The special one-off episode of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a holiday-filled episode that sees the Spellman family celebrating the Winter Solstice, a festive but Satanic take on Christmas. All of the holiday traditions make appearances, but the word Christmas is swapped with yule. Despite the merriment and yuletide celebrations, “A Midwinter’s Tale” isn’t much of a holiday special and instead casts a glaring spotlight on the series’ biggest flaw: overcramming its narratives so full it loses a lot in the process.
The episode picks up not long after the events of the season one finale, which means that it’s much less of a standalone special and more of a holiday themed bridge between seasons. It picks up some of the loose plot threads from season one while concluding with dangling threads that will clearly have to be addressed in the following season. However, those plot threads are secondary to the monster of the week nature of “A Midwinter’s Tale.” Or monsters, plural, considering how many various different stories this episode tries to tackle in dizzying fashion.
A flashback opening sequence that sees young Sabrina (played by Mckenna Grace) and little Susie Putnam (Lachlan Watson) in line for a department store Santa seems to set up the ep’s premise in which present day Sabrina performs a séance to find out why Sabrina’s mother is in limbo- she misses her terribly after all. The séance might have been successful, but the yule log goes out and with it an opening for evil spirits to enter the Spellman residence. In another concurrent storyline, it turns out that the opening scene has much more to do with Susie, who was so enamored with the memory that she got a job as Santa’s elf. The store’s Santa, Mr. Bartel, quickly reveals himself to be much more sinister than a simple grump when he kidnaps Susie after her first day on the job.
But this is Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and the very excellent Krampus-like story that’s being set up with Susie takes a backburner for most of the episode in favor of poltergeists, changelings, yule witches obsessed with orphans, and more. They all eventually connect in the end, but at the expense of the plotline with the most potential, which is explained then wrapped up with a mere few sentences of exposition. The monster of the week episodes are usually the most fun of the series, but “A Midwinter’s Tale” tries to juggle too many, and it doesn’t really give any insight or forward momentum to its characters.
Almost all of the main players of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina make an appearance, stuffing an already overstuffed episode to bloated levels. The Weird Sisters are strangely friendly and without a trace of previous antagonism. Poor Ambrose continues to be one of the most intriguing and neglected characters of the series- his storyline sees him arrive at a swank club for a date and that’s literally the last we see of it. Most frustrating is that Sabrina spends a lot of the episode still forcing magic upon a magic-averse Harvey, despite how catastrophic that’s been for her previously. This Sabrina learns nothing. Considering how the season finale left her dramatically different, well, this is a step backward.
Oh and if you were hoping for more Salem, keep that hope for season two.
“A Midwinter’s Tale” is an overfilled episode that isn’t much of holiday special, and it doesn’t propel the series or its characters forward at all. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina continues to demonstrate a serious struggle in balancing its characters. In this case, it put the yule poltergeists front and center, while Susie Putnam’s yule demon captor and his creepy modus operandi should have been the focus. The result is a dizzying exercise in tedium and disappointment.