Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 4

As with every season that has come before, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Season 4 is a mixed bag of sloppy plotting, odd logical leaps, fun Buffy-esque adventures, and horrific gore. However, this is the final season, so does it provide a satisfactory ending to the Sabrina Saga? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for.

By the way, there will be spoilers along the way, but only where they can’t be avoided.

You have been warned.

I had a lot of high expectations for this season as there were hints of Lovecraftian horrors on the way, especially with the way the episodes were titled (“The Eldritch Dark,” “The Weird One,” “The Endless,” and “At the Mountains of Madness” in particular). And yes, the threats over these eight episodes are called “Eldritch Terrors” and Lovecraft is namedropped here and there (especially in the finale), Sabrina suffers from the same issue that pretty much every other television show that tries to bring Cosmic Horror into its narrative: a lack of imagination.

While the Terrors exhibit some of the qualities that we expect with Lovecraftian horror, the visualizations are limited to either humanoid manifestations or concepts so abstract as to avoid representation altogether. They don’t take the angle that Supernatural did, with the Terrors being a weird ancient race that ends up being just another monster-of-the-week (see the Leviathans from Season 7), but the season still fell short for me in capturing real cosmic terror. This is especially due to the fact that each Eldritch Terror is quickly dismissed, being captured in handy traps that undermine the narrative severity of the threat. This was extra disappointing since this was the final season and the creators could afford to really go for broke.

But that’s the nitpicking of a Lovecraft addict. I wanted to see unearthly horrors and madness-inducing alien things, not dirty hobos and spooky miners.

Part 4 picks up where Part 3 left off, with Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) split into two, Sabrina Spellman continuing her life on Earth, and Sabrina Morningstar ruling as the Queen of Hell. Meanwhile, Harvey (Ross Lynch) is dating Roz (Jaz Sinclair) and Theo (Lachlan Watson) is dating Robin (Jonathan Whitesell), leaving Sabrina as a single third (fifth?) wheel. In fact, just about everybody is involved with somebody this season, even her Aunties, as Hilda (Lucy Davis) is getting married and Zelda (Miranda Otto) is making out with Marie (Skye P. Marshall) on a regular basis.

And while Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) isn’t hooking up with Prudence (Tati Gabrielle), they’re hunting down Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle), who, as we open the season, is summoning the Eldritch Terrors to destroy the world. This leaves Sabrina with time to burn, so she decides to get to know herself better.

By paying a visit to Hell and hanging out with Sabrina Morningstar, despite the potential cosmic repercussions.

The first two episodes, “The Eldritch Dark” and “The Uninvited” both play out in a pretty standard Sabrina way with anthropomorphized threats that end up being far easier to deal with than the dramatic openings would suggest. The third episode, “The Weird” ups the ante a bit, as Sabrina finds herself possessed by The Weird, a strange Cthulhu-lite that gets inside of her and begins to transform her into a squiddy host.

But it is Episode 4, “The Imp of the Perverse” that really shines in this first half of the season. When Father Blackwood gets his hands on a mysterious idol from an even more mysterious Trinket Man (James Urbaniak), I was expecting something a little more sexual. I mean, it’s the Imp of the Perverse, after all.

Instead we get a very nicely done alternate reality episode, where Blackwood wishes himself to be Emperor just as Prudence is about to dramatically stab him. This kicks off an episode where Greendale has turned into a fascist utopia and Emperor Blackwood’s Nazi-inspired forces hunt witches, with Sabrina being Public Enemy Number One. Only Sabrina and Roz are aware of the way reality has been re-written so they are tasked with saving reality and waking up their friends – most of whom are now full-fledged witch-hating Nazis.

I’d say this is the best episode of the season (maybe the series?), but I’m a sucker for alternate reality takes in my TV shows. That’s second only to a classic bodyswap where the actors have to take on each other’s roles, which is ALWAYS a hoot.

The next episode, “Deus ex Machina” introduces us to The Celestial Realm, where a voiceover states that it is aware that the Living Realm is in chaos and heading for destruction, but it will not intervene unless the realm falls. Then the plan is to “negate Sabrina.” Meanwhile, it turns out The Living Realm and the Infernal Realm are merging thanks to the fact that Sabrina has been split in two. While this episode provides our first truly cosmic Eldritch Terror (as a duplicate Living, Infernal, and Celestial Realms are discovered to be on a collision course with the originals. This is the Eldritch Terror, The Cosmic.

