‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ Part 2 Merges Comical Macabre With Devilish Camp
Praise Satan! Sabrina Spellman is fully dark in “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” Part 2. She gave up her soul to claim her birthright. Born to rule, she’s too cool for school and lets fools suffer gladly. In the first part of the series, Sabrina was an innocent witch holding on to her shredded humanity. Now she’s a far less than stellar student, playing devilish games on friends and faculty alike. “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” Part 2 sees Sabrina transfer full-time to the Academy of Unseen Arts, an Americanized Hogwarts where Harry Potter would never get a date to the Yule Ball, much less the Lupercania, the witches’ version of Valentine’s Day. Sadly, the compulsory witch orgy gets cockblocked by a werewolf in one episode.
Kiernan Shipka is very effective as Sabrina Spellman. Half-human and half-witch, the moody teen got things half right during the first part of the series, but the parts which went wrong defined her. Shipka projects emotion naturally, making us care both for the things she cares about and how they affect her. When the young sorceress holds back tears, which she does almost every time she opens up to her aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis) about maintaining balance between her magical and “normal” life, the actress telepathically pushes empathy onto the viewer. Shipka still remains aloof to the world around her, which adds a mysterious dimension to the character.
Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto) finally manipulates Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle), the High Priest of the Church of Night and Dean of the Academy of the Unseen Arts, into impending nuptials. She still hides very damning secrets. One of which carries a superbly macabre possibility that the child Zelda gave to a woodsy witch for safekeeping may have been an invigorating snack. Zelda doesn’t worry about loose lips, however. Not when any rival to the powerful witch suffers from a literal frog in their throat. She also enjoys a wonderful scene of mind control, maneuvering another witch to stand on a banister of a steep staircase. This implies she can drive someone to suicide itself.
Sabrina’s warlock cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) is devious this season. We’re never quite sure which side he’s on. He’s been freed from bondage at the Spellman place, and is high up at the School of Unseen Arts, so he might bear a grudge or two against the rising star of a student Sabrina is becoming.
Netflix’s “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” doesn’t come from the classic “Archie Comics,” but from Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack’s “Afterlife with Archie” series from “Archie Horror.” While the worst invading Riverdale had to survive was a weekend zombie apocalypse, their neighbor Glendale, has darker things going on, and for a much longer time. The town didn’t get the publicity of Salem, Massachusetts, but in 1692, 13 witches were hung in the forest. Unlike the children who started the witch hunt of Salem, Glendale’s witches swept the scandal into the broom closet. Occult means hidden, after all, and the witch trials of the 16th Century pushed the practice of magic underground.
“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” treats witches as a separate breed than human, like on “Bewitched.” The witches sign their souls to a Dark Lord. This isn’t the Pagan Way. Satan is only a representation of pride, carnality, individualism and enlightenment to earthly followers, but quite literal on the show. Traditions are important in witchcraft, as are ceremonies. Last season Sabrina celebrated her not-so-sweet sixteen partaking in a Dark Baptism, ultimately signing her name into the “Book of the Beast,” represented as an all-male Goat of Mendes, or Baphomet. This brought some trouble from a real life satanic organization, the Satanic Temple, which already fought to erect a very similar statue on real life government property. This is no less a problem for Sabrina, who transfers out of public school in an effort to protect her real-world friends.
“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” Part 2 emphasizes the supporting human characters. Sabrina’s best friend Rosalind Walker (Jaz Sinclair) gave up her eyes for second sight. She saw this coming, so it plays less tragically than most teen blindings. A tarot reading predicts her father, a minister in Greendale, might use his influence unduly in an effort to bring back her sight. The sequence is deliciously frightening both viscerally and in its paranoid undertones. Ros also knows she’s going to wind up with Sabrina’s ex-boyfriend Harvey (Ross Lynch), Sabrina is now dating her warlock classmate Nick Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood), who promises he’ll never harm her, but also proves he’s not always as good as his word.
Non-binary Susie Putnam (Lachlan Watson) becomes Theo in tribute to family ancestor Dorothea Putnam. Theo’s transition story is conceptually compelling, but passively played. The newly-transitioning student goes out for the basketball team, becoming cause célèbre at Baxter High for a day. The real problem is Susie doesn’t seem like the kind of character who was interested in sports to begin with and this is a strawman issue, hollow, not hallowed.
Michelle Gomez’ Mary Wardell, or Madam Satan, runs the procedings from behind the scenes. The former teacher, or at least the possessed body of a Baxter High educator, is now principal at the school and rules with a velvet glove. All the better to hide the fingerprints. Besides toying with a mass poisoning, she also indulges in the human pleasures of a returned mortal fiancé. Wardwell is inscrutable.
Weird sisters Prudence, Dorcas, and Abigail take Sabrina under their wings, only to occasionally drop her from great heights. Tati Gabrielle brings subtle ambiguity to Prudence. She is the daughter of the dean of the Academy of the Unseen Arts, but has no claim on the Blackwood name. Also, as a girl, she has no powers but magical. While the Baxter High represents puritanical masculinity, the School of Unseen Arts blocks impure feminism. “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” consistently traverses feminist themes as Sabrina Spellman challenges patriarchy at her high schools, in the towns, the covens, teams, clubs, and talent show nights. She is even preparing for a match with Satan.
A fortune teller, played by Veronica Cartwright, brings a welcome change to Dr. Cerberus’s (Alessando Juliani) store, and to the series. The episode is stylistically shot, and the mysteries come from an otherness to an already alien world. New this season is Dorian Grey, who runs a bar which is popular with the dark crowd, who joins Daniel Webster as a representative from classic literary fiction, a prerequisite on shows like this since “Penny Dreadful” at least. The tradition which goes back to “Bewitched”and “Dark Shadows” continues in “American Horror Story.”
“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s” descent into Part 2 adds shading to the darker side of the Archie universe and a comic dimension to territory explored on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Sabrina is being groomed for something far bigger than she imagines. Let’s hope all hell breaks loose before the teen witch grows up.
“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” begins streaming April 5 on Netflix.