Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (1996-2000): 1×04 “Terrible Things”

SABRINA, THE TEENAGE WITCH (1996-2000) Logo Time

Episode: Terrible Things (1×04)
Director: Gary Halvorson
Teleplay: Jon Sherman
Cast: Melissa Joan Hart, Caroline Rhea, Beth Broderick, Nick Bakay, Nate Richert, Jenna Leigh Green, Michelle Beaudoin, Paul Fieg
Guest Stars: Penn Jillette, Tom McGowan, Sara Van Horn, Milo Ventimiglia, Marvin C. Jones II, James D. Fields
Original Air Date: October 18, 1996

Cold Open

Sabrina, wearing a black-on-black short sleeved turtleneck/miniskirt jumper ensemble, encounters Libby in the school hall–wearing the exact same über-90s outfit.  Sabrina flees to the bathroom as fast as her clompy black heeled boots allow, and uses magic to change her outfit to a lace-front blue top and patterned brown bellbottoms.  She confidently walks to her locker, and Jenny greets her… wearing the same blue/brown ensemble.  Jenny, naturally, approves of Sabrina’s outfit.



Claudia: I look at the first outfit, and I see Marcia Brady.  I look at the second outfit, and I see David Cassidy.

Geoffrey: I don’t really like either outfit.  The first one is marginally better, but that second one, yowza.

Credit Costume

Construction worker, complete with yellow hard hat and… a shovel?  “I’m ready to clean my closet.”

Really? Your closet is *that* bad?

Really? Your closet is *that* bad?

Act One

Salem tries to hide from Aunt Zelda under Sabrina’s bed, but she quickly finds him.  She explains that he needs to do community service as a consequence for his world domination attempt.  She’s put him in a Pets for Prisoners program, since he didn’t like the alternative assignment of highway cleanup.  He sarcastically reminds her that cats + highways = Bad Things.  Sabrina remarks that she doesn’t see Salem’s issue, since helping people is a Good Thing.  He challenges that she hasn’t helped anyone since she acquired her magic, and only uses it to make brussel sprouts vanish and to change her clothes.  She says that she’ll perform three benevolent magic acts before school lets out.  He reminds her that magic has consequences to be considered, so she should be careful what she does, lest Terrible Things–like the episode’s title being anviliciously shoved into the dialogue, for example–might happen.

First real shot of robo-Salem

First real shot of robo-Salem

Geoffrey: Hey, look! It’s the first real appearance of Robo-Salem.  Caroline Rhea said once that the question she was asked more often was if the cat was real.  If anyone can watch this and think it’s real, Dear Lord.  Granted, in 1996, it was good technology….

At school, Jenny and Libby are passing out flyers to a random student wearing a Westbridge jersey.  The flyers are for their sophomore class president candidacy (“Outsider Party” and “Popular Party,” respectively.)  Jenny’s platform is smaller class sizes and arts program funding, while Libby’s is more pizza at the cafeteria.  The random student who whom they were both giving their pitch says he’s voting for Libby.

Well hey there, Jess!

Well hey there, Jess!

Claudia: I did not recognize Peter Petrelli until I saw the end credits.  Shame on me.

Geoffrey: You mean Jess Mariano from “Gilmore girls” right?  Right?

Sabrina walks up to discouraged Jenny and observes that the pizza angle and the “Outsider Party” name are causing her to lose many voters, but commits to voting for her.  Libby smugly drive-by insults Jenny, saying that losing the election just proves her loserhood.  Jenny confesses to Sabrina that she only wants to win to make an impact on the school.  Sabrina glances over at the ballot box, and uses her magic to stuff it.  One good deed down, two more to go.


In the hallway, Harvey is chugging a large, stinky protein shake so he’ll bulk up enough to start at running back.  He points out Randy, the Destroyer, behind whom Harvey will be benched unless he gets injured or Harvey bulks up enough.  After a dose of Sabrina’s magic, Randy, the Destroyer, slams his left hand in his locker door.  Two good deeds down, one more to go.


