We Need To Talk About Riverdale’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre Moment

Betty's near-fatal brush with a chainsaw on the latest Riverdale is a subtle reminder of how scary Archie Comics can get.

Erinn Westbrook as Tabitha Tate
Photo: The CW

This Riverdale review contains spoilers.

Riverdale Season 5 Episode 13

Nearly every episode title of Riverdale references a major pop culture work, usually a film, and the latest installment, “Reservoir Dogs,” is no exception. Given the fact that this hour features nods to everything from Saving Private Ryan (thanks to Archie’s hilariously anachronistic war flashbacks) to Coyote Ugly and Jesus Christ Superstar, it feels like a bit of a deliberate mislead to give the ep the same moniker as Quentin Tarantino’s breakthrough hit.

I think I know the reasoning behind this though – to keep the episode’s biggest motion picture homage a secret. About three quarters of the way through the episode now-disgraced FBI agent Betty Cooper finally catches up with the trucker who has been terrorizing the Lonely Highway and whom may be responsible for the disappearance and/or possible murder of her sister. She hatches a plot to pose as a seductress and enlists Tabitha Tate to tail her and the mysterious highwayman.

We’ve seen time and time again that Betty can more than hold her own against whatever evildoers the Town with Pep throw at her, but how is she against motorized weapons? Well, before you could say “Leatherface,” we discovered the answer to this question when the trucker came after Betty with a chainsaw. Watching Riverdale briefly morph into The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a visceral as it was hilarious, an inspired moment full of the sort of what the fuckery that this series excels at. (Which is saying a lot seeing how the same episode also showcased the series’s second cult performing an Andrew Lloyd Webber song).

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Far from being a jump the shark moment — and let’s face it, this program is impervious to such a feat at this point — the chainsaw-wielding motorist was completely in line with what we know about Riverdale operates. From the get go horror elements have flowed through the series like Sweetwater River does the titular town. From serial killers to Mothmen, nothing is off limits here. That said, it is a credit to the writing staff that they can through something shocking and new at us like they did here. There’s precedence though in the comics that Riverdale is based on though, and I’m not just talking about the horror-tinged fun of Afterlife with Archie and Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

Over the course of their 80-year history, Archie has regularly used horror tropes to entice readers, especially in their adventure-based 1970s comics. I’ve previously detailed these at length on this site, but to bottom line it for you just let me say that Riverdale, as bizarre as it gets, still can’t hold a candle to the strangeness that drips from the pages of its source material.

Yes, it’s absolutely thrilling to watch Betty knock out a maniac determined to mutilate her with the help of a carefully aimed wrench. Equal thrilling though are the four color comic book tales from which the seeds of Riverdale were planted. The events of the this latest episode are a reminder that Archie’s printed world is funnier, scarier, weirder and more complex than it’s TV counterpart could ever aspire to be. With its tonal shifts and unhinged plots, Riverdale is appointment viewing. But the comics? They’re always there, and hopefully this will remain the case for decades to come.

Riverdale Rundown

  • With Reggie and Veronica growing closer due to their new (and gloriously named) investment banking film Pearls and Posh, one wonders how long until they begin dating.
  • Veronica using her Posh surname will never not be hilarious.
  • One of the big reveals of this episode is that Moose is back in Riverdale, bearded, out of the closet and dating Fangs Fogarty.
  • As much as I admire the show’s producers for trying to tell a riveting story about PTSD, these war flashbacks feel so disjointed. (Which is entirely the point, although I can’t help but feel that the series is attempting to reach the pathos of the Archie 1941 comic and failing).
  • One of my long-standing questions about the series was answered here, we learn that Archie’s long-absent dog Vegas died while he was serving overseas in the military.
  • Betty musing that she should have stabbed Glenn harder was great stuff.
  • Cheryl’s Little Red Riding Hood-inspired outfit she wears while walking through her family’s maple grove is very reminiscent of her looks from the Blossom 666 horror comic.
  • Speaking of Cheryl, she once again gets the episode’s best line when she snarks “compulsion, thy name is Kevin of Finland” after seeing the younger Keller cruising in the woods again.
  • Kevin refers to Cheryl and Penelope’s church as a “Classic Blossom Scam,” which is most definitely is. (And it is also the least interesting thing happening on the show right now). But that doesn’t stop him from joining up. Kevin never met a cult he couldn’t lose himself into.
  • “He was my best friend,” says Archie referring to his oft-neglected dog Vegas. No wonder Jughead is such a mess.
  • Upon learning that there’s a dog-fighting ring in town, an incredulous Archie states “are you kidding, this is happening in Riverdale?” Umm yeah Arch, catch up.
  • Let’s here it for the Wild Foxes for their turning “Nothing But a Good Time” into an empowerment anthem.
  • Next week on Riverdale, we catch up with Jughead and continue to wonder if this show will ever get back to the Mothmen stuff!