Only slightly more than a year after the series debuted, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is heading into its third major arc and has fully found its groove. The early adventures of the series had to make fans forget everything they learned about the character from the '90s sitcom adaptation of the Archie Comics witch, as Part One of the series took a page from the Riverdale playbook to deliver a mature and macabre adventure inspired by the comic, while Part Two added more layers to already complex characters. Part Three proves that the series has perfected its blend of humor and horror, while offering a storyline with more urgency, despite still suffering some setbacks in its momentum.
Following a confrontation with Lucifer himself, Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) goes on a literal journey to Hell to retrieve her boyfriend Nicholas Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood) in hopes of bringing him back to the mortal realm. In the sleepy town of Greendale, a mysterious carnival arrives and brings with it enigmatic figures who deliver both love and danger to Sabrina's closest cohorts. Despite Sabrina's birthright being to become the queen of Hell, the teen struggles with her desire for power and her passion to be a normal teenager, as Caliban (Sam Corlett), born from the clay of Hell, puts her allegiances to the test.
Unlike creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's Riverdale, which keeps even its most frightening storylines grounded in reality, Sabrina faces the challenge of delivering audiences lighthearted adventures that your average teen would face while also incorporating otherworldly threats and altercations that take our hero into the depths of Hell, with previous seasons struggling to find the right tonal balance. Luckily, Part Three has learned from the stumbles of earlier episodes to emerge with more confidence than ever. While Part Two felt more like a continuation of the debut storyline instead of being an earned, independent narrative, the entire status quo has shifted dramatically since we were first introduced to the series, which allows the story to drive the journey forward and with far less exposition.
Shipka is as strong as ever as Sabrina and fully embodies the teen, which, at times, includes being overly dramatic and frustratingly irritating. This isn't to say she is giving a poor performance, rather that you'll want to remind Sabrina that, while some of the problems she faces could literally mean the end of the world, many of her issues fall far short of those consequences as she battles through exaggerated reactions to commonplace problems. Thanks to all of the supporting characters having less screen time, the series gets to play them all to their strengths as they no longer have to help carry the weight of the season's overall narrative, which also allows Harvey (Ross Lynch), Roz (Jaz Sinclair), and Theo (Lachlan Watson) to offer reprieve from Sabrina's journey with their own engaging storylines. Nicholas Scratch's trajectory is also fascinating, which we don't want to spoil here, though a number of fans will surely be disappointed with its outcome as another legion of fans will be thrilled by how it impacts the show going forward.
With the series' first two parts delivering audiences a variety of familiar threats in the realm of the supernatural, from witches and warlocks to recognizable demons and even Lucifer, Part Three goes deep into a variety of different mythologies to excite the audiences who return to the series for the more horrifying and fantastical elements. The narrative brings in Biblical stories, cosmic horrors, voodoo, Old Gods, Green Man, and much more. Additionally, while some of these elements are introduced as foils for our heroes, many of them are also interpreted objectively and without bias, reminding audiences that it's not the beliefs themselves that are dangerous, but the ways in which believers weaponize those ideals that become the true threat and cause of unnecessary conflict.
You'd be hard-pressed to find anything about the quality of the show itself that falls shorts of expectations, but what ultimately holds it back and prevents it from being truly exceptional is the episodic pacing. Part Three is cut down to eight episodes from the 10 in each previous part, which is an improvement, but each episode itself still feels somewhat bloated. As each installment seems to come to a natural resolution, the story continues for another 15 minutes, deflating our satisfaction with what we assumed to be a resolution. Eight full hours of a storyline makes for a stronger experience than 10 hours, but we can't help but wonder if the experience would have been stronger with 10 45-minute episodes covering the same content.
The actual episodic momentum might still hold the series back, yet every other element is fully satisfying. Sabrina's quest over the eight episodes gives us a thrilling adventure, the horrors of which are broken up with musical numbers and pep rallies, as well as various other angsty exploits of teens as they struggle to find their place in the world, embrace their identities, and forge their own paths forward, helping remind us this series is still about teenagers and not quite a full-blown nightmare stretched across an entire season. Fans of the series are sure to revel in Part Three fully finding its footing to deliver an endlessly charming blend of monsters, romance, and Satan-worshipping cheerleaders, while new audiences could jump right in without watching the previous parts to witness a genre-bending show with well-earned confidence.
Rating: 4 out of 5