It’s one thing to make a compelling pilot, but would Riverdale be able to string us along in a second episode and leaving us hanging, and waiting, for a third? That was the real question going into the second episode of this Noir Archies as the spectre of Jason Blossom’s now confirmed horrible murder hangs like a pendulum doom over the photoshoot ready teens in their foggy and elusive Pacific Northwest-ish abode. The answer? Still hooked. In fact, Riverdale made a couple of improvements over the pilot that I liked, which suggests to me that this show may not be as straightforward as I ultimately feared.
For instance, I found this week that Cheryl Blossom took a decidedly dark and self-aware turn that broke her free of some of those mean girl tropes that made her so terribly cliched in the pilot. Take the science lab scene where Archie, partially out of guilt and partially out of playing amateur detective, tries to talk to Cheryl about her brother’s murder. The scene addressed one inconsistency in Cheryl’s story – How were the two of them separated in the first place? – but it also painted Cheryl with suspicion.
Make no mistake, there’s clearly a part of Cheryl that likes the idea that some people think she might have killed her brother. Stabbing a dead frog with a scalpel to get a rise out of Ginger and Tina was proof of that, as was her off-hand comment to Archie about dissecting frogs at the same moment her brother was being dissected in a morgue. If the scene was painting Cheryl too obviously, the story wisely toned things down (so to speak) later when Cheryl questions Betty about how much her sister Polly knows about the murder of Jason. Sadly, the stigma of mental illness paints Polly well as a suspect, but Cheryl’s kind of frightful insistence at knowing what Betty knows puts her back in the maybe column as Jason’s killer.
“A Touch of Evil” also developed the Archie/Jughead divide, and allowed them some signs of reconciliation, although it took a lot of effort to get there. While Archie tried to get to the bottom of some mysteries, it turns out Jughead is the rather astute one, correctly deducing that it was the ill-advised tryst with Miss Grundy that barred Archie from carrying through with a planned road trip with Jughead on the July 4th weekend. Jughead becomes the voice of conscience for Archie as the redhead struggles between confessing what he heard while by the river that day, or losing Miss Grundy.
This was kind of a disappointing, the insistence of holding on to this teacher/student romance when a) Archie has Betty and Veronica waiting in the wings, and b) it seemed kind of obvious to me that Miss Grundy was using Archie’s feelings for her to keep him quiet. The whole affair (pun intended) makes you think that Miss Grundy has more to hide than just her lustful dalliance with a student. And not for nothing, the two of them were acting so suspiciously, it’s a wonder that more people than Jughead hadn’t noticed yet.
Of course, there’s already one person kind of suspicious about the doings of one Archibald Andrews. Principal Weatherbee smelled that something was up with Archie, and that it might be more than just the shock of losing a fellow student and football player. It’s Weatherbee that prompts Archie’s guilty conscious to go into overdrive, and given the way that Peter Bryant plays Weatherbee you’d be hard pressed not to confess all your deepest, darkest secrets. In so much as Riverdale‘s been compared to Twin Peaks, it’s Bryant that seems to be giving his Archies character the most deliberate Lynchian turn, like Weatherbee was appearing to Archie in a dream sequence even though they were all awake.
Incidentally, I just want to give a shout out to another resident Vancouver actor Mackenzie Gray who plays the Riverdale coroner. It’s refreshing to see a medical examiner that’s actually ghoulish in his portrayal as the trend has been to make characters that cut up other people so warm and friendly. Wouldn’t operating on dead people all day, everyday mess you up? Kudos to Gray for owning it.
Riverdale itself meanwhile is owning all its Archies references, and nothing will be a more perfect summation of the show than watching the Riverdale Vixens perform a routine in the pouring down rain as Josie and the Pussycats sing a sassy version of “Sugar, Sugar.” We also got a reference to Midge this week, and we learned that Jughead’s affections can still be bought by hamburgers, so I guess it’s only a matter of time now till we’re introduced to goth girl Sabrina Spellman. I think the show’s almost reached peak self-reference, which is fun for these first couple of episodes, but the encyclopedic Easter egg hunting his bound to make even casual Archies fans weary before too long.
On the bright side, I did find more room to get invested in the murder plot. In the pilot, it did feel like a sort of thematic MacGuffin designed to set a mood and tone for the series, but there is some meat to the mystery. What was there in Cheryl’s line about Jason saying, “He was supposed to come back.” Is that denial talking, or did some game the twins were playing go horribly awry? (By the way, the flashback of Jason and Cheryl sharing a milkshake was more than a little creepy, right?) And what’s this thing about arresting Cheryl after learning that Jason was killed a full week after he “disappeared”? Read hearing, much?
My prime suspect is still Betty’s mom Alice. The complete protectiveness of Polly, and the evasive way she dealt with Betty’s questions screams suspicious. Does Polly know that Jason’s dead? Oh yes, Alice told her. Why was Alice so against Jason and Polly being together in the first place? Nope, Alice didn’t have a straight answer for that, nor did she seem particularly inclined to let Betty visit her sister either. There’s no question that Alice is overprotective, but I do wonder, if she disdains everyone Betty’s involved with – Archie, Veronica, Cheryl – then why go to the pep rally? Some ridiculous sense of civic pride, or perhaps Alice just wants to keep a close eye on developments. I guess we shall see in the weeks to come…