In The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) faces an internal struggle between her life as a witch and life as a typical teenage mortal. She goes to school. She has a boyfriend. She protects her friends from bullies. But she also has a loyalty to her family and the Church of Night. That struggle manifests in many ways but perhaps her greatest foe is Madam Satan (Michelle Gomez), who unknowingly enters Sabrina's mortal world and pulls some strings.
On a recent visit to the set of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina in Vancouver, SYFY FANGRRLS spoke with Gomez and Shipka about the roles of strong women on the show and how witchcraft stands for more than just magic.
When the audience meets Sabrina, she's preparing for her 16th birthday and her dark baptism — the moment where she pledges loyalty to the Church of Night and leaves her mortal life behind. She must choose who she wants to be. And while most teenagers aren't choosing between being a witch or mortal, it's certainly analogous to the struggles teenagers face.
"Sabrina's at that age where she starts to question things, and where she starts to make decisions for herself, and form opinions," explained Shipka. "And I think she's right, sort of, at the beginning of that very important stage of her life and there's a lot of conflict. Because on one hand, the Church of Night is what she knows and is the typical route for someone like her to go, but at the same time she has this other life in a mortal world, and she's exposed to more than just that."
These themes Sabrina encounters aren't totally out of the ordinary, says Shipka.
"It's very coming of age in this sort of funny way because it deals with these themes that you wouldn't necessarily relate to like growing up and the teenage experience, but in other ways, it's totally analogous to your typical teenage experience," she noted.
Especially when Sabrina's mortal witchy worlds overlap, as is the case with Gomez's character Madam Satan, who is loyal to the Church of Night. Madam Satan wants to control Sabrina is some ways but also encourages her growth as a strong woman. And Gomez says that this dichotomy also leads to Madam Satan questioning her own beliefs.
"I think perhaps maybe what might be happening for the audience, for them to witness and observe, is that there's a situation where this character is actually empowering the lead character, empowering Sabrina, to be an independent, powerful woman in her own right, and in doing so perhaps throws into question, 'Where does she stand?'" Gomez revealed.
From the very beginning, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is set up as a show about choice and power. And Sabrina boldly makes choices and stands up against powerful men throughout Season 1. That's something Shipka said is appealing to her.
"I think that one of my favorite things is that the show is just jam-packed with powerful badass women who are exercising their power and just being awesome and cool and have depth and flaws, and that's what I'm obsessed with and always have been," she said. "To play a character like Sabrina who is making mistakes and making good choices and just figuring herself out is something that I think is really exciting. And I really kind of like, hesitate to ever call Sabrina a role model because she's 16 years old, but needless to say I'm very excited that some 13-year-old girls are going to be watching this show and have her as a character to think about or be for Halloween. She's a really strong, smart, educated girl, and I couldn't be prouder to be part of a show that has clear intentions about that in front."
Gomez says what Sabrina brings to the forefront is that moment for all of us where we must choose who we are.
"For all of us, actually, I'm sure everybody in this room, we've all had our dark moments and how do we choose to come back from them?" she noted. "So what we're looking at there is again the opposite. And I think that that's what Sabrina is to me, it's a girl in the last moments of her childhood, as she becomes an adult, and what happens to all of us in those last moments, when you cross that threshold into young adulthood and there's the responsibilities that come with being an adult, and how do we respond to that?"
In The Chilling Adventure of Sabrina, the characters struggle with that balance between power and choice constantly. Who has the power? How can they get the power? And what should they do with it if they have it? And to be honest, the adults don't seem to have it figured out more than Sabrina does.
Gomez says Sabrina can be an example for adults and young people alike of how to deal with these very human struggles.
"I think that Sabrina, in a weird way, as Kiernan has for me, Michelle, is that beacon of light and hope to furrow your own path and be your own person, and find your independence, find your voice."
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Season 1 streams October 26 on Netflix.