It’s not every day that a TV show is both a successful spin-off from “Riverdale” and bears my namesake in the title. So of course, I dove right into “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” part 2 when it premiered on Netflix April 5. Viewers left Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) turning into a spunky, bleached blonde, dark lipstick-wearing witch ready to take on the Path of Night in the cliffhanger of season 1. The second season takes an even darker turn, so get your Tums ready.
Similar to season 1, the series does well in dedicating itself to its aesthetic. This involves weaving in biblical references and having each scene so devoid of light and color that viewers question whether or not their screen’s brightness is really all the way up.
When comparing the first five episodes with the final four, it’s easy to press pause frequently and wonder if it’s the same show. Initially, it’s an effortlessly executed teenage romantic comedy intertwined with a championing of feminism and a fight against the patriarchy.
What doesn’t make sense is that both Sabrina’s witchy academy and mortal world are both so in the Stone Age that viewers don’t know if it’s more a rendition of “The Handmaid’s Tale” or “Supergirl.” Most of the conflict is placed on the backburner in favor of Nick (Gavin Leatherwood) and Sabrina’s relationship. I wasn’t complaining.
It seems as if the producers manipulate the setting just to further push the “I’m woke” agenda when one of the storylines follows Susie trying out for the men’s basketball team because there’s no women’s team. This only reinforces the confusion that makes the viewer hit that spacebar to pause the episode and mouth aggressively, “What era are we in?”
Then again, with the witch and mortal world having the same level of sexism, it feels more like this “in-your-face” sentiment that the oppression is everywhere and going against the patriarchy is a constant battle. “Chilling Adventures” shows this through Sabrina competing for the title of “Top Boy” at the Academy, famously known for being a male-only position, and Susie (Lachlan Putnam) making the men’s basketball team.
With Susie — who later changes his name to Theo — it’s refreshing to see a show portray a transgender individual and his journey to acceptance while keeping his savage and iconic flair. His friends are quick to accept his name change, and with a heartbreaking but fulfilling conversation with his dad, viewers are given a quick insight into his mind when he says, “I’ve always been a boy.” But after this, Theo seems brushed to the side in the season’s plot.
Just as viewers become comfortable with the Riverdale-esque vibe of Greendale, episode five hits and everything viewers thought they knew goes out the window. Nothing seems to make sense, especially when there’s a musical number thrown in that seems reminiscent of “Glee.”
There are also times viewers are strategically set up to think that perhaps Satanism is misunderstood and they’ve viewed it through a false lens. The show makes it seem as if the religion is about freeing one’s body and giving into carnal energy for Lupercalia — the witch alternative to Valentine’s Day. It’s probably the funniest part of the season since it’s based around a weird ritual of sex among the Academy. Viewers are eventually reminded that it’s heavily based in thinly veiled misogyny and evil.
For a show that pushes progressivism with its gender equality and pride in feminism, it falls flat with everything else. There are no trigger warnings for a multitude of events, such as a suicide by hanging or a graphic incident with a mouse and a spiral maker. There’s even a moment where a witch forces another to jump off a balcony in an act of revenge. The producers could’ve been more creative.
And, despite the feminist attitudes of most characters, women turn on each other frequently in a way that seems too uncharacteristic for it to make sense — especially when Sabrina’s best friend goes for her ex, Harvey (Ross Lynch), Prudence (Tati Gabrielle) betrays Sabrina for a boy and people slut shame throughout the entirety of the season.
Part 2 also includes so many villains that viewers aren’t sure who to hate or root for at times: the Dark Lord, Mrs. Wardwell or Lord Blackwood. Sabrina also becomes this powerful witch even though she’s been at the Academy for all of 30 seconds. And now, two seasons later, there are still the same unanswered questions about her parents’ deaths.
Despite this, and the lack of capitalization on the fun aspects of Sabrina and her teenage angst, “Chilling Adventures” still works — even if they end the show with the worst, most twisted, father-daughter dance of all time.
Contact Sabrina Moreno at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.