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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Has Plenty of Charm to Suck You In

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On her 16th birthday, a half-human, half-witch Sabrina Spellman must sign the book of the Dark Lord Satan himself and finally join her family’s coven. It will grant her prolonged youth and enormous power among other things, but there is a great price to be paid: if she signs the book, Sabrina must renounce her human part, and that includes her school, friends, and her boyfriend.

Confused as to why she has to deny an entire part of herself, Sabrina is determined to get some answers before making the most important decision of her life. She refuses to blindly follow the rules she doesn’t understand and/or agree with and challenges the old order at every turn.

The show, among other things, explores themes of agency and personal choice. Sabrina’s biggest concern about signing the book is the loss of her freedom. She doesn’t want to be at the Dark Lord’s command. So instead of just accepting everything at face value, she asks questions and demands answers.

Sabrina’s Dark Baptism

Apart from its titular heroine, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (CAOS) has plenty of great characters to go around: there’s Sabrina’s family, aunties Zelda and Hilda, who are very different in their approach to both life and witchcraft. Zelda is a strong-willed and traditional, fiercely loyal to her coven and its High Priest. Hilda is a more gentle, open-minded soul, but not without a strong core. There’s also Ambrose, Sabrina’s charming pansexual cousin who isn’t allowed to leave the Spellman house as a punishment for a crime (no spoilers, but it’s a fun one).

Ros and Susie, Sabrina’s schoolmates and best friends, aren’t there to just be background props. Sure, Sabrina is understandably the focus of the show, but they’re still allowed to be their own people, with their own adventures and struggles. Ros is a vibrant and outspoken daughter of a minister. Susie is a non-binary teen, struggling with self-identity and bullying and looking for a place to belong.

Then there’s, of course, Harvey Kinkle, Sabrina’s boyfriend. He is sweet and supportive, with a passion for drawing. When he’s not making googly eyes at Sabrina, he’s dealing with his brute of a father shoving that good ol’ toxic masculinity down his throat. Thankfully, Harvey has an older brother Tommy who is nothing but supportive of Harvey’s hopes and dreams.

The magic part of Sabrina’s life includes a strict High Priest of the Church of Night (Spellmans’ coven), antagonistic young witches aka Weird Sisters with the absolutely fabulous Prudence Night as their leader, a seductive warlock classmate Nick Scratch, and a cunning teacher with a secret agenda, Ms. Wardwell.

One of my favorite things about the show is Sabrina’s relationships with her witch side. Her magic isn’t a burden, she isn’t scared or embarrassed by it. Sabrina enjoys having powers, and she fully embraces them. She also isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, when the situation calls for it. If helping her friends calls involves a murder, then so be it!

Weird Sisters

But of course, like everything in life, CAOS also has its flaws. The overall feminist message of the show is pretty basic; they didn’t exactly move any mountains. The Harry Potter-like parallels between fictional and real-life oppression also gained some attention, mostly because white Sabrina is the one being prejudiced against, while a mixed woc is the antagonist (at least in the beginning). There are definitely things that could’ve been handled with more consideration, but for what it’s worth, Tati Gabrielle’s Prudence remains of the most interesting and memorable characters of the series. Here’s hoping for more of her side of the story in S2.

On a personal note, I would’ve loved if the show was a little more tongue-in-cheek, a little goofier maybe. But on the other hand, I do appreciate how dark they were willing to go at times.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a visually beautiful, cozy tale of spells and womanhood, perfect for the Halloween season. The show’s main driving force is its many diverse female characters, full of their individual strengths and weaknesses. It has plenty of fun to offer but also has a place to grow. So if you’re in a mood for some hellraising, literal or otherwise, give a try!


Images Courtesy of Netflix

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Mrs. Maisel Remains Marvelous

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Very few shows have ever made me fall immediately in love like I did with season 1 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. By the time the police escorted a drunken Midge off the stage of the Gaslight near the end of the first episode, this show had me. Heart, mind, and soul. The rest of the first season only deepened love. By the end, it was not only possibly my favorite show of last year, but my favorite show out right now, period.

Clearly I had high expectations going into season 2. Perhaps unfairly so. Can I really expect a show that drew me in so strongly to replicate that feeling again? Even if it remained as excellent as before, could it make me love so hard a second time? The short answer is yes. Yes and then some.

