I’m Selina, Awards Circuit’s queer Girl Friday for everything LGBTQIA+ on film and TV! Last week finally saw the return of Netflix’s “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” (CAOS), which came back bloodier, gutsier, and more action-packed than its first season. The few quibbles I had with the series when I last covered CAOS seem to have been addressed, with Season 2 stepping past the confines of high school and into a mix of religious ideology, folklore, and dark magic inspiration. But the real rainbow star of the show was Lachlan Watson’s Theo Putnam (formerly known Susie), whose struggles with his gender identity were moving and profound, without being cheesy or taking over the character’s entire storyline. Let’s talk about why Theo, and his character development, are remarkable within the world of television.
Honorable Mention: I must give proper kudos to the CAOS writers and Chance Perdomo for Ambrose Spellman’s romantic plotlines on the series with late boyfriend Luke (Darren Mann) and new beau/frenemy Prudence Night (Tati Gabrielle). Ambrose (Sabrina’s warlock cousin), one of the only pansexual characters on TV right now, continues to be revolutionary with his pursuit of beautiful people, regardless of gender, and it’s fantastic.
(Note: Watson uses they/them pronouns, while Theo uses he/him pronouns. I will be using the appropriate pronouns when referring to the character or the actor.)
Theo’s (Previously Known as Susie) Fantastic Storyline Shows the Real-Life Struggles of Trans Folx
If you want to know the full details about Susie’s character arc in Season 2, I highly suggest just watching Season 2, because there’s no way to hit every struggle and triumph Theo’s had this time around. But if you’re here for the quick and dirty recap, here are some of the biggest plot points for Theo’s Season 2 storyline:
- Theo Comes Out: After Season 1’s truckload of hints about his gender identity, Susie finally comes out to his friends and family (Episodes 1 and 3), now using he/him pronouns and the name Theo, in tribute to his ancestor Dorothea Putnam. Naming oneself and coming out to your loved ones is one of the hardest steps in transition, and it was awesome to see Theo live his truth. (More details about those coming outs, and loved ones’ reactions coming up).
- Theo Confronts His Bullies And (Ultimately) Triumphs: Greendale High’s basketball team is emblematic of the transphobic environment teen jocks can perpetuate, and Theo is bullied by his peers, excepting Harvey, of course (Episodes 2 and 3). We get some brutal and all-too-realistic scenes with the basketball jocks (and their coach!), which ticks off even Miss Wardwell/Lilith (Michelle Gomez), the partner of Lucifer. I’ll admit, it’s cathartic to see Theo finally snap the lead bully’s leg with a spell from Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka), as is said bully’s apology for being a horrible person to Theo later on. A transphobe, changing his ways and also getting a magical smackdown? Could this please happen in real life?
- Lilith’s Futuristic, Magical Nightmare Showcases The Pain of Gender Dysphoria: The ultimate LGBTQIA+ highlight of the season has to be in Episode 4, where Theo gets drawn into a terrifying tarot card reading with a disguised Miss Wardwell/Lilith. In the sequence, Theo, who desperately wishes to speed up his transition and steals a magic potion from the Spellmans, changing how others see his body to pass more easily. I thought Theo’s decision to cut off his arm, rather than take a step back in his transition, was a heartbreakingly poignant moment for the character, while also showing CAOS’s cisgender audiences how uncomfortable gender dysphoria can be. Theo chooses to lose an arm instead of losing himself. If that’s not powerful storytelling, I don’t know what is. (And don’t worry, we find out the sequence is some awful daydream Lilith, so Theo doesn’t actually lose an arm.)
Let me know any of your personal favorite Theo moments from Season 2 in the comments below.
