chilling adventures of sabrina: part 4 (2020) review

Writer’s note: The second paragraph of this article (just below the first image) contains a basic outline of the show’s premise. There are no spoilers that weren’t already inferred in the show’s own trailer. However, if you want to completely avoid potential spoilers, skip over the second paragraph.

It’s quite fascinating that there aren’t many Television shows with satisfying endings. There are a few notable exceptions such as Six Feet Under (2001 – 2005), Breaking Bad (2008 – 2013) and Mad Men (2007 – 2015), but for the most part TV conclusions rarely live up to their promises. You’d think the highest quality shows would manage to stick the landing, yet despite enjoying critical acclaim and immense popularity, even shows like Lost (2004 – 2010) and Game Of Thrones (2011 – 2019) stumbled to the finish line. There are many factors which contribute to such results. Did the show run out of gas long before it finished, or did the show get cancelled too soon thus forcing the creators to rush the ending? In the case of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018 – 2020), the answer could possibly be both.

Luke Cook and Michelle Gomez as Lucifer and Lilith.

Following the gruesome (and rather bizarre) events of Part Three, the young witch Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) has successfully become the Queen of Hell while continuing to live happily in the mortal world. This was achieved through some sneaky time travel, in-which Sabrina allied with herself from just a few minutes prior. Sabrina Morningstar takes her biological father’s last name and sits upon the throne of hell, whereas Sabrina Spellman stays on earth. It seems like everything has finally calmed down, but of course things can’t be calm for long in the spooky town of Greendale. The villainous Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle) has concocted a new scheme, intending to release dangerous accident entities known as The Eldritch Terrors. To stop this threat from erasing all of existence, the Sabrinas and their friends need to come together one last time.

Sabrina Spellman has appeared in many forms since her comic book debut in 1962. She has appeared in adventure stories, comedy stories, teen rom-coms and sit-coms, but this current version takes a macabre horror tone (inspired by show runner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s own comic book run). For long time fans, this hard left turn into gothic fiction was a bit of a shock. However, Part One proved its worth with its compelling heroes, despicable villains, nightmarish visuals, haunting world-building and darkly humorous tone. Most TV shows escalate with each new season and this one is no exception. By this point, the darkly comedic tone has veered a little too far into farce, resulting in a season that often times feels like a parody of the earlier adventures. This is to be expected considering how bizarre the show’s starting point was, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have escalated into darker territory.

Lachlan Watson, Gavin Leatherwood, Jonathan Whitesell, Jaz Sinclair and Ross Lynch as Theo, Nick, Robin, Roz and Harvey.

This is probably a result of earlier seasons exhausting the narrative possibilities. The highly enjoyable early seasons involved devils, demons and unnerving mythic lore. There was something truly confronting about the entire story, even during its moments of irony and cheese. Now that the initially compelling antagonists are wrapped up, Part Four struggles to find new threats that deliver the same chills. Granted, it’s always fun to see how former enemies become reluctant allies, but there’s still a villain shaped hole throughout. The show even tries to rectify this by allowing some previous enemies to return, but it happens a little too late to make an impact. To be fair, The Eldritch Terrors still deliver a few interesting (and scary) moments.

On that note, Part Four maintains the show’s history of plunging the viewer into weird and wonderful scenarios, all of which borrow from various mythological concepts. The show has always benefited from embracing strange ideas, and Part Four continues to do so. Sure, it’s all a load of nonsense, but it’s clear how much research the writing team has done, as many of the scenarios are sourced from classical science fiction, fantasy and ancient literature. This proves there’s still plenty of attention and care put into the show, despite the new adventures oscillating from underwhelming to confusing. The intention is to top the mind-blowing events of earlier seasons, resulting in episodes which go to very metaphysical extremes.

Kiernan Shipka and Ross Lynch as Sabrina and Harvey.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as a show involving monsters, magic and celestial realms definitely should aim high. The issue is the most cerebral ideas aren’t fully developed by the time the show ends. There are many truly amazing moments and story turns, but ultimately the viewer is left very confused and with more questions than answers. There’s so much dense ground to cover, yet very little is appropriately explained. Not only that, but there are instances where lessons learnt from the previous seasons are ignored for the sake of this story. Usually, narrative continuity errors aren’t that big of a deal, but they can break the immersion when they hinge on massive story turns. It’s a shame considering how tight the first few seasons were.

For the most part, Part Four could’ve recovered from these issues if it had ended in a satisfying way. Even Hannibal (2013 – 2015) managed to end in spectacular fashion despite it’s rocky final season. Regrettably, Sabrina isn’t so lucky, as the final episode rushes to the finish line with a plot that should’ve been fleshed out over another whole season. It’s unfortunate the show was canceled this soon, as it clearly put Aguirre-Sacasa in an awkward position. Very few characters are given the chance to wrap up their arc, but more importantly the main storyline ends in a very uncomfortable place. There’s an admirable attempt to make the ending bittersweet, but sadly the implications are a bit tone deaf and highly problematic. It’s a shame the audience is left with such a bad taste in their mouth, as it only amplifies the season’s otherwise non-fatal flaws.

Poster for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Part 4.

Since it’s 2018 debut, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has been one of the most enjoyable guilty pleasures in Netflix’s catalogue. The gothic tone and cleverly macabre narrative was what made the show so addictive. Happily, the disappointing Part Four (and Three) hasn’t dulled what made those first few seasons so much fun, which is about the best case scenario for a dissatisfying ending.

3.5/10

Best way to watch it: Go and rewatch Part One and Two again.