Chilling Adventures of Sabrina put quite a lot of viewers under its spell when it debuted on Netflix last fall, and it's clear that the show's witching hour is far from over. The show's sophomore offering, which debuts this Friday, proves how much staying power the series seems to have. The first five episodes see the show evolve into something stronger and more unpredictable than what came before it, without losing the core elements audiences initially fell in love with.
The second season of the Riverdale spinoff opens on Greendale after winter break, with Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) well past having signed her name in the Book of the Beast. Sabrina's increased role in the coven begins to have some interesting side effects, which bleed out into the mortal side of Greendale as well.
Now that the initial conflict of Season 1 has been put to rest and Sabrina has better embraced her witchy side, Chilling Adventures as a whole is almost-effortlessly plunged into its next evolution. One of the season's biggest strengths is how strongly it focuses on its ensemble of characters, allowing each of them the freedom to contain some interesting - and largely earned - multitudes. Almost every member of the show's ensemble feels like an active, three-dimensional player in the proceedings, as opposed to being inhibited by some unseen supernatural forces or secrets.
Chilling Adventures' ensemble really rises to the occasion of character-driven focus with its performances making each episode unbelievably watchable. Shipka's portrayal of Sabrina continues to be the perfect mix of charming and headstrong, and the confidence that she has in her abilities and identity can be felt. All at once, her performance simultaneously honors what audiences have loved about Sabrina for all these years, even down to a sequence in the season premiere which feels like a clear nod to Melissa Joan Hart's portrayal. It becomes genuinely fun to see this Sabrina undergo one challenge after another, whether it be challenging the patriarchal standards of the Church of Night or trying to navigate the world of teenage romance.
That same sort of lived-in confidence and sense of humanity extends to Chilling Adventures' supporting characters both in the coven and at Baxter High. Miranda Otto, Lucy Davis, Chance Perdomo, and Michelle Gomez continue to have a heck of a lot of fun with their respective characters as they evolve in ways which feel unexpected but never out of character. The same can be said for Sabrina's human friends who are all given arcs that intersect with - but don't revolve around - what's going on with Sabrina. Without getting into spoilers, Susie Putnam's (Lachlan Watson) storyline throughout these first five episodes ends up being a profound surprise, and Watson brings it to life in a way that audiences will hopefully resonate with.
It's also worth noting the love triangle between Sabrina, Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch), and Nick Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood) which has been a marketing focus for the season. While the way it unfolds will surely polarize some fans, Sabrina's agency and personal choices never cease to be at the focus which allows any relationship drama that unfolds to take place in a surprisingly adult way. Lynch and Leatherwood are both given a chance to shine in the process, with both of their characters rising beyond the tropes which might have been associated with them in Season 1.
Even with so much packed into these first five episodes, it's interesting how largely self-contained each installment of Chilling Adventures is. Along with that comes a kind of fun unpredictability, which feels a bit more honed in than Season 1. Sure, the individual episodes occasionally have some pacing issues, and the show becomes a bit of a dense binge-watch depending on how you consume the season. However, it's undoubtedly interesting to see the weird, new narratives each episode brings. Season 2 even finds ways to outdo some of the memorable choices the show made in Season 1, both with an introspective bottle episode centered around one location and a befuddling cameo from someone who previously appeared on Riverdale.
Technically speaking, Chilling Adventures is largely consistent with how it was in Season 1, with the set and costume design continuing to be impressively detailed and thought out. There are a small number of cinematography choices that occasionally feel like a misstep, mainly when a particular scene is almost too dark to look at. But by and large, the show continues to craft a lush visual world that toes the line between timeless and modern, a dichotomy that is also elevated by the season's awesome choice in music.
Whether you were positively bewitched or left wanting more by earlier episodes of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the start of its sophomore season brings an impressive amount of promise. The cast of characters - and arguably, the show itself - feel more lived-in than ever, allowing for an interesting blend of Lovecraftian horror and detailed character drama. In the process, the episodes really embrace what makes Chilling Adventures what it is -- a fun, feminist critique about the role women and people of color are forced to play in white male-dominated spaces, and how they slowly but surely begin to take back control. That theme, and the new, spellbinding ways that the show plays with it, make for a viewing experience that is by and large a delight.
Rating: 4 out of 5
The second season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina will debut on Friday, April 5th, on Netflix.