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It’s easy to forget that Sabrina has normal high school concerns alongside more serious demonic ones, but both she and her friends are still afflicted by the same amounts of uncertainty in themselves and their relationships as any other teens. It’s just that when things go wrong for them, the consequences are a lot more extreme.

Take, for instance, Harvey’s insecurity about his relationship with Roz. On the one hand, his inability to just talk to her about his concerns about their romance is pure teenage boy. And on the other hand, a traveling carnival of demonic creatures is taking advantage of his vulnerability. The same goes for Theo, who finally works up the courage to ask someone out and pursue romance, only to have that person immediately turn out to be evil. In both of these cases, the lessons they’re learning are hard ones, but not unusual. Harvey’s relative worthiness for Roz is not going to be based on his ability to defeat a strength test, but his maturity and willingness to be vulnerable with her. And while Theo isn’t making choices that are in any way foolish, it is a sad fact of adolescence and life more generally that sometimes we like the wrong people, and they turn out not to have been worthy of us to begin with.

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Sabrina’s other high school is quite different, but the teenage shenanigans aren’t. Of course Dorcas and Agatha haven’t suddenly started liking her, and while they may have once been fond of Nick, his choice to take Sabrina’s side is reason enough to torment him. Sabrina may want them to go back to being a normal (well, normal-ish) couple, but trauma isn’t readily fixable, particularly something like what Nick went through. She’s trying, here and there, to talk to him about it, but she also wants to have sweet romantic moments with him, brush off the physical manifestation of his torment, and go on a group date with her friends, which includes her first love. It’s understandable, just as it’s understandable that none of it is working for Nick, who can barely sleep. It’s not surprising that he’d be drawn back into the world he’d lived in before getting together with her, or that he’d make questionable choices while trying to make sense of his trauma.

Image: Diyah Pera/Netflix

Of course, all of this is happening while Sabrina tries to settle into her new reign as queen of Hell, which is immediately disrupted by a challenge from Caliban. Things start off strong in her efforts to find the Unholy Regalia, but she needs to start thinking much more Hellishly if she actually wants to win. It’s frustrating to see Caliban cheat the way he does, but is it shocking? Of course not. He’s just acting the way anyone would act in the world Sabrina claims to want to rule. If anything, he’s giving her a useful lesson on her subjects, and teaching her what this competition actually is. It’s not just research and adventuring with Ambrose—it’s also using cunning, and not losing sight of your opponent or what he might do. As her newly saved friend last episode might have admonished her, this is chess, not checkers. She needs to show her potential subjects that she’s the right woman for the job, and her vicious threat to Caliban is the first sign, to them, that she might be.

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The aunts, of course, are locked in their perpetual battle over the degree of codependency that is healthy for them. Hilda wants freedom and romance; Zelda wants the same degree of assistance she’s been accustomed to for many years. It’s easy enough to have empathy for both of them in this situation. Zelda is charmed by the romance novel until she realizes how unflatteringly she’s been portrayed, and it’s hardly fair of Hilda to be surprised that this wouldn’t go over well. The whole situation probably would have gone a lot differently if she’d made more of an effort to bring Zelda into it. But of course, Zelda’s cruelties to Hilda go back decades. The first season saw her murdering her sister in a fit of pique, so it’s a bit rich that she’d be shocked to be portrayed as a “loveless spinster hag.”

But the bigger issue here is how everyone is distracted from the real problems at hand. Ambrose doesn’t think twice about bringing home an incredibly powerful and dangerous item because he’s so caught up in the idea of researching it. Sabrina is perpetually thinking about Nick instead of the big dangerous assignment she’s taken on, and too caught up in her idea of him to give him the time and space to live with what happened to him. The sisters are at least on the right track to thinking about what’s causing their powers to weaken, but struggle to focus on it instead of having the same fight they’ve been having for decades. And Roz, who really should know by now what her visions mean, is far too quick to ignore her own misgivings about the carnival in favor of hanging out with her friends.

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It’s a concerning level of distraction for the ragtag team of heroes Greendale needs to protect it from what’s coming. On the plus side, at least Herod won’t be a problem anymore.


Stray observations

  • Alas, for those of you thinking you might get a little Riverdale crossover action this episode, no luck. Also, which graffiti was added first, “murder capital of the world” or “JJ wuz here.” Did JJ add that…next to the murder thing?
  • I get that Sabrina is a Morningstar but I’m preeeetty sure Ambrose is the one who woke up Herod, which he did with an incredibly weak, backhanded, one-armed ax swing. I’m no lumberjack, but that seemed insufficient to the task at hand.
  • Why were only adults riding the tiny carousel?
  • Could something nice happen to Mary Wardwell for once? That woman can’t catch a break.
  • It’s nice of Harvey to compliment Robin for his cool hair, which we have never seen because he wears a hat all the time.
  • There is some stuff going around fathers and sex this episode and uhh for now I’m withholding judgment around where they’re going with it.
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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Lisa is a writer and editor based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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