Arts, Television, Review

New Season of ‘Sabrina’ Chooses Style Over Substance

Young men wearing wolf costumes running through the forest chased by young women wearing red capes resembling Little Red Riding Hood costumes who pounce on the “wolves” and engage in implied sexual relations sounds like a fever dream, but that encapsulates what the second part of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina feels like.

On Friday, Netflix released part two of the first season of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, a Netflix Original loosely based on the ’90s show Sabrina the Teenage Witch and shares a showrunner with teen drama Riverdale.

The show follows Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka), a half-witch, half-mortal girl who must choose between her mortal life with friends at the normal high school or a life serving the Dark Lord, Satan (Luke Cook). In the first part of the show, Sabrina chose to sign her soul over to Satan to protect her mortal friends and Baxter High, opting to attend the witch school—called the Academy of Unseen Arts—full time to better embrace her witch side and prevent entangling her mortal friends in danger.

Freshly broken up with Harvey (Ross Lynch), her mortal boyfriend from a witch-hunting family, Sabrina finds a new love interest in Nick Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood), a dashing young warlock at the Academy of Unseen Arts. Meanwhile, Satan has become increasingly present in Sabrina’s life, and Sabrina is revealed to be his chosen prophet, much to the chagrin of Lilith (Michelle Gomez), who currently is in the form of Mary Wardwell, new principal of Baxter High. Sabrina struggles to choose between good and evil, and her two lives as mortal and witch, as she must make difficult decisions in addition to surviving high school.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is much more coherent than its sister show Riverdale, but Riverdale admittedly set the bar low. The second part of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina feels oddly disjointed and random, with the plot jumping from character to character while missing a coherent center story that pulls everything together. The first part of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina centered on Sabrina’s decision and culminated in Sabrina being forced to sign over her soul and thus submit herself to the witch side. The second part just doesn’t seem to have this sense of urgency. Yes, the Dark Lord constantly badgers her to commit petty crimes (like steal a pack of gum … way to make tension, Satan) and makes vague statements about making her his prophet, but the audience doesn’t really feel the gravity of those statements.

There’s a lot of talk about whether Sabrina’s nature is inclined toward good or evil, and the implication is that her good side is mortal and her evil streak belongs to her witch side, but the witches have also been shown to have morals, which makes this whole morality thing doubly confusing. The witches already worship Satan, and if there are some good people there, what makes them so different from the humans? If they aren’t so different from humans, what makes the whole prophet of Satan thing so bad? Aren’t they technically already worshipping Satan? What are the stakes here?

Additionally, because Sabrina is attending the Academy full-time, it’s harder for her to be there for her mortal friends. A touching storyline is when her mortal friend, Susie, comes out as transgender and chooses his new name Theo. Theo tells his father by explaining that he doesn’t want to wear a dress to the dance but instead a suit, before proceeding to ask for a haircut. While intriguing, that sequence seems so separate from the story of the protagonist, since Sabrina is never actually around her mortal friends anymore.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has many feminist themes that would be uplifting and empowering if they weren’t so juvenilely executed—really, they feel like an after-school special. All the clichés are there—Sabrina runs for Top Boy at the Academy and positions on all of the boys’ clubs, except, of course, her love interest, Nick, tells her that she can’t do it. Sabrina also doesn’t do well in the elections and must resort to cheating to pass the first witchcraft challenge.

Meanwhile, Theo (at the time still known as Susie), tries out for the boy’s basketball team and gets ridiculed for being a girl. The conflict would be more convincing, however, if Theo weren’t 4-foot-something and could dribble and shoot—he only manages to do well in the try-outs with sly spell help from Sabrina. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina seems to mean well, but by stressing gender discrimination when those being discriminated against are also sorely underqualified and resort to cheating, the show seems to directly undermine its attempted message.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is perplexing at best. The visual aesthetics are beautiful, but, coupled with the confusing plot, it just feels self-important and snobby. Much like its sister show Riverdale, after a relatively coherent first release with a somewhat coherent plot, the follow-up just falls into total chaos and becomes a mishmash of pretty things that don’t make sense. Also like Riverdale, the chaos brings a level of entertainment, almost like a car accident involving an intriguing driver (and an abundance of Satanic worship). Although it has not yet reached Riverdale levels of insanity, Sabrina is still on its inaugural season, so it has plenty of time to get there. Only time will tell how bad it will get, but we, despite knowing better, can’t look away.

Featured Image by Netflix

April 10, 2019