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SYFY WIRE Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The witchy limitations of dealing with addiction on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

By Emma Fraser
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Supernatural stories offer up plenty of opportunities for interpretations of dealing with trauma and addiction. Substance abuse storylines are a rite of passage in any high-school-set show, which can occasionally stray into after-school-special territory. A world of young witches and warlocks is no different; the ability to cast spells doesn't make someone immune from the side effects of mental and physical anguish.

The teen experience can be fraught even without fighting monsters and possessing immense power. Throwing in those elements leads to heightened emotions and sometimes dangerous methods in an attempt to combat personal demons. But magic is also a crutch that can speed up the process of getting sober. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina explores addiction in Part 3, following in the footsteps of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Vampire Diaries.

Spoilers ahead for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Nick Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood) wants to move on from sharing his body with the Dark Lord and spending a few weeks chained up in Hell as Madam Satan's (Michelle Gomez) plaything, but it isn't a simple case of casting a spell to make his pain go away. This narrative has several purposes, including creating conflict between Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) and her boyfriend, activating her self-righteousness, and acting as an obstacle to the main storyline — Nick accidentally sets the Dark Lord free while he is intoxicated. It also makes sense that he would be experiencing PTSD as a result of offering up his body as a prison; he might be a warlock, but he isn't immune to suffering.

Before Nick entered the warlock addiction fray, Willow Rosenberg revealed what could happen when someone with powers goes a little too far on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Willow had already been teetering on the edge of losing control before her girlfriend Tara was murdered. This event flicked a switch, so rather than grief she embraced the dark magic abyss instead. Nick is fully in control of his abilities as a warlock; rather, his issue is using alcohol, drugs, and sex demons in a bid to forget his pain. His one connection to Willow is his desire for revenge.

Despite their shared ability in performing spells, Nick is closer in temperament to another character from Buffy Summers' close circle. Her former boyfriend Riley's inability to control his jealousy led to acts of recklessness to prove his masculinity, which is similar to how Nick behaves after he has escaped hell. Love triangles are a foundation of teen shows — particularly ones with characters who are both horny and powerful — which often leads to reactionary acts that are exhausting. I'm with Zelda Spellman (Miranda Otto) when she declares that she "[detests] teen angst" after things blow up between the couple at the Hare Moon ritual.

Nick isn't totally at fault for his reactionary behavior, but his pointed remarks about Harvey (Ross Lynch) and Caliban (Sam Corlett) are similar to Riley's concerns about Buffy's previous vampiric entanglements, Dracula and Angel. Both men are experiencing shame as a result of what they perceive to be emasculating experiences, which causes them to lash out at the woman they love.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Instead of listening to Buffy or understanding why she was distracted from their relationship (although her mother's sickness is obviously going to occupy her attention), Riley took his insecurity-laced thrill-seeking ways and found a place in which he could enact some level of petty revenge. A squalid establishment that lets humans pay to be fed on by vampires is clearly a stand-in for paying for sex and even drug addiction; it is no coincidence that when the vampire feeds from his arm, it is meant to evoke an image of intravenous drug use.

Supernatural shows often associate sexual kinks and BDSM with inner darkness and using pain to forget. It is a lazy and reductive shorthand that Chilling Adventures also falls prey to. Nick visits Dorian's Gray Room so he can forget, first drinking a vat of absinthe before taking Dorian himself (Jedidiah Goodacre) up on his offer of playmates to help with the pain. The sex demons use whips and masks — because of course they do. Sabrina is understandably upset when she stumbles upon his coping method, which leads to the big Hare Moon argument.

The substance of their inevitable fight covers a lot of ground, including Nick's belief that Sabrina doesn't want to sleep with him because she is "saving herself" for another, her savior complex, and the depths of his horrific experience. He notes that he experienced a "catalog of violation" on both the inside and out, with her father wrestling him internally and Madam Satan debasing him physically. "I had no control over my body or my fate," he spits. Sleep was a pleasure that didn't exist and it was a place of "just pain, and hurt and burning and freezing." Sabrina keeps referring to the trauma, and while she has the PTSD buzzwords down, she also doesn't yet have the capacity to understand what he is going through. She can possess all the magical power and still not have a clue. Nick, meanwhile, sees no way of exorcising the Dark Lord from inside him other than through oblivion.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

In "The Devil Within," Nick wakes up to find he had taken a pharmacy's worth of drugs — laudanum, morphine, opium, dragon's tears, and red mercury — and somehow let the Dark Lord escape before passing out. It is a classic intervention situation that sees Nick lash out, adding to the cruel laundry list of complaints he has already fired off at his girlfriend. Magic can't stop you from becoming an addict, but it can cure you in a rather efficient fashion. The detoxing cleansing ritual Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) has planned is meant to take 30 days, but they don't have that amount of time. Luckily they have a shortcut, a storyline convenience that is a blessing and curse of a witchy television.

On TV, addiction is often a plot point that is quickly forgotten or put to one side until it is deemed time to fire up that particular obstacle. There are exceptions to the rule within supernatural offerings, including Stefan Salvatore's blood addiction in The Vampire Diaries. However, I suspect Nick will only face sporadic substance abuse problems, if any at all, in the following seasons. It is a valuable endeavor to portray the perils of drugs and booze, as well as the residual effects of physical and mental torment. Nevertheless, it can often feel like ticking the boxes of which issues a teen show should address.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Post-getting clean, Nick breaks up with Sabrina because he doesn't know where the Dark Lord ends and he begins. Physical reminders such as the malformation of his foot will fade, but the internal scars will remain. His ego is bruised, which isn't helped by comments from Agatha (Adeline Rudolph) and Dorcas (Abigail Cowen) regarding his masculinity. Again, as with Riley on Buffy, Nick's despair is also connected to his loss of power and importance.

This isn't the first time Chilling Adventures has dipped its toe in the addiction narrative waters; in Part 1, Mr. Kinkle's alcoholism was an issue Sabrina felt compelled to fix via enchanted eggnog. This shortcut to sobriety is indicative of Sabrina's desire to fix things without the consent of the person she thinks she is helping. And, unlike the real world, it takes more than just a spell and a couple of episodes to live with addiction or PTSD.