Hello friends. I’ve been struggling with how, or even if, to write about this episode of Riverdale, since its exploration of sexual violence and toxic masculinity are timely in a way that doesn’t necessarily feel productive. We are already in danger of drowning in a flood of assault and harassment allegations against powerful men, so once again, and really through no fault of its own, Riverdale has failed to offer the escapism I miss from its first season. However, I do think this episode handles the subject matter relatively well, and it can’t help the fact that it’s airing at a time when we are all exhausted. So for the sake of completeness, I’m going to do a very brief recap of this episode, and I apologize in advance if it’s not very funny. I don’t feel very funny this week.
So we pick back up where we left off, with Betty on the phone with the Black Hood. Mister The Hood reiterates his conviction that he and Betty are two peas in a pod. Two peas filed with a murderous rage and an inability distinguish between sins like “murder” and “tax evasion.” To get Betty on board, The Hood states that he will murder Polly unless Betty forcibly drives away every person she is closest to.
The first target is Alice Cooper herself. The Hood orders Betty to publish a front page spread in the school paper detailing Alice’s secret history as…A SOUTHSIDE SERPENT. (Tellingly, The Hood makes sure to send Alice’s most flattering mugshot.)
GREAT, BETTY. NOW ALL YOUR LITTLE BOYFRIENDS WILL PROBABLY START HITTING ON ME ALL THE TIME AND CONFUSING US FOR EACH OTHER AND TAKING **ME** TO PROM.
I feel incredibly confident that Alice made herself the first target to throw Betty off the scent, and this conviction is only increased when Alice shows up to the weekly grownup soiree oozing a sex appeal that not one of this show’s teenagers can come close to matching.
DEFINITELY THE OUTFIT OF A WOMAN TRYING TO REGAIN HER RESPECTABILITY.
Next up, the Black Hood orders Betty to distance herself from Veronica, which Betty does by VERBALLY DISMANTLING her at a party. Like, I know she had to make it believable, but Betty does a little too good a job at grounding all her criticisms of Veronica in the truth, and they’re the kind of things that you can’t just explain away with “sorry, I was under the thrall of a masked vigilante and he MADE ME.”
THE BLACK HOOD WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHAT YOU’RE PLAYING AT, SITTING IN THE SAME CHAIR AS ME ALL THE TIME.
Betty does manage to throw a lifeline to Archie, confiding in him that the Hood is making her act this way, but while Archie is great at offering moral support, he doesn’t bring much to the table in the strategic department.
THE SECOND THERE IS SOMETHING TO PUNCH OR SING AT THOUGH, I’M YOUR GUY.
Distancing herself from Veronica drives Betty to the edge, but the Hood’s next request pushes her all the way over. Predictably, this vigilante wants her to break up with Jughead (crazy how the Hood and Betty’s parents have EXACTLY THE SAME OPINION about her social life). Betty can’t bring herself to hurt Jughead in person, so she sends Archie to do her dirty work.
This done, the Black Hood promises to reveal his true identity if Betty just meets him at an abandoned house in the woods. Betty inexplicably agrees to walk into this obvious trap, where she finds a box containing her very own black hood.
SEE, BETTY? WITH THIS HOOD ON, NO ONE COULD TELL YOU APART FROM YOUR MOTHER!
She flees the house, thoroughly terrified. I can’t decide if Lili Reinhart’s performance in this episode makes this nutso storyline work or not. There’s no denying her performance is incredible, as the Hood breaks down her emotional defenses and robs her of her closest friends, but it might be too good. It’s so difficult to bear witness to her grief that it robs the story of any of the harmless thrills it might have provided in the hands of a less capable actress (I’m not going to say which Pretty Little Liars star I’m thinking of, but I am thinking of one).
Anyway, that’s the lightest story of the episode. We haven’t even gotten to Jughead, who spends the week trying to gain entrance into the Southside Serpents, hoping that he can persuade them from bombing the newspaper office.
LOOK, IF YOU WANT TO DESTROY THE MEDIA, DON’T BOTHER WITH PIPE BOMBS. JUST CONVINCE THEM TO PIVOT TO VIDEO.
His initiation starts out harmlessly enough, with some light hazing and some memorization of gang policy. But the final test requires him to run “the gauntlet:” literally, to walk through a line of his peers while they pummel him within an inch of his life.
It’s violence as male bonding and violence as sublimated homoeroticism, and while it arguably does a better job at critiquing those concepts than Fight Club did, it’s still a disturbing thing to watch, particularly at a moment when we’re all examining how often the ties that bind male friendships are rooted in violence and silence. On another level, the spectacle of Jughead taking punch after punch, getting up only to get knocked down again, feels a lot like reading the daily news lately.
