Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has returned with Part 3, which sees Sabrina fighting for her spot as Queen of Hell while the coven grapples with a traveling band of pagans. Did we like it? In short: It’s a bit of a mixed bag.
Last season ended with Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) and her coven rising up against Lucifer, and Nicholas (Gavin Leatherwood) taking the Dark Lord into his body to trap him. This left a power vacuum in Hell, one that Lilith (Michelle Gomez) is incapable of filling. Determined to save Nicholas, Sabrina seizes the throne for herself—only to find there’s a challenger, the self-proclaimed Prince of Hell, Caliban (Sam Corlett).
As the two of them engage in a series of quests to find out who deserves the finger bone crown, the Spellmans find themselves without their powers as a result of turning from the Dark Lord. Really bad timing, too, as a carnival of pagans has arrived in town and plan to return Greendale (and the world) to the “old ways.” Sabrina also does some cheerleading. After all, if it’s a Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa show, there’s probably a musical number.
Here are the 14 things we liked and loathed about our most recent journey to Greendale—along with one major thing we’re still unsure about.
We would live, die, and live again for Miranda Otto and Lucy Davis as Aunts Zelda and Hilda. And they could definitely use the support right now. Zelda, struggling to regrow the Church of Night under her tutelage, falls back into old habits of counting on Hilda to always have her back while ignoring her sister’s needs. It gets to the point where Hilda is going through a major transformation (more on that later) and Zelda can’t be bothered to notice.
It sometimes felt like the series was backtracking into season one problems, but it made sense under the circumstances. Zelda and Hilda have effectively killed their god and are floundering—emotionally and physically, as their actions caused them to lose most of their powers. They’re also without the support of Sabrina for most of the season, as she’s secretly campaigning to be Queen of Hell against Caliban. The two of them eventually manage to come back together and figure out how to listen to each other and find the best path forward for their faith. Side note: I don’t want to spoil what happens for each of them in the romance department, but you’ll have butterflies.
This is the first season where we get to see Madam Satan uncaged. She spent the past two seasons disguised as Sabrina’s teacher/witch companion, occasionally breaking out of her shell long enough for us to see her do some truly wicked things. Now, she’s taken her place in Hell—first as its queen, and later as the queen’s regent after Sabrina takes the throne for herself to save Nicholas Scratch. And she’s simply delectable. Without the disguises and deception, Lilith feels like she’s living her best life.
There were some strange decisions made with her character (we still have no idea why Sabrina’s visit to Hell played out like a twisted version of The Wizard of Oz), but in the end getting to see Lilith be herself felt like gorging myself on layers of Devil’s Food Cake. It doesn’t hurt that Michelle Gomez seems to adore playing this part and milks every scene down to the last drop.
The second season ended with Sabrina, Hilda, Zelda, and the others joining to banish Lucifer. Considering he was their Dark Lord and the source of their power, it was a risky moment, if not an overall triumphant one. Luckily, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina knew to show the actual consequences of their actions. The coven suffers a lot this season. They lose their powers and members in equal measure, to the point where they can’t even cast basic spells. What’s more, every attempt they make to restore their abilities is thwarted, either by their own mistakes or by the machinations of others—like the pagans, who both outnumber and outpower them. It was great to see the Spellmans struggle to find their place, reaching such a low point that they were willing to reconsider their broken allegiance to the Dark Lord because anything would be better than nothing. Suffice to say, they forge their own path.
There’s a scene in the first episode, “The Hellbound Heart,” where Zelda and Hilda have to convince the other Church of Night Elders that everything is okay and that they totally didn’t trap the Dark Lord in the body of a teenager. Hilda disguises herself as Father Blackwood to complete the charade, and it’s amazing how well Richard Coyle perfectly captured her in that moment—especially the quirky noises she makes. He’s just so cute and huggable, makes you almost want to forgive him for being a tyrannical, sexist ass. Almost.
Season three is a lot about relationships. Sabrina and Nicholas go through some growing pains, Harvey and Roz explore having sex for the first time, Dr. C takes things to the next level with Hilda, and Theo gets a boyfriend. Early on the season, he meets Robin (played by Riverdale’s Jonathan Whitesell), a new student who’s part of the traveling carnival. Robin might not be entirely trustworthy but he still cares a lot for Theo, and we liked how their relationship developed. It was really sweet, with scenes like their carnival date giving a sense of normalcy in a world where nothing is ever normal. That said, our favorite part had to be when Theo was asking Harvey for advice on how to ask someone out. Mainly because “Farm Boy” Harvey never knows the right answer to anything.
