Chilling Adventures of Sabrina – Part 4 (2021)
And so, the pretty-goddamn-great-up-till-this-point teen horror-comedy Chilling Adventures of Sabrina ends not with a bang or even a whimper, but more of a “Well, I guess that was okay.” This fourth batch of episodes (I’ve given up trying to elegantly parse the actual numbering system, and so should you) never drops all the way down to “actually bad,” mind you, but it does feel rushed and scattershot and something of a missed opportunity. It scans as though once apprised by Netflix that the bell was tolling, show runner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, producer Greg Berlanti, and the rest of the creative team elected to try and both a) wrap up the overarching metaplot in some kind of satisfying manner, and b) jam in a few personal fave subplots and episodes as well. The thing is, with only eight episodes in which to do that, perhaps the latter impulse should have been suppressed.
Not that it doesn’t yield some fun moments. We get one ep, “Chapter Thirty-Two: The Imp of the Perverse,” that plops us into an alternate universe where evil old Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle) is Emperor of the World, which is a fairly well-worn trope (when they did it on Buffy the Vampire Slayer back in the day it begat fan fave Evil Willow), but only Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has had the style and chutzpah to throw in a choral rendition of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” from Bob Fosse’s Cabaret (1972). That speaks to an impressive faith in the audience’s ability to pick up what the show is putting down, but then the series has always been steeped in deep cuts like that. When Sabrina and the gang form a band, Fright Club, and start banging out kitsch standards, pretty much, everyone will clock “Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), but the real thrill comes in recognizing that their evil Battle of the Bands opponents, Satanic Panic, are fanging out 45 Grave’s “Partytime” from The Return of the Living Dead (1985). References upon references, East eggs upon Easter eggs.
Like I said, fun, but it does mean the actual narrative action of this last season gets condensed and rammed in wherever it will fit. Sabrina is a show that has been happy to sprawl where it will, picking up characters and leaving dangling subplots all over the joint in an effort to encompass just so much stuff. The show has always been a labor of love rather than a labor of discipline, and here in its final hours, that becomes something of a liability: what we need is a concerted effort to tie everything up in a cathartic climax, but what we get is a kind of chaotic scramble to the finish line.
And fans will know that there is a lot of ground to cover. We now have two Sabrinas (Kiernan Shipka on double duty) thanks to some carelessly applied magic: while Sabrina Spellman lives her life in Greendale, going to school and dealing with various supernatural and mundane issues, Sabrina Morningstar rules as Queen of Hell and is engaged to hunky demon Caliban (Sam Corlett), who is plotting to kill Lilith’s (Michelle Gomez) unborn baby. Meanwhile, Roz (Jaz Sinclair) discovers she’s actually a witch, while trans boy Theo (Lachlan Watson) pursues romance with Robin Goodfellow (Jonathan Whitesell). Oh, and there are a series of Eldritch Terrors (their capitalization, not mine) cropping up, one per episode, to herald a fresh apocalypse for ‘Brina and the gang to hopefully avert.
Folks, it’s a lot, and I’m barely scratching the surface. The relationship between Aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Doctor Cerberus (Alessandro Juliani) gets explored, while Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto) also gets a second shot at love following her disastrous run with Blackwood, while Nick Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood) is still sniffing around Sabrina, this season enrolling in Greendale High in an effort to boost his chances. Speaking of the aunts, they both get heaved for an ep and replaced with OG Hilda and Zelda Caroline Rhea and Beth Broderick from the 1996 series when Sabrina finds herself trapped in a sitcom version of her life, beating WandaVision (2021) to the trope by a couple of months.
It feels like I’m just reciting plot points and lightly synopsizing episodes here, but that’s what this season of Chilling Adventures lends itself to. It’s all about “more” and less about “further,” and while in the end, we get an attempt at a cathartic, emotionally resonant, and suitably epic climax to the whole story, it feels neither organic nor earned, although individual moments and scenes really sing. Perhaps that’s on point; Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has always taken a magpie approach to horror culture, and that’s been a big part of the fun for genre fans, but in this season, that’s been foregrounded to the detriment of other, more important elements. Ending a show is always tough, even when the creators know the end is coming, and plenty of great series have been let down by a soft denouement. We can now number Sabrina among them, which is a shame; a cleaner landing, and this would have been a modern horror classic, instead of the enjoyably creepy time it wound up as.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Travis Johnson