Chilling Adventures of Sabrina – Part 2 (2019)
High School is such a witch.
And so, after far too long a delay, the second part of the first season (No, I have no idea, either) of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is upon us. Based on the old Archie comics about the titular teenage witch, the new series eschews the family-friendly sugar-pop supernatural shenanigans of the ’90s series that starred Melissa Joan Hart and instead offers up a lot of horror, political intrigue, and more sex than old fans may be used to. Look, I covered all the tonal shifts in my review of Part 1, which you can read here.
Everything outlined there remains true for this second swedge of episodes. There’s a whole lot going on in the haunted town of Greendale (and if we don’t get some kind of Community crossover/ reference, the world is a cruel place) and if it often seems like the wheels are spinning, that’s because showrunners Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Greg Berlanti are trying to keep a lot of balls in the air, managing multiple plot threads, character arcs, and themes and bringing them all to a satisfactory conclusion.
That they do is some kind of miracle, and miracles feature strongly in the back half of CAOS Part 2, following a slightly wobbly and episodic five episodes where the series drifts dangerously close to the Monster of the Week territory, à la Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003). Then things kick into high gear with ‘Chapter 17: The Missionaries’ and ‘Chapter 18: The Miracles of Sabrina Spellman’ which posit the possibility in a fairly blatant and OTT way that our heroine, still played to perfection by the perky Kiernan Shipka, might actually be the Anti-Christ. Once she’s levitating, arms outstretched, bleeding from a crown of thorns and resurrecting the dead, it’s kind of hard to ignore the religious, not to mention blasphemous, symbolism.
Which is something the series leans into to a surprising degree. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is Satanic AF, but it’s more sophisticated than you might expect at first taste, placing the misogynistic high priest (and now hopeful Anti-Pope — this show is nuts) Father Faustus Blackwood (Richard Coyle) firmly in the ‘villain’ camp, and showing a deep mistrust of all hierarchical, not to say patriarchal, power structures — and good-o. Criticism of Christian institutions is more implicit than explicit, which is probably a smartly safe play, but we do get a group of witch hunters operating as door-knocking evangelicals, which is a nice riff.
The series is packed with nice riffs, come to think of it. It is a horror fan’s delight, with plenty of shout outs and Easter eggs for the sharp-eyed genre heads, and the paintings of none other than horror author Clive Barker himself adorn the walls in many backgrounds, which is a nice touch. Still, of all the nods and references, the one to Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is probably the best. If you’re across your Christian theology, or even just handy with the Stations of the Cross, then the packed back half of the season will offer up similar religious … uh … Easter eggs, as Sabrina decides whether to embrace or deny her possible role in bringing about the Apocalypse.
Yes, the Apocalypse — and, as a Buffy character once lamented, it’s weird knowing the plural of that word, but here we have yet another supernatural drama building to The End of All Things, which is a big ask when you’re also juggling so many personal arcs. Briefly: Sabrina romances a young warlock, Nick Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood), whose name alone should set alarm bells ringing; Harvey (Ross Lynch) and Roz (Jaz Sinclair) hook up, and Roz goes blind thanks to her cursed bloodline; Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto) straight up marries Blackwood, who is manipulating his illegitimate daughter, Prudence (Tati Gabrielle) by promising to formally acknowledge her; Aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis) embarks on a romance with bookshop owner Doctor Cerberus (Alessandro Juliani); Cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) is framed for murder; and (yay, once again, for representation) Susie is now Theo (Lachlan Watson), having publicly come out as a trans man. Did I miss anything?
Ladle the end of the world on top of that, and you’ve got an absolutely packed season, and that’s not even taking into account the machinations of Madam Satan, the kinda-villainous-but-so-cool Mary Wardwell (the great Michelle Gomez), the various one-off creatures and threats, and endless politicking at the Church of Night and the Unseen Academy, and the usual soapy relationship dramas (everyone in the witchy world is a polyamorous pansexual, and it shows), and you’ve got a show bursting at the seams with so much story that it occasionally gasps with the effort. Perhaps we don’t need so many single-shot plots next season if we’re going to keep being this ambitious?
But ambition is the most forgivable of creative sins, and the other sins on display in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina are oh so very delicious. This show is a blast — histrionic, provocative, perverse, inclusive, creepy, cool fun. We need more of it, and soon.
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by Travis Johnson