TV

‘Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina’ Is Back, And More Subversive Than Ever (Praise Satan!)

Netflix’s Riverdale spinoff, Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, has returned with a Part Three after the semicolon, and honestly, I didn’t expect to feel it necessary to write about this winter’s batch of episodes. That’s an odd admission, yes, but the first two seasons of the TV show were both impressively successful and to an equal degree while bringing the Archie comic book series of the same name to life. If you’re reading this, then you probably know the drill: compelling characters, charismatic cast, vivid visuals, flourishing finales, and the sly subversion of it all. That’s what I expected this time around as well, so I didn’t think that there’d be much more to say, but somehow, the series has managed to one-up itself in a transformative manner.

Praise Satan? Yep, I’m going there because the show’s still wickedly funny. It’s also not lost on me that Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka of Mad Men) is now wrestling with being the daughter of the Devil. I’m not entirely sure if that’s better or worse than being Don Draper’s kid, but I can’t get it out of my head. (Draper is maybe preferable but only because he doesn’t possess people from within. That seems fair.)

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As we learned in the last season finale, the Dark Lord’s got Sabrina’s warlock boyfriend, Nicholas Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood, the sensual turkey baster) now. The problem, as usual, seemed easy enough to fix. Nick did something heroic for Sabrina with his sacrifice, and the expectation is that she and the Fright Club will be even more heroic and bring the guy back. Done and done, right? Nope. The Devil’s doing some unseen things to Nick’s character, but even worse, the Dark Lord’s absence from Hell means that someone is bound to try and fill that vacuum. It might be Sabrina, who can rightfully claim the throne, or it could be a new player, the handsome Prince of Hell Caliban.

Of course, the series wants you to think there’s another love triangle coming, but if you know anything about CAOS, you know that there are several enormous curveballs (more believable ones than on Riverdale) coming. That leads me to a pretty simple realization about why Part 3 signals a stride for this show: Salem The Cat is no longer a distraction.

This point likely seems silly and insignificant, but work with me here. Remember that ridiculous talking kitty from the 1990s ABC series, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch? Of course you do. The lead-up to this series’ debut included a lot of speculation and anticipation for a mouthy feline as Sabrina’s animal familiar, and then folks got all worked up about Silent Salem. There was an actual backlash, which led to creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (who wrote the comic book with a talking Salem) dangling the possibility that the cat would talk in the future. Well, that didn’t happen last year, and folks noticed. It was distracting. And that ruckus kept CAOS from fully flourishing on its own.

Yet with Part 3, there’s so much other fantastic stuff happening that I completely forgot that the damn(ed) cat existed. Success.

That’s a sign that CAOS is now feeling comfortable in its own skin. This show is now its own entity, free from its cornball TV history and with subversive tendencies jacked up to eleven. Mainly, this involves the Church of Night now being in a shambles following the downfall of the patriarchy. Father Blackwood is now off roaming in an undisclosed location, but somehow, not all is well. That’s where the common pattern of this series comes into play: whenever Sabrina sets out to do the right thing, she usually ends up accomplishing her goal, but not without inevitable consequence. Something always gets messed up, and she’s always a little petulant and cocky (like teenagers are) about solving said problem, and then the comeuppance arrives.

Generally speaking, things are almost always worse (at least temporarily) at that point. That’s one area where the series constantly upends expectations that a little magic can fix anything. In the past, spells would go wrong, people would come back from the dead as vegetables, prices must be paid for favors from the Dark Lord, etc. It’s always been rough going, not a matter of simply uttering an incantation, but there’s never been an enormous risk to Sabrina or those that she’s cared about. Until now. The stakes are much higher, not only for the coven but for the human realm.

Sabrina has to earn every success in this series, and that includes the constant struggle against institutions who would seek to control her. Even smashing down corrupt leadership (an immense victory), did not guarantee any character’s survival. Greater challenges await the show’s predominantly-female cast of players, and the show’s protagonist is still spreading herself thin and distracted by mortal affairs. No spoilers here, but let’s just say that the Part 3 finale (once again) changes everything for these characters’ games. It’s an impressive ending, and quite a lead-in for Part 4 to come.

So yes, all Hell is breaking loose again. As that happens, show still looks lush and gorgeous and like something you could wrap yourself up in and fall asleep, if not for demonic threats lurking around every corner. It’s seductive without being overtly sexy (though that element is also there), and I think that one other selling point for this season is a tightened-up story. Part 3 consists of eight episodes, rather than the customary ten, and this sucker is tightly wound. There’s no fat anywhere, and every moment counts without filler stories for supporting cast members. They’re all devoted to the central causes, and that includes marvelous turns from Sabrina’s aunts, Zelda (Miranda Otto) and Hilda (Lucy Davis), along with cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo). Oh and don’t worry about missing Lilith (Michelle Gomez), who’s still the secret weapon, that extra oomph. She’s great. This season is great. Tuck in and binge away.

Netflix
Netflix

Netflix’s ‘Chilling Adventure Of Sabrina’ is currently streaming.

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