What ‘The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ can teach us about manoeuvring for power in the Patriarchy
The latest episodes of ‘The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ have a lot to teach us about the ways in which we relate to love, family, friends and even organised religion through our gender. But perhaps the most poignant lesson that the second part of the show’s first season can offer us comes in the form of several cautionary tales about dealing with a patriarchal power structure when you are not an intended beneficiary of patriarchy. The characters that allow us to explore the truly treacherous nature of a white patriarchal structure are Prudence Night, Aunt Zelda and Madam Satan herself, Lilith. All of these characters find themselves having to navigate an increasingly hostile environment pushing in on them from all sides. And all of them, ultimately, find themselves being betrayed by the same faction that they aligned themselves with in the hopes of securing their own position in the patriarchal power structure. We begin our exploration with the character of Prudence. Prudence Night is the bastard daughter of Father Blackwood, a very talented and powerful witch in her own right that strives for recognition from her church as well as her own father. It isn’t until Prudence demonstrates a readiness to betray other witches that she is granted the “honour” of being able to carry her father’s name. This betrayal comes in the form of her giving the whereabouts of her infant half-sister to Father Blackwood. The reason that this betrayal comes as such a gut punch to the viewer is the fact that Prudence had been the one to help Zelda hide her infant sister away from the prying patriarchal eyes of her father. Both of them, knowing of his plans to make the Church’s witches subservient to the warlocks, agreed to keep the baby’s existence a secret and let Blackwood believe that her twin brother had devoured her in utero. But, as soon as an opportunity for personal advancement and favour became available, Prudence delivers her infant sister into the hands of their father.
But Prudence’s betrayal is short lived. Having been told by his Lord and master, Lucifer, that Sabrina is to rule at his side and usher in the new age of Hell on Earth, Blackwood (refusing to accept any woman, much less Sabrina as his superior) poisons his congregation save himself and Prudence. Seeing the lengths to which Blackwood will go to maintain his control, and the price that her Weird Sisters paid for his megalomania, Prudence makes the choice to defy the father whose approval she has longed for. In defying Blackwood, Prudence is, not only choosing herself and her Church over one man’s ambition, she is rejecting the patriarchal structure that promised her personal gain. In doing this, Prudence gains clarity of purpose in going off into an uncertain future with Ambrose to hunt her father and get back her infant siblings. And so we move on to Aunt Zelda. Though a bona fide badass in her own right, Zelda is the epitome of patriarchy as it expresses itself in women. Zelda clings to her traditions because she finds safety in them. She thinks that by gaining the approval of authority figures like Father Blackwood, she and her family will be looked on as worthy of returning to their privileged position in the Church of Night. In the hopes of re-establishing this, Zelda begins a relationship with Father Blackwood in the hopes of restoring the reputation of the Spellman family within the Church of Night. However, Zelda finds herself betrayed in the most violating way imaginable. After her marriage to Blackwood, Zelda comes back from her honeymoon under the influence of an enchantment designed to by-pass her own agency. Controlled by a enchanted music box, Zelda is a rendered a passenger in her own body, aware of everything that Blackwood is doing and asking her to do, while being powerless to fight back until Sabrina and Helga free her by breaking the enchantment. Upon regaining control of her mind and body, Zelda is finally ready to confront the uncomfortable reality that her Church has become corrupt and that the man she had been relying on to restore her family honour and privilege is manipulative and toxic. By finally abandoning the traditions to which she has held so dear, Zelda is able to recommit to her family and help Sabrina stand against the Devil himself.
And, finally, we come to Madam Satan. She is Lilith the first woman and the first witch, the first wife of Adam and the first lady of Hell (that is until her husband, Lucifer, finds a younger model to reign as his queen in the eponymous Sabrina). Throughout the series, Lilith has been working to complete the Devil’s design by guiding Sabrina through her various magical quandaries and dilemmas. All of this was done in the hope that she would finally be elevated to the title of Queen of Hell, a true equal to her chosen paramour. Lilith’s story, when it is revealed (if you weren’t already familiar with it) is, perhaps, the most tragic because she rejected Paradise and her first love because all she wanted was to be treated as an equal the person that she loved. Upon meeting another that was cast out from Paradise and the love of God, she joins him and agrees to do his bidding because he promises to raise her up to where she feels she belongs. In choosing to unite with Lucifer, Lilith clutches at the hope that her hard work and toil will be rewarded – only to have her love elevate someone else over her. This is particularly painful to Lilith as we see her rediscover her old feelings for Adam and longing for the life that she rejected. It is only when Lilith teams up with Sabrina and her family and friends that she is truly able to ascend to the position that is rightfully hers. Maybe we, as the viewer, should heed the warning of ‘The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ that putting faith in patriarchal power structures can only lead to short term advancement and that the long game is much more easily won when we look out for each other, reject the subjugation of others and stand together against toxic masculinity.
Article by Tariyé Peterside. To see more from Tariyé here
You may also like...
Ever since Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ slashed its way into cinemas around the world, multiple theories and interpretations have abounded about the film’s themes and its characters. People have been theorising, in particular, about the twist regarding Adelaide and Red.