There’s a Yiddish word to describe the final season of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina — a shanda. It means something scandalously shameful, and yes, like heartthrob Nicholas Scratch’s dip in the Sea of Sorrows (he purposefully drowned to join Sabrina in the Sweet Hereafter), I am being hyperbolic.
Based on the 2014 comic book series of the same name, Sabrina was meant to have a fifth season, but you know what they say — man plans and Netflix laughs. From the overstuffed plotline to the eyebrow-raising finale, Robert Aguirre Saca’s show was cut short and it definitely shows, but that’s not what rubbed me the wrong way. On par with Harvey Kinkle and the unnecessary musical number that accompanies Sabrina’s sexual debut, what bothers me the most are the Jewish references.
Written exclusively for entertainment value, the show’s DNA is a melting pot of concepts and references cherrypicked from different folklore, particularly Jewish folklore. This could have bode very well for Sabrina if the writers even attempted to walk the fine line between appropriation and representation, they didn’t. Granted, from Sabrina’s mandrake golem to the shofar sex symbol, I gobbled up every hollow Jewish reference made in past seasons, so what’s this writer’s qualm? Aguirre Saca’s obsession with antisemitic and racist horror author H.P. Lovecraft and commitment to portraying antisemitic tropes.
After three seasons of appropriating Jewish mysticism and half-assing it all the while, the writers switched gears and focused on jarring nods to blood libel, Hitler, and notorious bigot Lovecraft. The J.K. Rowling of his day, Lovecraft, whose success came posthumously, is revered for creating a subgenre of horror known as Lovecraftian Horror, or the Eldritch Abominations. Ring any bells? A clean nod to Lovecraft, whose specific brand of horror was inspired by his disdain for immigrants, Black people, and Jews, the big bad in the final season of Sabrina manifests in eight “Eldritch Terrors,” one to be defeated per episode. I don’t think Aguirre Saca intended for Sabrina to have super antisemitic vibes, but without paying proper homage to Jewish demons like Lilith and Asmodeus, the Nazi stuff comes off as icky for the Jews.
Just for fun, I rounded up all the Jewish references and antisemitic tropes the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina crammed into its disappointing final season.
Straight out of Jewish folklore, Lilith was unholily mispresented in Sabrina, but the writers got one thing right: her favorite sex position.
In Episode 8, Lilith quite literally stabs her former lover Lucifer (Satan) in the back and eats his powerful celestial blood to restore her stripped demonic powers. After gorging herself on dark blood, the demoness straddles Lucifer’s body and says, “Do you remember when we met? Just like this.”
Here’s the deal: In the Talmud, Lilith is banished from the Garden of Eden for refusing to have sex with Adam in missionary position. Women are equal to men, so why should she lay below him? Granted, riding cowgirl isn’t quite fair either, but snaps to the writers for the sliver of accuracy and restoring Lilith as the feminist Jewish demon we deserve.
In Episode 5, Sabrina’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer knockoff Scooby Gang runs into trouble. Or rather, Sabrina Spellman and her double, Sabrina Morningstar, who resides in hell with her father, Lucifer, run into trouble. The existence of more than one Sabrina causes the cosmos to go to total shit, and the only way to reinstate order is by eliminating one of the teen witches. This information is delivered by Metatron, an angel in the celestial realm of the highest order.
In Kabbalah and Jewish apocrypha, Metatron is the name given to Enoch after he transforms into an angel. Serving as appointed guardian of all celestial treasures, Metatron was basically God’s intern and communicated his revelations to Moses. Snaps to Sabrina for being kinda accurate with this one.
Taking another page out of Buffy, Sabrina follows a monster-of-the-week format with a new big bad guy to defeat each episode. The fourth season introduces the Eldritch Terrors, a series of eight ancient and destructive entities called upon by Father Blackwood. The former High Priest of the Church of Night orchestrates their return and humbly offers himself as their priest and his body as their vessel.
What’s wrong with the season’s overarching doomsday plotline? Uh, everything.
The Eldritch Terrors are the invention of H. P. Lovecraft, an American writer of weird and horror fiction most famously known for being a Hitler-loving bigot who married a Jewish Russian immigrant. How can someone love a Jew and spew antisemitism, you ask? I’m sure the Sabrina writers can tell you, but I digress.
Like all references in the Netflix show, some of the Eldritch Terrors are cherrypicked from outside Lovecraft’s universe, but the homage is explicit: As the harbinger of the terrors, Blackwood takes on Lovecraft’s identity and goes by Reverend Lovecraft.
The third Eldritch Terror, The Weird, is directly modeled after Lovecraft’s most iconic creation, the monstrous Cthulhu. In Sabrina, the evil entity takes the form of an octopus with the sole mission of possessing Sabrina’s body via mind control. Beyond the subtle allusion to iconic antisemitic propaganda that likens power hungry Jews to sea monsters, the writers make it clear the Terror is inspired by The Shadow Over Innsmouth, a Lovecraftian tale filled with swastikas, references to concentration camps, and xenophobia aimed at Jews.
Here’s the thing about Lovecraft: His mother never hugged him or let him outside before sundown, and to deal with the cruel rejection from the person whose responsibility was to show him love, I suspect he created a deviant coping mechanism. A true bully, Lovecraft dealt with his mother’s unrequited love by matching her hatred and aiming it at people outside the Aryan race. He identified so greatly with outcasts that he had to explicitly reject them through attitude and art, which again begs the question — why would he marry a Jew? My theory is that he accepted the love he thought he deserved. Yikes.
The fourth Eldritch Terror, the Perverse, is the most explicitly antisemitic of them all. Though based on Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “The Imp of the Perverse,” Sabrina’s monster-of-the-week was referenced in The Shadow Over Innsmouth and counts as paying homage to Lovecraft. In Episode 4, Blackwood buys the evil thing off a trinket man and wishes to become emperor of Greendale. What’s so antisemitic about global domination? The statue is shaped like a goblin clutching the world, which is the same uninspired, overused, and boring antisemitic propaganda used during the Holocaust. Where’s the creativity??
Is it possible to separate the art from the artist? In Lovecraft’s case, I think not. Rooted in Aryan ideology and hatred for the “mongrels” that overran Chinatown, Lovecraftian horror would not exist without its creator’s prejudices. Still not convinced? Lovecraft used the same demeaning language to describe Jewish immigrants in New York — “hook-nosed, swarthy, guttural-voiced aliens” — as he did to bring the very monsters featured in Sabrina to life.
For all the effort that went into creating a folklore unique to Greendale, it’s peculiar that Sabrina glorified a body of fiction bubbling with bigotry. If you don’t want to call that antisemitic, you can at least call it pretty damn lazy.