Amidst Dark Spells and Lucifer’s Rising, Theo’s Friends and Family Showcase Good Allyship
If you ever wanted a tutorial on How to Act When Someone Comes Out To You, CAOS is, surprisingly, the show for you. Theo’s friends Roz (Jaz Sinclair) and Harvey (Ross Lynch) show themselves to be pretty decent friends, with Harvey expressing his confusion only in private to Roz, who understands a little more about gender identity. “Theo might look like a girl, but he’s not. He’s a boy. And that’s how he’s always been. He’s just…ready now. To live as himself. As Theo,” she tells him, with Harvey taking in this revelation and from then on using Theo’s preferred pronouns (he/him) and his new name. When Theo’s bullied at school Harvey defends him constantly and publicly, and when Theo shows up in a suit for the high school dance, Harvey teaches him how to tie his tie. That kind of loyal, blanket acceptance from Theo’s closest friends– along with Sabrina, who’s also supportive– is a damn good example to set for folx who want to be allies. Respect their name and their pronouns, and get ready to fight anyone who disrespects them.
Theo’s coming out was a little rougher with his father (Adrian Hough), whose idle conversation about picking up a new dress for the dance sparks the conversation. Theo’s dad struggles with the idea of his child not being the person he thought of him as, a daughter who’s “always been his best girl.” But Theo reveals how difficult it’s been to be seen as a girl, and can no longer hold out pretending to be someone he’s not. So he asks to start with his new name…and maybe taking him for a haircut? Theo’s dad, who still doesn’t seem to understand but clearly loves his kid, quietly agrees, and helps Theo with one of the first steps towards his physical transition.
Sure, this conversation wasn’t hearts and rainbows, but most coming outs, especially to close family, aren’t comfortable or exuberant. Theo’s coming out to his parent, albeit quiet and tense, ended on a positive next step (the right name) and a new haircut. TV shows will often swing between extreme reactions to coming outs (positively or negatively), but I felt Theo’s was nearly perfect in its quiet, with an acknowledgment that Theo’s journey will also begin a journey for his father, to let go of his own idea of Susie and embrace Theo.
Lachlan Watson, the Driving Force & Actor Behind Theo
The driving force for Theo’s soaring character development this season lies with Lachlan Watson, the non-binary actor whose own queer journey inspired the CAOS writers and showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. Watson, who’s spoken extensively about their own gender journey, was a major inspiration for the Theo character; Watson was supposed to play a character named Orlando who is introduced as a trans guy from the get-go, but Watson’s talks about gender identity with Aguirre-Sacasa instead created Theo.
In an interview with Gizmodo, Watson praised this collaboration, which resulted in a slower-building character arc in a bid to “building subtlety” into Watson’s performance, including loads of hints to Theo’s identity as a trans guy last season. Even production designer Lisa Soper got in on the action, filling Theo’s bedroom with bugs, butterflies and other animals that metamorphose, in another hint at his journey.
Not everyone would be comfortable speaking about their gender identity, especially to their boss, but Watson embraced the task with open arms:
“I talked to Roberto at length [about Theo’s coming-out] and we built it together—which was really amazing, because I have a lot of thoughts and those thoughts are a little too much for a lot of people. It was so amazing that he opened his ears and just let it come in, and let me talk to him and let it be a conversation. That’s why I took the role: conversation. To start a conversation and to have a conversation, because that’s what the world is missing right now.”
For me, what makes Theo’s character most believable is the subtlety and room to grow without labels, something it’s clear Watson was adamant about portraying with Theo. It’s very rare for TV audiences to see a character struggle with their gender identity, especially without specifically labeling themselves right off the bat. But for many, understanding and fully realizing one’s gender is a journey, and that journey may not end on either side of the gender binary. Seeing someone explore their identity over time, without that rush to labels, will be powerful for CAOS fans questioning their own gender identity, or provide a role model to younger fans who’ve already begun their transition. Because of Watson and Aguirre-Sacasa, a show about a darkly magical world is shining light for the trans and non-binary community, and their impact will last far longer than a Netflix series, no matter how delightfully great it’s become.
Season 2 of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is available now on Netflix. Watch the official trailer below.
What did you think of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s” second season? Let me know in the comments below!