In September, as the future Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh gave testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee about allegations of sexual assault leveled against him, a photographer present captured a moment that instantly went viral. The actress Alyssa Milano, her hair severely swept up in a topknot, lowered her black-framed glasses in the hearing room to stare intently at Kavanaugh’s back. The Entertainment Tonight writer Meredith B. Kile posted the photo on Twitter, adding, “I’ve never wished so hard that Alyssa Milano was a real witch.”
Milano, of course, played Phoebe Halliwell, one of three witch sisters in the WB’s long-running supernatural drama Charmed. While the question of that show’s authentic feminist credentials has resurfaced in the wake of the CW’s recent reboot, there’s something undeniably thrilling about the idea of Milano’s real activist self endowed with the powers of her most famous character. In a moment when so many women seem to feel powerless—when speaking out, the only option they have for seeking justice, often appears to be futile—the fantasy of witchhood is extra alluring.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Netflix’s sumptuous new teen drama based on the Archie Comics character, is, in that sense, right on cue. The story stars Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka as Sabrina, who, on her 16th birthday, will have to choose “between two worlds: the witch world of her family and the human world of her friends.” Sabrina, whose father was a powerful Satanic priest (this is not your ’90s teen-witch drama) and whose mother was a mortal, is expected to pledge allegiance to the Dark Lord, Lucifer himself, and renounce her human ties. In return, she gets unfathomable power—for total fealty.