Netflix’s campy, grimy retelling of the teen witch tale reaches its end, dutifully sending off its characters before overstaying their welcome.
With its magic, monsters, and ridiculously attractive cast, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina makes no attempt at relatability. However, while its fourth and final season is filled with situations that no person will ever find themselves in, its premise of a world being assaulted with unimaginable terrors before finally succumbing to a soulless void is a #2020mood.
These terrors are brought to Greendale by Faustus Blackwood (Richard Coyle), the former High Priest of Greendale’s satanic coven who is now a devotee of the Old Ones. Driven to madness by his search for power, he unleashes eight eldritch abominations in preparation for the end of the cosmos itself. Opposing Faustus’ plans are, of course, Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka), her friends at Baxter High, and her coven of witches.
A universe-ending threat is a fantastic premise for a series finale, and it’s used to full effect here. While a Lovecraftian theme may seem out of place in a show based on Satanic lore, Sabrina manages to integrate the cosmic with the infernal. Except for one cephalopod-shaped abomination, the eldritch terrors eschew Cthulhu-esque monstrosity for a more terrestrial feel. With most of its monsters taking the forms of demonic miners, vagrants, and imps, the fourth season’s new direction feels more like a natural progression instead of a detour.
Included in this progression is an interesting arc for Sabrina. At the start of the season, our hero feels stalled. Previously she had opted out of being Queen of Hell, instead, she lets a version of herself that was created by a time loop take the role (it makes sense in context). However, Sabrina isn’t exactly content in her life as a high schooler. Her friends are involved in their relationships, her Aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis) has married Dr. Cerberus (Alessandro Juliani) and Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto) is busy running their coven that is now worshipping Hecate rather than Satan. In contrast, Sabrina- who has always been able to have “the best of both worlds” is stuck in a singular role with nothing to strive for, and feels stifled as a result.
This leads her to make some seriously selfish decisions in the first part of the series. From trying to trick her friends into hanging out with her to making a self-pitying speech at Hilda’s wedding, Sabrina can be downright childish at times. While this immaturity easily could have gone wrong and made her unlikeable, it’s instead handled in a way that makes the teenage witch feel like…well, a teenager. It also forces Sabrina to confront her selfishness and grow as a person, making her feel more well-rounded. It also helps that Shipka exudes so much charm in her performance that it’s almost impossible to dislike ‘Rina even when she’s doing something dumb.
Unfortunately, the other characters don’t get as much growth. In fact, a lot of subplots feel rather half-baked. This is especially true for the mortals of Greendale, who often feel like afterthoughts. Sabrina’s friend Theo (Lachlan Watson) has relationship drama when his Hobgoblin boyfriend Robin (Jonathan Whitesell) is pressured by his people to leave Greendale- it’s a conflict that is resolved easily and adds nothing to the overall story and it makes me wonder why it was added. Also mystifying is the previously kind-hearted Mary Wardwell (Michelle Gomez) becoming a devotee of Faustus for no real reason. While at least Mrs. Wardwell contributes to the overall plot, it’s a character arc that makes little sense.
What’s more 2020 than something good ending before it could reach its full potential?
Gomez’s other character, Lilith, is also ill-used in this season. After resuming her relationship with Lucifer (Luke Cook), she becomes pregnant and goes into hiding to protect the child from the machinations of the infernal court. As such, one of the most cunning and compelling characters is cast to the sidelines for the majority of the season. While Lillith does eventually get more agency in the series finale, it’s frustrating that we don’t get to see more of her.
These truncated arcs are the result of too many subplots and not enough time to develop them. I think the showrunners wanted to do right by the characters, but trying to get closure of the denizens of the coven, Greendale, and the infernal realm and having them deal with eight different monsters in eight episodes is a big ask for any writing room. As such, the ending, while still tying everything together, feels rushed and not entirely satisfying.
That said, it’s not entirely fair to blame the showrunners for a rushed ending since series creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa had planned for a fifth season (even including a Riverdale crossover) before the show was canceled in July. Fortunately, Aguirre-Sacasa kept in the fact that Netflix tends to cancel series after about three seasons in mind while writing season four. The result is a season that works well as an ending, even if it feels as if there is more story to tell.
Despite its shortcomings, this season is still an enjoyable ride that has all the hallmarks of classic Sabrina. The monsters and situations are inventive and fun, with some really creative concepts that are bound to please fans. The characters are as loveable (or in some cases, despicable) as ever, and the cast has the same energy and chemistry they’ve had since the first season. Most of all, the show manages to keep itself perfectly balanced between the creepy and the cornball, with the show’s trademark mix of horror, teenage melodrama, and even a few musical numbers thrown in. Yes, there are flaws, but they are only amplified by the fact that this the end of the show.
And that is the biggest rub of all: while I’m glad Sabrina is ending before it jumps the shark, I think it could have gone on at least for another season or two. At the very least, it would be nice for it to have the end that Aguirre-Sacasa planned. Then again, what’s more 2020 than something good ending before it could reach its full potential?
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 4 signs off with a witchy flourish on Netflix this New Year’s Eve.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 4 Trailer:
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