When a show promises witch stuff, it better deliver on witch stuff. The first season of Riverdale spinoff The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina almost came through with the magical delights a show about a teen sorceress should have, but it focused too much on the mundane realities of Sabrina Spellman’s mortal life; it was heavy on the high school drama and light on the satanic rituals. It was still fun, but after watching it was hard not to hope that the story would get a little more wicked.
Luckily, Season 2 is wicked as hell (literally). In the five episodes provided for review, the show appears to have shifted its gaze to Sabrina’s budding dark powers as the center of the show’s narrative and made her human friends more interesting in their own right, making for a better, sexier, and darker new chapter in Sabrina’s tale.
While the first season focused on Sabrina’s internal conflict over whether or not to sign her soul over to Satan, Season 2 has more time to explore the consequences of her choice. Serving the Dark Lord isn’t just about having her name in a book, and Sabrina’s full integration into the Church of Night finds various ways to explore who and what this teenage witch is becoming. Enter the fascinating dilemmas of what to do when the Dark Lord himself asks Sabrina to commit an escalating series of crimes and how best to combat the ever-present warlock patriarchy.
Sabrina’s magical journey into darkness is a spooky binge show worth watching.
Kiernan Shipka’s performance as the new Sabrina has also shifted to reflect her character’s growth. The pre-signing Sabrina could be meddlesome and grating, constantly making situations worse by trying to tackle problems that were hardly any of her business in the first place. Full Witch Sabrina is mature and infinitely more tolerable. When she stands up to a sexist policy at the Academy of Unseen Arts or schemes to gain an audience with the Antipope (yup, there’s a witch pope), it’s motivated by her identification of a problem that’s actually her prerogative to change.
Spending more time with the Academy of Unseen Arts also means that Season 2 dives deeper into the jacked-up politics of witch society. Father Blackwood’s platform of warlock supremacy seemed heavy-handed at the end of Season 1, but The Chilling Adventures uses his fascist machinations as a way of exploring how bad leaders radicalize young men and use propaganda to further their restrictive agendas.
As for Sabrina’s hometown friends, their plotlines benefit from taking all of Season 1’s lengthy exposition and running with it. Ros’s “other sight” remains a plot point, as does Susie’s exploration of gender and Harvey’s unfailingly kind spirit. The three of them together form a cuter, tighter mortal trio and function as a mini-Riverdale that occasionally intersects with Sabrina’s life but does not complicate it beyond being there as a part of the greater story.
Now that The Chilling Adventures has found the right balance between the two sides of Sabrina’s story, it’s one of the better teen oriented Netflix original series. There’s no way of telling when and if the show will cross over with Riverdale, but Sabrina’s magical journey into darkness is more than enough to support itself as a spooky binge show worth watching.