This Chilling Adventures of Sabrina review contains no spoilers, except for some information that was presented in the series’ trailers. It is based on the first five episodes of season 2 that were made available to critics.
There’s a classic They Might Be Giants lyric that states “you can’t shake the devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.” In the new episodes of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina that drop on April 5th, the titular teenage witch (Kiernan Shipka, who now fully owns the role) discovers this firsthand. Blessed — or should that be cursed? — with a newfound willingness to embrace her witchy heritage after signing the Book of the Beast in the season one finale, Sabrina finds herself increasingly pulling away from her mortal life.
But can she truly break the bonds that tie her to her humanity?
That is one of the many questions raised by Chilling Adventures of Sabrina season 2 (called Part 2 by Netflix). Whereas the first crop of episodes took some time to find their footing, these ones have a confidence out of the gate that is backed up by a stronger narrative and better writing across the board. There’s no Netflix bloat to be glimpsed in the first half of the season that was provided to the media, and this makes for a joyous viewing experience amid the darkness growing in Greendale. And believe me, there are some serious clouds on Sabrina’s horizon.
As things get underway, Sabrina is now devoting herself to her studies at the Academy of Unseen Arts. She remains eager to do things her way — much to the eternal consternation of Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle, now less campy and more sinister). Challenging the status quo of how things are done at the Academy — or, more fittingly, how they should be done — Sabrina is more powerful and self-assured then we have ever seen her before. And thus seen as a threat by the patriarchal forces that control her world.
There’s a subtext running throughout these new episodes about the ways women are treated in society that is both timely and welcome. Issues of gender inequality impact major and supporting characters alike in surprising ways here, often with grace notes that you wouldn’t expect from a program that once featured a character with the ridiculous name of Batibat. Who would have thought a show about Satanists could be so empowering? Yet here we are.
Speaking of Old Scratch, having devoted herself to him in order to save Greendale at the end of last season, Sabrina must come to terms with the fact that he could request anything of her at anytime. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t take much time to do just that. Whether you chalk it up to naiveté or overconfidence, Sabrina views even the Devil as another force trying to tell her how to live her life. And she’s having none of it. (Cue “Cherry Bomb”).
While Sabrina obviously remains the focus of the series, this time around the showrunners have wisely added depth to characters who were sorely lacking it. Cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) benefits the most from this, getting a tragic story arc that compels him to reveal what it is that he truly wants in the process. Elsewhere, Madame Satan (Michelle Gomez), Harvey (Ross Lynch), Roz (Jaz Sinclair), and Susie (Lachlan Watson) are also granted a newfound multi-dimensionality that catapults them into the narrative spotlight and forces viewers to recalibrate their perspectives on who these individuals are.
The biggest problem with the first season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was how the supporting characters never seemed to have inner lives of their own, despite the skilled actors portraying them. The writing staff, led by show-runner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, seems to have now rectified this, gifting all of these figures — especially Watson — with journeys that equal those of the Spellman family.
In regards to the Spellmans, Zelda (Miranda Otto) and Hilda (Lucy Davis) are also given plenty of moments to shine. The former is contending with her new role of teaching an Ancient Tongues & Sacred Scriptures class at the Academy of Unseen Arts and her increasingly complex relationship with Father Blackwood (whose unknown baby daughter she sent to live with a mystic during the “A Midwinter’s Tale” episode). Still banished from the Church of Night, Hilda now is focused on helping her family while pursuing Doctor Cerberus (Alesandro Juliani) — a man with secrets of his own that speak of more supernatural wonders the show has been keeping up its sleeve.
With Sabrina’s life getting increasingly dark as she learns more about the Path of Night, it’s something of a tonal relief that she still finds time to try to be an ordinary teen. Not that there’s anything regular about her romantic life. Harvey is still reeling from the fact that not only was his girlfriend a witch, but she used her abilities to resurrect her dead brother. (Something that is most definitely not evened out by the fact that she also helped his father stop drinking via a magic potion). While he understandbly needs some space, he sees a potential love interest in Roz. Further causing the Habrina shippers to clutch their pearls is the overwhelming decency of Nicholas Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood), with whom Sabrina may rebound with. But can a young warlock truly be as honorable as Nick in a society where men worship the Father of Lies? Stay tuned.
Of the five episodes presented for review the most interesting was “Doctor Cerberus’s House of Horror.” Like last season’s “Dreams in a Witch House,” this anthlogy-styled episode uses a framing device — in this case a tarot card reader at Greendale’s favorite hangout — to explore the inner fears of our characters. Without getting into spoiler territory, allow me to say that this funhouse mirror of an episode is a deceptively rich viewing experience that may just hold the key to unlocking this season’s secrets. (We’ll have in-depth, spoiler-packed reviews of each episode after they hit Netflix).
As Den of Geek’s resident Archie expert, I’ve spent some time here lamenting the lack of a shared TV Archieverse. Imagine my surprise then to learn that I no wonder require such a thing. With this season of Riverdale getting more joyously ridiculous by the second, I no longer feel like it would pair well with the dark, more mature stories that Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is trying to tell. These are tales that are much more haunting then haunted, and the series is all the better for it.