Watch two minutes of Netflix’s new series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and you’ll see that it’s nothing like the beloved Melissa Joan Hart show from the nineties. A young woman named Sabrina Spellman is at the center of both iterations, but this updated version—created by Riverdale mastermind Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa—is darker and more thematic than the MJH sitcom.
This time around, our heroine (played by Kiernan Shipka) must decide on her 16th birthday if she wants to stay in the mortal world with her friends and boyfriend Harvey (Ross Lynch) or fully become a witch. If Sabrina chooses the latter, she must completely give her soul over to—wait for it—the devil himself. Yes, gals and ghouls: Satan is a central figure in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
He’s beloved and worshipped by Sabrina’s aunts, Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Zelda (Miranda Otto), as well as the entire Church of Night, a satanic congregation that Sabrina will join if she becomes a full witch. All this devil adoration lends Sabrina nicely to some pretty harrowing imagery—from freaky demons to possessed faces—but that isn’t the most unnerving part of the show. Nope, that honor (or dishonor) goes to the toxic masculinity Sabrina, her aunts, and her friends battle in both the mortal and witch worlds.
Some of that is present in the Church of Night, which is led by Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle). Hilda and Zelda are constantly in fear of losing the favor of either him or Satan, whom they refer to as the Dark Lord. In one episode, we learn Zelda’s literal worst nightmare is preparing a dinner for Satan that he doesn’t like. “Within the Church of Night, there’s a real darker side about what happens to women in it,” Otto tells Glamour.com. “With all the witch power and female power, there’s a looming presence of men at the top of it.”
We see this toxic masculinity at Sabrina’s high school, too. A band of douchey jocks routinely pick on Susie Putnam (Lachlan Watson), Sabrina’s gender non-conforming friend, but the school’s principal George Hawthorne (Bronson Pinchot) does nothing about it. He won’t even approve of a girls-supporting-girls club that Sabrina and Susie want to start. At the advice of her teacher and fellow witch, Mary Wardell (Michelle Gomez), Sabrina takes action against the jocks and Hawthorne so they never mess with Susie again. This toppling of the patriarchy is beyond satisfying to watch—and something the women on the show enjoyed playing.
“[My character] is right behind Sabrina the entire time whispering in her ear to do it, to say it, to push boundaries, to not just be the little girl taking no for an answer,” Gomez says. “There’s this amazing friendship that seems to be developing between [Mary and Sabrina], which is a wonderful world to be in.”
Not all the male characters in Sabrina are monsters, though. Both Harvey and Ambrose (Chance Perdomo), a pansexual witch who lives with Sabrina and her aunts, are enlightened, and the actors who play them were thrilled about diving into this feminist world. “I was excited to be part of such a strong female-driven show,” Lynch says. “We should be past these times of this toxic masculinity. It should be way more fluid as far as how males and females interact. And I’m so happy to be on a show that emphasizes [how times are changing].”
One of the main things the women of Sabrina have going for them in their fight against demonic machismo is that they aren’t pitted against each other. Ever. Sabrina has great relationships with her girlfriends on the show—even with Prudence (Tati Gabrielle), a pureblood witch who looks down on Sabrina because she’s half-mortal. They have their differences and their fights, sure, but when push comes to shove they have each other’s back. It’s a refreshing dynamic, because these two aren’t buddy-buddy. But that doesn’t mean they have to bicker, either.
“[Prudence and Sabrina have] definitely butted heads to a certain extent,” Shipka says. “[They’re] both alpha females. It’s so interesting because it’s written with such depth and they sometimes do get along and Sabrina is desperately trying to support Prudence even at times when she completely disagrees. They end up having really honest conversations about their beliefs, which are super different.”
It’s these types of strong bonds that let the viewers and female characters of Sabrina know who truly has the power in their world. The men may be at the top, but the women are keen on making sure it doesn’t stay that way. Says Davis, “Even Father Blackwood, who technically is the High Priest and the highest on the show, is governed by women. He just doesn’t know it.”
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is currently streaming on Netflix.