Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is finally closing the spellbook. Part 4 of the Netflix horror series has the Fright Club battling the long-awaited Eldritch Terrors as Sabrina Spellman deals with the consequences of creating a dual identity. It’s a solid way to go, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.
Part 3 ended with Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) deciding she could truly have it all, letting her time paradox counterpart take her place as Queen of Hell so she could continue being a normal teen at Baxter High. It turns out that this may have consequences—but ones she’ll have to deal with at a later time, as Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle) succeeded in summoning the dreaded Eldritch Terrors from the edges of the cosmos.
Much of the season is focused on Sabrina battling this new threat, alongside her aunts and friends, while trying to figure out whether she made a mistake in letting Sabrina Morningstar take over Hell and coming to terms with how she feels about Nicholas Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood). There’s also a Battle of the Bands where we learn that Lucifer was once an unholy talent scout and an episode that may have restored my faith in humanity.
This was the moment Kiernan Shipka finally came into her own—it’s just too bad it took so long to get here. Her portrayal of Sabrina Spellman has been a mixed bag through the previous episodes of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, but in Part 4 it felt like she finally got a handle on who she wanted the character to be. Sabrina came across as quirky, impetuous, and confident—even, or perhaps especially, during her worst moments. In Part 4 premiere “The Eldritch Dark,” Sabrina tricked her friends into thinking their school was being infested by Bloody Mary so they’d spend time with her. Definitely reprehensible, but it actually made me like her more. It felt like something this Sabrina would do.
Unlike previous seasons, where the plot was steering Sabrina most of the time, this season it felt like she had a bit more control (ironic, considering this season’s plot was more all-encompassing than ever). And even though I was unsure about the Dual Sabrinas twist from last season, I have to say it worked out for the best. Having two Sabrinas meant we got to move away from the “Satanic witch or everyday teen” thing that had been played to death in previous episodes. Shipka didn’t give the two ‘Brinas too much variety, but there was enough to tell a difference. It was refreshing to see Sabrina branch out and care about something else besides her own internal conflict for a change—like the end of the world.
Another thing long overdue in the world of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: having a “Monster of the Week” plot. This season introduced the Eldritch Terrors, which (for the most part) arrived one-by-one to stake their claim on an episode and force our heroes to come up with a clever way to stop them. Nowadays, prestige fantasy shows—especially those with mass episode releases, like on Netflix—tend to rely less on “Monster of the Week” stuff in favor of interconnected, over-arching narratives. That can be exciting! But it’s fun to harken back to the days of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when each week gave you something new and unique.
Will there ever be a season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina where the aunts aren’t the shining stars? Now that we’re at the end, I can tell you the definitive answer is “no.”
They will always be magnificent—even if these final episodes, sadly, didn’t give them much to do. Previously Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto) was running the coven under the protection of Hecate, while Aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis) was busy planning her life and future with her fiancé-turned-husband. With their biggest conflicts behind them, Part 4 found Zelda and Hilda stepping more into the role of protectors and guides for Sabrina and the coven. It seemed fitting. The two of them have been through so much over the course of their time on the show, so it didn’t bother me much that they were mostly there to react to the Eldritch Terrors and Sabrina’s choices.
The other bonus: They weren’t the only aunts we got this season. Beth Broderick and Caroline Rhea reprised their portrayals of Aunts Zelda and Hilda from Sabrina the Teenage Witch, in an episode that is getting its own section below because it was 100% a series highlight.
When I saw Broderick and Rhea at the end of “Deus Ex Machina,” I shrieked in delight...but I was not prepared for what Chilling Adventures of Sabrina had in store. Instead of being a small end-of-episode cameo, we got “The Endless”—one of the most-delightful (and delightfully wicked) episodes we’ve ever gotten on the show. It centered around Sabrina Morningstar as she found herself trapped in an Eldritch Terror creating a TV show about her own life.
This was the episode Sabrina the Teenage Witch fans have wanted. It was a loving but twisted tribute to the ridiculousness of the original series, featuring Sabrina as a giant cockroach, laugh tracks, and a talking Salem Saberhagen with a dark side who (sadly) was not voiced by Nick Bakay. I was likewise bummed that Melissa Joan Hart didn’t show up, especially seeing as how the episode suggested we’d get something along those lines. But even without cameos, it was a fun, wild ride.
