This Chilling Adventures of Sabrina review contains no spoilers, except for some information that was presented in the series’ trailers. It is based on all eight episodes of season 4 that were made available to critics.
“Once more into the fray, right guys?”
Let’s just bottom line things right up front here: This is Chilling Adventures of Sabrina‘s strongest — and most entertaining — season. So naturally (in what is rapidly becoming the streaming giant’s signature move) Netflix canceled the series just as it reached its creative peak. The eight episodes of this fourth and final chapter of the Archie Comics-inspired series have it making bold character choices and plot developments that are genuinely surprising.
Indeed, there is a finality to these new installments that make one question how soon into the production process the show’s creative team was informed of its cancellation. (Back in July news broke that a fifth season would have the Greendale gang squaring off against Archie and company in a Riverdale crossover, but how far along these plans were remains a mystery). Whomever knew what and when may just be a moot point, as ultimately Chilling Adventures of Sabrina holds nothing back this time around. And that is as liberating as it is enjoyable to watch.
When the third season ended, Kiernan Shipka was doing double duty as both the Greendale-bound Sabrina Spellman and her hell-based counterpart, Sabrina Morningstar (a version of herself who had fully embraced her Satanic lineage and married the ever-shirtless Caliban). As the new episodes get underway, we witness the dramatic consequences that the ‘Brinas violating of the universe’s laws have. Making matters even more complicated are the Lovecraftian machinations of Father Blackwood, who is determined to bring the Eldritch Terrors to Earth.
Oh hell yes.
These dark actions provide the running theme for the season, with each installment featuring on a new Terror for Sabrina and company to try to defeat. Each is realized as well as possibly can be for a TV budget, even Netflix’s pockets aren’t deep enough to fully create these Lovecraftian beasties.
Despite suddenly thrusting a new storytelling formula into the mix, there is nothing that feels like typical “monster of the week” fare. (Real talk though, it would be amazing to see the Fright Club take on episodic adversities a la Scooby-Doo). Instead, these threats serve as vessles to push ahead the overarching plot and characters towards the series’ endgame.
And what an endgame that is. Without getting into spoiler territory, it’s safe to say that the stakes here have never been higher — as all of existence risks being sucked into “The Void” a Galactus-esque nothingness that wants to devour the universe. Several of them actually, as the standout seventh episode has it. Written by Donna Thorland & Matthew Barry, “Chapter Thirty-Five: The Endless” is a daringly hilarious effort that approaches Charlie Kaufman-esque levels of meta that leads directly into the beautiful series finale written by showrunner Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa.
Even with the fate of everything on the line, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina as never been as much fun. From bringing back TGIF Sabrina the Teenage Witch aunties Beth Broderick and Caroline Rhea and showcasing The Venture Bros.‘ James Urbaniak smarmy charm in a small-but-pivotal role, to hosting a demonic battle of the bands (this season’s musical numbers are, for the most part, handled much more organically) and dealing with Hilda’s undead mother-in-law, there are plenty of big comedy moments to be found here. Much needed ones too, he writes ominously.
Unfortunately, some characters and plots fall slightly to the wayside given all that is going on here, with the characters of Ambrose, Roz, Theo and Robin all suffering somewhat as a result. Richard Coyne’s Father Blackwood gets less screentime here than in previous seasons, yet his actions involving unleashing the Eldritch Terrors are felt strongly in each episode. Elsewhere, Luke Cook (late of Katy Keene) returns here with scene-stealing aplomb as Lucifer, and Gavin Leatherwood’s Nick Scratch gets a shot at true redemption. As always, Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto deliver solid support as Sabrina’s aunts, and Michelle Gomez delivers a career-best performance portraying the increasingly sullied Mary Wardwell and Lilith, who has perhaps the most disturbing arc this season. But guiding them all is Kiernan Shipka, whose portrayal of how both Sabrina’s respond to the light and darkness of their lives, runs the gamut between heartbreaking and hilarious.
Sabrina is at her most realized in this eight episodes, as is Greendale. Over 36 episodes spanning just over a year in the lives of these characters audiences have been taken to the underworld and back several times. There’s a cruelty to this show being cancelled at its best. But for now this story is finished, in, it must be said, an immensely satisfying way. From a purely cynical business point-of-view it feels like somehow, someway this IP with these actors will be resurrected sooner rather than later. But for now? Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was cut down in its prime. That might be the most hellish development involving this series of all.