Netflix’s Sabrina Spellman Is More Bad Witch Than Good Witch, and That’s Not Bad
While watching Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and loving 90% of it, there was 2% of me that had larger issues with the series—we shall get to those—and the rest was dealing with the character of Sabrina Spellman. Separate from the performance of Kiernan Brennan Shipka, which has its own ups and downs, my issue with Sabrina as a character lies in the fact that, throughout the season, she runs into situations half-cocked and expects her good intentions to be enough.
So, I began to wonder: Is Sabrina a good witch or a bad witch?
**Spoilers for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina season one.**
From the moment Sabrina tells Harvey she’s a witch, followed by removing it from his memory, Willow from Buffy-style, I knew that there was going to be a reckoning for her character. I just didn’t expect it to happen in this season.
Sabrina’s conflict between maintaining her witch powers, but retaining the friendships and bonds of her mortal life, is an interesting one. Plus, it’s compounded by her “primary tie to the mortal world,” Harvey Kinkle. Sabrina’s desire to protect Roz, Susie, and Harvey is supposed to be noble, but it often leads to her making decisions that do more harm than good. This comes to a head when Sabrina decides to use necromancy, which as anyone will tell you, never ends well.
A quick-ish rundown of events: In episode seven, “Feast of Feasts,” while Sabrina is entertaining Prudence (my favorite, along with the Aunties) at her high school, Harvey mentions that his family murdered a bunch of people to get the mines they now own. Once called the von Kinkles, Harvey’s family, Prudence realizes, are witch hunters.
Sabrina tries to convince Prudence and the other Weird Sisters (Agatha and Dorcas) that Harvey isn’t like that, but when his older brother, Tommy, kills a witch’s familiar in the woods, Agatha and Dorcas decide to take revenge by causing a mine to collapse while Harvey and Tommy are inside. Harvey survives, but Tommy is killed. Wanting to help Harvey, out of “love,” Sabrina is manipulated by Miss Wardwell into bringing Tommy back from the dead by temporarily killing Agatha—except the spell goes wrong. Tommy comes back wrong, and the Grim Reaper is slowly killing Agatha to get the body he is owed in return.
In episode nine, everyone says that what Sabrina did was wrong: her aunties, Father Blackwood, and even Harvey, to whom she confesses her true self for the second time. Harvey says she should have left it alone. In the end, Harvey is forced to kill the shell of what used to be his brother because of what Sabrina did, something that was no doubt deeply traumatizing.
Sabrina’s actions helped no one and were more of a way for the character to flaunt her own power and prove that she could do things that no one else could. She didn’t just do this to help Harvey—people die, and she, as an orphan, should understand that. She did it to play god, and she failed.
And this is no surprise, because when you look at Sabrina’s life as a whole, she’s an extremely spoiled person in terms of the love she has received from her aunties, the constant reassurances of her friends, and the fact that people remind her every other episode that she is the daughter of a High Priest, Edward Spellman. There’s a very powerful scene where Zelda cries that she can “never say no to Sabrina,” and Hilda replies that Zelda tells Sabrina “no” all the time, but she just ignores her.
The way Sabrina is suspicious of everyone, but freely takes advice from Miss Wardwell, is telling. Wardwell’s advice leads to more and more terrible consequences, but she is the only one telling Sabrina “You can do it,” so she listens, even though, if Sabrina were as smart as she thinks she is, she’d ask why this woman is the only once giving in to her childish magical inclinations.
None of this is to say that it makes Sabrina a bad character narratively, whatever it says about her as a person. In fact, I think it’s one of the most satisfying things about the show. So often, we assume and project goodness onto a protagonist, especially when they’re convinced they want to be good. Sabrina says in her first meeting with Father Blackwood that she isn’t “evil,” and the desire to prove that is part of why she doesn’t sign Satan’s book. Yet, her story is “the path to Hell is paved with good intentions,” because all of her choices to be an individual—to have it all, the human love and the witch powers—lead her right back into Satan’s thrall.
Sabrina may have wanted to be good, but she didn’t want to sacrifice anything to be that way. In fact, her choice to remain tied to the human world may have been even more proof that the two realms should be separate. How much magic drama did she bring to her classmates? She wanted to live deliciously, but that comes at a cost—one she didn’t want to pay until the very end.
One scene I keep coming back to is the vision that she has after eating the apple with the hanged witches and burning tree. We saw that as a warning of what would happen if she gave herself up to Satan, but it ended up being what resulted from running away from her Dark Baptism. What was the truth? Give in to darkness, resist the darkness, it’s all the same fate? The witches of Sabrina are all morally complex with their cannibalism, rape/love potions, and inability to love, but also this strong sense of family, faith, honor, and a desire to be free.
What I look most forward to in the coming second season is how it works with those moral elements by leaning more into Satan’s grasp than outside of it.
What did you all think of our teenage witch, for those who binged all the episodes already?
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