Photo: Photo by Dean Buscher/Netflix

What are holiday traditions like in the Spellman household? Well, you light a Yule log, banish some demons, and make a plan to give away a baby. And if you’re Sabrina, you bring yourself right back to square one with the person you want to make amends with.

While this one-off Christmas special zigs and zags around a new series of monsters to vanquish, it’s Sabrina’s inability to let Harvey live his life the way he wants that ties the episode most strongly to the rest of the ongoing narrative. From the moment he has an ambivalent response to the enchanted colored pencils she gives him, it’s clear that she still can’t really understand how to be a good friend to Harvey. Her inability to resist trying to fix things the easy way has become abundantly clear to him, and he makes the surprisingly mature decision to tell her to back off. It’s the strongest element of the episode. There’s a whole subplot about Sabrina’s mother trying to help her make the right choice about Harvey, but ultimately it’s not her choice, it’s Harvey’s, and it’s clearer to him than it is to her that she’s not going to be able to stop trying to help him, no matter the dark consequences.

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Motherhood is a major theme of the episode generally, with Diana, Sabrina’s mother, making a beyond-the-grave visit, and Zelda working out a whole bunch of complicated issues with maternity. Neither plotline totally lands—as Diana points out, Zelda and Hilda were Sabrina’s mothers, and the apparent yearning Zelda has on this front is a little confusing. She already adopted a baby and raised it to adulthood, and it’s hard to follow why that experience was inadequate in a way that Letitia resolves. The handing off of the child to a random relative also feels a bit pat, a path for the show to take so it doesn’t have to figure out what to do with a baby every episode.

The tangent with Sabrina’s mom also moves along a bit quickly. The reveal that her mother had been trapped in Limbo all this time felt like a big twist in the earlier part of the season, and freeing her this quickly over something as easily resolved as confirming Sabrina’s family is a bit of a letdown. No murder mystery? No secret revenge? The given reason is sweet, sure, but it’s surprisingly unsatisfying, since we’ve had a limited amount of time to get to care about Diana’s predicament, and the episode begins by emphasizing how much this moment matters to Sabrina.

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Photo: Photo by Diyah Pera/Netflix

Roz and Susie are, again, mostly around to get in trouble so they can be rescued, although the scene where they both immediately shoot down Sabrina’s efforts to involve them in her séance hijinks was cute. Read the room, Sabrina. But the rest of their subplot is so brief Roz even departs offscreen, and Susie has to develop a weird fascination with being a Christmas elf in order to get her in place for the demon of the week to get her.

That demon is dispatched in surprising manner, as the episode’s first villain steps in to take him out. Sabrina has an unusual line to toe, in that the characters inhabit a world filled with menacing entities, but don’t really apply any traditional good versus evil labels to them. Zelda knows that it’s safe to summon Gryla to kill Bartel even though they’ve only recently tricked her out of a baby. Gryla just is who she is, which adds an interesting level of nuance to the Spellman family’s battles that’s often missing from shows with more straightforward opposing sides.

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The episode also suffers a bit from trying to make sure all your favorites stop by to say hi. So the Weird Sisters make an appearance, and are surprisingly open to the idea of performing a séance with Sabrina to summon her dead mother. But since we haven’t checked in with them since Sabrina signed Satan’s book, we don’t really have a sense of what the relationship is like among the group of them now. Prudence has experienced quite a lot around the Spellman family, but there hasn’t been much evidence that that has led her to any particular fondness for Sabrina. But it’s at least a tantalizing glimpse into a possible new dynamic among them for the future.

There’s an inherent challenge in an episode like this—it has to be at least something of a standalone, but it also has to be a recognizable part of the show’s arc. “A Winter’s Tale” is a little uneven due to that imbalance, but on the other hand…sometimes you just want to cozy up on the couch on a cold December night and watch Sabrina and her cool aunts dispatch some monsters.


Stray observations

  • I’m always charmed by the show making sure all the witch characters use the right lingo. So Hilda says that Zelda is “heaven-bent,” not “hell-bent.”
  • When Ambrose didn’t pick up the knife the dead lady was carrying around, everyone panicked, right? And then a few minutes later he was all, well, I’ve finished tying up all the bodies. These people are surprisingly chill about certain things.
  • It was sweet to see the aunts getting along in this episode, with Hilda offering to sleep in their room again, and both of them giggling over the concept of Gryla killing Ambrose. Good times for all, except Ambrose.
  • I don’t know how much work the hair was doing, but that child actor looked uncannily like Kiernan Shipka.
  • Was that an extremely weird Hanukkah joke in there? Not sure having Gryla call her murder party a “Festival of Lights” is exactly the connection I would have picked for the holiday.

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