Landing the Joke

What stood out to me about this second season of Mrs. Maisel was the bold confidence Amy Sherman-Palladino, her fellow writers, the cast, and the rest of the crew have in their vision of this show. Everything wonderful about the first season not only remains, but cranks up another level. The dialogue moves as fast and wittily as ever. The actors have settled confidently into their characters. Side characters receive much-appreciated focus. The direction, cinematography, and costumes of the show remains stunning, easily ranking Mrs. Maisel among the best looking shows out right now.

Even better, the story managed to push a bit outside of the first season’s comfort zone and prove how its formula works in a variety of settings and scenarios. Where the first season found comfort in the Upper West Side of New York City, season 2 immediately moves Mrs. Maisel to Paris for the first two episodes. A later story arc takes the Maisels and Weissmans to the “wilderness” of the Catskills. Midge and Susie eventually go on tour around the northeast United States.

Not only does the show (and Midge) lose none of the charm navigating all these new settings, it only proves the true quality of both. Midge’s impromptu stand-up sets are as funny as ever, even when they require a surprised translator for a French audience. I shared Susie’s fear about the Catskills trip breaking the momentum of the season to date like it might stall Midge’s career. Then it turned into a wonderful multi-episode arc.

Mrs. Maisel plunges fearlessly into different settings and drags its characters along with them, forcing them all to adapt to the changing circumstances of their lives. The first season certainly focused a great deal on change, and season 2 takes it even further. Everyone has their life uprooted in some way. Some major, some minor, but no one escapes the season unscathed.

Midge, of course, is the star. Her comedy career continues on an upward trajectory, ending the season with her biggest step forward yet. The big change comes in the effect her comedy career has on those around her. The first season certainly sees major change in her life but most of it sees her charm her way upwards in Manic Pixie Dream Girl style, minus the man viewing her as such. Season 2 sees her comedy career take a serious effect on her life. Friends are left behind and relationships suffer. Her comedy dreams begin demanding sacrifices, forcing Midge to make hard choices in her life.

While Midge remains eminently likable and perseverant, she comes across appreciatively more flawed than in season 1. There’s a shade of reckless selfishness to Midge this season. She chases her comedy dreams with an almost single-minded focus disregarding those around her. Where everyone just kind of shrugged and said, “that’s Midge” during season 1, the same cannot be said this time around. Her perseverance alienates sometimes.

In the hands of a worse actor or writers, she would come across poorly. Rachel Brosnahan just remains so damn charismatic and fun, though. The writing also knows exactly when to stop at the line between endearing and annoying. It’s a truly remarkable balance combined with a performance that deserves every award Brosnahan will get while this show airs.

And speaking of the acting; Tony Schalhoub is even better this season. The Catskills episodes are him at his very best.

Midge’s parents receive a large focus this season. Midge’s mother Rose quasi-leaves Abe and moves to Paris, triggering the Paris arc to start the season. Both find out about Midge’s career this season as well. Abe, in particular, undergoes an arc much like Rose did last season, as everything he thought he knew about his children falls apart beneath his feet. This includes a revelation about Midge’s brother Noah that expands his character.

However, if I do have a major complaint about this season, it involves Midge’s parents. Rose, especially, is done a disservice. The first 3 episodes of the season focus greatly on her dissatisfaction with her life in New York. When she returns home, however, she quickly falls back into her old socialite lifestyle without further comment. Abe goes to great lengths to be different for her in the first half of the season. Over the second half, though, he also returns to the same habits that caused their problems to begin with. It’s a shame to see the good work done in the beginning of the season vanish like it does.

Susie also has a pretty wonderful season expanding on her life and personality. It’s no surprise to say Alex Borstein is absolutely wonderful; she’s funny, vulnerable, and possesses a fierce loyalty to Midge. She’s also understatedly charismatic. Season 1 established Susie as a loner with trouble making people like her. Season 2 flips this on its head multiple times, showing how Susie can create connections with people besides Midge. Her loyalty and charisma even lead to a huge opportunity for her management career heading into season 3.

