In Part 3 of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) enters the netherworld (hell) with the ambition of protecting her loved ones and acquiring power over all Satanic creatures. But like any enterprising woman in a corrupt system—or in this case, two: Earth and the underworld—she learns success is a myth. If there’s supposed to be a moral to this season, it’s that even the Queen of Hell can’t have it all. But behind the Catholic iconography and many allusions to horror films, all of which dilute and confuse the plot, there’s a sense that this series was never meant to make it this far. There are so many spinning plates in the air as the narrative builds that it feels like the product of a precocious child’s imagination or a Ponzi scheme—more details and issues and characters and mysticism are added not to progress the development of the universe, but to continue piling on the elements as a distraction from any incongruencies.
Part 2 ended with Nick Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood) sacrificing himself to Lucifer (the fallen angel and Sabrina’s real dad) to save Greendale. It seemed to work, though Sabrina promised to make it past purgatory (the darkest realm she had yet to traverse) and into hell to save him. In Part 3, she accomplishes that goal within a few episodes—through a rushed and unsatisfying journey—to address her other, compounding conflicts: she’s the heir to the hell throne but can only claim it after demonstrating her dedication through a knight’s quest for three Satanic relics: King Herod’s crown, found in Riverdale (I suspect a crossover episode), Pontius Pilate’s cleaning bowl (in biblical terms, the one he used to clean his hands of Christ’s execution), and the 30 pieces of silver for which Judas sold out Jesus.
And so, Sabrina finds herself in hell to save her boyfriend, Scratch, the bad-boy warlock who she romanced after trading in the non-threatening mortal Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch). More so than past seasons, the series has become like an alternate version of Harry Potter, except where Hermione Granger is a fearless protagonist and things don’t quite work out for Sabrina. Moments of stability don’t last, and she’s onto the next disaster, sacrificing her relationships along the way.
In one instance, Sabrina joins and then neglects the Baxter High cheerleading team. Carnival-dwelling pagans appear to threaten the safety of her human and witch friends, and her relationship with Nick is dissolving—he’s suffering from PTSD from his brief stint in eternal damnation and is nursing his wounds with booze and sex demons. Yes, sex is finally introduced in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, challenging the series’ previously held image as the chaste, slight-spooky sister show to Riverdale. But the act of sex never really happens; there’s always an interruption, which only serves to highlight how vestal the show has been. Archie Andrews and his crew may have managed to mature their audience, but the same can’t be said for Sabrina.
Instead of further developing the intimate relationships of beloved characters, screen time is dedicated to adding new ones. In one moment, Vlad the Impaler appears to suck Sabrina’s blood but fails to take a drink because she’s half-angel. She kicks his ass and shouts, “Consent, it’s real!” in one of the show’s many points of reductive feminism. (He appears in only one other episode.) The scene, like much of the season, is gratuitous and distracting and would’ve been much more valuable, not to mention logical, to demonstrate consent in coitus. Better yet, the time spent throwing concepts at a wall to see what sticks could’ve been used to further fill out hell, or at least to get at the heart of Sabrina’s failures.
In the penultimate episode, Sabrina abandons her loved ones to reclaim her Queen of Hell title from a competitor and, in doing so, ignores their plight on Earth: the pagans sacrifice mortal virgins and eventually, all life; her family has been murdered with no opportunity for reincarnation. Her irresponsibility loses her the throne. She’s forced to resolve herself to the understanding that with great power comes the inability to acquire a work/life balance, and in attempting to have it all, she’s left with nothing. Of course, her apocalypse is reversed within the final episode with the introduction of time travel, a gimmick that leaves the show with two Sabrinas—one in hell and one on Earth—and an even more disappointing message: a woman couldn’t rule and have her autonomy, and so she became two people.
There will likely be one more final chapter in the ambitious reboot’s story. I assume Sabrina, divided between realms and now a time traveler/dual-bodied person, will somehow find herself in an even more convoluted diegesis. But if Earth was too much and Hell was a disappointment, there’s nowhere left for her to descend.