Women Embrace Their Power In Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Pt. 3

The Spellmans in CAOS Part 3

Spoilers ahead for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 3Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is back, and with it comes a mind-bending finale where the women fully embrace their power and break away from the male-dominated system that oppressed them. 

There’s a moment in Supernatural Season 5 where, for the first time, you meet a pantheon of gods outside of Christianity’s angels and demons. Kali, Baldur, Odin, Ganesh, Zao Shen (a kitchen god, the best kind of god) — they’re all there, in their multicultural, complex, unknowable glory. At the time, I was endlessly intrigued: different religions being introduced? Kali, the Hindu destroyer, most often drawn with a severed man’s head in one hand, suggesting they simply kill Lucifer? The prospect of the cast of Supernatural becoming way more weird and more diverse and global, with a brown goddess leading the charge? Yes, please.

Anyone who watched Supernatural at the time can tell you what happened. Lucifer shows up. He kills every single one of them with ease, and that entire acknowledgement — that other much older religions outside Christianity exist, and they’re not all male-dominated — is closed out and forgotten within 45 minutes. By that same token, by the end of the season, key allies Jo and Ellen Harvelle sacrifice their lives for the cause, knocking the number of female allies back down to well, pretty much zero. Sam and Dean win, but really, they lose.

I kept with the show until Season 7 or 8, but my interest had waned. It had become clear to me that Supernatural wasn’t interested in innovating so much as regurgitating, and the show would likely never move beyond a very patriarchal, well-worn structure: God, man, and Lucifer in an endless struggle, played out by two brothers ad nauseam. (As far as I know, it still hasn’t, and even if it has, I think we can agree it shouldn’t take eight plus seasons for a show to get with it.)

The witches call upon Hecate / Copyright Netflix

When The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina premiered, it didn’t quite catch my interest at first. It felt like the same set-up again: no gravelly-voiced angels here, but Lucifer was lurking around again, and the Church of Night was just Christianity flipped upside down, with God swapped out for a horned beast. There’s an anti-pope, a desecrated church, a gender-based hierarchy, and many utterances of “Oh heaven.” Yeah, yeah, we know how this goes.

Over time the show began to win me over though. Sabrina’s cheery optimism, her friend’s developing roles as demon hunters, and Zelda and Hilda’s icy sibling relationship growing into something more complex and genuine all made the show worthwhile. The show seemed to be at least open to learning based on feedback, such as expanding on Theo’s storyline as a trans man, to introducing Mambo Marie and giving Prudence and Ambrose a major role in Part 3 (which feels like a late mea culpa for the poor way race was handled in Part 1).

Most notably, by Part 3, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina does something pretty remarkable: they finally move beyond the simple Lucifer/Church of Night dichotomy into entirely new, female-driven territory. Sure, every show involving Lucifer is in danger of retreating to well-known Christianity-centric plots, as Supernatural did, but in Part 3 at least, CAOS broke the mold by introducing pagan gods, a female source of power, and a final twist that may end up being forever irreversible.

Part 3 follows on from a plot line in Part 2, where Zelda, Hilda, Prudence, Sabrina, Lilith, and the rest begin to realize that the Church of Night is deeply misogynistic, and Lucifer does not have their best interests at heart. Part 2 ends with the women, Nick, and Ambrose rising up against their own god and priest, imprisoning one (Lucifer) and giving chase to the other (Father Blackwood). With their leaders mostly MIA, Part 3 kicks off with all women in charge: Zelda and Hilda are teaching what’s left of their poor little coven (most of them having perished in Part 2 when it’s revealed that Blackwood poisoned them all); Prudence is leading Ambrose on a furious hunt for Blackwood; and Lilith sits on the throne of hell, Lucifer trapped at her feet, in chains, in Nick’s body.

Sabrina ascends to the throne of hell / Copyright Netflix

This new natural order seems fine, honestly, but of course things are meant to go sideways. Sabrina ascends to the throne of hell so she can save Nick. Nearby, a pagan coven lurks, waiting for their chance to wipe out the Satanic coven and take over the earth for their great Green Man god. And Lucifer and Blackwood have every intention of making the women pay for subjugating them, even if it means eventually teaming up with the pagans.

This is all terrible, and it’s compounded by the fact that the Church of Night/Church of Lilith is faced with quite a conundrum: what is a Satanic witch without the blessings of Lucifer? It’s a plot hole that Part 1 attempted to avoid discussing: if Sabrina refused to sign her name in Lucifer’s book, how and why does she have access to the powers he grants at all? Part 3 finally answers the question with a resounding “she shouldn’t.” Lucifer spurns and curses his followers, and Sabrina and the remaining witches are sapped of their powers, leaving them at the mercy of the pagans.

There is a brief moment where they stumble on a possible solution by bringing all the disenfranchised witches back into the fold, women who were deemed too angry, too volatile, and too unlovable to be members of any coven. Joined by Mambo Marie, Zelda promises these women that if they band together now, they can build a new order together, one that embraces all witches in their terrifying glory. There’s something striking about the imagery here: whereas earlier seasons were dominated by very orderly, church-appropriate garbs for all the women, here they’re colorful and bedraggled, with makeup running down their faces.

Mambo Marie / Copyright Netflix

The women are indeed more formidable together, but at every turn Lucifer, Blackwood, and the pagans (also led by a man) manage to thwart them. It’s not until the witches really and truly lose — with the pagans destroying humankind — that Sabrina is able to hop back in time and help Zelda to enact her original plan. In the final episode, all the women link hands and cry out to the heavens for help, to none other than Hecate.

Here’s where Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 3 truly does the thing. Hecate is considered to be the Greek goddess of magic and witchcraft, the daughter of Titans Perses and Asteria, who precedes even  the Olympians like Zeus and Hades. By historical standards, she predates Christianity by a thousand years. Whereas Blackwood attempted to form a conservative, all-male executive order of witches in Part 2 — very obviously riffing on the all-male clergy of the church — Part 3 tells us it was always women who were the original, and most powerful, magical users. CAOS ties the women back to one of the oldest gods to exist, reaffirming that in the grand scheme of things, it’s Lucifer who is actually nothing in the face of their power. In a surprisingly moving scene, the women reaffirm that it’s their own male-dominated, relatively newer religion that kept them oppressed and in the dark for so long. Supernatural Season 5 this is emphatically not.

This final female-centric twist kicks open the door for an entirely new set of stories. With Hecate’s blessing and Mambo Marie teaching the women Haitian Vodou magic, and with Blackwood now summoning the Eldritch Terrors, focusing on Lucifer now feels…passé. He’s a has been, CAOS says, and the fact that his throne has been technically usurped twice over by women is proof that he’s not as all-powerful and intelligent as he’d like everyone to believe. Sabrina accepts that what she desires is power over love, purposefully styles herself like Queen Elizabeth I, and glides to her throne, with Lucifer unaware of the time swap. Though we don’t know yet how the time jump will change things, right now it seems that in every avenue, the women already have Lucifer in a checkmate. CAOS is not without it’s issues, but that final subversion — that the supposedly all-powerful male god has been completely hoodwinked by women, and just doesn’t know it  yet — is pretty damn sweet, if you ask me.

Now is there any chance we can get Kali out here?

Gretchen Smail

Gretchen Smail

Gretchen lives and works in SF as a freelancer. If not at work, is probably off eating ramen, petting dogs, or attempting yoga. Tweets too much at @ubeempress.