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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina makes its heroine (and white female privilege) the villain
Now that the dust has settled, the hellions made of clay have been turned to stone, the fires of the Underworld have been extinguished, it's time to address the Daenerys Targaryen-sized elephant in the room: Sabrina Spellman.
More specifically, Sabrina Spellman's rather chaotic, frustrating arc in the latest season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
Look, we get it. It's hard out here for a witch. And when the show's latest run picks up, Sabrina is wading through an emotional minefield of personal issues. Her boyfriend is trapped in Hell, being used as a plaything by her father, the Devil. Her coven is in disarray, having ousted their former High Priest, Father Blackwood. Her friends have formed a punk rock band without inviting her to at least bang on a tambourine. Life, even for a young teen who used to worship Satan, has gone to hell in a handbasket.
Warning: Spoilers within for Season 3 of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
Oddly enough, that's where Sabrina ventures in the show's premiere episode.
It's an ill-advised journey, a Hail Mary rescue attempt, and it marks the beginning of Sabrina's confusing, maddening transformation into this season's true villain.
Sabrina Spellman has never been wholly good. It's what caused us to fall in love with her during the show's first season. She's a flawed, selfish anti-heroine — one who feels more realistic despite existing in a world full of angels, demons, and Batibats. She's done bad things for good reasons, she's eschewed the expected path to carve out her own future, she's fought against patriarchal f***ery in the mortal world and within the Church of Night. She's been self-righteous at times, believing she — a mere teenager with a tenuous grasp on her supernatural abilities — knows best, but sometimes even that unfailing belief in her rightness has worked in her favor.
And yet, in Season 3, that single-minded determination to "fix" things her way is what propels her to Mad Queen status by the show's final episode.
Sabrina kicks off her campaign of egocentric mayhem by dragging her mortal friends, Harvey, Theo, and Roz, to Hell … literally. The people Sabrina has spent seasons trying to shield from her otherworldly life with all its dangers and darkness are the same people she recruits on her vacation to the Underworld, interrupting their jam session and simply assuming they'll help her in her unholy cause: rescuing her boyfriend. Her instantaneous decision to put her friends' lives at risk deserves more than a moment of pause — it signals an abrupt shift in Sabrina's priorities. She may not realize it yet, but she's willing to unnecessarily sacrifice people if it gets her closer to her end goal.
That kind of narcissistic callousness only causes trouble for Sabrina and the people she loves as the season moves forward. She assumes the position as Queen of the Underworld in order to save Nick, ferrying him to the dungeons below the Academy of Unseen Arts and holding him prisoner in a feeble salt circle while she susses out how to rid him of the Dark Lord's influence. She keeps this damning information from her aunts who are trying to piece back a coven of worried, untrained witches just a few floors above and, to guarantee she has ample time to solve her lover's mind-hijacking conundrum, she hands off her Hell management duties to Madame Satan.
Sabrina claims she never wanted power — a lie that gets exposed later on in the season – but her willingness to throw entire realms into disarray reeks of a God complex that plagues plenty of white feminist heroines — on screen and in real life.
From the beginning, Sabrina has been positioned as The Chosen One. She's gone from shouldering that burden while juggling the normal angst of teenagedom to fully embracing her birthright by identifying as a Morningstar and making a claim for the throne. Despite this rise to power, Sabrina is still a young woman learning the way of the world (both mortal and witch) who continues to make poor decisions. That would be fine except, in Season 3, the stakes have been raised. Sabrina is navigating questions of cosmic balance, time paradoxes, pagan uprisings, and the dissolution of an entire belief system, but, in her mind, all of those issues can be diluted to problems plaguing her personal life.
Sure, she threw hell into a sh** tornado but it was to save her boyfriend and wouldn't it be better if she, a mere child, made some improvements to her father's company anyway? Yes, she trapped Lucifer in Father Blackwood's body causing Satan to leech the coven's powers and be vulnerable to an attack by a group of pagan radicals but can't we just worship someone else? Lilith, maybe? And as Queen of Hell, she can surely find a source of unlimited power … when she has the time. Sabrina is constantly prioritizing her needs above those of others — gaslighting her boyfriend into dismissing his PTSD so their relationship can return to normal, leaving her friends to deal with a pagan uprising so she can compete in a mythic quest to assume power in Hell, putting time loops in jeopardy so she can have her cake in the Underworld and eat it in the mortal realm too.
Sabrina's been the savior for so long that she can't accept how out of her depth she is, and when her attempts to cut corners eventually backfire, instead of taking responsibility, she lays blame. She struggles to admit the truth — that she likes being the chosen one, being special because she craves power. That even though the decisions she must make are hard, and she often chooses wrong, she wants to be the one in charge of making them.
And while she's throwing her worlds into chaos, it's people of color — people like Ambrose and Prudence — who are left cleaning up her mess. It's Ambrose who discovers ways for the coven to earn back their powers, methods for dealing with their pagan enemies, and tries to sway Sabrina to rethink her decision to defy the rules of time by having two versions of herself exist in the same universe — one reigning in Hell, one enjoying life above ground.
It's Prudence — a character who was vilified in earlier seasons for simply trying to teach Sabrina the ways of a world she woefully misunderstood and carelessly dismissed — who unites her brothers and sisters in the final battle for their coven's future, Prudence who tracks down Blackwood and brings him back to the Church of Night to receive his punishment, Prudence who goes about saving the lives Sabrina leaves in her wake, Prudence who suggests learning from other witches and voodoo queens could be the way forward for the group. Oftentimes, we see characters of color teaching white saviors how to be better leaders, but in Season 3 they're reduced further, stuck playing janitors in charge of wiping Sabrina's slate clean.
And perhaps that's the biggest sin Sabrina commits in the show's third season: the sin of self-righteousness, of believing she knows best, of ignoring her inherent privilege as a white woman born to power and rank.
Sabrina struggles to confront the evils of the show in the same way so many proclaimed feminists struggle to face the limits of their intersectionality. Like Sabrina, we hide behind virtuous motives — the desire to do good, to help others, to save, to teach, to better. And like Sabrina, when we fall short, we wrestle with the flaws of our own belief system that led to that failure. Perhaps, next season, Sabrina will be forced to face her mistakes, to look herself (or at least her evil twin) in the eye and recognize the villain that exists within. Perhaps that'll make her a better hero, or at least a woman trying to learn and grow from her mistakes. And maybe we'll learn along with her.