) and shared a lot in common with Archie comics tonally, as well as from a narrative standpoint. The series followed fun loving Sabrina as she learns life lessons based around being a teenager, being a witch, and sometimes being a teenage witch.
There have been various animated show and live action shows created from the comics over the years, with the most famous being the Melissa Joan Hart helmed tv movie and the series it spawned.
Many of the characters, places and themes that were explored in the earlier comics can be found in this show, but as we will see, they take a much darker bent in this new version.
I really loved the way they opened the episode. In the graphic novel the first issue is all about setting up the plot, introducing characters and establishing the world. This included introducing the backstory of Sabrina’s father, mother and her relationship with her aunts.
While that is great, I really loved the way they handled this in the show, with a succinct voice over from Sabrina, and a series of events that bring you right into the thick of the story. Another aspect of the show that I really loved, was the way they handle the time period. The source material was set in the 60’s, just like the original comics, but the show feels timeless, or rather, an amalgamation of times. The cars, architecture and a lot of the clothing feel very much like the 60’s, while there are obvious cues to the present like the laptop Ambrose uses.
All in all, it’s a wonderful setting for a show like this, so kudos to the writers and props/set designers.
The Fate of Mary Wardwell
So, this was pretty different in the graphic novel. The whole thing starts when two witches from Riverdale, Betty and Veronica, of course, try to summon a succubus to settle the feud between them. Instead of the chosen demon they had hoped for, they release a witch named Iola from her prison in Hell.
In the source material, she was a witch who was in love with, and involved with, Sabrina’s father Edward, before he married Sabrina’s mother Diana. When Edward broke off their relationship, she has a psychotic break and jumps into the Lion pit at the zoo, commiting suicide.
After her death Iola was imprisoned in the part of hell reserved for suicides, and there she stayed until the ill fated summoning by Betty and Veronica. She eventually finds her way to Greendale, and schemes her way into being a substitute teacher at Baxter High. She doesn’t take over the body of Mary as we see in the show, but creates a new one, more or less, by stealing the face of a girl at a summer camp.
Other than that, the plot is mostly the same, with the exception of Iola’s purpose for being back. In the show we are told that she is there on the orders of Satan, to make sure Sabrina signs the book, etc. In the graphic novel she is there to destroy Sabrina and her family, as revenge for what Edward had done to her.
I actually like the way they tell the story in the show much better, especially given the fact that they made her origins much more interesting in the show, than just a jilted lover.
A Spell Between Cousins
So there was a moment in the first issue where Sabrina and Ambrose perform a spell together, but it isn’t targeted at the principal of the high school, but at Harvey. In the source material when we first meet Harvey he isn’t involved with Sabrina, having just met her on the first day of highschool.
Sabrina is instantly smitten with him, and enlists the help of Ambrose to cast a spell that will point Harvey in her direction. Not make him fall in love or anything, but to create a situation where they would come together, giving them the chance to see of love will bloom, so to speak. And obviously they do. I liked what they did in the show better, given it has a more selfless motivation. That being said, it was interesting to see that Sabrina was not above using magic to get what she wants, to be willing to compromise her ethical standards under the right circumstances, especially given where the show goes.
This was completely different than in the graphic novel, in every way. In the source material Sabrina is given Salem as a gift, from her aunts, on her 6th birthday. Also, Salem wasn’t a goblin in the graphic novels, but a human boy who was changed into a cat, and made a familiar, as punishment for toying with the heart of a young witch.
He is given the ability to speak, and his name, by Satan himself it appears, as the boy turned cat is fleeing from the town of Salem, due to the witch trials beginning there. I am torn on which version I like better. On one hand Salem having been human once, with the hope to be human again, makes his character more complex and interesting.
On the other hand, having Sabrina choose her familiar herself, a wild, untrained one at that, is incredibly cool, and helps establish her as a maverick, in much the same way her father was. I wish they would have combined the two, having Sabrina summon Salem with the ritual, but it be the salem from the source material.
The Weird Sisters
This was an interesting twist from what we see in the source material. These characters, such as they are, don’t show up until much later in the story, and can either be on of two groups, and they aren’t gunning for Sabrina as we see in the episode.
In the graphic novel, the first group of “weird sisters” are found over in Riverdale. The high school is doing Macbeth, and Betty and Veronica are playing two of the three “weird sisters” from the play, and as we have already established, in the world of Sabrina they are witches from a coven in Riverdale.
The third is another Riverdale cheerleader, but she isn’t a witch, in real life. It’s still throwing me to think of these two characters from the Archie comics as witches, given what we are shown about witches in theses graphic novels.
But I digress. There is another group of witches that are referred to as “the weird sisters”, that are seers, but they only show up briefly near the end of the graphic novels 8 issue run. It feels like to me that they combined the two groups of witches into what we have in the show, which is interesting.
Harvey Finds Out
So this is new for the show, and I loved it, especially how they wove it into the story. They didn’t make it a one episode thing, it comes back later and has real meaning and impact. It also showed Sabrina dealing with the allure of using magic to fix all of her problems, which becomes an important thread in the show as time goes on. So, great addition writers!
As an aside, it’s interesting to me that they have made Harvey a much bigger character in the show, giving him a much more interesting backstory, namely that his family is historically witch hunters. On one hand I feel a little bit let down that they jumped right into the “romeo and juliet” trope, but in their defense, it works really well for this story, so how could they not?
So this was a pretty big change from the source material, at least in regards to what Sabrina thinks happened to her parents. In the graphic novel, neither one of her parents are dead, at least in the beginning, although she does think that her mother died.
The idea that they died in a tragic plane crash is a pretty standard trope in these kind of shows, but of course, as we learn from the knowing look that passes between Hilda and Zelda, this isn’t the truth. I’m excited to see how they handle this in the future. As of the final episode of part 1 we don’t have a clear indication of what happened to her parents, only that her mother is dead, since she finds her in Limbo.
This was an interesting addition to the story, meaning “evil apple” in latin, it’s an effective and inventive way to foreshadow some heavy stuff that is coming down the pike, as they say, and does one of my favorite things in a show like this, which is to peel back the curtain and expose the extraordinary hiding in plain site.
Are you a mortal? Then it’s just an apple from an old tree. If you’re something more, it is vision inducing marvel. It makes you wonder, what other seemingly ordinary things around us are hiding the magical? I love that stuff.
The Path of Night
So all of this about Sabrina not being sure about joining the church and becoming a full witch is new for the show. In the source material, she doesn’t really have any reservations about it, other than having to kill a goat during the ceremony. Which means that we don’t have a visit from the high priest, or the conversation that is had during that visit.
I actually liked this a lot better than how it is approached in the source material. Having Sabrina deal with the emotions brought on by knowing that she will have to leave her friends and Harvey behind gave us greater stakes for what unfolds during the season, and it dovetails nicely with the new storyline and motivation for our escaped witch now masquerading as Ms. Wardwell.
Another welcome change to the story is the introduction of Faustus Blackwood as the high priest of the church of night in Riverdale, and the headmaster of the witch school that Sabrina will be going to.