Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is back with its third season (or “Part 3″ as Netflix would prefer you call it) and, inspired by the Archie Horror comics, the series has now firmly settled into its darker, weirder take on the much-beloved Spellman witches. The series first season was a charming seasonal thrill, perfectly timed to the All Hallows spirit. Still, it was also a bit of a wonky launch, with characters that didn’t feel quite there yet (except Michelle Gomez’s perfect performance as Lilith, all hail), an intriguing aesthetic that was falling just short of its zpotential, and too much time dedicated to the comparatively dull human half of Sabrina’s life. Season 2, released just five months after the first (with a bonus Christmas special in between,) made advances to remedy many of those inconsistencies, and with its third installment, Sabrina fully hits a stride with its best looking, most tonally consistent season yet. And it’s weirder, wilder, and more absolutely ridiculous than ever.
Don’t get me wrong, I mean that as a compliment. One of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s most endearing qualities has always been its embrace of camp, which gives the series a delicious spark of irreverence and appropriately devil-may-care je ne sais quoi. Anything goes, really, in this silly-meets-deadly-serious world of Satanic witches, where hazing – ahem, harrowing – includes deadass hanging a child to death, cannibalism is just kind of nbd tbh, and sometimes you just, you know, violently murder your sister when she annoys you. It’s fine. You’ll just bury her in that magic backyard soil you have, and it’ll be fine. These things, for the record, are done by the heroes of the show.
It’s the kind of show where teenage warlocks could let’s say, for example, have carte blanche access to BDSM pros for hire, where characters might randomly start belting a Sweeney Todd number at any moment, and Dorian Grey himself might be able to super casually sneak you into hell as long as you promise to pick him up the satanic version of Proactiv on your way out. I say might, but all of these things happen in Season 3 of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
And that’s really just scratching the surface of all the bonkers action, subplots, and character developments jam-packed into a very busy Season 3. At times, it feels like it’s too ambitious in its breadth, too downright silly and indulgent, and overall just too much. But that also means Season 3 never falls prey to the dragging lulls that plagued the first two installments, and it almost never plays it safe with the predictable path, veering wildly in unexpected directions and absolutely Kool-Aid Man crashing through new developments in mythology and world-building. And in that regard, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina sees its biggest change yet in Season 3.
When Season 2 left off, Sabrina and Lilith collaborated to overthrow Lucifer, who also happens to be Sabrina’s dad, making her the future queen of hell. That was pesky ol’ Satan’s big game all along in the first two seasons, priming Sabrina to take the throne, but in Season 2’s finale she smacked him down, not just rejecting her Hell crown but a full-on defenestration that locked Lucifer in prison and saw Lilith take the throne as the new Queen of Hell. But there was a cost; the prison was her boyfriend, the powerfully charming young warlock Nick Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood) who won Sabrina’s heart despite his devious ways. In Season 2’s final moments, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina sets up a mission for Sabrina and Co. to journey into hell and rescue Nick and setting up a third season… that’s almost entirely not about that at all.
Out like a bullet from the first minute, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Season 3 spends a surprisingly small amount of time on that plot point, and Sabrina finds her way into hell easy enough, and doesn’t have a much harder time getting Nick out – all of which is accomplished so quickly I didn’t think it too big a spoiler for this review (and really there’s no way to talk about the rest of the season without getting that out of the way.) But it turns out Lucifer’s overthrow came at a much higher price than they realized.
Lilith may be ruling over hell but she doesn’t have Lucifer’s inherent powers as a creature of heaven, which means no matter how much Sabrina and her coven pray to her, their magical gifts are waning. Zelda (Miranda Otto) has essentially taken over leadership of what remains in their weakened coven, but times are dire. It gets worse. With the Lucifer’s fall, pagan witches are on the rise again, and they’re looking to resurrect the old gods – a plan that spells certain doom for humanity. And their ritual calls for the sacrifice of a virgin, which pretty much all of Sabrina’s human friends are.
On the matter of the human world, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina seems to have finally more or less realized that no one gives a shit. Sure, we love Harvey (Ross Lynch), Roz (Jaz Sinclair), and Theo (Lachlan Watson), but the quotidian dramas of Baxter High really pale when compared with the decadent, delicious antics at the Academy of Unseen Arts and all the apocalyptic adventures the Church of Night finds themselves locked in. Fortunately, Season 3 makes the best use of Sabrina’s human friends yet, looping them into the main plot more directly via the pagan threat while still spending time on their character arcs. Harvey and Roz continue to feel out their blossoming romance and confront his past with Sabrina, but it’s Theo who really gets to shine in Season 3. Paired with standout newcomer Jonathan Whitesell as an awkward but oh-so-adorable young man who comes to Greendale with the carnival, Theo finally gets to settle into himself and own his identity instead of fighting for it all the time. It’s a beautiful thing to watch, leading to one of the most purely rewarding and enjoyable subplots of the season.
