Sunday, January 3, 2021

REVIEW: 'Chilling Adventures of Sabrina' - Sabrina Must Sacrifice Everything in 'Chapter Thirty-Six: At the Mountains of Madness'

Netflix's Chilling Adventures of Sabrina - Episode 2.16 "Chapter Thirty-Six: At the Mountains of Madness"

The darkest days of the void arrive as Sabrina struggles with grief and regret. Can she summon the strength to overcome an endless cycle of destruction?

In 2019, the television industry aired 532 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series finale of Netflix's Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

"Chapter Thirty-Six: At the Mountains of Madness" was written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and directed by Rob Seidenglanz

On one hand, the drama is fully aware of just how empowering its story can be. It focuses on the life-and-death stakes that are common for teenagers even though they are absolutely heightened to a dramatic extent here. On the other hand though, the drama is absolutely reckless with the shocking development that occurs at the end of its series run. It's frightening actual. Was the narrative always designed around building to Sabrina's death? With two versions of the character this season, the narrative could have absolutely produced different conclusions for both of them. That would allow the show to explore the various endings that could have befallen the character. Sabrina Morningstar dies at the start of this series finale. It's actually a shocking moment. One that didn't feel foreshadowed or expected at the conclusion of the previous episode. Nor is it explained what happens to the Endless. One moment Sabrina was running to the mirror portal with him. The next she is quickly dying on her bedroom floor with just enough time to warn Sabrina Spellman that the Void is coming. It's not long before Sabrina faces that threat head on. She has the weapon to neutralize it as well. The trinket salesman has come in handy on several occasions this season. It's convenient for the plot of course. However, that's necessary because of all the big developments that occur over the course of this hour. It's early in the finale when Sabrina is first confronting the Void. She almost succeeds in eliminating this threat as well. And yet, her undoing comes from her loved ones needing to pull her back from this realm. They couldn't allow her to sacrifice herself. They were learning all of this after the fact. Sabrina carries so much of the burden of saving the world by herself. This season has attempted to explore her accepting responsibility for her actions. However, she blames herself for so much as well. She takes Sabrina Morningstar's death as a personal attack because she didn't do anything to save her. It was a meaningless sacrifice. One that may spark a war between the realms. That actually highlights how this finale has so much going on. It's impossible to feel like the show has ample opportunity to give everyone the time they need for their final endings. That is especially true for the characters in Hell. And yet, those characters have grown quite one-note for a long time as well. The Dark Lord is chaos. He has a pompous attitude. He offers little else. Lilith and Caliban want to acquire power for themselves to lord over Hell. Caliban fails because he embraces the same mindset as the Dark Lord. Lilith succeeds because the Dark Lord dismisses her as a serious threat. She still killed her child though. That wasn't some part of an elaborate plan either. It mostly presented as convenient circumstances for her. And again, that's just odd storytelling given the actions she was willing to take to survive. She is frustrated when people don't give her the respect she believes she deserves. Not everything is about her either. The show itself functioned perfectly fine without her adding much to the overall story. That too is strange. It comes at the expense of some of the more personal dynamics that occur later on. But again, it's not such a glaring issue that it derails the entire season or the finale. It's simply notable because this is the end for the entire series. And this essentially becomes a finale where Sabrina once again carries the weight of the world on her shoulder and is stuck with the consequences of that action at the expense of her loved ones.

These are all themes that the show has explored previously. This season was meant to show some kind of personal growth for the character. She was given the ability to focus her life much more clearly than she has ever done before. And yet, she is still 16 years old. The series started with her birthday. And now, it concludes with her turning 17. All of this has happened in the span of a year. That is a lot. It's more than any one person should have to deal with. That is the nature of Sabrina's life in the end. It's full of more drama than Zelda, Hilda and Ambrose have faced in the centuries they have been alive. She is special in that regard. That comes from her existence as a half-witch, half-mortal. She is also the daughter of the Dark Lord. All of this importance is thrust upon her. And yes, she can absolutely make a difference in the world. She deserves the platform to have an impact. The threats against her are real and terrifying. She should be armed with all the necessary information to prepare herself. That does mean part of her innocence is lost. Children are forced to grow up at a faster pace because of how connected the world has become. That is a significant parallel. One that provides so much meaning to the series as well. However, the narrative also wants to be a campy melodrama. One where Sabrina has to save the world while also wanting to spend more time with her boyfriend. Those are equally important to her. She achieves both of those things as well. It's striking because of where all of this ends up. Sabrina becomes the Void. Things vanish around her. She may doom the people around her with any kind of emotional outburst. She essentially becomes a servant to the terror. Blackwood emboldens that idea. He is protected because the show has a need for him. And yet, the logistics of this simply don't make sense. Blackwood can't be sent to the Void but Roz can. Blackwood explains it's the same reason why Sabrina was immune to the effects from the Imp of the Perverse. Roz was protected in the same way in that story. That means the narrative is setting different standards for different characters. It has no real reason behind it either. It simply makes things more dramatic. Because those issues are glaring though, it takes the power out of the situation entirely. Yes, the emotions swell as everyone comes to realize that Sabrina truly is going to die in order to save all of her friends. She restores balance in the universe. She does so by taking her chaotic energy out of it. Zelda doesn't understand how that was allowed to happen. It's baffling to her when they exist in a world that is full of so many miraculous powers. So many have escaped death. But now, it's seen as permanent for every version of Sabrina. Again, it's chaos meant to create that provoking final image. It's been obvious throughout these final episodes that the show was creating some happy moments to satisfy that need when that probably wasn't going to be the endings for the characters. However, it's dangerous and reckless to see Sabrina and Nick together in the sweet hereafter. Sabrina's death is positioned as a noble sacrifice. It's one that is fitting of a hero. It's a tragic ending. One that is resolute. She is seen at peace. And then, she turns around and Nick is there. He explains that he too has died. They can be together for the rest of eternity. That is the hopeful message the show chooses to end on. But again, it enforces the idea that young love is something worth dying for. That too sends a troubling message to a young audience. It romanticizes the notion of suicide. Nick's action is meant to be heroic as well. Sabrina is his life. The two can only be defined as a couple. That's what ultimately brings them the most joy and meaning. That has never been true though. The show could never break free from that romantic notion. It was targeted to a young audience. As such, it needed a steamy romance to center much of the drama around. Sabrina and Nick are a compelling couple. This ending is simply disastrous. It doesn't work on any level and may actually do some harm because it embraces the chaos until the bitter and messy end with no self-awareness whatsoever.