Netflix’s Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina is arguably the tale of Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) slowly embracing her witchy, devilish destiny. But, Sabrina isn’t the only teen to start a momentous internal journey with Sabrina part 1. There’s also Susie Putnam (Lachlan Watson), one of Sabrina’s two BFFs. At first, Susie is “an outgoing and rambunctious farm kid,” as their portrayer Lachlan Watson called them, who is bullied by homophobic jocks. But, by the end of the series’ first 10 episodes, Susie has blossomed into a teen exploring their queer identity with a little help from the ghost of their own queer, fearless ancestor, colonial era rebel Dorothea Putnam (Anastasia Bandey), and yelling at revenge hungry ghosts to back off.
Sabrina might be this story’s supernatural heroine — but Susie, who is suggested to be at the beginning of a trans or non-binary storyline, is its beating heart. That heart connects witchcraft’s lengthy queer history to its latest pop cultural portrayal. And, Lachlan Watson, a non-binary actor themselves, couldn’t be happier to be the face of Sabrina’s queer exploration.
Prior to filming Netflix’s Chilling Adventures, Watson had moved away from on-camera acting in favor of doing theater after appearing in series like Nashville and Drop Dead Diva. Then they found out about Susie Putnam, Sabrina’s voice for queer teens everywhere and anyone who feels like an outcast.
“It felt like that was the puzzle piece that hadn't slipped into place yet,” Watson told Refinery29, explaining that the lack of meaningful parts available to them caused their drift from television. “Then when this came along, I saw the potential platform. I saw the people, the lives I could affect, by telling a positive story [and] seeing a positive role model.”
Viewers watch Susie work towards figuring out their gender identity in a way that feels genuine for a teen in a small, fairly rural farming town. When Susie’s farmer dad (Adrian Hough) suggests queerness or androgyny could be a “personal demon” that leads to dire physical illness in episode “An Exorcism In Greendale,” Susie attempts to overcompensate for their own former androgynous style. Gone are their casual sweaters and pants. In their place, all of a sudden, are frilly, floral dresses (“We live in a society where we bury ourselves to be seen as okay and normal” Watson says).
When you’re going on a queer journey, when you’re trying to span out who you are, you are very much feel alone … It’s an amazing comfort to know you’re not.
All of that changes when Susie begins getting visits from Dorothea, their long-dead relative who is heavily suggested to also have been queer. Dorothea was a Greendale settler, pirate, single woman who dressed in clothes traditionally made for men, and someone who saved witches once, if not twice, over their lifetime. When Susie first learns about Dorothea, they’re wearing one of their social camouflage frocks. The next time we see Susie, they’re back to the chunky knits and androgynous denim they love — back to themselves. Soon enough, the ghost of Dorothea begins popping up in Susie’s room helping them continue their own journey of self discovery.
“When you’re going on a queer journey, when you’re trying to figure out who you are, you are very much feel alone … It’s an amazing comfort to know you’re not,” Watson explained of the Susie-Dorothea connection. “That you do have not only a support group immediately around you, but you have ancestors and history and people who have been stepping out — literally coming out of their house every morning — for an eternity.”
For Susie, Dorothea is a reminder of that long-reaching past. “It’s an extremely comforting thing, and it’s a thing we as a society forget that this isn’t new. Being queer isn’t a new thing,” Watson continued. “For me, [as someone who identifies] as non-binary, identifying as non-binary isn’t a new thing. It’s always been here. It’s not a trend, and it’s not a fad. There’s something very heartening in that: to know you are valid.”
Although Dorothea is a major touchstone in Susie’s character growth, the teen's very alive pals are equally important. That’s why the creation of WICCA (Women's Intersectional Cultural And Creative Association) at Baxter High is such a crucial part of Sabrina’s first episodes: Sabrina wanted to leave a group behind that could protect at-risk young people like Susie from the toxic masculinity-fueled bigots of their school.
“It creates this really amazing model for a lot of kids going through what Susie’s going through in any kind of setting,” Watson said of WICCA. “That the small things make you feel more accepted, make you feel more valid, protect you, [and] help you feel understood — it means so much to the queer kids who are struggling, who do need help.”
The activism that a fictional group like WICCA supports has already proven to be a balm in Watson’s real life. Ahead of Sabrina’s premiere, a fan Twitter account grouped the performer in with the “beautiful girls” of the streaming show. “Which was a very kind gesture. But, I don’t identify as a girl,” Watson said. Immediately, three or four other fan accounts reached out to the page to politely inform them Watson prefers he, him, they, or them pronouns.
“’To not even have to fight that fight, to not even have to spend time out of my day thinking about it,” the actor began, “that [fans] would support me and would go, ‘Hey, no, this is what he prefers, let’s support him,’ was incredible.”
We can expect to see more of Susie’s own incredible future with Netflix's upcoming Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina part 2, which is currently filming in Vancouver. “A lot of Susie’s gender journey comes to light in season 2,” Watson teased. “There’s a lot of intricacies we’re having a whole bunch of fun with here.”
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