After he takes his manly beating, Jug soothes his wounded body and heart with Toni Topaz, who again, I do not like.
SURE, HIT ON HIM WHILE HE HAS A *HEAD INJURY.*
And now we arrive at the emotional core of the episode: Veronica and Cheryl.
This week, Veronica’s parents invite an old friend to town, in hopes that he’ll invest in their new real estate venture: SoDale.
“GENTRIFICATION” SOUNDS SO MUCH NICER IN SPANISH.
Veronica’s role in this venture is to charm the investor’s son, escaped turd Nick Sinclair.
ALL YOUR ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT ME ARE CORRECT!
Nick and Veronica are old friends from her bad girl days, and she is excited to renew his acquaintance and their long-simmering but harmless flirtation, though she assures Archie it’s totally benign.
In that spirit, the whole gang gets together for a hotel party, where Nick passes around tubes of Jingle-Jangle. It’s here that Betty and Veronica’s big falling-out occurs, and Archie runs off into the night to see what’s going going on with Betty. When Nick and Veronica are alone, Nick starts forcefully kissing Veronica, making it clear that he won’t take no for an answer, and what’s more, that Veronica had better fuck him if she wants his daddy’s money. Veronica gets away, shaken, but still very much in control.
The next day, at the open house, Nick approaches Veronica and expresses his profound remorse. He says he was fucked up, and that he’s been in and out of rehab for months.
PROUD GRADUATE OF THE SPACEY-WEINSTEIN DAYSPA FOR UNAPOLOGETIC CREEPS HOPING THIS WILL ALL BLOW OVER.
Veronica, for her part, gives him a pass. She acknowledges that he is far from the first person to behave badly while under the influence, and she doesn’t want to throw away their years of friendship over a mistake he says he’s sorry for. And as much as all this episode’s violence is hard to take, this is the real kicker. Because Veronica’s reaction is so human. She doesn’t (initially) want revenge on Nick; she wants to preserve his humanity, and their friendship, and her own worldview in which trust is possible, and grace and forgiveness aren’t liable to be abused. So many of the women (and men) in the recent cascade of abuse stories have been Veronicas, wanting to keep the world turning on its axis by moving on, and praying that these men will never do it again.
Except that’s not what happens. The second Nick walks away from Veronica, he turns his gaze to Cheryl.
This episode marks Cheryl’s re-emergence after weeks of relative silence, and for most of it, she is in flawless form–from introducing herself as “Riverdale’s resident It Girl” to promising to only show up to a party an hour late–and seeing her remarkable self-assuredness is an effective tool at making her helplessness that much more dramatic.
While Josie and the Pussycats perform–a hideous pop-punk nightmare that is not their jam–Cheryl starts feeling woozy, and Nick wrangles her back up to his room. He’s on the verge of raping her unconscious body when Veronica and the rest of the Pussycats charge in, and beat his ass so badly it makes Jughead’s hazing ritual look like an episode of My Little Pony.
SISTERHOOD IS MAGIC!
The revenge angle is a nice gesture, with shots that recall Quentin Tarantino’s woefully underrated Death Proof, but what will stay with me is that all the revenge in the world can’t un-traumatize Cheryl.
Even if the show forgets about it by next week, even if all the men under fire in Hollywood and around the country redeem themselves and are able to salvage their lives and careers, you can’t undo the pain. You never forget how it feels when you are robbed of your autonomy, when the high-flying bird of your heart is shot down by someone with greater physical strength or institutional power than you. The person you were before becomes, like Riverdale’s ideas about its innocence, a place lost in time, to which you can never fully return.
But there is healing, and there is time, and there is justice. So when Bettty hears about what happened to Cheryl, she tries to make a little lemonade out of her current mountain of lemons. The next time the Black Hood calls her up, she metes out a little vigilante justice of her own.
BLACK HOOD: I know you told Archie about our little chats, Betty. Now he has to pay.
BETTY: What has Archie done wrong??
BLACK HOOD: He ate up two whole episodes worth of storyline with his Red Circle bullshit, is what. And after him it’ll be Polly, and your dad, and your super hot M– I mean, your mom. Unless you give me another name.
BETTY: Okay, how about Nick Sinclair?
BLACK HOOD: “Nick Sinclair” eh? Yeah, that ranks pretty high on the douche-o-meter. Consider it done.
See you next week for an episode that actually looks like it might be in danger of being fun.