If you’re anything like me, you came into Netflix’s dark, sexy Riverdale-esque Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, with an open mind. Long gone are the days of talking cats, sparkly magic and a deafening laugh track that made it difficult to distinguish the overtly funny comedy from the inanely boring and stereotypical watered-down jokes. Instead stands a new incarnation of Sabrina Spellman, this one, a young girl living a life of horror and thrills, torn between her witchy ancestry and the mortal coil she’s entrapped in. Such a drastic change, that the series has even come under fire for appropriating the statue of Baphomet from the Satanic Church. While this is a claim the sitcom cannot make, it’s helped build on every fan’s dedication to the horror genre and the many shows or films that have come before it. However, there’s a true message attached to the world of Greendale which helps set it apart. One that Sabrina is inherently equipped to tackle.
Based on the Archie Horror coming of the same name, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina stars Kiernan Shipka in what is bound to be one of her most memorable performances. She’s smart and plucky, with an extra ounce of ignorance that tends to get her in trouble regardless of the many warnings attached beforehand. Aunt’s Hilda and Zelda and cousin Ambrose, help to define the Spellman household and allow for that extra bit of division that guides both of Sabrina’s worlds. Zelda is determined to convince Sabrina to follow the ways of the witches before her, while Hilda is concerned with Sabrina following her heart. These two alternating view-points provide a contrast as to what and who Sabrina is. Meanwhile, Ambrose serves as Sabrina’s support system, over that of Salem, who’s role in the series has unfortunately been diminished to that of her familiar.
As the season progresses, Sabrina comes into her own, however, the moral dilemma over keeping her mortal side or relinquishing it for more power by signing her name in the Book of the Beast never strays. Her never ending defiance of signing her name away becomes a crux in her story, and one that allows the audience in this current political climate to connect with her plight. From the moment we step foot into the world of Greendale, a clear message appears. The series stands as commentary on fragile masculinity and patriarchy. Though not subtle, Chilling Adventures attempts to highlight and deconstruct this notion. From the abuse of power of the high school principal and teen jocks, to the supernatural order of Satan and his servants, the series points out the ways in which women have been diminished or seen as less than in the eyes of the community. And these witches have had enough.
Once the series goes deeper into the minds and motives of the more antagonistic characters such as Mary Wardell and the Weird Sisters, it begins to peel back the layers of what makes women tick, and their desires. Alongside Sabrina, they’ve come to embody their own sexuality and desires in a way that celebrates them. While the men in their lives attempt to objectify or use them, these strong, dominant women refuse to have their sexuality and the basis of themselves completely defined by the man. The stars behind the series have even come together to promote and celebrate the feminist ideals, but what the series makes up for in the portrayals of strong, young women it loses in dynamic female bonds. Besides Sabrina’s relationships with her best friends, Rosalie and Susie, the series has a problem with pitting young women against one another in ways that can be unfortunately problematic. As Sabrina find herself constantly pitted against the Weird Sisters or used by her teacher/witch Mary Wardell, Chilling Adventures fails to hold up the sisterhood the foundation should be built upon.
Chilling Adventures has joined an ever-growing list of LGBTQIA+ representative media, with the appearance of several queer characters, such as aforementioned Ambrose, an openly pansexual warlock who never once has his sexuality understated or ignored, to the fully rounded and complex representation of Susie, a non-binary mortal friend of Sabrina’s. The series not only prides itself on expanding the magical universe, but also with allowing queer characters to flourish. Although, it does so in a way that allow for the audience to feel some uneasiness. The series features a take-no-prisoners approach to the way in which homophobia and transphobia is dealt with, with witchcraft playing a mighty hand in revenge.
What stuck out as a problem with the audience of the series, is the representation of characters of colour. Chilling Adventures embraces the world of Greendale as a diverse, mystical place. One that features a whole array of people with different views on life. What’s striking is how the series has highlighted certain topics but failed to deliver on others. While transphobia and fragile masculinity are addressed, the series fails to live up to its potential to follow through with issues involving people of colour. On one occasion, the series features the magical lynching of Weird Sisters leader and woman of colour, Prudence Night, a dated and horrific technique that still haunts the world today. While it’s clear the series intended for the scene to be a moment of strength in Sabrina over that of an offensive act, there’s still something to be said for addressing problems within different communities that don’t invoke racist and damaging legacies. An outcry by the fans have addressed this, and hopefully, this will be taken into consideration in subsequent seasons.
This isn’t to say that Chilling Adventures of Sabrina isn’t a force to be reckoned with. While the series is still working through some of it’s weaker moments, of which were plentiful in the over-stuffed and clumsy first few episodes, the series found more of a balance in subsequent chapters. What often strikes as the most understated part of the series, has become the way in which it attempts to a unite its more serialised arcs with those of its episodic storytelling. While, this formula is more common amongst television shows that are cause for inspiration, such as cult-phenomenon Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the series has encapsulated the strength in unifying the two storytelling modes together in harmony.
With this perfect blend of storytelling and tone that would remind you of old films such as the Night of the Living Dead, to the current day tales of American Horror Story, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina implores the audience to get lost in this world of magic and escape reborn. The series has a defiant energy and a message that refuses to be disguised. There’s a passion within that each episode, of which it hopes to invoke in the audience so they leave feeling the strength of Sabrina and her friends. While the series has a way to go on issues prevalent in the community, it has forged the building blocks in the right places. Let’s hope that season two will take its issues to heart and weave a spell that’ll keep us coming back for more.