She also gets to be really, really funny. Susie was obviously funny in season 1, but most of her humor revolved around Midge, like everyone else. Season 2 gives her a spotlight all her own leading to some of the funniest moments all season. There’s a multi-episode gag involving a plunger that might be my favorite joke all season.

In the end, it is still the Midge/Susie dynamic driving this show, and it was undoubtedly improved upon.

Mrs. Maisel’s bold confidence in itself really shines through in the skill with which season 2 expanded on all these side characters and introduced others, all without even the slightest hiccup in the show’s quality. Midge even gets a new love interest, a doctor named Benjamin, who blows Joel out of the water. There’s an immediate chemistry between the two despite Benjamin’s initial indifference. An indifference that, to be honest, made me worry about the subplot. Things weren’t helped by the massive Not Like Other Girls angle that makes Benjamin interested in Midge.

An episode later, I loved it. That’s just what Maisel does, and it earned a great deal of trust from me moving forward. Seriously, the Catskills was wonderful.

Speaking of Joel…I have to say I dislike him even more this season than I did in season 1. I know his character comes down to personal preference. My personal preference is that his character needs to change.

He’s so toxically masculine and pathetically insecure, even more than the first season, and it stands out poorly to me among so many other wonderful characters. At least in season 1 he was a guy who made a really stupid mistake and tried to rehab from it. I didn’t mind him. This time around he doubles down on both his mistake and his sense of entitlement regarding Midge. He wants to live a womanizing bachelor life yet throws hissy fits at the idea of Midge having anything without him.

However, Joel and the vanishing character growth of Rose do little to detract from a fantastic season for the entire cast. Mrs. Maisel did exactly what you want to see with a cast of characters in a second season; they grew them, expanded them, and continued endearing you to them.

Was that Political? It Sounded Political!

Mrs. Maisel also continues and grows its political streak in season 2. The main obstacle to Midge’s career is never her own ability or Susie’s ability to find gigs. No, in the end, it always comes down to sexism. Everywhere Midge goes, bookers think she’s a singer or don’t want to put her on because she’s a woman. Susie has to use fake pictures to sell her sometimes. Fellow comedians mock her on stage, but when she mocks them back, she gets in trouble.

There’s also a moment where Midge bases a set around pregnancy jokes and is rushed off stage for saying the word “pregnant.” Of course, this comes directly after a man who told jokes about penis growths.

I’d say your mileage here may vary. Perhaps Mrs. Maisel is too blunt with its feminism and will make you groan. The combination of Midge’s exceptionalism and the lack of subtlety won’t appeal to everyone. Personally, I think it straddles the line effectively and falls in balance with the style of the show. Mrs. Maisel isn’t trying to tell a story focused on rising feminism during 1950s America. The politics are an added source for jokes and conflict. Personally, I find those jokes hilarious.

The politics also extended beyond Midge and her career with some hints at Abe’s activist past, which has been set up as a major plotline for season 3. Ultimately, this is a show about a Jewish woman breaking into comedy in America during the 1950s-1960s. To ignore politics and the patriarchy entirely would feel inauthentic.

Regardless of time period, Mrs. Maisel is telling a story about a woman escaping expected gender roles to be the person she wants to be. It can’t help but be political. I think they do a pretty great job in that regard.

More deftly handled throughout season 2 was the issue of wealth and social class. Comparisons often arise regarding the difference in wealth between Midge and Susie. Sometimes this comes from giant confrontations, and sometimes the point is made more quietly, such as the differences in living quarters during the Catskills trip. Joel and his family exist somewhere between, well off enough to live close to the Weissmans but still struggling to keep a business afloat.

Like everything else, this tends to exist as a source of growth and character jokes. Mrs. Maisel clearly isn’t trying to make a larger point about wealth inequality or the privilege of the Midge and her parents. Conflicts pop up because circumstances demand it.

Overall, it all works. It also adds needed depth to a show that could have ignored these circumstances entirely. In many ways, season 1 did ignore much of this. Midge faced sexism, but not quite to the extreme she does in season 2. Midge’s wealth and privilege stood out, but was not directly addressed compared to Susie’s poverty. Like everything else about season 2, Mrs. Maisel expanded the realities of the world around Midge, Susie, and their friends and family. I think they did a fine job.

