WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Season 1, streaming now on Netflix.
The alpha male, embodied most obviously by the stereotypical high school jock, doesn’t fare well on Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. He’s humiliated, emasculated (quite literally) and, ultimately, sacrificed by the symbols of female empowerment, Greendale’s witches, who challenge the patriarchy at every turn, even as they devote themselves to the service of the Dark Lord. Hail, Satan.
That’s because, sure, the Devil is evil and all, but the true threat to the town is toxic masculinity. Well, that, and the Red Angel of Death.
Clad in their letterman jackets, the male athletes of Baxter High make their presence felt in the opening minutes of the series, engaging in horseplay in the lobby of the Paramount theater, where the mere sight of them makes Sabrina's genderqueer friend Susie Putnam (Lachlan Watson) visibly uncomfortable. They appear perfectly at home in the series’ faux-1960s setting, yet when paired with a character like Susie, they help to underscore the central dichotomy of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which embraces the trappings of nostalgia while simultaneously seeking to subvert them.
However, if there's any old-fashioned charm to these seemingly good-natured football players, it quickly dissipates when Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka), and the audience, sees Susie the next day at school, traumatized after they pulled up her shirt to see whether she's a boy or a girl. When the puritanical Principal Hawthorne (Bronson Pinchot) proves unhelpful, Sabrina takes matters into her own hands, beginning with the founding of a support group, Woman's Intersectional Cultural and Creative Association. But when jock pack leader Billy Marlin (Ty Wood) rips down a WICCA poster, calls an enraged Susie a dyke and then punches her when she fights back, Sabrina enlists the rival Weird Sisters to help mete out retribution.
And, oh, how they do, luring the football players away from a night of slamming beers, demeaning girls and calling each other "queer," with the possibility of sex in Greendale's mines. Goaded into entering the foreboding tunnels by a challenge to their masculine pride -- "Maybe they're just scared little boys," Prudence suggests -- they promptly strip down to their underwear and eagerly begin to make out with the four young witches. But when the spell fades, the jocks are horrified to discover they've been kissing, and straddling, each other, a scene memorialized on Polaroid by Sabrina to ensure their good behavior. However, mere blackmail doesn't satisfy the Weird Sisters, who first terrify the young men, and then takes their "boyhoods," manifested as four caged little songbirds. "Until you release the birds," Prudence instructs Sabrina, "those four boys won't be ... rising to any occasion." We're left to wonder whether the Weird Sisters actually seize the athletes' genitals, or merely render them impotent.
Although the jocks then shrink from the foreground for much of the remainder of the season, Billy and Carl Tapper (Peter Bundic) return in Episode 9, if only to harass Susie at Dr. Cerberus' Books and Spirits. That places them in the cross hairs of Sabrina's Aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis), who, long subjected to bullying by her sister, skips past the theatrics to get to the root of Billy Marlin's repugnant behavior: Something awful was done to him at summer camp by "those boys" when he was 11 years old, and no adult would believe him. But before we can begin to sympathize with Billy as a traumatized little boy whose mother washed his mouth out with detergent until he stopped talking about what happened to him, Hilda reveals that Carl is secretly "in lust" with him, and ushers them out of the store.
It's perhaps not the most deft scene, as it falls back on well-worn tropes of young-adult fiction, with bullies who were themselves bullied, and homophobes who repress their own homosexuality. But it nevertheless represents another turning of the tables on those who Miss Wardwell (Michelle Gomez) identified as "Greendale's favorite sons" and "golden boys." They can be shielded from more traditional consequences by Principal Hawthorne, the personification of the patriarchy, but they can't be protected from the wrath of witches.
That's hammered home in the season finale, when Miss Wardwell (actually Madame Satan) disguises herself as a girl, and lures football player Steve Loomis (Madison Smith) into the woods, not for sex but rather for a sacrifice. She needs a virgin for her ritual to summon S, and Steve fits that bill. Fending off his advances, Miss Wardwell asks, "Why are you virgins always so aggressive?" knowing full well that, among the jocks of Baxter High, "virgin" ranks with "queer" among the panoply of undesirable labels. Steve protests, for all the good it does him, and then bleeds out on the very blanket where he'd hoped to lose his virginity.