Remember when I said this season was crowded? Because that’s not even close to all of it. Of course, Lucy Davis is still lighting up all her scenes as aunt Hilda, who has less to do this season but does it so well. The secretly excommunicated Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle) is still raising his own hell, though he too feels a bit sidelined this season. Lucifer (Luke Cook) is super salty about being dethroned, Prudence (Tati Gabrielle) and Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) are still setting the bar for Church of Night fashion and kicking lots of ass, the Weird Sisters are being extra weird, Lilith (Gomez) remains an absolute icon who’s always running her own game, and Mrs. Wardwell (also Gomez) is back in her own body and extremely not-okay with everything that happened during her blackout.
On a similar note, Nick deals with the fallout of his possession in one of the Season’s more compelling but not quite thoroughly explored subplots, which uses possession as a rape allegory and investigates his trauma in the aftermath. It’s thoughtful and well-performed, but ultimately, there’s the feeling that Nick’s story gets back-burnered when the action really heats up, which is disappointing, especially after fellow witchy youths series The Magicians did such stunning work with similar material.
But that’s, again, because holy shit this season has so much to do. While all of that is going on, Sabrina also has to contend with a new power player, straight from hell, who threatens her claim to the throne. His name is Caliban (Sam Corlett) and he’s a conniving little trickster who loves a spot of man-cleavage and challenges Sabrina to a hunt for the “Infernal Artifacts,” three unholy items that will endow the winner with the right to call themselves the ruler of hell.
In all of this, Sabrina remains a curious character. I contend that Sabrina has never once made a tactically smart decision. Yes, most teenagers are selfish and mercurial at times, and she does have the devil in her, but Sabrina consistently seems hell-bent on making bad decisions all the time. She’s bafflingly rash and unerringly confident, no matter how many times those rash decisions bring a storm of chaos raining down on her and the people she loves.
Part of that is no doubt thanks to her infernal origins, but it’s a fascinating and bizarre take on the spunky heroine, and while the Church of Night’s depraved traditions gave Sabrina a patriarchal establishment to fight back against in the first two seasons, by ousting Lucifer and Blackwood from power, Chilling Adventures has left Sabrina firing somewhat wildly with an undeterred sense of righteousness. And she continues to make truly trash decisions from start to finish, all the way up to the finale, which gives her the chance to do one of the all-time, common knowledge “do not do this” things that a character can do! Does she do it? Of course, she does! And as much as it can infuriate me to watch her continuously do the Exact Wrong Thing at any crucial moment, I can’t deny that it adds to that camp factor I love so much.
However, without question, Shipka has a firmer command on her character than ever before. Where Sabrina once vacillated between sparks of impassioned fortitude and a sort of gee-shucks, almost mawkish good-girl act, she is now fully fired-up and sass-tastic, taking exactly 0% of anyone’s shit and looking fabulous while doing it, thanks for noticing. Some of that definitely comes from the scripting, which sees Sabrina tip-toe ever-closer to her dark side with each season, but there’s also a noticeable verve and confidence to her take on the character now; she sits better in Sabrina’s skin, has more fun with her personality quirks, and we have more fun with her too.
In fact, that air of cheeky confidence emanates throughout the series in Season 3. Shipka is not the only actor who feels more at home in her character; while the veteran actors a la Gomez and Otto have been snacking on scenery like it’s fine caviar since the get-go, the younger ensemble members have all settled into their roles better than ever this season. That same quality translates to the show’s visuals, which are a home run this season. Long gone are the unnecessary blurred shots, random bouts of unflattering makeup, and occasionally thin lighting. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is an aesthetic dream that sucks you into its wild world more immediately than ever. The same confidence is there in the world-building, which is so ambitious and rapid-fire as to toe the line of giddy recklessness, throwing everything at the wall in a hodge-podge of mythology, religion, literature that gets more expansive and insane with each episode.
In short, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Season 3 hones in on what makes the show so much fun and amplifies it to it’s most ridiculous but oh-so-entertaining levels yet. I’ve been in a lowkey state of “WTF” ever since I started watching this show, confounded by the morality of the characters and the specifics of the mythology. Season 3 kicks the “WTF’ levels into highkey, leaning into its dark, delirious extravagances with the confidence of a shimmy and a bold red lip. It’s sillier than ever, sassier than ever, more ambitious than ever, and a bit less messy than usual, and by absolutely throwing the kitchen sink at the wall in season 3, seems to make decisions the same way its lead character does; by simply asking, ”why not?“ You do you, Sabrina. You keep getting weirder and darker, because I absolutely can’t wait to see what kind of creepy-camp clusterfork unfolds in Season 4.