Sabrina season 2 challenges the message of the series
Madame Satan, the primary antagonist of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina season 1, spent most of last December’s holiday special cackling by the fire and musing about how she would bring about Sabrina’s downfall. In the first half of Chilling Adventures second season, out now on Netflix, she spends most of her time and effort actually aiding Sabrina’s cause — while still maintaining that she hates the young witch and would rather be rid of her. The dissonance in what Madame Satan tells the audience and what actually unfolds on screen is one of many confounding character choices that plague the second batch of episodes in what was a promising series.
[Ed. note: the following contains major spoilers for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina season 2.]
At the end of the first batch of episodes from last October, Sabrina signed her name into the Dark Lord’s book, fully committing herself to her witch half, a choice that affected her friends, family, and foes. In season two, Chilling Adventures’ auxiliary characters are have their own motivations and challenges — from becoming Queen of Hell to protecting their families — but when warped by Sabrina’s arc, only raise more questions than answers, and ultimately undermine the theme of the show. The female characters, particularly, end up contradicting their own motives just to fabricate conflict. The show wants to be an empowering female-driven narrative, but when the most compelling female characters have conflicts that don’t make sense, it’s hard to get on board.
The most grating instance of this is Madam Satan/Ms. Wardwell. Once Wardwell thought herself as Satan’s equal, but as he’s continued to demand subservience from her, she’s become disillusioned with her position, a compelling storyline that falls in line with the greater theme of the show. Wardwell seeks to rid herself of Satan’s shackles and become queen of hell because she knows she is equal; Sabrina wishes to challenge the patriarchal structure of the Church of the Night and prove witches are equal.
But Wardwell is supposed to be a villain so the show twists to make it so. In order to fabricate conflict, they make it about a single man — more specifically, the Dark Lord himself. Satan wants Sabrina to be his herald; Wardwall doesn’t want that, so she tries to stop Sabrina from turning to the “dark side.”
This would make sense, if not for the very glaring fact that Sabrina doesn’t want to be the Devil’s minion. Ms. Wardwell knows this, as Sabrina made it clear to her multiple times. They’re on the same side. Plus, Wardwell knows that Sabrina is so concerned with being a good person that she’s purposefully alienating herself from her mortal friends to avoid hurting them. All the information is there — especially on Ms. Wardwell’s side. Instead of actually doing anything, Ms. Wardwell speaks her dislike of Sabrina and plots to thwart her out loud to her raven.
Which would be fine, but everything Wardwell does to oppose Sabrina ends up helping her instead. She cackles about how she will be the one to undo Sabrina, yet every “plot” is somewhat in line with what Sabrina wants and ends up helping her. Satan insists he wants Sabrina at his side instead of Lilith. Wardwell replies that Sabrina would never turn evil, so the Dark Lord sets out to tempt Sabrina to his side. Sabrina repeatedly comes to Wardwell for advice on how to resist Satan, and she offers helps. Sabrina ultimately tricks the devil, blazing in opposition to the established male-dominated system.
To continue framing Ms. Wardwell as a villain, the show emphasizes that she’s not aware that Sabrina tricked the devil and thinks that Sabrina was tempted. But before this, Sabrina confided in Ms. Wardwell that she was driven to make this choice not because she wanted grand power, but because she didn’t want Satan to hurt her friends. Wardwell knows Sabrina very explicitly doesn’t want to take her place at the Devil’s side and therefore isn’t actually a threat. So is she a villain or not?
Ms. Wardwell’s mixed motives create the greatest confusion in season 2, but other conflicts in which women characters are pitted against each other also don’t match where they ended in season 1.
Last season, Prudence Night antagonized Sabrina, but by the end, she and Sabrina had partnered up enough to carve out something of a friendship, even as personalities clashed. Their allyship is one of the more complicated relationships of the show: they are both intense women who don’t want men to tell them what to do. When season 2 starts, Prudence ropes her friends the Weird Sisters to aid Sabrina by providing her answers to a test that the high priest Father Blackwood is skewing unfairly against her. Though Prudence sometimes sneers at Sabrina’s mortal affinities, and Sabrina questions Prudence’s crush on her cousin, they generally get along.
In stark contrast, the rest of season 2 finds Prudence and her gang of Weird Sisters seducing Sabrina’s new boyfriend Nick. To be fair, it’s Dorcas who really wants a piece of Nick, going so far as to jump him during the Lupercalia festivities, but Prudence and Agatha are accomplices. A tarot card reading warns Sabrina to keep an eye out for them, even though Prudence helped her a few episodes earlier.
The Weird Sisters lusting after Nick instigates friction in Sabrina and Nick’s relationship, but without actually pinning any blame on Nick. Nick is absolved of all possible wrongdoing when it comes to his previous promiscuity. Remove the Weird Sisters from the equation and the conflict would be between Sabrina and Nick, a pretty natural contention that arises when one is insecure about their new partner’s more experienced past.
Prudence is ambitious. She sucks up to her father — Father Blackwood— because she knows if he acknowledges her as his offspring, she will benefit. But she goes behind his back when she helps Sabrina undermine the controlling male presence. She knows what she wants, be it power or a boy, and she goes after it, while showing a vulnerable side as she struggles to find where she belongs. Seeing her and the other Weird Sisters reduced to romantic obstacles is a disservice to the foundation of the series.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has all the pieces of strong characters with interesting motives, but the show brings them together through conjured conflict, rather than anything true to what they once were. Sabrina is about a teenage girl challenging patriarchal society and standing with women, but in the end, the catty fights over boys added in season 2 makes one wonder just what battle Sabrina and the witches are fighting.