At biology class, Mr. Pool apologizes for his tardiness, which was caused by his AMC Gremlin breaking down after he tried to go uphill in it.  Harvey asks why he doesn’t get a better car.  Mr. Pool snarks back that he’s going to get a Ferrari after school today.  He turns the discussion to science.  Today’s topic is why lead can’t be turned into gold, regardless of one’s efforts, he announces through gritted teeth.  After class, Sabrina asks her teacher why he is unusually upset.  On cue, his briefcase breaks, dumping all of his papers all over the floor.

Claudia: The AMC Gremlin made #19 on Time Magazine’s “50 Worst Cars of All Time” list.

Geoffrey: I always forget about the Gremlin.  That’s probably a Good Thing.


She squats down and helps him retrieve its contents.  He complains that after seven years of teaching, he still can’t afford a new one, and that he found the one he’s using someplace.  Sabrina asks why he doesn’t do something else for a living.  He responds that he enjoys being a science teacher, but doesn’t like that he has to do cafeteria duty and wash Principal LaRue’s car just to fill in the financial gap.  She hands him an expired “Froot Kooks” coupon which had fallen out of his briefcase.  Groaning, he declares that it’s impossible to use fruit to sweeten cookies, just as one cannot turn lead to gold.  Using this prompt, Sabrina uses her magic.  Mr. Pool suddenly has the knowledge of alchemy.  He begins to scribble equations on the chalkboard, as Sabrina looks on proudly.  Three good deeds down, zero good deeds to go.

And now we can all defy the immutable laws of physics!

And now we can all defy the immutable laws of physics!

In her living room, Hilda is giving Jeffrey, an untalented child, violin lessons.  She stops him mid-screech, saying that she needed to tune the instrument.  She takes the violin and smashes it on the kitchen table as Zelda looks on, declaring it was for Mozart’s sake.  Sabrina comes home from school and sees that Jeffrey was over for his lessons.  She asks Hilda why she doesn’t use magic to make Jeffrey a better violinist.


Zelda cites the witch’s rules, that they shouldn’t interfere with mortals’ lives.  Hilda doesn’t care about the rules, but wants Jeffrey to keep coming back for lessons.  She magics the violin back together, then returns to Jeffrey.  Sabrina asks Zelda to clarify the rules, and she explains that it’s because they can’t determine what will bring happiness to mortals, or the consequences.  She says sometimes the consequences might work out, but that Terrible Things–like the episode’s title being anviliciously shoved into the dialogue…TWICE, for example–might happen.

This time underscored by a hot cup of tea!

This time underscored by a hot cup of tea!

Claudia: I wonder what Hilda’s hourly rate is.

At lunch the next day, Jenny shows Sabrina that the upcoming edition of the school newspaper preemptively declares that Libby has won.  Over the loudspeaker, Principal LaRue announces the class president results, and Jennifer Kelley won sophomore class.


In the hallway, Harvey congratulates Jenny on her victory, and she thanks him for not voting for pizza.  He’s all, yeah sure, and announces that tomorrow he gets to start at running back.  Sabrina and Jenny promise to watch his game.

Before Bio starts, Jenny approaches Libby to compliment her gracious acceptance of defeat.  Libby graciously tells Jenny to bite her.  Mr. Pool apologizes for being late again, but he was purchasing a Ferrari.  He offers gold nuggets as prizes for correct answers.


Claudia: I like how Mr. Pool is a good Massachusetts resident, and calls his car a “wicked set of wheels.” 

Sabrina returns home to see that Salem has returned from prison.  His prisoner thought that Alan Dershowitz had appeared to him in the form of a talking cat, and Salem falsely vowed to appeal the prisoner’s innocence to the governor.  Hilda walks into the living room, where she and Sabrina get comfortable on the couch with some Hawaiian pizza.  Sabrina tells her about her good deeds, and Hilda reminds her that Terrible Things–like the episode’s title being anviliciously shoved into the dialogue…THRICE, for example–could happen.  Sabrina insists that nothing truly bad happened to her friends. Hilda laments that the pizza is terrible.


Due to Jenny’s new position, she and Sabrina get to watch the football game from the “President’s Section.”  The play-by-play announcer states that Harvey’s got the ball… and Harvey immediately gets pummeled.  The announcer observes that he shouldn’t have been playing.  Ambulance sirens wail.