The way out of this problem is a creative one, as the gang figures out that since two Sabrinas caused the problem, maybe sending on to the Cosmic copy will halt its approach. As one would expect, our Sabrina stays while Morningstar is sent through a magic mirror to a world very similar to her own.

While I think I liked the previous episode best, this one does get points for having the most creative ending, along with a guest-appearance by Pollyanna McIntosh as the archangel Metatron. I took away from points for this episode normalizing musical numbers on the show as Sabrina performs “Total Eclipse of the Heart” with her friends at band practice. It was okay, I guess, but it rubbed me the wrong way.

I think it was because it seemed to be a way to remind us that the gang had a band, Fright Club, that we haven’t seen in a while, what with everybody too busy making out to practice regularly. Because with Episode 6, “The Returned,” a battle of the bands ends up being the climax as punk band Satanic Panic are resurrected from Hell with a grudge against Harvey’s dad. It’s a clever episode, as Lazarus (Oliver Rice) returns, bringing the living dead with him – but they’re not zombies, they are just the returned, and the citizens of Greendale have to deal with them passively.

We actually have a dual climax this time out, where Fright Club has to save Harvey’s dad from Satanic Panic, while Marie plays a game with Lazarus with the winner determining whether or not the returned stick around or go back to wherever they came from. While the battle of the bands is cool and all, Sabrina shows up and steals the limelight from Fright Club (who, in my opinion, had already won the contest with a pitch-perfect cover of “Time Warp” vs Satanic Panic’s mediocre rendition of “Partytime” from the Return of the Living Dead soundtrack) with a piss-pore cover of “Sweet Child O’Mine” that only serves to tie up a plot string that didn’t really need tied up. I’d have much rather seen Fright Club be the heroes of this one.

And that’s not nearly as unsatisfying as the way Marie’s game with Lazarus ends. But I guess to discuss that, we need to talk about a major disappointment this season; the story arc for Lilith (Michelle Gomez). In a turn that is baffling to me, Gomez has been dramatically sidelined this entire season, despite playing dual roles as Lilith and the schoolteacher Mary Wardwell. Lilith ends up the victim of a magically sped up pregnancy, ends up hiding in a spare bedroom at the mortuary under the protection of the Order of Hecate (the witch’s coven, now that they no longer worship Lucifer), has her powers taken away, and then, in this episode, somehow convinces Caliban (Sam Corlett) to retrieve the Spear of Longinus for her (in an offscreen quest that seems like it should be more difficult than it turns out to be) so she can kill Lucifer and herself.

Despite the last episode being called “Deus ex Machina,” this episode provides a literal Deus ex Machina, as the Spear of Longinus is used to save the day, despite the fact that our heroes lose against Lazarus. If the Spear is his powerful, why haven’t they been using it all along?

Anyway, we also have a very disappointing resolution to the Marie/Zelda romance that undermines one of the more progressive relationships on the show, making the Theo/Robin relationship the only non-cis pairing in a show that hasn’t hesitated to be sex-positive in its matchmaking.

The final two episodes of the series are ostensibly a two-parter, “The Endless” and “At the Mountains of Madness,” but in actuality aren’t any more intimately connected than any other episode pairing this season.

“The Endless” is a close rival for my favorite episode of the season/series, as we play around with another alternate reality, following up on the fate of Sabrina Morningstar. There’s really no way to talk about this episode with spoiling the guest stars, so here we go. The world that Morningstar ended up on, is a set of soundstages for that world’s longest-running television show, where Sabrina is cast as herself and her Aunties are played by Beth Broderick and Caroline Rhea from the original Sabrina, The Teen-age Witch (1996-2003) TV show.

The Eldritch Terror this time out is The Endless, and it’s pretty obvious from the start who the terror is; the talking cat puppet, Salem (voiced by Lucifer himself, Luke Cook). The play on the conventions of the original series is extremely entertaining and they find a clever way to incorporate alternate versions of the rest of the characters as well as give us a twist finale that works and is different from all of the other Eldritch Terror defeats.

