A rough guide to ‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’
Not today, Satan. Wickedly macabre and spooky as hell, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has our titular heroine dragged through the dregs of the underworld and back, wreaking havoc with a fantastical flair all along the way.
Throughout its first two seasons, and hopefully, in its upcoming third, Chilling Adventures has proven to be a work of delightful, if not blood-drenched, Gothic storytelling. Sabrina Spellman (Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka) continues to execute—with clever wit—a version of the teenage half-witch more tantalizing with each episode.
The Resilience of Femininity
The thematic core of Chilling Adventure’s first season lies in the fateful decision Sabrina must make upon her 16th birthday: pledge herself to Satan and come into her full powers as a witch in exchange, or reject her heritage and live her life as a mortal.
Satan will never allow Sabrina both power and freedom, giving the show a slight edge in its tonality. Meaning—is magic a tool of empowerment? Or is it just another trap to further subjugate women?
Chilling Adventures aims to answer this question through its inventive use of gender to re-examine fantasy and witch lore. Reveling in its deliciously morbid attributes, the show’s heart lies in lavish details and embellishments, with showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wielding his power over the impact of visuals.
Moreover, in its compelling relationship between co-dependent sisters Zelda and Hilda (Miranda Otto and Lucy Davis, respectively) who are the aunts of and guardians over Sabrina, we see yet another example of the not-so-meek matriarchal capabilities of the Spellman bloodline.
Another strong female lead comes in the form of Miss Wardwell (Michelle Gomez) who charms with her cryptic and enigmatic presence. On the surface, Miss Wardell understands Sabrina’s quandary—should she embrace power, or freedom?—and she badly wants Sabrina to sign her name in the Book of the Beast for reasons yet unexplored.
But the glimpses we get of Miss Wardell on her own, when her mysterious facade drops and she becomes frightened and trembling, shows us that her actions are but a rouse. Because we all know the Dark Lord isn’t offering her immortality and power for the goodness of humanity. Seriously, just go watch it.
The pacing of CAOS’s second season momentarily delves into a sluggish territory, especially with Sabrina juggling her time between the Academy of Unseen Arts and Baxter High, but we’re here for it because Hail Satan Greendale is as decadent as ever.
The mortal world, although decidedly weaker, is host to Sabrina’s human best friends Susie/Theo (Lachlan Watson) and Roz (Jaz Sinclair). Though entertaining to watch in the first season—with Susie struggling with gender identity and Roz with blindness and psychic abilities—we’ve still yet to see them fully fleshed out beyond their defining characteristics in a way that nicely fits the plot.
That said, Sabrina’s—now ex-boyfriend Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch) who wasn’t allowed the character development he deserved in the first season, can be seen in the second with a more defined tone. Because the pair are no longer romantically entangled, and with Sabrina now dating the chiseled warlock Nick Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood), there’s a palpable tension between the two, further exacerbating Sabrina’s internal conflict carried from the first season.
Sabrina is still hell-bent on protecting her friends at risk of her own life, which in our eyes is pretty damn admirable. Chilling Adventures’ second installment opens up its world-building in ways that continue to dazzle, offering lush visuals and subversions of Christian and pagan rituals. The dark fantasy is still grappling with its tone, but it’s also beginning to explore different corners of the magical world and its ubiquitous bloody hierarchies.
For instance, Ambrose (Chanchance Perdomo) is not only Sabrina’s cousin and mentor, but also a character with a deeply rich backstory that’s only now surfacing. With his newfound freedom from house arrest, we’re able to see the struggles of the witch world from a masculine perspective, with the second season allowing for an impressive arc for the character that’ll hopefully be expanded upon.
CAOS’s intriguing premise is sometimes a bit big for its britches a la Herald of Hell, but it remains a darkly comical and immensely enjoyable show to watch. It continues to handle the feminist agenda with sincerity, albeit fruitlessly at times. The third installment is sure to be a wild ride, you know, with the gates of Hell opening and all.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina also stars Tati Gabrielle as Prudence Night-Blackwood and Richard Coyle as Father Faustus Blackwood.
Part 3 of CAOS will be available to stream on Netflix January 24, 2020.