One of the strengths and weaknesses of doing a Monster of the Week season is some of the monsters are going to shine brighter than others. For the Eldritch Terrors, the first two terrors were by far the most interesting. We started off with the Darkness in a foreboding and claustrophobic episode that stressed me out from beginning to end. Then there was the Uninvited, which was an intimate, personal, and (dare I say) more sympathetic terror. Combined, they set the scene for a season filled with horrors. Not all of them were grand slams but they worked. The most mixed one for me was the Weird, which was the closest thing to a traditional Lovecraftian creature but also reminded me too much of that Buffy episode where the swimmers turn into fish monsters.
The worst episode of the season was “The Returned,” about a bunch of zombies coming back to life and wreaking havoc on the living. It featured a punk band called Satanic Panic who challenged the Fright Club to an unholy Battle of the Bands. That whole subplot was stupid and I hated it, except for one thing: every time Satanic Panic showed up, an instrumental riff from Filter’s “Welcome to the Fold” would play. It didn’t make any sense—the band was from the 1980s and Filter released Title of Record in 1999—but I didn’t care. I love that song and I will always be happy when someone else recognizes its brilliance. This was a present for Beth and probably no one else.
Out of all the character arcs in the final episodes of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Lilith’s (Michelle Gomez) was the one that stayed closest to its source material. Over the course of the past 30-plus episodes, the series has veered away from its fucked-up origins in favor of something a bit more PG-13 (thankfully we were spared from a storyline where Sabrina’s father disguised himself as her boyfriend Harvey). But Lilith’s storyline was still messed up as ever.
After a graphic birthing scene that still gives me nightmares, Lilith spent most of the season keeping her son Adam away from Lucifer, who wanted to control him (and her). But that could only work for so long, and eventually Lilith found herself with her back against the wall. The new Chilling Adventures of Sabrina would’ve had her hide the baby from their prying eyes, like baby Zeus when Cronus was threatening to eat him. But CAOS wanted to give us one more WTF moment...by giving Lucifer, our modern-day Cronus, exactly what he wanted. That’s right: She feeds Lucifer the baby as a meal—just like he did to her with her boyfriend, also named Adam. It’s not graphic (for those like me with sensitive stomachs) but it is horrifying in a way the show has stopped being for the most part. If that’s not your cup of tea, I totally get it. But as someone who’s a fan of the original graphic novels, it was disgustingly refreshing to see the show give us one more truly terrible fright.
This is nothing against Richard Coyle. He’s a fantastic actor and he brings a lot of dark, sinister energy into the character of Father Blackwood. The problem was the series has spent so long building up to Blackwood’s Eldritch Terrors...only to leave him, as a character, behind. Father Blackwood didn’t feel like an active participant in his own narrative, to the point where I often forgot he was even part of the whole thing, let alone the instigator. It would’ve been one thing if that had been part of his narrative—that the Eldritch Terrors had used Father Blackwood to achieve their own ends, leaving him in the dust just like everyone else had. But that wasn’t what was happening. Father Blackwood got the ball rolling, came back once to give himself an alternate reality where he was Supreme Leader of the World, and then ceased to matter to the plot until the somewhat lackluster finale.
This critique kind of applies to most of the side characters, unfortunately: They just didn’t get a lot to do. This is thanks to the show’s strange obsession with the often shirtless Nicholas Scratch, as well as Caliban (Sam Corlett), neither of whom are as interesting as the series seems to think they are. Harvey (Ross Lynch), Theo (Lachlan Watson), and Prudence (Tati Gabrielle) were the most noticeable omissions. Prudence spent most of her time connected at the hip to whatever was going on with Father Blackwood. Considering his story arc wasn’t interesting, it meant hers wasn’t either. Theo’s main subplot surrounded his relationship with Robin. And Harvey was, well, kind of around.
