Episode 3 is centered around Lupercalia, an actual Pagan holiday from ancient Rome that is reimagined here as a sort of Valentine’s Day for witches and warlocks. Basically, in the Sabrina version of Lupercalia, the holiday begins with the Matching, where each witch is paired up with a warlock. This leads to the Courting, where the warlock and the witch go out into the woods, get naked, and spend the night staring up at the moon. Then, finally, we get the Hunt, where each witch chases her warlock through the woods and the whole thing ends with a big orgy. (The Sabrina version sounds considerably more fun than the real version, which involved a lot of animal sacrifices.) Though participation in Lupercalia is voluntary, Zelda tells Sabrina that it would be foolish for her not to take part. (Hilda, meanwhile, can’t even bring herself to say the word “sex.”) After all, now that Sabrina and Harvey are no more, this would be a perfect opportunity for Sabrina to spend some time with that charming young warlock, Nicholas Scratch.
Interestingly enough, Nick is just as fascinated with Valentine’s Day as Sabrina is with Lupercalia. As eager as Sabrina is to leave behind Baxter High and experience life at the Academy, Nick is just as curious about experiencing what it’s like to be a mortal. It’s actually one of the more clever things about this sometimes uneven episode. Though I don’t trust Nick, he and Sabrina do make for a far more interesting couple than Sabrina and Harvey ever did. It also helps that Kiernan Shipka and Gavin Leatherwood have an undeniable chemistry together. You believe their romance, even when the show occasionally seems determined to mess things up with unnecessary filler.
Yes, that’s right. I just used the dreaded “f” word. As I watched Lupercalia, it occurred to me that I’d probably like The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina a lot more if each episode was only 30 to 40 minutes long. That way, the show could focus on Sabrina and we wouldn’t have to waste time with any of the less interesting characters or subplots. Instead, this episode was a little over an hour long and it seemed that, every time that I started to get really involved in Sabrina and Nick’s storyline, the episode would cut to something less interesting.
For instance, Sabrina and Nick discover that Nick is being stalked by his former familiar, a wolf named Amalia. Amalia is jealous of Nick’s attraction to Sabrina. Ms. Wardwell says that the only solution is for Nick to murder his familiar. Will Nick kill for Sabrina? Will Sabrina kill for Nick? Well, before we can find that out, we have to deal with stuff like Roz suddenly going blind right after she kisses Harvey and Father Blackwood asking Zelda to marry him. Or else Hilda’s trying to let Dr. Cee know how she feels about him, just to discover that he can’t be with her because he has an incubus inside of him. And the whole time this is going on, I was just thinking to myself, “Yes, but what about Sabrina? I DON’T CARE ABOUT ANY OF THESE OTHER CHARACTERS!”
Kiernan Shipka has always been the best thing about Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Even when the writers fail her, Shipka always manages to keep the show afloat. She’s likable, she’s compelling, and she’s believable as both a curious teenager and a naive witch. Shipka has many great moments in Lupercalia but the episode’s momentum seems to come to a halt whenever she’s not on screen. It’s not that the rest of the cast isn’t capable as much as their characters are all rather one-note. Hilda is always insecure and introverted. Zelda is always arch and sardonic. Roz is always going blind and Harvey is always kind of a goof. The only character, other than Sabrina, who is the least bit interesting is Theo and that’s because his storyline is about how far society has come and how far it has yet to go.
In the end, Lupercalia is an interesting but uneven episode of a frequently interesting but uneven show.
A few final notes:
- It’s interesting to note that, much like Romulus and Remus — whom Lupercalia is meant to honor — Nick was raised by a wolf.
- Though I find Ms. Wardwell to be a bit of a one-note character, I did enjoy her shock and horror upon discovering that she has a fiance.
- The scenes in the woods were gorgeously filmed and full of atmosphere. I’ve seen some people online saying that it doesn’t make any sense that Nick and Sabrina would be comfortable spending an entire February night outside in their underwear but since when does love and lust have to make sense?
- The scene where Theo told his father that he was a boy (“I’m not a girl.”) was nicely and sensitively handled, I thought.
- This episode ended with Sabrina killing a wolf, Nick in tears, and Roz apparently blind. What will happen next? We’ll find out and I’ll be here to review episode 4 before turning things back over to Case for episodes 5 and 6!