Warning: Major spoilers ahead for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina part 3 finale, “Sabrina Is Legend.”
“My brain still hurts. I have like a lasting headache from trying to figure out all that,” Chilling Adventures of Sabrina star Kiernan Shipka laughs on the Vancouver set of her Netflix teen horror drama. The brain-breaking subject at hand is the time-traveling twist of CAOS part 3, when Shipka’s heroine Sabrina Spellman jumps back in time to save her family in the finale “Sabrina Is Legend” — thereby allowing at least two Sabrinas to exist on Earth and in Hell.
“If you ask anyone in the cast, we’re all just like, What is happening right now?” Shipka, who is filming part 4, says about the physics-bending twist.
If the people who bring Sabrina to life are confused by the teen witch’s time travel scheme, you certainly can be after watching “Legend.” Fortunately, there are a few important facts that will untangle this seemingly messy timeline — and most of them come down to the specific moments Sabrina chooses to time travel to…and, probably, God.
In Sabrina’s initial timeline, she awakes decades after Prince Caliban (Sam Corlett) has trapped her in the ninth circle of Hell, as he does in the penultimate chapter “The Judas Kiss” (we will get to the specifics of this escape later). The two realms Sabrina cares about — Earth and Hell — are destroyed. The first, by the pagans terrorizing Greendale throughout part 3; the second by the archangel Michael, whom we have yet to meet. Sabrina uses the magical powers of the Unholy Regalia to travel back in time to before all of this destruction ever happened.
It is here she creates a brand new, secondary timeline and becomes “Original” Sabrina.
Sabrina picks the best possible instance to return to — the period where “she” has already started the quest for the third item in the Unholy Regalia and Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto) is still alive. So, as “Original” Sabrina helps her family and friends defeat the pagans on Earth, “Second Timeline” Sabrina is traipsing through Hell trying to find Judas’ 30 pieces of silver. Sabrina is achieving both of her goals and honoring both sets of her duties — it’s just that no one other than “Original” Sabrina realizes as much.
This is how CAOS signals that Sabrina will embrace her long-held duality before she actually becomes two different people by the end of the episode.
The metaphor goes in a direction, literally, after Sabrina saves the day in Greendale, helping to ensure both of her Aunties are alive and well. At this point, Sabrina is meant to return to the original timeline — aka the cursed timeline — and take her initial place in the ninth circle of Hell, trapped by a rock and a hard place between her father Lucifer (Luke Cook) and her sometimes-mentor Lilith (Michelle Gomez).
“Just remember, when you’re done with everything, you have to come back, to right here, right now, and do what I just did to complete the time loop,” the Sabrina who saved “Original” Sabrina says at the top of “Legend” (reminding us there are three Sabrinas now). “It’s the only way to keep the realms preserved. If you don’t, it could be chaos.”
Naturally, “Original” Sabrina ignores her savior’s words. Rather than going to her ninth circle doom, OG Sabrina finds the version of herself who has been completing the Unholy Regalia in the new, safe timeline. “Original” Sabrina stops Second Sabrina from handing over Judas’ silver to Caliban, who is pretending to be Judas. The two witches decide to ignore “Future” Sabrina's advice. Instead, the Sabrina with the silver will return to court and take the throne. OG Sabrina will return to Greendale to be with her witch and mortal loved ones. Both will be happy and the two sides of Sabrina Spellman — “this more fiery, dark, badass part of her and this really loving, extremely sweet, fun, outgoing side,” as Shipka describes them to journalists on set — will be satiated at last.
The ramifications of this dangerous decision are muddled at best since it is unclear which Sabrina the “Future” Sabrina wanted “Original” Sabrina to free from the ninth circle. If “Original” Sabrina were to jump back in time and save herself, she would kickstart the time loop again. If OG Sabrina were to jump back in time and release the “Future” Sabrina who took her place, she would simply be accepting a terrible deal.
However, this conjecture is overshadowing the real problem with “Future” Sabrina: how, exactly, she exists. The “Original” Sabrina was unable to conjure her. All of Sabrina’s allies, save for a mostly neutralized Ambrose Spellman (Chance Perdomo), were dead. “Future” Sabrina should not be possible. The only sensible answer is God, a character CAOS has been teasing since part 2, when angels, aka “celestials,” were introduced. Lucifer’s powers as a celestial connected to God are brought up multiple times over part 3, as is the existence of archangel Michael. The rise of the Abrahamic God is even referenced as the reason the pagans — who control Earth in the initial timeline — fell. Even the cosmic imperative for the three realms to exist in harmony are mentioned.
If anyone has a stake in seeing Sabrina miraculously freed to fix the chaos-wrought by the pagans, it’s God. Don't be surprised if Sabrina season 4 feels just a little bit more holy than before.