This Riverdale review contains spoilers.
Riverdale Episode 2
“Chapter 2: A Touch of Evil” somehow manages to up the drama in Riverdale, allowing some characters much more room to develop (hi, Jughead!) while cementing others such as Cheryl Blossom and Ms. Grundy into archetypes rather than actual living, breathing human beings. But on a show like Riverdale, this is perfectly acceptable seeing how by the time the credits for the second episode roll it is clear that the series’ mission statement is to be a big, ridiculous soap opera with the occassional Lynchian element thrown in. There’s no reason why this televisual stew should work so well, yet here we are.
The crisis at the center of the episode is how Archie wants to tell Mr. Weatherbee and Sheriff Keller that he and Ms. Grundy heard a gunshot on the morning of July 4th while they were cavorting at Sweetwater Lake. Archie, cocksman that he now is aside, is still a decent kid, so he naturally wants to do the right thing. Grundy, on the other hand, is rapidly transforming into a Police song before our very eyes, warning Archie that they could both wind up in jail if their secret gets out. (A statement that is most definitely at least half true).
Further complicating matters is how Cole Sprouse’s Jughead — a character who stays true to his comic roots while still morphing into something very different — connects the dots after seeing Archie and Ms. Grundy together. He realizes his old pal ditched him on their planned road trip to indulge in some Lolita whims on the 4th of July. While all of this would have made one hell of an episode of The U.S. of Archie, here it does little more than to shine some light on the rift that has divided the pair.
Speaking of which, kudos to K.J. Apa and Sprouse for their acting chops in the scene in front of Archie’s house which provided the series with its most emotionally true moment to date. It did feel like Archie was potentially going to punch Jughead at that point, and to have his whoopee-hatted pal call him on it temporarily grounded the stylized world of Riverdale in reality.
While the Archie/Grundy/Jughead stuff formed the emotional core of this installment, equally noteworthy is the continuing evolution of the friendship between Betty and Veronica. After hearing another one of Archie’s emotionally fraught (in a slumming Adam Levine kind of way) songs, Betty realizes she can’t forgive Veronica for her ill-advised tryst with Hot Archie last week so easily. Her turning to Cheryl Blossom for friendship is a calculated move designed to piss off Veronica and learn more about Riverdale High’s H.B.I.C. (as stated on the back of Cheryl’s cheerleading costume). This leads to the best moment in the episode, Betty threatening Cheryl’s life after she accuses the still-unseen Polly Cooper of being responsible for Jason Blossom’s death. We already know that their is some mental instability in the Cooper household (and from the comics), but here we see Betty really lose it for the first time. Also, it’s just really satisfying to see the cartoonish Cheryl get put in her place…a trend that I fully expect will continue throughout the series.
By the end of the episode, the Archie/Jughead relationship is beginning to heal a little bit, with Jughead staying on brand by telling Archie that their friendship would be repaired over “many burgers.” Although his narration about there only being three people sitting at the table at Pop’s indicates how Jughead’s emotional disconnect from his friends hints at darker things happening elsewhere in his own life. Oh Jughead, why are you so complicated?
– Let’s talk a minute about that pep rally. We’ve already discussed Josie and the Pussycats’ performance of “Sugar, Sugar” at length, but what is also interesting about this sequence is how it shows the emotional vulnerability of Cheryl Blossom. What exactly were she and Jason up to on the 4th of July and why?
– Alice Cooper (HAW HAW) offhandedly remarks that the elder Blossoms might have sacrificed Jason to “some insane pagan god they worship.” Knowing Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s fondness for Lovecraftian tropes and my growing suspicion that the series is going to get increasingly weirder as it goes on, I would not dismiss this theory as a throwaway joke. See also: The brief and creepy shot of Cheryl and Jason sharing a milkshake at Pop’s. Mark my words, something dark is happening with the Blossom family.
– On the subject of horror elements, Kevin Keller references Madam Satan in this episode. That character has been kicking around the fringes of the Archieverse since she was introduced in MLJ Comics’ Pep in 1941. (The same title that Archie himself debuted in). Most recently, Madam Satan has been the primary antagonist in the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina comic — a book that is none-too-coincidentally also written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa.
– When Archie is telling Veronica the story about how Betty helped him pass second grade, he mentions how she called him “Little Archie.” Little Archie is the long-running comic by Bob Bolling and, later, Derek Taylor, that chronicled the pre-pubescent adventures of Archie and the gang. In the book, they would regularly add the word “little” in front of each other’s names, making this scene a nice throwback to Archie history.
– Does anyone else suspect that Fred Andrews, Hermione Lodge, and Alice Cooper had their own love triangle when they were teens? It’s pretty evident the show is going to take this route, which helps explain why Betty’s mom seems so bitter towards the Andrews family.
– Although not seen yet, Moose’s girlfriend Midge is name dropped. Will Kevin have a love triangle of his own?
– There’s no way Veronica would be into Magnolia Cupcakes. She’s way more Broad City than Sex in the City.
– Archie’s bedside table includes a Pep comic as well as several unidentified DC Comics, no doubt placed there by the all-reaching influence of Executive Producer Greg Berlanti. No word yet on what, if any, significance the Dog Day Afternoon poster prominently displayed in Archie’s bedroom has.
– The enthusiastic waiter at Pop’s Chok’lit Shoppe is played by Jesse Goldwater, son of Archie CEO Jon Goldwater and one of the men who spearheaded the creation of Afterlife with Archie, which helped usher in the current Archie renaissance.
– This episode gives us a better look at Jughead’s comic-accurate costume, which includes a modified beanie standing in for his classic whoopee cap (complete with red and white buttons) and his mysterious S shirt. It’s not quite clear exactly why Jughead often wears a shirt emblazoned with the letter “S” on it, and there have been several stories dedicated to it over the years. You can just chalk it up as one of his idiosyncratic quirks. At one point in the second episode he quips “sardonic humor is just my way of relating to the world.” Truth.
– Cheryl Blossom’s frenemies who she gets snippy with in biology class are Ginger Lopez (Caitlin Mitchell-Markovitch) and Tina Patel (Olivia Ryan Stern), characters who were brought into the comics to give Riverdale High some diversity. Their inclusion here is a nice bit of fan-pleasing world building that Riverdale is doing with its supporting characters.
– Finally, shout out to Dr. Phylum (Nelson Wong) for delivering the most over-the-top performance to date, discussing how Jason Blossom’s corpse has a “touch of evil” to it. (Referencing not only the episode title but the Orson Welles noir movie of the same name, further proof of narrator Jughead’s love of classic cinema.)
Did we leave anything out? Let us know in the comments!