Sabrina Spellman is a tramp.
At least, that’s what Episode 3 of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina would have you believe. "The Trial of Sabrina Spellman" serves as the show’s way to construct a bridge between Sabrina’s dual natures. By the end of the episode, Sabrina’s happily attending both Baxter High and the Academy of the Unseen Arts. It turns out dual citizenship does have its perks. But this episode doesn’t just set the foundation for the showdown between Sabrina’s worlds — mortal and witch — it also gives us a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it commentary on the #MeToo movement.
I know, I know, every show is doing that these days and yes, a series about teenage witches rebelling against authority was bound to trade in the same feminist values present in our current women’s crusade, but “The Trial of Sabrina Spellman” feels different.
It doesn’t bluntly drive the hammer home as some shows are wont to do. It doesn’t even mention words like “sexual assault,” “harassment,” or “equality” out loud. It doesn’t preach from an unholy altar about the trials of women, the accusations against them, the complicity of men. Instead, it uses something wholly foreign to us mere mortals — an Infernal Summons to stand trial in the Court of Witches — to shed light on a problem all too real.
Of course, instead of tales of frat parties gone wrong, drugged drinks, date rapes, and perverted bosses, we’re treated to a decidedly sinister version of #MeToo.
Spoiler warning for The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Episode 3 within.
It seems that Satan himself is suing Sabrina Spellman for Breach of Promise, an antiquated offense as Aunt Hilda dubs it, but one that brings the possibility of a hellish punishment. According to Father Blackwood and his sacrilegious court, Sabrina pledged herself to the Dark Lord, stating her intentions to sign the Book of the Beast, and then reneged on that promise.
On the surface, “The Trial of Sabrina Spellman” is a plot device used to used to push Sabrina’s story further, to set up her ultimate battle with the Dark Lord, but the way it’s done and the language that’s used feels intentional and elevates the episode to something more than just the chance to witness the inner-workings of the witching world.
By casting Sabrina’s offense against the Dark Lord in an oddly sexual light, the show urges us to think about the trauma faced by victims of sexual harassment and assault.
Father Blackwood likens Sabrina’s betrayal to that of a groom running out on a bride on their wedding day. “After all,” he says while questioning the witch, “weren’t you and the Dark Lord courting?”
Courting. A strange way to describe something as straightforward as a signature in a book.
Father Blackwood uses other interesting words to describe Sabrina’s unfaithfulness. He questions what she was wearing the night she ran from her Dark Baptism — a wedding dress, a white slip. He asks whether she willingly went into the woods that night, implying she knew what would happen and decided to cry foul only after the fact.
And, perhaps Sabrina’s worst offense as Father Blackwood describes it, is her decision to flee at the “moment of consummation.” She had been stripped, presented to the Dark Lord — who required she remain a virgin before her Baptism — and asked to give her consent to his domination over her. And she refused.
For anyone who’s been the victim of sexual assault or harassment, “The Trial of Sabrina Spellman” is a reminder of the lengths people will go to avoid believing women. Sabrina is forced to answer for her actions while her accuser is protected. How many times have women been made to prove their trauma, prove that they’ve been hurt or violated, while their assailant skirts by unscathed?
Sabrina is forced to relive the horrific night of her Dark Baptism, as so many women are forced to relive their own harrowing experiences. She’s questioned by her family, put on trial in front of strangers, pushed to comply, to downgrade the damage done to her, even treated as the cause of this whole sorted mess by those she loves.
She bears the brunt of words like “tramp” from her accusers when she denies any wrongdoing. Not liar, not oath breaker, not any label that would be more suited to her actual crime, but "tramp." A word used for centuries to defile women, make them seem lesser, guilty of seducing or corrupting men — in this case, Satan himself.
And, in what seems her only recourse, the only way to prove her innocence, Sabrina is nearly forced to strip herself bare, to reveal her body to the coven so that they can search it for the mark of the witch. Again, how often are women also asked to bare their bodies to prove their trauma, to be examined after something as invasive and dehumanizing as sexual assault so that they may have the opportunity of one day seeking justice, justice that is never promised and rarely earned?
Thankfully, Sabrina is saved from that particular form of humiliation by her Aunt Hilda, but the happy ending doesn’t negate how painful a watch this episode was especially for anyone familiar with sexual assault and its aftermath.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina regularly takes on the patriarchy in its first season. Sabrina’s driving mission is to defeat the Dark Lord, overthrow the men forcing their will on her coven, and to create a safe space for her mortal friends. The show isn’t afraid to touch on difficult subjects, but it’s “The Trial of Sabrina Spellman,” an episode that weaves threads of misogyny and magic into an issue that exists not just in the witching world, but the mortal one as well, that feels like its greatest accomplishment and one of TV’s better treatments of the all-important #MeToo movement.