Hello dear readers and welcome to season two of Riverdale, a show that is either a soapy teen drama, an intricate homage to gothic literature and film noir, or the world’s longest Cover Girl commercial. Whatever it is, Riverdale is a gloriously escapist thrill, at a time when we badly need it. Of course, the show’s producers have warned that we are in for a darker second season, which seems appropriate. It is a darker world than it was last year.
I recapped roughly two-thirds of Riverdale’s first season, before adding it to my list of Things I Will Do After The Election, When Hillary is President and I Am Feeling More Stable. Obviously, that time never came to pass. But last night, to prepare myself for the season two premiere, I finally watched last year’s season finale. I was struck by a great many things about it—the H.M.S. Cheryl Blossom finally slipping its moorings and drifting out into the sea of insanity, Veronica flashing come hither looks in every possible direction, with all the raw destructive energy of a glasses-less Cyclops, Betty and Jughead mashing their faces together in a way that was remarkably bad and wrong given what good faces they both are—but above all I took special notice of Betty’s speech to the town, in which she reminded all those gathered that Riverdale has a nasty habit of sweeping its problems under the rug, and leaving them to fester until they emerge with a violence that makes them finally unignorable.
ALSO MAPLE SYRUP IS TREE BLOOD AND WE DON’T TALK ABOUT THAT ENOUGH.
If I give Riverdale’s showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa a lot of credit—and god knows I have been burned by extending such credit to showrunners in the past—I’d say that speech made the town of Riverdale a stand-in for America as a whole. And what has the past year in American history revealed about us but a furious desire to return to some imagined, simpler time, some “great again” of letterman jackets and neon-lit diners, an urge battling with the frightening reemergence of social problems we’ve spent 25 years trying to ignore. Sliding a knife between the ribs of American nostalgia seemed like a dubious gambit last year; this year, it’s exactly our number, our flavor, our speed. So let’s get started.
Like a lot season premieres, this one spends most of its time batting cleanup for last year’s finale. As you’ll recall, Jughead’s dad was put away for a crime he didn’t commit (IT WAS JOHNNY DEPP, I SWEAR IT), Cheryl’s dad hung himself (OR DID HE?) after being pinned for the murder of his only son, Cheryl herself burned down the Blossom manor because you can’t sweep things under the rug if there is no rug, and the episode ended with Fred Andrews bleeding out on the floor of Pop’s Chocklit Shop, which Jughead’s narration drolly informed us marked the end of Riverdale’s last days of innocence.
We pick back up with Archie driving madcap through the streets, rushing Fred to the hospital, in a scene that reminds us both that Archie does not yet have his driver’s license, and that this show is capable of some truly great camerawork if you give it half a chance.
IT’S KIND OF NEEDLESSLY SHOWOFF-Y SOMETIMES, BUT STILL.
Fred Andrews has not been the most dynamic character so far, but I am pulling for him because I only just learned his name and I do not want all that work to have been for nothing. The episode contains several vignettes in which Fred hovers between life and death and imagines the future he will be missing if he dies, but we will not be discussing them except to say that if you are only appearing as a minor character in your own end-of-life hallucinations, there is something wrong in your life.
YOU’RE STILL A YOUNG MAN! DREAM UP A SCOTTISH-THEMED WEDDING OF YOUR OWN!
While Fred fights for life, Archie throws himself into learning the identity of his father’s masked assailant. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Hmm. You know, I can’t help but think that if we took off that mask, it would look a lot like:
Oops sorry, I meant:
I mean, right? It’s just Betty’s dad, isn’t it? Of course, it’ll take a whole investigation to prove it, so let’s get started.
At the hospital, Sheriff Old Chris Pine pays Archie a visit and asks him about his memories of the attack.
YOU’RE SURE IT WASN’T JUGHEAD’S DAD?
HE’S IN JAIL! HE’S IN YOUR JAIL!
YOU NEVER CAN BE SURE. I ONCE THOUGHT I WAS SITTING ON MY COUCH, BUT THEN I SAW MYSELF ON THE TV, MAKING OUT WITH WONDER WOMAN.
One thing that Archie fails to tell the sheriff is that the masked man held a gun to his, Archie’s, head, and made him close his eyes while he took Fred’s wallet. The whole experience, and especially the fact that he obeyed his father’s shooter, has left poor Archiekins deeply traumatized, which the episode does a good job of conveying through flashbacks and KJ Apa’s sweet, simple visage. Oh and this is as good a time as any to announce that there will be a change in Archie Policy this season, in that I have decided to be nice to him until such time as he doesn’t deserve it. There is enough anger in my life already, and I just don’t have any left to mete out to Archie Andrews and his acoustic guitar.