In episode three, “Heavy Is the Crown,” Sabrina and Ambrose venture to the most dangerous small town in America. Hell yeah, it’s Riverdale! Granted, it’s not an official crossover with Riverdale (for example, the town signs don’t match so let’s call this the Archie Multiverse), but there are plenty of Easter eggs to keep fans salivating with maple syrup. Besides the actor who plays Robin that we mentioned above, Riverdale’s own Penelope Blossom, Nathalie Boltt, has a small cameo as a glamor Prudence puts on at one point.
Speaking of Blossoms. The best Riverdale nod by far is the moment Sabrina and Ambrose discover the tree holding Herod’s crown, which contains his soul and power... and is part of Sabrina’s quest to establish herself as Queen of Hell. As Ambrose gets ready to hack the tree and fetch the crown, he says Benjamin Blossom (who had taken the crown from Hitler during World War II) must have hidden it there before his death. That’s right, the Blossoms trapped King Herod’s soul in a tree. To add icing onto this delicious maple cookie, Herod emerges from the tree to reclaim his prize...covered in maple syrup.
In season three, Greendale is abuzz with the news that a new carnival has rolled into town...and it’s got it all. Enthusiastic barkers, snake charmers, even a fortune teller. But it turns out there’s more than meets the eye (with the exception of Roz, as she saw the problem right away). These aren’t just traveling carnival workers, they’re pagans. Some of them are older gods, like Pan and Medusa, while others are devotees following the ways of the Old World. The group harkened back to some of humankind’s oldest myths, notably the Green Man, while also paying tribute to newer cult films like Wicker Man and Midsommar. Plus, the idea that pagans and Satan-worshipping witches would be at odds with one another, and how the downfall of one would lead to the rise of the other, was a very interesting conflict. That said...
Yes, we know we just had them in the “liked” section but there’s more to the story. The pagans came in with such promise but ended up being wasted. That’s not to say they didn’t cause a lot of damage—they fucked up the entire planet. But it’s how it happened that was disappointing. For the most part, they hung around talking about this totally evil thing they were going to do that was going to bring everyone “back” to how it was before. A million ideas came to mind: raising the gods, a global flood, turning Greendale into a fairy-filled inter-dimensional plane. But when they finally did the thing, it wasn’t interesting. You’ve got thousands of years of myth and belief to draw inspiration from, and the best you can come up with is a Wicker Man clone that turns people into plants? Booooring. Also fixed in the span of one episode, so it felt pointless too.
When we reviewed Part 2 of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, we singled out the Harvey section from the season two episode “Doctor Cerberus’s House of Horror” as one of our favorites. It was a “what if” scenario that turned into a Lovecraftian horror tale about monsters in a closet. We figured it was simply a fun and clever one-off nod to Eldritch horror. But maybe not.
In the season three premiere, we learned that Father Blackwood had become a follower of the Eldritch, or Old Ones, and summoned an egg that contained mystical properties. Combined with his alliance with the pagans (and their devotion to the old gods), we figured this meant we were going to be seeing some Lovecraftian shit in this season. But apparently that’s not happening until Part 4. It makes sense why they’re holding this for future episodes—it could very well be the endgame for the series—but teasing it out at the beginning of the season only to have it mean nothing for the rest of it was such a bummer.
Caliban was a waste of time that could’ve been better spent on other stuff. He emerges as a challenger to Sabrina’s throne, coaxing her into a contest to see who could complete the most side quests first. He was never a real threat and the show knew it, so it never bothered to treat him like one. In the end, he was easily dismissed and is even more easily forgotten.
These characters continue to deserve better and the show continues to fail them. Things started off well enough, with Ambrose and Prudence on a chase around the world to capture Father Blackwood, including a side quest in Scotland and a stop in New Orleans. (Side note: Can we just stop for a second and acknowledge how fucking gorgeous Prudence’s New Orleans outfit is?) Anyway, their quest is resolved within the first two episodes and they spend the rest of their time doing whatever Sabrina’s storyline needed them to do. It’s like they barely had a life of their own this season. It does seem like the two of them are developing a relationship, but that alone does not a character arc make.
There’s also the situation with Prudence’s sister and brother. After finding them with Father Blackwood, they discover he’s spent years brainwashing them. Their solution is to put them in a dollhouse until they can be freed of his mental conditioning. Then the show forgets about them for almost the entire season. After everything Prudence and Ambrose did to rescue them, they’re barely seen, heard from, or even discussed. Then, boom, recaptured by Blackwood. It made them feel more like props than people.
No, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. No no no no no. You do not do get to do this. Not now, not never. It’s one thing to put Hilda through a bad situation because she doesn’t know how to speak up and Zelda isn’t listening. It’s another to turn her into a giant fucking spider.
