After two seasons divided into four parts, the “Riverdale” semi-spinoff, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” finally draws to an end along with 2020. The show is yet another Netflix experiment that never quite took off. Though "Sabrina"arrived in 2018 to a lot of fanfare, Netflix has never boasted about its ratings. And, as the second half of Season 2 rolls in this New Year’s Eve, it’s clear the show is running out of gas. The good news is its final episodes also include some of the series’ best moments, with an ending that frankly should leave fans relieved that the show was able to conclude with dignity.
“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” finally draws to an end along with 2020. The show is yet another Netflix experiment that never quite took off.
Netflix’s acquisition of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” (henceforth “CAOS”) was trumpeted as a triumph for streaming in 2017. It was originally developed for The CW, where parent show “Riverdale,” a dark and gritty Archie Comics reboot, remains a massive hit. But Netflix lured “CAOS” away from the network by promising executive producer Greg Berlanti and showrunner/writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa two seasons sight unseen. In the end, “CAOS” actually lost episodes, as The CW’s seasons run 22 episodes, while Netflix’s season orders have slow reduced in number, giving the show 36 episodes in all.
But considering that “Riverdale’s” other spinoff, “Katy Keene,” stayed with The CW and was canceled after 13 installments, Netflix was still likely the safer bet. Still, the biggest boon in moving to Netflix was the budget, which not only gives the show a chance to do far more theatrical-level horror (and serious costume work) but also stage full musical numbers. Part 4 features multiple weddings, both on Earth and in Hell, a full-on battle of the bands, and lots of CGI, including some well-edited scenes where Sabrina and her double team up to solve crises.
(Major spoilers below.)
The show is still utterly batty. The first half of Season 2, “CAOS” Part 3, left the world with twice the number of Sabrina’s it’s supposed to have, due to some wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff and time-travel tropes. Though characters worry endlessly how this will rip the universe apart, it takes nearly the entirety of Part 4 to decide that in fact two Sabrinas are too many. Part 3 also ended on a cliffhanger, as several Lovecraftian monsters, known as the Eldritch Terrors, were unleashed into the world. The final episodes reveal there are eight of them, which is convenient, since there are only eight episodes. These last eight battles give the final episodes a sturdier structure than earlier rounds. But in focusing fully on the monsters, the series loses sight of some of the themes that once characterized it.
Like “Riverdale,” the series isn’t interested in accurately portraying teen lives — teenage characters are young and hot, and that seems to be enough for showrunners. The show initially started off as a parable about feminism and patriarchal control, and how religion can be a tool of oppression. Most of that’s fallen by the wayside in favor of weird and wacky monsters. There is one alternate reality episode in Part 4 with an anti-fascist message, but it quickly devolves, as do most of the show’s attempts at moralizing.
The show initially started off as a parable about feminism and patriarchal control, and how religion can be a tool of oppression. Most of that’s fallen by the wayside.
Instead, the show’s best moments are when it leans into its own zaniness. The best episode comes in the penultimate installment of Part 4, and is extremely meta; Sabrina finds herself traveling to a multiverse where she’s starring in the broadcast series version of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” complete with the stars from the original 1990s cast (and the famous animatronic Salem the Cat). It’s a delightful hour in which the show wraps around like a snake eating its own tale, devouring its own '90s incarnation while pointing out how little room for innovation exists on broadcast TV. Sadly, brilliance like this is few and far between in these final episodes.
Perhaps most controversial of all, the show ends by making sure it cannot be resurrected — it kills off the title character (both versions of them). Fans are bound to be upset by this development, as well as the suggestion that her boyfriend kills himself to be with her in the hereafter. But the finality of Sabrina’s passing, and the chance to mourn her death along with the rest of the cast, is a fitting end to the series over-the-top dramatics. Moreover, it’s clear from the final episode’s structure (which is almost identical to Part 3’s finale) that the show didn’t have too many ideas left in the tank anyway.
Chances are the Archie-verse will die with Sabrina, at least on Netflix. The series was a Warner Bros. production, and though this was specifically contracted as a “Netflix Original,” any new spinoffs of “Riverdale” that don’t make The CW cut will likely wind up on HBO Max. “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” was a nice Netflix experiment, with entertaining results. But like all good things, its time had come.