The character who got the most improvement this season was Roz (Jaz Sinclair), whose Cunning ability was retconned into being magical powers her family had suppressed for generations. That’s right: Roz is a witch too! I didn’t mind this development, as it gave her something more substantial to play with, but I feel like she should’ve been a far-more crucial part of the plot than she ended up being. If they’d put her in Nicholas’ place for some of Sabrina’s more intense moments, I think it would’ve improved the show greatly.
This may be one of the most inexplicable and infuriating things that Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has ever done. Part 3 ended with Aunt Zelda starting a relationship with Mambo Marie LeFleur (Skye Marshall), a Haitian Voodoo Priestess whose character, storyline, and inauthentic representation of Caribbean religious traditions have already been called into question. Well, now it’s time to add some unwelcome fuel to that fire.
“The Returned” ended with Marie telling Zelda that she had to leave so she could guide the souls of the departed back to the Underworld. That’s because she wasn’t a Voodoo Priestess: She was Baron Samedi, a married and male-identifying loa of life and death. In their final moments together, we even see the character’s true form—played by a male actor. It is possible the writers were giving their own interpretation by making Baron Samedi gender-fluid, but that’s not the most respectful thing to do to a figure who’s part of a still-practiced religion. Besides, it’s impossible to know if that was their intent because the character reveal is never explained. It just happens, and then she’s gone forever.
The way it stands, it comes across like Marie was a male-identifying god during their entire relationship and kept it from Zelda for reasons she never bothers explaining. Not only does that do a disservice to Zelda’s queer relationship, it doesn’t fit with the character. Baron Samedi is (among many things) a wild, boisterous, and fun-loving loa, qualities that never showed up in Marie. It was rushed, unwelcome, and a bad choice. I have no idea why Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s writers decided to go this route, but it was a mistake.
Part 4 spent every episode building up to the arrival of the Void in the series finale, “At the Mountains of Madness,” so let’s just say I was less-than-thrilled at what the Void actually turned out to be. It was an empty soundstage with oversized lettering, a bland voiceover, and planetary props recycled from an earlier episode. Then, it was transferred inside Sabrina so we wouldn’t have to look at it anymore. It all seemed so empty, and not in the way that the show wanted it to be. Part 4's premiere about the Darkness ended in a dark, creepy cave and it was super evocative. I didn’t get the same vibe here.
This was a letdown after so much build-up. Nothing about the Void fulfilled the promise Chilling Adventures of Sabrina had spent several episodes preparing us for. There’s also the way it concluded, which is something I’m still not sure about...partially because I know how much it’s going to divide audiences.
[Additional spoiler warning for the very end of the season.]
During a press roundtable that io9 participated in, Shipka and Leatherwood shared that they initially didn’t know Part 4 was going to be the final run of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. It’s got to be why this ending feels as tacked-on as it does. The series ended with Sabrina’s death, having sacrificed herself to keep the Void at bay long enough to save her friends and the universe. You’d think that this would be something they would undo at the last minute, given how often characters have been resurrected on this series (including Sabrina herself!), but they don’t. It’s a pretty gutsy move, one I’ve got mixed feelings about. On one hand, I’ve gotta respect the show’s gusto for not choosing a “make it easy” route, instead letting Sabrina’s sacrifice be the show’s swan song. On the other, it’s done so quickly that you’re left reeling, without enough time to mourn her loss alongside the other characters.
I also really didn’t like that it ended with Nicholas Scratch at her side after he swam in the “Sea of Sorrows.” The show never explains how or why, other than him saying there was a “wicked undertow” that presumably killed him, but the implication feels to me like he died by suicide to join her, without Chilling Adventures actually showing him do so. I don’t care how they choose to word it—the lack of clarification still sends a very bad message. This isn’t Romeo and Juliet. It’s a modern show with a teen audience, and I’d like to think topics like suicide would be approached a lot more respectfully than this. Given the fact that Netflix has already been in hot water with 13 Reasons Why’s own recent approach to handling suicide, this seems extra careless and thoughtless.
(And yes, I recognize that I praised the show for the WTF Lilith and baby Adam thing, which is way more horrible and disgusting on its face. But there’s a big difference between portraying the cannibalism of Satan’s son and romanticizing teen suicide. One is far more likely than the other!)
All episodes of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina are now available on Netflix.
For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.