But however indulgent I may be towards Archie, my true affection will always belong to Jughead Jones, who is my son, and also, in a very real way, me if I had been a boy. Last season ended with Jughead entering foster care and accepting a trial membership from the Southside Serpents. Donning his Serpents jacket immediately conferred upon Jughead advanced motorcycle skills, so this season we’ll be seeing a lot of him zooming around town like a tiny, precious, miserable angel.
ONCE I HAD A HAPPY BUT IT WENT AWAY.
Jughead puts out feelers with the Serpents to see if they know who shot Archie’s dad, but ends up getting a little more than he bargained for when he returns home to find the gang with a bound and beaten man, who, they proudly inform him, did not shoot Fred.
WHAT THE FUCK? WHY DID YOU TORTURE THIS GUY?
WHAT DID YOU EXPECT US TO DO? WE’RE A GANG.
YEAH BUT I THOUGHT WE WERE MORE OF A WEST SIDE STORY KIND OF GANG. I THOUGHT WE’D JUST SORT OF SNAP AGGRESSIVELY AT PEOPLE.
This new, dangerous Jughead is a little alarming to Betty, and she makes the truly inexplicable decision to confide in her mother about her concerns. Alice Cooper, you’ll be happy to hear, is every bit as toxic as last year, and freely uses the gang’s hospital vigil as an opportunity to spew venom at Jughead for the crime of existing. In the end, Betty reassures Jughead she will love him whatever identity he decides to explore, which I think we all know will be asexuality sometime in the next 22 episodes.
Next up is Veronica, who continues her season one tradition of straddling both teen and adult storylines. First, she really digs deep to be a good girlfriend to Archie, even though she knows that “offering consolation” is waaaaay down on her list of her skills, far behind “eyebrow forestry” and “getting you the best price on molly.” But she does do her best to be there for Archie, even if all she knows how to do is provide shower companionship.
VERONICA LODGE, I DO NOT THINK THOSE PEARLS WERE MEANT TO WITHSTAND A SCALDING TEEN SHOWER.
Even as Veronica tries to support Archie, she secretly harbors the suspicion that her own mother may have been responsible for Fred’s shooting, and she’s not shy about confronting her about it.
I DON’T KNOW WHAT HURTS MORE, THAT YOU THINK I’M A MURDERESS OR THAT YOU THINK I’M AN INCOMPETENT ONE.
We seem to be entering a new era of mother-daughter tensions between these two, and to tell you the truth, I’m sad about it. I really loved last season, when their Medici-level intrigue was merely a thin veneer over a bedrock of trust and love. But of course the balance of power is shifting, now that Hiram Lodge himself is returning from prison, his face quite literally wreathed in shadow.
THIS LIGHTING MADE ME THINK THERE WAS GOING TO BE AN EXCITING ACTOR REVEAL, LIKE LOU DIAMOND PHILIPS OR SOMETHING, AND I WAS VERY DISAPPOINTED WHEN IT WAS JUST SOME DUDE.
Finally, Cheryl Blossom receives relatively little screen time this week, but as always, she makes applying lipstick look more compelling than Fred Andrews choosing whether to live or die. Her story about the fire is that it was a tragic accident, and that her mother bravely plunged into the flames to save her. Of course, the only person who could disprove that version of events is Penelope Blossom herself, but she is not in much of a position to do so.
Leaning over her prostrate form, Cheryl informs her mother of the official party line, squeezing Penelope’s breathing tube to emphasize her point. This done, Cheryl then pays a visit to Fred’s room, where she kisses him on the forehead, a kiss she casually informs Archie has the power to restore Fred to life.
From what we’ve seen so far it’s clear that Cheryl is truly being lit from within by the fires of madness, but it has only made her more herself, and more magnificently watchable than ever before.
I AM THE PHOENIX, ARCHIEKINS, BUT I AM ALSO THE FLAMES.
Anyway it seems like Cheryl might be right about her kisses, because shortly thereafter, Fred returns to life, and is soon back home, convalescing in the loving care of Molly Ringwald. As a final coda, the “angel of death” who shot Fred makes another appearance in Greendale, home of Sabrina The Teenage Spinoff. It is there we find a most unwelcome blast from the past, Mrs. Grundy, who is still seducing underage boys under the guise of teaching them “hot cross buns.” Mercifully, she appears just long enough to be brutally murdered.
UGH I HOPE THIS DOESN’T MEAN WE HAVE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT HER BACKSTORY.
I’m not sure what Betty’s father might have against Mrs. Grundy, but I’m sure we’ll learn more about it in future episodes. Regardless, it’s good to be back for a season that, much like Cheryl Blossom, has only improved by becoming more unhinged. Riverdale is darker, yes, but it’s also more luridly lit up than ever before.
See you next week!
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