There’s so much depth here I can’t even comment on. Elements of the existence of women, the impact of being Jewish, of possible LGBTQ elements that may or may not exist. Mrs. Maisel is, at its core, a show trying to be funny. It’s a comedy. However, it has a lot there to dig into. More than I can get into here, and more than I could even recognize. Season 2 made these characters and their world so much bigger and more meaningful, and I love both the effort and execution.

Marvelous

I admit to a bit of bias when it comes to Mrs. Maisel. As I said to begin this review, I fell deeply in love in the very first episode and it’s possible my ability to recognize deep flaws has vanished. This show hits on just about every level for me. The jokes almost always land, the drama hits its mark, and anyone not named Joel has my undying devotion. I have zero practical knowledge of fashion and yet I deeply admire the clothing choices for every character.

There’s a reason season 2 of Mrs. Maisel will end up on a lot of Best Of lists for 2018. It’s funny, smart, beautiful, dramatic, and makes you care for its characters. It absolutely deserved an Emmy over the incredible second season of Atlanta, and it only got better this season. I’m left with the same question I had after the first season; can Mrs. Maisel replicate this quality? Can they possibly make me love another season as much as I did the first two?

I have a feeling they will.


Images courtesy of Amazon

 

 

 

 

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Castlevania’s Final Two Episodes Are Heartbreaking and Perfect

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It’s very rare that I call anything, especially a series completely flawless, but in the case of both the final two episodes of Castlevania and the series as a whole, they’re something truly without equal in the world of video game adaptations. Not only did the second season improve on the first, it completely perfected it to please both new comers and gaming veterans alike for an experience that is unmatched in quality story telling, faith to the source material, and just an overall thrill ride with tons of drama and excitement.

In keeping the essence of a perfect season it is only natural that both the climax and concluding episodes be the best of the entire season. The last two episodes are equally action packed and emotional spectacle, as well as a cathartic and bitter sweet farewell as we say goodbye to some of our favorite characters. Though only for a bit, as season 3 was already announced.

Now, the big question about season 3 for me is, which game will it be based on, 0r will Warren Ellis decide to go with something completely original? If he goes the game route, he’s got a few choices to pick from. Castlevania: Curse of Darkness would be the most logical, as it takes place only a few years after the third game and follows the rivalry between Hector and Issac. He could also the show take back to the original Castlevania and introduce Simon Belmont.

Finally, he could skip ahead a few hundred years and bring us the most beloved stories in the series and introduce Richter Belmont, Maria Renard, and the return of Alucard in Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the night. Both are considered the epitome of the series experience. He could also turn the clock and return to days of Leon Belmont, as the character was mentioned several times this season. If he decides to go for original content, no doubt we will see more Carmilla, which I’m totally on board with.

With all that in mind, I love what I’ve seen with this series: the characters, the gorgeous animation, the powerful story telling, and the love for the game that’s clear among everyone involved. I’m excited for the future of the series. While it is a shame that the game’s original developer Konami decided to squander one of many of their best game series, we can at least find solace that it will live on in this anime.

For Love

This is it, the final battle, and it begins where we left off: Dracula’s castle is now on top of the Belmont estate and his generals are still locked in a battle with the remainder of Carmilla’s forces that were transported with the castle. The moon becomes blood red, and it seems that Dracula is no longer amused by this betrayal. Our trio rises from the library as Sypha uses an ice pillar to help them ascend the broken staircase in front of the castle. On their way up, we get a nice portrait of Leon Belmont, hopefully a foreshadowing for the series. Sypha cleverly tosses the ice pillar away as she doesn’t want to flood the basement and destroy the library. We need more people like her in the world.

The three make their way into the great hall of the castle and suddenly all vampires’ attention is on them. In this fight, we get to see Sypha unleash her magical potential, Trevor’s fighting prowess and whip work, and even a nod to the many familiars and forms Alucard controls in Symphony of the Night. In the background, we are treated to fan delight as one of the best versions of a recurrent theme from the soundtracks of the games, Bloody Tears, plays triumphantly in background. Everything about this scene, which takes up half of the episode, is amazing and exciting. The three work as a single force: Sypha distracts them with magic, Trevor takes them on one by one, and Alucard overwhelms with sheer might. This maybe the last time we see them fight together but damn if it isn’t the best. Did I mention how awesome this rendition of Bloody Tears was?

