Largely underwhelming, unevenly paced and a lacklustre first half, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina seemed doomed to fall flat before marginally recovering itself in the second half of its season.
Season 3 of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina did a great job of making me want more, but it was for all the wrong reasons. As the credits rolled for the final episode, there was a mixture of feeling underwhelmed, being in disbelief and just an indefatigable sense of disappointment. While by no means was it unenjoyable or even unsuccessful, it just wasn’t up to the same high standard that prior seasons had raised the bar too.
The first episode starts as a strange parody of The Wizard of Oz,as scenes flit past at a rapid rate and never seem to linger long enough to submerge us in what’s happening. At times, the Oz theme feels like it could have worked had they spent enough time delving into the reasons for this parody, but instead, it veers too dramatically into meta territory and fails to draw any sense of comparison and thus leaves the episode mostly unsuccessful. Made more bitterly disappointing for the fact it’s the first time the show has journeyed to its version of hell, the needlessly campy approach to the episode doesn’t leave much hope for future episodes.
Sadly, as expected, the next two episodes are just as bad. Hampered by plot-predictability and hounded by a quickly rising bar of cheesiness, things only become worse when the show decides to turn itself into a light musical. Every single episode has a song of some sort, and while some episodes work this into the narrative in an organic way, at other times, it’s just a needless filler scene of the newly formed band by some of the characters. What makes it worse is that none of the actors are particularly good singers (except for Ross Lynch) and heavy use of auto-tune and awkward harmonies make the moments of singing a miserable couple of minutes to watch. It was needless, and while it demonstrates the creators trying to develop the show in new and exciting ways, it becomes a landmark of how not to add variation to the already strong formula they had created for the show.
It’s around the fourth episode where things start to regain a sense of direction and slip back into the more darkly chilling aspects that make this show so great. The melodramatic and cheesy dialogue scenes become fewer, and the show begins to establish itself on an even keel that becomes more enjoyable. Remarkably it finally raises the stakes around here as the plot gains a greater sense of direction, even if it continues predictably. The new villains and the change of lore they bring into the series adds greater depth and pushes the backdrop of religion into the broader stratosphere than no longer only encompasses Christianity and Catholicism but also Paganism, Vodou and Hellenism.
The show also continues to do all the things it has done well before. Relying on practical effects rather than CGI, the show has that loveable 80’s gore look that allows it to celebrate its horror moments in genuinely wonderful ways. The characters around Sabrina, in particular: Hilda, Zelda, Lilith, Mambo Marie, and Prudence; are beautifully written and are excellently acted that they often have the habit of stealing the show from Kiernan Shipka’s Sabrina. Without a doubt, the addition of Mambo Marie and the backdrop of New Orleans and her voodoo magic becomes the greatest addition as Skye P. Marshall channels an authentic approach to the character that beautifully gives off reminiscent AHS: Coven vibes. However, the most dramatic and poignant moment happens between Hilda, Zelda and Dr Cee, a story arc that doesn’t necessarily have the greatest of repercussions but gives the show an added depth when sometimes surrounded by its more superficial moments.
When the series finally rolls up to its last episode, it’s in a better state than when it started. Granted its most prominent issue is in the latter half when Sabrina never seems to develop as a character, making the same mistakes repeatedly and never learning from them. However, keeping that repetitive strain untaxing is the host of great side characters and the compelling new directions for the show. When the final episode gets ready to tackle the concept of time and time-travel, it again seems to raise the stakes and try its best to navigate the complexity of how to do this – which is does pretty well, in the process creating a purposeful paradox that is later referenced for a setup for coming series. It’s only a shame that the climactic final battle is lacklustre and lasts only a few moments with the most exciting villains the show has had yet to offer are quickly defeated and wiped from the possibility of ever appearing again.
All in all, the show has a lot of ups and downs. What the show does well is what it has done well since the airing of the first episode. However, the addition of new elements often cause tonal issues or seem to create an identity crisis within the show. While still mostly enjoyable, it’s a shame that the show can never seem to make raise of its new elements into being some truly remarkable or worth the wait.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Series 3 is available to stream on Netflix now.
Watch the series trailer below: