The continuation of Netflix’s delightfully campy and surprisingly dark Chilling Adventures of Sabrina gets off to an entertaining start with ‘The Epiphany,’ a fast-paced re-entry into the twisted teen world of the Archie Comics character that’s been re-envisioned by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa into a progressive, modern, supernatural romp. It’s a welcome return for the teen witch, who got off to a strong start on Netflix in 2018, bringing a sensibility similar to that of The CW’s Riverdale, but with fewer unhinged storylines (which is saying something when Sabrina counts the Dark Lord himself as a recurring character). And this new 10-episode season (or Part 2, as Netflix is calling it) has a lot going for it — namely the fact that Sabrina’s secret double life is more or less out of the bag, making the choice she faces between the human and supernatural world weightier as it’s no longer competing with an unnecessary secret as far as the plot’s concerned.
Instead, the continuing story of Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) takes on a more familiar form as an overt metaphor for teenage rebellion as it travels the sometimes morally complicated road to maturity. That doesn’t mean Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has shed its identity as a campy teen drama filled with eccentric characters and splendidly arch performances — particularly those of Sabrina’s Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto), her new principal, the demon Madam Satan, who is pretending to be Mary Wardwell (Michelle Gomez), and more recently, Father Faustus Blackwood (Richard Coyle). If anything, the attention Part 2 pays to its main character’s adolescent confusion affords the series an even greater opportunity to capitalize on the various elements that initially made the series work.
Part 1 was concerned with Sabrina’s choice to embrace her witch-y side and sign the Dark Lord’s book, Part 2 is largely about the followthrough and fallout of that fateful decision. But as the season points out early on, Sabrina’s choice is not nearly as black and white as it seems. And as the Dark Lord continues to scheme with Madam Satan with regard to the teen’s uncertain role in his grand plans, it appears Sabrina’s fate is far from decided, at least for now. That presents Aguirre-Sacasa and the show’s writers a number of attractive choices moving forward, as Sabrina gets her first taste of real power, faces real temptation, and, makes deliberately bad decisions because, well, that’s what teens do.
What makes Chilling Adventures of Sabrina work is how readily — by virtue of its premise — it gives those choices much higher stakes, as they so easily imperil Sabrina’s mortal soul and the lives of Roz (Jaz Sinclair), Susie (Lachlan Watson), and her on again, off again salt-of-the-earth love interest, Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch). But Sabrina’s dark dealings aren’t the only source of drama around Greendale in Part 2. Love is in the air, which means while Sabrina’s exploring her feelings for Harvey, she’s also getting swept off her feet by the dashing young warlock Nicholas Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood). That love triangle is made more complicated by Harvey and Roz’s relationship intensifying beyond their mutual connection to Sabrina.
The teen soap opera-ness of it all is intensified through numerous aspects of the main narrative, as Sabrina’s first few days as a full-time student at the Academy of the Unseen Arts are spent speaking truth to power and challenging the patriarchal standards of the institution by competing with Nicholas for the position of Top Boy (which Sabrina renames Top Person). Her insubordination rankles Father Blackwood’s feathers, who goes to extreme lengths to see her fail. Witches and warlocks putting their knowledge to the test by concocting potions and conjuring demons hews a little too closely to another magic-based moppet attending a clandestine school studying the dark arts (one that also falls under the massive WarnerMedia umbrella), but Aguirre-Sacasa wisely pulls back on the throttle before going the full Goblet of Fire.
Besides, Sabrina doesn’t need to hang on the coattails of any boy wizard; it has its own means of making its particular corner of the WarnerMedia content mill feel distinct and appealing. Much of that is wrapped up in Shipka’s take on Sabrina, who in Part 2 not only wrestles with the dramatic choices she’s asked to make, but actively revels in making some bad ones (like stealing a pack of gum). The character’s dichotomy and the breadth of Shipka’s performance makes the morality aspect of Part 2 as compelling as anything Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has done in its brief tenure.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 2 will stream on Netflix starting April 5.