I know, I know.
CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA (2018-20) is created by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and as such is not #LadyHorror. But I’ve been watching this show religiously since it aired in 2018 and technically I watched most of Part 4 during 2020, and also, in my defense, about half the episodes of Part 4 were written and/or directed by a woman.
Let’s not get bogged down by the details.
Here are just a few of the things that make CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA so fucking special:
Part 1 started us off with Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) joining some satanic witches and offered a near-perfect balance of melodramatic teen angst and kitschy blood-and-gore horror goodness. It explores themes of legacy, identity, and self-determination, and we also get to watch people do cannibalism!
Part 2 worked hard to complicate central themes about family, gender, and power – all while saving plenty of time for overwrought psychosexual turmoil and Dad-hating! There’s also, dare I say, a nearly unprecedented level of character development for numerous people who would normally play a permanent supporting role in this type of show. Yes Roz (Jaz Sinclair)! Yes Hilda (Lucy Davis)! YES THEO (Lachlan Watson)!
Part 3 to me is the culmination of everything that is excellent about SABRINA. We’ve got Prudence (Tati Gabrielle) and Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) on a vengeance quest. We’ve got a terrifying band of pagans! We’ve got ROBIN (Jonathan Whitesell), THEO’S LOVE INTEREST FINALLY WHOM I ALSO LOVE. And most excitingly, we’ve got a direct challenge to Satanic power and a season-long shift from a male-based power structure (Hell, Satan, Blackwood, etc.) to a female-based power structure (Hecate! Aunt Zelda! Hedge Witches!). With a few tweaks to the last episode, Part 3 would have been a very good place to end.
But it was not to be.
I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy Part 4. I did! I enjoy nearly all things violent, magical, silly, and mildly feminist. But…
Be forewarned: beyond this point there be spoilers.
Credit where it’s due, there were a couple good things in Part 4. Double Sabrina’s was cool! And the super meta penultimate episode “The Endless” was truly clever and funny. It features actresses from the original TV show! Charming.
But overall Part 4 kind of went off the rails. For one thing, they introduced the Eldritch Horrors! Which I was very excited about at the end of Part 3. I love a Lovecraftian thing, and I was sort of expecting a clever homage to that. The show has done a good job in the past of nodding to the myths/bible stories/Shakespeare plays that it indiscriminately steals from. (Circe turning jocks into pigs? Judas with the magic silver? Robin Goodfellow, aka Puck, is a Pagan Hobgoblin with superspeed? What an unnecessary yet delightful reference!) I was hoping for some tongue-in-cheek Lovecraft fun-times, and instead the creators chose to make up 8 random Eldritch Horrors. OK, fine. Boring but fine.
What is not so fine is that when the Horrors arrive, they’re wimpy. These are supposedly the most terrible forces in the known or unknown universe… and Sabrina and her friends vanquish one per episode. Somehow, Satan was a worthy opponent for 28 episodes (3 Parts) but The Void is defeated in like one day. Especially since the show creators chose to randomly invent Horrors, it sort of seems like they could have just…invented one really bad one?
On top of that, trying to cram 8 Horrors into 8 episodes meant that there wasn’t much time for anything except explaining, and then vanquishing, various mystical foes. Attempts to move the characters forward emotionally felt rushed and often implausible. Theo and Robin’s breakup and get-back-together situation only warrants like 3 scenes. Nick (Gavin Leatherwood) decides Sabrina is the love of his life after all and Sabrina gives in to this decision within a week. Caliban (Sam Corlet) attempts to coup Hell and…then nothing really happens with that. The entire season feels a little half-baked narratively. To put it another way, I feel like we all deserved a lot more kissing scenes.
My last hard disagree with the choices in Part 4 are entirely focused on the final episode. In it (SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER) Sabrina dies. The show is fucking called THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA. I do not agree that it should be narratively possible for her to die. Her death, also, is boring and wilt-y. They do a spell that uses her blood and she slowly bleeds out while everybody else does active stuff. It’s gross and weird. It would be far more in character for literally everyone in the show to refuse to let her endanger herself this way, and instead let the entire planet explode to save Sabrina. Furthermore, if they’re going to have Sabrina die, the show has a long. precedent. of bringing people back from the dead who are buried in the Spellman graveyard. Literally the biggest wasted opportunity in the entire show is not ending the final episode with an homage to the final few moments of CARRIE.
Dawn. Hilda weeps at Sabrina’s grave, lit as if from within by a loving glow. She places A BOUQUET on the grave.
Suddenly Sabrina’s quivering hand bursts through the ground!
HILDA: Oh, thank Hecate.
Hilda winces with the strain as she begins to haul Sabrina out of the dank earth.
I should be a screenwriter.
To add to my total irritation with this ending, there’s a distasteful 11th hour Nick Scratch suicide that’s framed as ultimately positive because it means he gets to be with Sabrina forever in heaven. A teenage boy. Kills himself. To be with his teenage girlfriend. And the show explicitly goes “this is fine.”
I morally cannot get behind it. What kind of literal messaging is that for your literal teen viewers?
Anyway, I took a few days before writing this review but I’m obviously still hot about it. If you’ve never watched the show I still highly recommend the first 3 seasons. They’re clever and funny and gross and delightful. But if you happen to find yourself at the end of Part 3 thinking about quitting while you’re ahead…
You do what you need to do.
Do you think Part 4 of CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA is a masterpiece and I’m totally full of shit? Tell me about it in the comments!