Riverdale’s Percival Pickens Problem Explained

Why bringing another untouchable villain to town is huge narrative problem for Riverdale

Riverdale Chapter One Hundred and Four: The Serpent Queen’s Gambit
Photo: Bettina Strauss | The CW

This RIVERDALE review contains spoilers.

Riverdale Season 6 Episode 9

“None of this makes sense.”

As Riverdale‘s sixth season rolls on, the series finds itself struggling to fill its Big Bad-shaped hole in the wake of the departure of Mark Consuelos’ Hiram Lodge. The show’s current antagonist is Percival Pickens (Chris O’Shea), a newcomer who claims to be related to the town’s founder. His charisma is combined with an ability to mind control nearly everybody in his path, causing Archie to wonder if Pickens is the reason that he, Jughead and Betty have been gifted with superheroic powers. (A musing that Jughead hilariously shuts down by referring to Archie as Professor X).

But the often wrong Archie actually has a point here. In this show’s fractured logic, cause and effect often meet up in the goofiest way possible. So why wouldn’t three of the series’ four leads get amazing abilities if not for the opportunity to use them to defeat the latest threat to Riverdale? That question leads to the truly pressing query about this second half of the season: Isn’t it exhausting to have yet another unstoppable villain right after we finally bid farewell to Hiram?

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My vote here is yes.

The trouble faced by the series’ writing staff is trying to craft another primary threat to the characters while doing so by carefully going out of their way to not just create another Hiram. And so we have Percival, an instantly charming outsider who — on the surface — seems dedicated to making Riverdale the greatest town it can possibly be. It would have been way more satisfying to present Percival as being on the up and up, making Archie, Betty and Jughead seem crazy for thinking he is up to no good. (And raise suspicions about whether their “abilities” actually exist or are shared trauma from surviving the destruction of Archie’s home). Subtlety doesn’t reside in Riverdale though, so we learned almost immediately that Percival has some nefarious plans for the town.

Just take a minute though and think how fantastic it would have been to have Percival be at the center of an Invasion of the Body Snatchers-type plot where Archie, Betty and Jughead are convinced he is evil but have no proof. They still could be the outsiders that they are in the way the story is presently playing itself out, but if there were some ambiguity over Percival’s true intentions this could heighten the drama by having the leads act as unreliable narrators — furthering this season’s mission to tell off-kilter stories where all bets are off. Something that the show did brilliantly in its Rivervale arc.

(Better still, what if the show took this path and decided to flip the script by having Archie, Betty and Jug become unwitting villains as a result of their powers?) Ahh, what might have been!

What we find ourselves with instead is another unstoppable villain bent on screwing with the town for as of yet unclear purposes. Only this time, he has the power to manipulate people to do his bidding via mind control, so there’s that. Veronica’s investigating into Pickens’ background reveals that he has no discernible past prior to his arrival in Riverdale, so it’s very likely that he is not who he claims to be and may just have taken the surname of the town’s founder to build trust with the citizens.

I do suspect a few things will play out here. First, I think that Percival’s storyline will wrapped up by the end of the season so that Riverdale can start fresh again in what will likely be its last year. Next, the recent announcement of Kiernan Shipka again returning as Sabrina suggests that there are supernatural happenings occurring here. With Abigail now expelled from Cheryl, it feels plausible that Pickens true identity is more sinister than expected, and his perhaps-magical abilities could yield Something Wicked This Way Comes possibilities.

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With so many storylines always happening at once on Riverdale, it feels a bit questionable to bring in another game-changing villain right away. And not just because we finally got rid of Hiram (or did we?) either. Don’t forget, there’s still the TBK on the loose out there, but who knows if that plotline will ever pay off. For now, Percival is what we are dealing with. Whether or not his arc will pay off is as uncertain as his motives.

Riverdale Rundown

• Abigail dressed as Ghoulie — the gang that somehow is even too cartoonish for even this series — during her attack on Archie was the best fashion moment for Madelaine Petsch in an episode packed with them. (See also, her heart-inspired, murder scone-delivering dress).

• I’m thrilled that Charles Melton is getting more screentime, but given literally everything else happening on this show I find it impossible to care about Mr. Mantle’s declining health.

• K.J. Apa’s line delivery of how he already ate the poisoned scone is a great example of how the writers should let Archie be funny. (You know, like his comic character who has been around for 80 years).

• “You dare burn me again?” “As many times as it takes, bitch.” This show, this magnificent show!

• Justice for Toni! Her character absolutely goes through it all this episode. Between getting voted off the town council, being betrayed by Fangs, and, worst of all, having Kevin seek custody of Anthony, she easily had the worst week in Riverdale. Point to ponder: Will her apparent estrangement from Fangs open up the door to a reunion with Cheryl?

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• Toni’s live-streaming of Percival’s set-up of the Serpents was the episode’s most powerful moment.

• Did anyone else think that Toni’s idea of making the Serpents into a political activism group was an inspired idea?

• Tabitha was somehow able to resist Percival’s mind-controlling during the council vote. Is this the power of friendship, or is there something else happening here?

• It’s hilarious that Archie, Betty and Jughead still hold on to their jobs at Riverdale High given how we hardly ever see them there.

• Have we seen the last of creepy doll Abigail? I for one hope not.

• As much as I want to love Kevin’s character, he just continually gets saddled with one bad storyline after another. It’s a wonder anyone in this town still talks to him given his antics over the years.

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• Can we please get a forensics-based spin-off starring Dr. Curdle, Jr.?

• It was a tough decision given the great dialogue featured in this episode, but the best exchange was as follows: “Something very weird is happening in Riverdale.” “You mean besides us suddenly developing mutant abilities.”