Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is many things—a supernatural adventure, a family melodrama, an exploration of faith, a coming of age saga, and an apocalyptic story in which the fate of the world can literally hang in the balance. But mostly it’s a story about women, of all ages and creeds, who all have one thing in common: The desire to control their own futures.
Every character-driven female drama has wrestled with the age-old question of whether women can have it all, and what kinds of compromises they’re willing to make in the attempt to do so. Chilling Adventures explores this issue through a variety of different lenses: A teenager who craves power even as she repeatedly proves she’s not ready to wield it responsibly; a woman who desires her own agency even as she seeks yet another system to put her faith in; a sister who wants a life for herself outside of the family that’s consistently ruled her choices. And, of course, a hell demon who has fought for the right to finally shape her world—and Hell itself—in her own image.
Madam Satan is a complicated character, to say the least. Also known as Lilith, she was Adam’s first wife according to Jewish folklore, and she fulfills many roles on Chilling Adventures, from mentor to cautionary tale. She served as a sort of primary villain during the show’s first season, a master manipulator working to mold Sabrina’s choices to serve her own nefarious ends. Yet, Lilith is also one of the series’ most stridently feminist avatars, a woman not just in touch with her own righteous rage, but one who understands the necessity of claiming her power in a world that’s specifically designed to suppress it.
As viewers, we spent the first two seasons of Chilling Adventures watching Madame Satan work toward her ultimate goal: Becoming Queen of Hell and ruling alongside the Dark Lord she’d spent so long serving. That she completely usurps Lucifer’s power once she realized he’d never allow her to be anything more than his demonic handmaiden was honestly just the icing on the cake of her journey. Sure, Lilith wasn’t—isn’t—a great person. She’s certainly not a role model. But neither is anyone else on this show, and in the grand scheme of things, her actions aren’t necessarily any worse than the transgressions we see Sabrina herself (or her friends, or her aunts) commit.
?After all, Madam Satan isn’t the one out here creating time paradoxes and copies of herself because she can’t decide between her ruling hell alongside her devil father and cheerleading practice. Just saying.
In the world of this show, Lilith has never really been a true villain, nor is she a victim. Instead, she’s a complex mixture of both good and evil, a combination of monster and icon, and a character we can’t help but cheer for even as we recognize her methods and goals are often deeply flawed. She’s an endlessly adaptable survivor, who changes sides as easily as breathing, and who has an uncanny knack for self-preservation in all forms.
As Chilling Adventures Part 3 begins, we meet a Lilith fully in her power and secure on her throne. It’s the first time we not only see a version of Madame Satan that seems content with herself and her place in the (under)world, but one who is emotionally invested in, and affected by, the position she has carved out for herself with such dedication. Her reaction to the realization that Zelda and the other academy witches are now praying to her is surprisingly moving, and exactly the sort of small, subtly complex moment that this show has always been great about giving this character.
Unfortunately, it’s virtually the only moment Lilith gets all season.
Chilling Adventures Part 3 almost completely abandons Madame Satan’s arc, derailing the character’s two previous seasons of growth and forcing her back into nearly the same position she occupied when the series started. (Actually, it’s probably a little worse, if we’re honest.) Lilith, who wanted nothing more than an equal seat at the table of power, finds herself serving as a pawn once again under the boot of the newly free Lucifer Morningstar.
Madam Satan doesn’t even make it a full episode as Hell’s Queen, finding herself almost immediately demoted to regent in charge of a rebellious young Sabrina, who asserts her family claim to the throne to save her boyfriend, Nick. An entirely different piece could be written about the uncomfortable ways that Chilling Adventures manages to make Sabrina’s journey in Part 3 almost entirely about a boy, rather than her own growth. But her decision to claim the throne of Hell doesn’t just damage Sabrina’s arc, it wrecks Madam Satan’s as well.
Though the show still occasionally revels in the groundbreaking idea of both Lilith and Sabrina as patriarchy-busting powers, it ultimately abandons both of them to stories that are largely shaped and dictated by men.
Rather than explore the complex issues inherent in the idea of a woman underestimated for centuries finally getting a chance to prove herself, Lilith is given little to do in her own right. In fact, beyond her very palpable fear when she learns that the Dark Lord is free, her character remains fairly one note, expressing varying degrees of irritation at Sabrina’s utter disinterest in the kingdom she has claimed. (And not just claimed, but took from Lilith in the process.)
Madam Satan’s default setting in Season 3 is a sort of snarky exasperation, complete with dramatic eyerolls and dry one-liners. Occasionally she recites some vague platitudes for powerful women in her young ward’s general direction, reminding her that queens aren’t allowed to cry, show mercy, or do anything that might mark them as emotionally vulnerable or weak. The idea that these platitudes have some sort of personal relevance for Lilith herself is hinted at, but never mentioned outright, and Chilling Adventures has little interest in exploring them with any depth.
Given how far Lilith has come as a character, this is a disappointing step backward. Her journey to date largely focused on her decision to claim her own power at last, and ultimately reject a framework in which she herself is automatically deemed lesser by virtue of her gender and identity. But by the time the credits roll on Season 3, Madame Satan is right back where she started: Subservient to the Dark Lord. But now she’s also pregnant with his son.
This is a particularly horrifying development since the pregnancy is so obviously unwanted, and something Lilith never would have chosen for herself if her life didn’t hang in the balance. Though she used a possessed Faustus Blackwood to become pregnant—let’s not look too closely at how—Lilith has basically been forced to give her body over to a man who has spent centuries abusing her, and who would kill her if he could. As season-long arcs go, it’s hard to name a character who ended up in a worse place, or whose prospects look bleaker at the moment. Of course, Lilith is the ultimate survivor, so it seems a safe bet she’ll get out of this mess eventually. But what a sad come down for a character whose entire existence was built on defying the patriarchy—not to mention for Chilling Adventures as a whole.
Chilling Adventures Season 3 is currently streaming on Netflix
Lacy Baugher is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Collider, IGN, Screenrant, The Baltimore Sun and others. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.
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