If I had to choose a favorite part of this battle it would have to be Sypha’s duel with the Indian vampire. Her constant, fluid adaptability with her ice magic was impressive to behold. As was Alucard’s duel with the Geisha-esque vampire and the moment when Sypha saves him. I love Sypha, and I’ll just stop myself there. While the three are battling to get to Dracula, Issac is doing his best to defend his master from the armor clad vampires. It is this moment that we see the tragedy of Dracula, as Issac prepares to give his life for what Dracula represents. Instead, he transports Issac using the mirror to a distant desert, to spare him from a cruel fate.

The rest of the episode follows the fight against Dracula. All three play a part in it, but Alucard does most of the heavy fighting, including the eventual death blow. The fight is actually quite one sided as neither Trevor or Sypha can do much to damage Dracula, still their efforts are not in vain and make for some amazing fight sequences. Even the scene where Trevor’s punch to Dracula in the face was like hitting a wall is pretty hilarious. Yet it seems only the morningstar whip can really do any damage. There’s a couple of nods to previous Dracula fights in the game as well, like that giant meteor that appears in several fights.

Eventually the one on one fight between Alucard and Dracula leads to his childhood room, filled with toys, drawings, and children’s things. It is here that we at last see what humanity remains in Vlad Dracula Tepes and are treated to one of the most heartbreaking scenes in anything I’ve watched in a long while. “It’s your room. My boy. I’m-I’m killing my boy. Lisa, I’m killing our boy…We painted this room, we made these toys. Your greatest gift to me, and I’m killing him. I must already be dead.” Our hearts are filled with the pain of Dracula’s final realization of what grief has done to him, what monsters we are all capable of becoming.

I came here to have a good time and I’m feeling so attacked right now.

It’s in this moment that Alucard drives a stake into his father’s heart. Trevor removes his head and Sypha burns the ashes once and for all. We mourn the passing of one of gamings greatest foes, but we also mourn a son killing a father who indeed loved him. In the end, what little humanity was left in Dracula shined out. A perfect end to a perfect episode.

End Times

Most of this episode serves as an epilogue and a view of things to come for the series. Alucard wanders the castle, witnessing the damage the assault had caused, especially Sypha’s spell wreaking havoc in the clock tower gear room. Apparently Alucard was going to return to sleep but not while the castle is abandoned with all of the science and knowledge of the centuries. He plans now to stay and watch the castle since Sypha, you know, broke it. Trevor gives him the Belmont library; as above so below, it is all Alucard’s to guard, a home. The two share a beautiful moment of real friendship and a hope for better days.

Next up is Issac, who is confined to wander a new desert. He frequents an oasis nearby and is quickly harassed by several horsemen led by a scarred man. They plan to either sell or eat him which prompts Issac to attack them, flaying them bit by bit in violent fashion. The significance of this sequence is a new madness in Issac. After realizing he could have an army of undead now at his disposal by using his forge master skills, he begins to make one.

We return to Sypha and Trevor and their plans for the future. Sypha plans to return to her people but only for a short while. Life with Trevor was far too exciting for her to stay with them. There’s more evil to be destroyed, the night hordes remains, as well as Carmilla and the corrupted church. Their adventures are not over. Especially the big one that we see coming, a marriage between the two.

Hector and Carmilla appear next in Breila with her surviving order. It’s clear now that once she gets back on her feet she will raise another army. With Hector now her slave, she has an unlimited supply of reborn demons. Poor Hector gets a glimpse of the punishment he will pay should he disobey her.

The final goodbye between our trio is sweet and heartfelt. It may not be in the stars that they meet again but surely the memory of their fights will keep the friendship going for eternity. As we know, Alucard is always on a friendly basis with the Belmonts in the future. What kills me is the final scene. Alucard, now alone, explores the castle that is now his. Full of life and memories but now, like his father, dead and hollow. He returns to his father’s study and is plagued by the ghosts of a happy childhood. The season ends with him weeping, mourning his family.

I hope you all enjoyed this season of Castlevania, and hope to see you all when season 3 rolls around!


Images Courtesy of Netflix

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It’s All About She-Ra!

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Elizabeth and Kori take a look at the rebooted Netflix series, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.

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