Riverdale Channels Sweet/Vicious in Sexual Assault Storyline

We talked to the Riverdale cast about the importance of taking sexual assault seriously.

Warning: This Riverdale article contains spoilers for this week’s episode, “When a Stranger Calls.”

This week’s episode of Riverdale included an empowering, infuriating scene of Veronica, Josie, and the Pussycats rushing to Cheryl’s rescue and beating up Nick St. Clair following his attempted rape of Cheryl.

It’s a topical storyline for a country and industry only really just beginning to face the reality of sexual harrassment and violence. However, it’s still a vastly underrepresented, complex subject that, just last year, had its very own show. I’m talking about MTV’s cancelled-too-soon Sweet/Vicious, a college-set revenge dramedy about two women who become vigilantes to bring campus rapists to some form of justice.

Riverdale channeled the late, great show with “When a Stranger Calls.” Not only with a representation of women taking the punishment of rapists into their own hands, no longer willing to rely on the infrequent justice of institutional authority, but with the inclusion of a Broadway tune as some form of catharsis. 

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(In Riverdale, it’s Josie and the Pussycats’ rendition of Rent classic “Out Tonight” during the climactic confrontation. In Sweet/Vicious, it’s Jules and Ophelia belting out Wicked‘s “Defying Gravity” in shock after killing a rapist in self-defense.)

“When a Stranger Calls” was a painful reminder of how great and vital Sweet/Vicious was, and a wake up call for anyone who still thinks this issue is a minor one. Den of Geek was part of a group of reporters who visited the Riverdale set earlier this week, and talked to the cast about the importance of telling stories like this one.

“It meant a lot,” said Ashleigh Murray (Josie). “I feel like, we all know what’s going on right now currently, and our society tends to preach politeness and staying quiet, and I think that coupled with that fact that girls are often pitted against one another, and we don’t stand up for each other.”

What did Murray think of the way Josie and her friends took Nick down?

“I think it spoke volumes for all us to get together and go save Cheryl the way she needed to be saved,” continued Murray. “[Nick] deserved it, he deserved to get that ass-whooping. I really enjoyed that scene because it was empowering, and it showed a camaraderie and a togetherness that women don’t often have, especially young women.”

Marisol Nichols plays Hermione Lodge, a character who has become increasingly sinister in Season 2, but who has always been protective of her daughter. Nichols told us that she’s glad Riverdale is tackled the subject of sexual assault.

“The interesting part about bringing that up in Riverdale is that it’s somebody that we knew,” said Nichols. “And I think in the majority of these cases — and I can’t speak for everything inside of Hollywood because those are special cases, but I know in the majority of cases in these situations, it’s someone that you know. I’m really glad that we’re tackling that as a subject; it couldn’t be more timely.”

Teasing how the Lodges will react moving forward when they find out that Nick forced himself on Veronica, as well, Nichols said: “When it comes to your family, it’s sort of like all bets are off. I would say when I learn how the Lodges deal with it, there’s a part of me that goes, ‘Justice. I get it.'”

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If you’re eager to watch more TV stories exploring the subject of sexual assault and how it affects everyone involved, I would encourage you to check out Sweet/Vicious. Series creator Jen Kaytin Robinson spoke about the experience of telling a story about the trauma of sexual violence at the ATX TV Festival, saying:

Thousands of people have told me that they’ve been sexually assaulted, but what this show has done and I think what the show has validated in so many is that they’re not alone and they’re heard and what they went through was not a one-off. It happens and it’s happening and people care about it.

The repercussions of Nick St. Clair’s attempted rape of Cheryl and Veronica will continue to play out in Riverdale Season 2. Meanwhile, Sweet/Vicious is available to watch in its entirety via Amazon.