Commercial Break

Act Two

At the cafeteria, Libby is spoonfeeding Harvey, who managed to walk away from his ordeal with only a right arm sprain.  After commenting from afar on Harvey’s injury, Jenny tells Sabrina that she’s going to meet with Principal LaRue this afternoon.  The random jersey-wearing student from earlier asks Jenny to complain to the principal about the cafeteria’s meatloaf.  As Sabrina gets up to discard her food tray, she encounters Mr. Pool, who has a personal chef to serve him linguine with white truffles–white linen tablecloth and all.  He’s thrilled to be able to teach without feeling bitterness anymore.


Sabrina stops to say hi to Harvey and Libby, and tells him she watched the game.  Harvey ruefully mentions that his father videotaped the game, and made him watch and rewatch it for educational purposes.  Sabrina tells Harvey to let her know if she could help him with anything.  Libby turns to her and cites her position as a cheerleader, who ought to be the one handling the situation.  Sabrina offers an awkward, not-quite-wanting-to-take-responsibility apology and leaves.

Hey, look! It's the soundstage roof!

Hey, look! It’s the soundstage roof!

Claudia: Granted, I certainly don’t know a ton about high school-level football, but in the 1970s-set “Remember the Titans,” the football players watched game film.  It was actual film, too.  So presumably Harvey would have to watch the game replay at some point anyway?

At the principal’s office, his secretary tells Jenny that he will see her now.  Jenny sits down at his desk and begins to show him her programs.  She mentions the class size issue, but he cuts her off, as she has no control in that area.  He does the same as she brings up arts program funding, textbooks, curriculum, and student parking.  He states that these issues are decided by men in far-off smoke-filled boardrooms, and she is out of line to dispute their decisions.  He says that class president elections are nothing more than a popularity contest.


As Sabrina arrives at the Slicery, Jenny is already there, drowning her sorrows in pitchers of root beer.  She tells Sabrina that she wishes she still had her illusions about making a difference as president.

Sabrina arrives home, and tries to avoid talking to the Aunts.  They magically force her to sit in the kitchen chair, and hand her a toaster message from Drell.  As Sabrina opens the letter, the disembodied voice of Drell orders her to report to his office, along with the Aunts.


As they go upstairs to the closet, Sabrina protests that Drell creeps her out and she doesn’t want to see him.  Neither does Hilda, because she isn’t interested in him anymore.  Then, she asks how her hair looks.

Sabrina comments that Drell’s office waiting room reminds her of the principal’s office.  His secretary tells the ladies that Drell will see them now.  Sabrina comments that the secretary looks familiar.


The set used as Drell’s office, of course, is the same as Principal LaRue’s office, with some slight alterations in decor and lighting.  Drell scornfully asks Hilda what she did to her hair.  She retorts that her boyfriend likes it like that.  He asks what the boyfriend’s name is, and Hilda hems and haws for about a second before Drell jeeringly says he hopes they’ll be happy.  Drell then turns to Sabrina and asks what the reason behind the meeting is.  She denies knowing, so Drell begins to run down the list that includes causing a sports injury, influencing an election, and changing physics laws.  Sabrina reluctantly explains that she was just attempting to help others.  Drell responds that “help” is a four-letter word–and so are “dumb” and “move.”  The Aunts argue that Sabrina’s a good girl dealing with parents in Peru and in a book.  Drell hollers that he’s in the land of “I-don’t-care.”  He reminds her that… wait for it… Terrible Things could happen–like the episode’s title being anviliciously shoved into the dialogue for the FOURTH TIME, for example.  The Aunts say that they told Sabrina this, but Sabrina says that when they said this, it didn’t seem all that significant.  Drell pages his secretary, and asks her turn up the Ominous Warnings reverb on the word “terrible.”  She apparently does so, as Drell tests out the word “terrible” several times and is pleased with the results.  Satisfied, he notes that that was Marge’s error.  He casts a bolt of lightning, zapping the door’s glass and says that this is Sabrina’s error.  He explains that although the Harvey and Jenny incidents are relatively insignificant, alchemy would ruin the global economy.  He threatens Sabrina that he will turn her into a cat if she doesn’t fix the problem.  He gives her 1 day to fix the problem, and Zelda and Sabrina scurry away.  Drell asks Hilda to remain for a minute, and to a bow-chicka-wow score, he tosses his hair as she stares at him.


