Features and Columns · TV

‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ Goes Out with a Bang

This ‘Riverdale’ sister series never quite reached the wacky creative heights of its counterpart, but it comes close with an ambitious final season.
Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina Ending
Diyah Pera/Netflix
By  · Published on December 28th, 2020

Welcome to Previously On, a column that fills you in on our favorite returning TV shows. This week, Valerie Ettenhofer reviews the final batch of episodes of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

The fourth and final chapter of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina makes some bold, capital-C Choices, and after three inconsistent seasons, maybe that’s a good thing.

The Netflix show, which was developed by Roberto Aguierre-Sacasa based on his comic book series of the same name for Archie Comics, started its run as an heir apparent to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In its first season, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was a clever allegory of the Catholic Church with a sassy feminist undercurrent. And like Aguierre-Sacasa’s other Archie Comics-based series, Riverdale, the series started off with a first season that, while occasionally melodramatic, was solidly good and thoroughly entertaining.

Unfortunately, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina didn’t follow in Riverdale’s self-aware footsteps. While the latter show has evolved into a straight-faced new camp classic that prides itself on one-upping each bonkers plot point week to week, the second and third chapters of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina are mostly humorless, messy misfires. And while its final eight episodes don’t course-correct every problem the show has, they do finally take a walk on the wilder side of the Archieverse, leaning into the series’ latent horror and humor with the fearless ambition only a last hurrah can inspire.

If you’ve made it this far into Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, you’re likely already well-acquainted with the show’s shortcomings. Entering Season 4, Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) is still a chronic meddler and bad-decision-maker, while deus ex machina solutions still tend to rob threats of any real significance and almost every coupling still lacks any spark of chemistry at all. Luckily, the fourth season also kicks off with a new monster-of-the-week structure that sets up a revolving door of intriguing characters who work to keep viewers from looking too closely at the series’ seams.

When we last left Sabrina, the young witch had just created a time loop that, in addition to having unforeseen effects on her world, also produced an identical doppelganger version of herself. Although Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has quickly done away with cliffhanger plots in the past, this one actually carries us into the series endgame. At first, it’s all fun-and-games for the two Sabrinas as they give each other dating advice and hold secret dance parties. But surprisingly, the Sabrinas become the emotional core around which the final season is built, and for the most part, the initially iffy gimmick actually works.

The second Sabrina wasn’t the only side effect of last season’s climax, though. Thanks to all the time-meddling, Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle) is now guiding eight Eldritch Terrors — think Horsemen of the Apocalypse — to the town of Greendale. This sets a ticking clock to the season, as the arrival of all eight terrors will bring about the end of mankind. It also gives Chilling Adventures of Sabrina a chance to get more creative than it ever has before, with wonderfully gnarly creature designs and fun tonal shifts to reflect the slight changes in genre episode-to-episode. One of the season’s coolest one-offs involves a rogue marine creature and some squirm-inducing magical surgery scenes. Another (revealed in a recently released clip) calls back to the much lighter Sabrina the Teenage Witch sitcom from the 1990s/2000s while still maintaining the Netflix version’s devilish signature.

Above all else, the final season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina finally lets itself be in on the joke, reaching the kind of Riverdale-tier wackiness that can only be met with a mix of laughing disbelief and genuine respect for any story’s ability to be as out there as this one. There’s a murderous, mohawked punk band called Satanic Panic. There’s a sex scene set to a completely different teen band’s cover of “Total Eclipse of The Heart.” There’s a sham wedding involving a malevolent being that’s taken the form of a homeless man. Shit gets so weird that at a certain point, you might find yourself wishing the party didn’t have to end.

When Chilling Adventures of Sabrina does come to a close, it’s with an ending that feels simultaneously a bit rushed and like it’s been a long time coming. Earnest fans of the series will likely be polarized by the series’ conclusion, which ties up some characters’ plotlines while throwing others into uncharted territory. Some of the series’ best cinematography, costuming, and practical effects are on display in this last stretch of episodes, which ultimately takes on an emotional intensity the likes of which the series hasn’t seen before.

While some will mourn Chilling Adventures of Sabrina coming to an end, I’ll just mourn the show it could’ve been: the creatively gory, winkingly over-the-top fantasy that we caught occasional glimpses of during its four-season run, and which we can briefly bask in while watching these final episodes.

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Valerie Ettenhofer is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, TV-lover, and mac and cheese enthusiast. As a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects, she covers television through regular reviews and her recurring column, Episodes. She is also a voting member of the Critics Choice Association's television and documentary branches. Twitter: @aandeandval (She/her)