The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: How patriarchy is alive and well in this Netflix universe
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The first season of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina ends with a group of warlocks gathered in the circle, welcoming the newborn son of the High Priest of the Church of Night. There are no witches invited there, and the feel of the private men’s club is predominant.
Image Credit: Netflix
This finale is nothing short of fitting for the rest of the show, which managed to transform a soapy Archie comic character into a feminist tale, where Sabrina is the fighter for justice in not one, but two social circles.
First, we have Greendale’s Baxter High (more like Boring High) where Sabrina has to step up to the dominant male figure that is the headmaster. Although we’re made to believe the show is set in the 21st Century, this school seems to have been left in the fifties (much like Riverdale’s hospital) where feminist literature has conveniently gone missing from the shelves, and boys are more than welcome to assault girls (it’s just how boys are after all).
But if Baxter High is not enough, Sabrina has to fight a much bigger battle on the side. Her coven, The Church of Night, draws a worrying number of parallels with middle-age Christianity (or the “followers of the fake god” as they like to refer to it). Blank worshipping of the sacred deity, giving your soul and body to it (much like Christian baptism, Sabrina’s dark baptism is not a freeing ritual at all), conforming to the coven’s policies for the common good, having a high priest which might or might not be receiving revelations to bring back middle-ages rituals, and even acts like self-flagellation; all these are a clear and disturbing nod, that makes the viewer question whether the difference between God and Satan is all that immense.
Although the show is heavy loaded with strong female leads, Sabrina herself, portrayed by Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men), Zelda, Hilda, The Wicked Sisters, Susie, Roz and Madam Satan, are all repressed in one way or another by the men dictating their world.
While Sabrina has grown up in a female-dominated household, her whole world is dominated by the patriarchy, where even love is not encouraged as "Our dark lord is a jealous lord. He won't allow us to love anyone but him.” In this world, witches are given great power once they sign their name in the Book of Beast, but in exchange, their freedom is taken: “If the Dark Lord calls on you, you must answer.”
Sabrina, a true daughter of her reformer father, who was once a high priest, finds the idea of blindly subjecting herself to the will of a master she hasn’t seen repulsive. She runs away from her dark baptism and spends the whole first season objecting and fighting every rule of the satanic church. She is the much needed fresh breath - the one who raises her voice, calling out the outdated ritual of sacred human sacrifice, the one who ends the Acadamy of Dark Arts’ initiation ritual (harrowing), and the one who fights for her own right to decide where she belongs and who dictates her future.
But freedom and power are deemed an impossible concept in Greendale, or anywhere. Witches and women around the world are being made to conform, and seemingly fighting a for a lost cause. Sabrina’s suggestion that she wants Satan to give her freedom AND power is quickly laughed out by Prudence (Tati Gabrielle): “He’ll never give you that, The Dark Lord. The thought of you, or any of us, having both terrifies him.[…] After all he’s a man, isn’t he.”
Sabrina does break eventually. She signs her name in the Book of the Beast in season one, to protect her friends. But much like Madam Satan, who pointed out that successful battles are won by manipulation, perhaps we’ll see her fighting the status quo from the inside of the Academy of Unseen Arts. And while the men are welcoming the newborn son of the high priest in secrecy, his newborn daughter is hidden in Zelda’s room and Sabrina is walking in the school with Prudence, his illegitimate child. The future is as female as it seems.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is not for the die-hard fans of the 90s show. The only similarities come from the common ground of the Archie Comics. But much like its sister show Riverdale, the teenage soap drama has been transformed into a much darker tale.
If you like teenage drama, intrigues, fashion, Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars then Riverdale is likely to be the show for you. But if you miss the type of 80s rom-com TV show filled with teenage true love and sprinkled with heroes and magic, if you grew up watching Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is sure to hit a pleasant note.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina seasons one and two are now streaming on Netflix.