My only real complaint is that Endless Salem doesn’t carry over to the next episode.

Ah yes. The next episode. The final episode of the season. The final episode of the season.

“At the Mountains of Madness” shares the name of one of Lovecraft’s most important works, but aside from the name, this episode doesn’t really touch on anything else Lovecraftian – although he is namedropped as Ms. Wardwell reads from the Eldritch Gospel of the Right Reverend Lovecraft.

Anyway, Sabrina Morningstar and Endless Salem die as they return to Sabrina Spellman’s world for no reason other than the plot demands it. That’s strike one. Sabrina starts to wish away the coming terror, The Void, using the Imp of the Perverse but the Trinket Man shows up and warns her off of that approach, instead offering her Pandora’s Box in exchange for the Imp. Sabrina will have to take the Box into the Void, open it from within, and it should trap the Void forever. How? Who knows? There’s no explanation for that or for who or what the Trinket Man is. Strike two.

Does the episode strike out? Not entirely. Despite that shaky start, we do get a clever visual representation of The Void and the fact that Sabrina’s family yanks her soul out of her body, trapping it in the dead Sabrina’s corpse is a nicely twisted twist that does a good job throwing yet another complication into the final conflict.

This episode also finally gives Lilith something to do, as she sneaks back to Hell and bargains to get her powers back (did I mention that Lucifer depowered her a few episodes back? Yet another misuse of the character, if you ask me). When Lucifer learns that his Morningstar daughter is dead and the Spellman daughter’s soul is in her body, it means war. Which, for some reason means not rallying the hordes of Hell, but instead, hexing some miners, including Harvey’s dad, and using them as soldiers.

That’s not quite a strike, but it could be. Lilith’s final fate helps to balance out this bit of nonsense.

Anyway, The Void ends up inside Sabrina somehow and she starts making things vanish, sucking them into the void. To keep everyone safe, she transports herself to the Mountains of Madness where Father Blackwell shows up, promising to teach her how to control and use the Void. Everything is very convenient, and what we ultimately get is something that maybe the fans weren’t expecting.

Sabrina has to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the world a ’la Buffy in her Season Five finale, “The Gift.” The biggest difference is that here we see what happens to Sabrina afterwards, as we close with her in The Sweet Hereafter, an afterlife remarkably similar to the Void, except with different art. As we see Sabrina sitting quietly, as if visiting a museum, Nick (Gavin Leatherwood) shows up, implying that he may or may not have committed suicide in order to be with Sabrina forever. They kiss and the show ends on a romantic note that isn’t entirely satisfying for me.

Not only does it sidestep the ENTIRE QUESTION of what the hell is this afterlife? it also avoids giving anybody else any sort of closure. Sure, Sabrina’s name is in the title, but it’s an ensemble piece, and there were a lot of moving parts that we just get dropped once our heroine is gone. Also, if Nick is so important, why didn’t I mention him before now? Is that on me, or did he also get sidelined with very little to do this season? I mean, he’s around and playing a part in Sabrina’s life, especially after they get back together, but he just didn’t make much of an impression this season.

Overall, Part 4 was entertaining and easy to binge through, but I’m not sure how much of an impact it will really have. It’s kind of like cotton candy. Very tasty cotton candy, but not very substantial. I know I’ve glossed over some events that others might think are major, but not a lot this season struck me as memorable. Then again, I am a 52-year-old man, so I’m not exactly the audience. But I’ve loved the show from the start and in retrospect kind of think each season gave us diminishing returns.

There’s no real word on whether or not Chilling Adventures of Sabrina will return on another network or not. It’s not looking good, especially after showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa tweeted about the potential Season 5 crossover with Riverdale, “Witch War,” continuing in the comics. I don’t know if that means Sabrina will be resurrected there, or if it will follow the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina comics canon instead. If they do decide to undo the Season 4 finale, there was a pretty clear way of going about it in those final moments (see if you can guess what I’m talking about in the comments below), and if Buffy’s friends can bring her back from the dead, surely Sabrina’s have the skills to do the same.

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