Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina takes viewers on a journey to realms that fans of the 90s show could have never imagined, and not just because the streaming service has twisted this reboot into a far scarier take on the teenage witch.
During a recent interview with Variety, star Kiernan Shipka described her version of Sabrina Spellman as “woke,” arguing that this is the perfect iteration of the character for 2018. Before the show aired, the cast seemed to reflect this intent too, including two openly queer characters called Ambrose Spellman (Chance Perdomo) and Susie Putnam (Lachlan Watson).
However, it remained uncertain before whether Chilling Adventures of Sabrina would do justice to the portrayal of these LGBTQ characters. Now that the show is out though, it’s clear that both Ambrose and Susie are exactly the kind of well rounded, queer role models that a “woke” witch like Sabrina would be friends with.
Although Susie is non-binary, their identity is never sensationalized by the show and instead, they’re simply introduced as another one of Sabrina’s closest friends. That’s not to say that the writers don’t acknowledge their gender, though.
In the pilot episode, four brutish football players pull up their shirt at school to see if they’re a boy or a girl, and later on, their demonically possessed uncle describes their gender as “an abomination.” Rather than meekly allow these attacks to continue, Susie shrugs off names like “dyke” and fights back, even though the principal isn’t even on their side.
Fortunately, Susie also happens to have a teenage witch in their corner who punishes the boys by exploiting their fragile masculinity. In what starts out as one of the first season’s most frightening moments, Sabrina and the Weird Sisters take the bullies to a secluded place and terrorize them before using a spell to trick them into making out with each other, half-naked.
That doesn’t mean Susie relies on others for help, though. Not only do they remain unaware that Sabrina even did anything to those boys in the first place, but they later stand their ground yet again when issues of gender come up within their family home.
Such a strong and authentic performance is bolstered by the fact that Lachlan Watson also identifies as non-binary. The young star told Variety that Susie’s “genderqueer journey” really spoke to them and during an interview with Syfy, they expanded on this, explaining that “Susie has a lot of bravery that I wish I had.” It seems then that representation doesn’t just matter to the viewers but the performers too, proving exactly why it’s so vital to see these stories play out on shows like the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
Such impressive representation isn’t limited to just white characters. Sabrina’s cousin, the warlock Ambrose Spellman, was initially described in the press release as “witty, puckish, and pansexual”, but again, the character’s sexuality doesn’t come to define him. Instead, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina treats Ambrose’s romantic trysts like any other relationship on the show.
Speaking to Syfy, Perdomo discussed how gratifying it is to play a “pansexual person of color” with such depth, and it’s just as gratifying for the viewers. At one point, Ambrose breaks house arrest just so that he can go on a date with a boy he’s been seeing. His Aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis) objects, but her concerns have nothing to do with Ambrose’s sexuality and instead everything to do with the supernatural danger that comes with these kind of spells.
While Sabrina and Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch) regularly show affection to each other throughout Season 1, Ambrose has his fair share of makeout sessions too. At one point, the seemingly young warlock is even involved in an orgy that his cousin accidentally stumbles upon, which also happens to include her schoolmate, Nicholas Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood). Early on, we also learn that Nic was once involved with all three of the Weird Sisters, casually introducing the concept of polyamory into the show without judgment or fanfare.
Aside from all of these various LGBTQ role models who combine to make the show so inclusive, Sabrina herself is also inspiring in her role as ally. Beyond her love for Harvey, we doubt that the teenage witch will experiment with her own sexuality anytime soon, but the way that she stands up for Susie and accepts Ambrose without question will hopefully teach straight viewers a thing or two about tolerance. Not too shabby for someone whose family aligns themselves with Satan.
The entire first season of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is available to watch on Netflix from Friday, October 26.