Sabrina hopes that Drell’s threat was idle, but then Zelda notices Marge’s ownerless false teeth.  Hilda merrily skips out of the inner office, and says that Drell asked her out and she said no.  But as a result, Sabrina would only have 16 hours.


Sabrina asks Principal LaRue, who is put out that Mr. Pool won’t wash his car anymore, if he had seen the biology teacher.  Then, Mr. Pool approaches and accompanies Sabrina to class.  He shows off his brand-new “digital personal assistant,” which he uses to send a fax to himself.  He also is excited to finance a brand-new grant: The Eugene Pool Fund for Burnt-Out Teachers.  Sabrina says she hopes he enjoys the next 40 minutes.


In class, Mr. Pool once again tosses gold nuggets to students who correctly answer his questions, as Sabrina glances at her watch.  At the end of class, she zaps him with her magic, and the formula leaves his head.  Of course, he never wrote down the formula.

As she and Sabrina eat lunch, Jenny informs her that she’s made peace with the ineffectual state of the presidential office.  She makes an announcement to the students sitting in the cafeteria.  She’s resigning, and Libby should be president.  Libby is psyched that she’s a step closer to becoming US President.  Harvey approaches Sabrina and tells her that since his injury, he’s spending more time reading and writing, and he thinks his grades will improve as a result.  He makes her promise not to tell his dad that he’s enjoying life without football.

Don't cry for me Westbridge High School

Don’t cry for me Westbridge High School

As Mr. Pool scribbles on his chalkboard, he is stuck on “a = a,” which is not at all profound or likely relevant to solving the alchemy equation.  Sabrina walks up to him and observes that Jenny’s happy without presidency and Harvey’s happy without football, so perhaps Mr. Pool can be happy without being wealthy.  He rolls his eyes and says she’s crazy.  He picks up his old briefcase, which again pops open and spills its contents on the floor.  He asks her to help him pick up his papers off the floor, and she apologizes because she’s not to help anybody.  But then she figures it won’t hurt to help him one more time.  As they pick up the papers, she says things should look up soon, and maybe he’d find a new briefcase.


As Sabrina exits the classroom, she uses her magic to create a new briefcase, with a pink present bow attached, and she leaves it in the hallway.  Principal LaRue walks past, sees the briefcase, and picks it up.

Credit Crawl

Mr. Pool flags down Principal LaRue in the school hallway, and asks if he could wash his car. Mr. LaRue says that he already found a 15-year-old to do it for $2 cheaper.  Mr. Pool desperately says he can match that, so Mr. LaRue says he’ll see him this weekend.  As Mr. LaRue walks away, Mr. Pool compliments his briefcase.


Closing Commentary

Claudia: I felt like this episode was a solid version of “Be Careful What You Wish For.”  I think it was a good time for the writers to explore the supporting characters and their individual wants and motivations.  Through sitcom shorthand, the audience has figured out that Jenny’s driven and wants to make a difference, that Mr. Pool actually does feel passionately about his job, and that Harvey has a complicated relationship with his parents that affects what he does.  At the time that I’m writing this conclusion, I’ve already seen the following episode (1×05) and it seems as if the writers kept up this aspect of at least Harvey’s character.  It’s also good to see Penn Jillette back as Drell, as it seems like his persona fits this show like a glove.  

Geoffrey: This is an episode that I love for every person but Sabrina.  I find this true of a lot of episodes.  You really get some solid character development in this one of the supporting characters…and to a smaller degree, Sabrina herself.  Particularly when she tries to replace Mr. Pool’s old briefcase.  And of course, Penn Jillette is always welcomed, even though I’m pretty sure he only makes one more appearance (Sorry, Claudia).  At this point, I feel like the show had solid enough ratings that they decided they could start in on development and less on gimmicks, something explored in more detail in the next episode.



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