Nicholas Scratch’s story this season—and, by extension, Sabrina’s—is going to be really divisive for audiences. After sacrificing his body at the end of season two, Nicholas becomes Lilith’s tortured plaything and constantly battles Lucifer for control of his body. Sabrina feels guilty and is determined to rescue him from this terrible fate, sacrificing everything to do so. At one point, Lucifer is transferred into Father Blackwood’s body but Nicholas is scarred from the experience. He can still feel the Dark Lord’s influence and can no longer find the line between pleasure and pain, so he starts engaging in magical drugs and BDSM with sex demons. Through it all, he’s rude, dismissive, and borderline abusive towards Sabrina, blaming her for everything that’s happened to him.
There are a few problems with this storyline. First, the “magic as an addiction” trope has been done to death and the show doesn’t do anything to improve on it. Second, it was part of a thinly veiled attempt to eventually get Sabrina and Harvey back together. Third, the show strangely sexualizes Nicolas during all of it, showing him half-naked in every other scene and putting him in a series of hyper-sexual situations. It bordered on exploitation and I felt uncomfortable for the actor.
And finally, it’s a poor exploration of PTSD. The show is so focused on Sabrina that it fails to give Nicholas the space he needs for him (and us) to understand what he’s going through. The crux isn’t recognizing that Nicholas is in pain and needs professional help for a very-real disease the Dark Lord left inside him, it’s Sabrina ordering him to stop acting like a martyr because she has “more important things to deal with than your drama and narcissism,” only to walk away as Prudence gives her a nonverbal “Yaass Qween.” While Sabrina should never tolerate abuse, yelling at someone to get off their ass and fix themselves is never the answer.
It’s sad that, in a series called Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Sabrina ends up being one of the least interesting things about it. This is a season about her trying to have it all: She wants to save her boyfriend, fight Caliban for the throne, restore her coven’s powers, and live a normal life. She even joins the cheerleading squad with Roz. But for all the juggling she’s doing, we never see how it affects her emotionally. She’s rarely stressed or scared. She barely seems to break a sweat, even as she’s fighting to become the eternal ruler of Hell. Sabrina just kind of does all the stuff she’s supposed to do and never lets us in on how it’s impacting her. As someone who’s supposed to be the emotional core of the series, it’s disappointing how little emotion seems to be going into it.
I don’t want to put this all on Kiernan Shipka’s shoulders, because the show does dance around giving Sabrina larger consequences for her actions, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say Shipka’s range as an actor does contribute. She’s good at the stuff she’s good at—namely playing the quirky and confident witch who damns a child abuser to hell while calmly eating a popsicle—but she’s having trouble making us feel Sabrina’s struggles and vulnerability. That’s part of what made the whole Nicholas situation so upsetting. She was doing all the things to try and make his situation better, but failed to convey why. It ended up coming across like a girl just, well, doing it for her boyfriend.
Even though Nicholas was the catalyst for Sabrina accepting her role as Queen of Hell, the show does throw a bit of a curveball at the end. Which leads us to the thing we’re still not sure about.
[Additional spoiler warning for the very end of the season.]
Talk about having it all! In the season finale, “Sabrina Is Legend,” we get a timey-wimey episode where Sabrina travels to the past to fix the mistakes of the previous episode. The pagans have sacrificed the virgin Harvey to the Green Man (it’s very “a virgin lit the candle”) and the world has been reclaimed by nature. Her aunts and friends are dead, Caliban trapped her inside a rock, and even Hell has been conquered by the pagan army. It’s up to Sabrina to go back and right all the wrongs...except one. After fixing the past, she’ll have to return to the rock and replace her past self, in order to complete the time loop.
After restoring the world to its nature-free natural order, Sabrina chooses not to return to the rock but instead goes back even further, to when Caliban was about to trap Sabrina in the rock in the first place. The two Sabrinas have a chat about how much they want to be both a normal teenager and the evil ruler of Hell. So, what if they could have both? It’s time for a good ol’ fashioned Parent Trap. The future Sabrina returns to the Spellmans to restore the coven and live life as a regular witch. The one from the past completes her quest, banishes Caliban, and rises as the Queen of Hell—even though Lucifer is alive again and could totally take it for himself again, but doesn’t? Cue the 18th-century wig!
This is a risky move because he show has removed one of the biggest conflicts of the series. Sabrina has long been trying to find a balance between her normal life as a Spellman and her destiny as a Morningstar, but now she can just do both so that problem no longer matters. However, this could end up being a good thing. As previously mentioned, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina hasn’t done a great job at portraying the emotional cost of Sabrina’s double life and separating them might be just the ticket. Besides, next season could give us a “for want of a nail” situation where we see how much being the Queen of Hell changes Sabrina.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 3 is currently available on Netflix. It’s already been renewed for the second half of season two, called Part 4.
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