Series in their final seasons carry a huge burden. While those going into the writing process aware that it will be their last, the final season not only has to tell a good story that continues what was started but also provide an ending for every character, the world, and ultimately leave fans feeling satisfied. Final seasons can taint an entire series, much like Game of Thrones. So, when I went into Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 4 I was worried.
Last season switched from a well-paced story that pivoted into an erratic finale that brought in time travel, horrors, and two Sabrinas. The last episodes of Part 3 were tonally disparate from the rest of the season but they also presented the perfect launching pad into Part 4 which continues the erratic storytelling, surprises, and absurdity. While the series has gotten more and more fantastical and campy as the seasons have continued, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina takes every clear off the rails and while it’s messy, it is strong.
If you’re unfamiliar with the series, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina reimagines the origin and adventures of Sabrina the Teenage Witch as a dark coming-of-age story that uses horror, the occult, and dark fantasy to showcase a world of witchcraft and gods and monsters that has gotten bigger each subsequent season. Last season saw the end of the world saved by time travel with Sabrina splitting herself into two and leaving one to reign as the Queen of Hell and the other maintaining life in Greendale. Now, in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 4, we see the growth of the coven now that Faustus Blackwood has been kicked out and a Sabrina who is alone but learning who she is without a partner or even her human friends for that matter.
Now worshipping and finding power in the goddess Hecate instead of Lucifer, the coven is stronger and more female-driven than it has ever been. While last season saw a very overt ousting of the patriarchy, this season focuses on developing the bonds between characters outside romance – and ultimately puts Sabrina in a situation where she’s forced to beyond it, even if it’s all she wants. Over the course of Part 4’s eight episodes, The Eldritch Terrors descend upon Greendale one by one. While the series still pushes an overarching narrative, the episodes have been focused on a monster of the week format. Each episode, the coven must fight each of the terrifying threats as they come: The Weird, The Returned, The Darkness, The Void, just to name a few. But while these terrors begin as just focused on Greendale – the apparent center of the universe, they grow in devastation and threat each time.
It must be said that The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 4 remains squarely off the rails from episode one to eight, increasing in camp and fantastic feats as they continue and grow in scope. And, that works to its benefit. With each Eldritch Terror, different threads of the series begin to come to their conclusions and that is largely pushed by the ability to go big or go home. For example, when The Returned comes to Greendale, characters are allowed the space to process their grief when their loved ones rise from the dead.
This offers closure for The Weird Sisters and delivers some of the most potent emotional elements of the season and series overall, allowing Dorcus, Agatha, and Prudence to find peace. Their sisterhood and how it breaks under their father has been one of my biggest issues with the series, but we’re given the closure that the characters deserve. Additionally, Sabrina is able to confront her past and come to accept her current identity as both daughter of Lucifer and daughter to her aunties.
The Eldritch Terrors serve as plot devices for the series to confront different criticisms it received from audiences in the past and ultimately showcase the differences and strengths of the extended cast. Sabrina is of course the focus of the season, but for the first time, we begin to see and understand more of the characters around her, especially the human friends, well except Harvey who is just around to have his dad be in danger and Nick who is just the handsome “please take me back” boy in Sabrina’s life.
With all of that said, the most powerful element of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 4 is the same as it has been in the prior seasons: the aesthetics. The costuming and special effects are phenomenal and the muted color palette works. Additionally, the creature design and set pieces that are connected to the Eldritch Terrors are gorgeous and showcase the strengths of the team working on the series’ practical effects. But perhaps the best thing about the creature design and use of Lovecraftian horror is that the Terrors are clearly inspired by Lovecraft but don’t rehash the same visuals that we’ve seen before. Instead, this story does a good job of taking well-known elements and incorporating them into the setting in inventive ways.
With all of its strengths there is one element of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 4 where it tries to address previous critiques but still falls short, and that’s when it comes to race. With a Eurocentric view of witchcraft in the past seasons, the series has dismissed that the American witchcraft that it references is built on that practices by Black witches and appropriated by the white women who owned them. With the entrance of Mambo Marie last season we a glimmer of recognizing that magic is not owned just by the mostly white coven.
That said, through Roz, the writers attempt to showcase that Black women were not afforded the liberty of claiming the title of a witch this season and tries to move the show’s only Black women characters into a more prominent role. But, sadly, that role mostly sidelines them to be the watchers of events, only coming into the narrative when they need to save the other members of the cast. This is highlighted by tying Roz, Mambo Marie, and Prudence together are drawing on the same power, which while I can understand the intention, falls into the very consistent trope of forcing characters of color into one space where they only exist with each other.
While I can applaud the attempt to correct the issues the series has had in the past, the execution is poor and doesn’t do enough to actually deal with the way the series has centered whiteness. This is extremely on display when Sabrina and Roz are both running for President and Vice President of Greendale High, but only one of them does the talking that shouts down toxic masculinity…you can who got the “girl power” monologue and who just stood by the side nodding.
The reason that this issue is big to me, comes to my own generational connection to concepts of witchcraft and magic that is not Eurocentric. My connection to curanderismo, while I don’t believe in it, I come from a line of cuanderas and that lore and mythology and magic were baked into how I was taught to understand the world. Knowing that there is such a powerful sense of magic just from my own cultural history that is not centered in whiteness but in indigenous ritual makes the limited scope of magic in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 4 frustrating. And while I had accepted it after the first two seasons, the introduction of other sources of magical power last season, and Roz’s story in this one, the showrunners come close to highlighting something outside European standards but falls just short.
That said, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 4 does shine beyond that element by blending Lovecraft, Lucifer, banal humanity, and the concepts of witchcraft we’ve learned over the past seasons. And while I wanted more, the world-building done in this season builds out what it needs to on the Eldritch front that works. Additionally, the series finale in episode eight is unexpected, emotional, and won’t be for everyone. Of course, that final point is a note that can be left on any final season. But, it worked for me.
Overall, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 4 isn’t perfect but it is a strong finish. While I wanted more for some characters, others have their roles expanded in a way that gives them power and Sabrina comes to understand the path she must walk even if it’s alone. In fact, in the last three episodes, Sabrina’s determination is commendable and her steadfastness is what has finally turned her into a strong heroine. While I still have no idea the intricacies of Heaven and angels which is a dangling thread that doesn’t get trimmed, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 4 ends the series on a campy and emotional note.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 4 is streaming exclusively on Netflix on December 31, 2020.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 4
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 4 isn’t perfect but it is a strong finish. While I wanted more for some characters, others have their roles expanded in a way that gives them power and Sabrina comes to understand the path she must walk even if it’s alone. In fact, in the last three episodes, Sabrina’s determination is commendable and her steadfastness is what has finally turned her into a strong heroine. While I still have no idea the intricacies of Heaven and angels which is a dangling thread that doesn’t get trimmed, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 4 ends the series on a campy and emotional note.