Queer TV

Riverdale Recap 2.8: The L Word

Hello and welcome back to Alice!, the show about a middle-aged woman rediscovering her sexual power despite a town, a family, and a world that want to hold her back. What’s that you say? That’s not what this show is called or about or even an accurate representation of Alice Cooper’s circumstances? Well, someone should really tell her.

GET IN, LOSERS. WE’RE DOING STICK-AND-POKE TATTOOS WITH MY BROOCH.

But really, for all that Cheryl is the vengeful deity that rules this show, and Jughead its tormented little heart, Alice Cooper is Riverdale embodied. She is an unceasing, eyeless hurricane, who thrives on grand entrances and draping herself over elaborate set pieces. Her behavior, her most deeply-held beliefs change with every episode, but nothing can ever truly be said to be a betrayal of her character, because her character is simply a wildfire of charisma, burning whichever way the wind blows. And much like Riverdale itself, Alice Cooper constantly tests my patience, without ever being in danger of losing my love.

Of course, there’s a lot going on in non-Alice news. The Black Hood is still terrifying the town, though he (or she or they) hasn’t done anything more menacing recently than mail a batch of threatening letters, presumably being busy with Christmas shopping and Googling “Robert Mueller indictments” every five minutes, like the rest of us. Jughead is trying to appease Penny Peabody AND control the Southside Serpents AND solve the Black Hood mystery AND ask Toni Topaz for tips on how to please Betty, so that’s a lot. And Cheryl, dear Cheryl, is trying to show Josie McCoy that she has a massive crush on her in the only way she knows how: by flattering her with one hand and waging a campaign of intimidation and terror against her other.

Everyone has a lot going on right now, with the exception of Archie and Veronica. They have one thing going on, but they have it going on a lot.

THEY’RE HAVING SEX FIVE TIMES A DAY! THAT’S A WHOLE HOUR!

As Jughead narrates, Archie and Veronica are waging a campaign of “carnal defiance” against the Black Hood, which is exactly the kind of euphemism Jughead would use to sound worldly and cover for the fact that he still blushes furiously if ever called upon to actually say “sex.”

(Also, how is it Jughead is able to narrate with such confidence the precise frequency and locations of these lubricious liaisons? That’s some Cheryl Blossom-level preoccupation with other people’s sex lives, Jug.)

Anyway, after one such bone sesh (during which I learned that I am “oh but you’ll ruin the rug!” years old), Archie tells Veronica that he loves her, a sentiment that Veronica finds herself unable to reciprocate.

AH YES, YOU ALSO…ARE GREAT. BACK LIKE A SAILOR ROPE AND ALL THAT.

One character saying “I love you” and the other not being able to say it back is one of the most common tropes in television, but I have literally never encountered it in real life! I don’t know if that’s because queer women generally have no problem swearing oaths of eternal fealty to one another after the first date or what, but it’s never been something I’ve been able to relate to. I do think it’s interesting that this is a reversal of the usual “love-starved girl and commitment-phobic boy” setup. And it does makes sense that Veronica is a lot more guarded with her emotions, given that her family life has left her with a firmly transactional view of all romantic relationships. Hilariously, it is those parents to whom Veronica turns for advice on the issue.

GUYS, ARCHIE BROUGHT UP THE L WORD AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO.

OH GOD, WHAT SEASON IS HE ON?

TELL HIM TO SKIP ALL OF SEASON THREE EXCEPT THE SEX SCENES.

Thankfully, Archie and Veronica are soon put on murder duty, which serves as a welcome respite from the agony of parsing their feelings for one another. Jughead does some research on the Riverdale Reaper he learned about last week, and soon learns that the Reaper’s victims lived in the same abandoned house where the Black Hood sent Betty to try on her very own balaclava of justice. Naturally someone is going to have to go investigate, but Jughead is planning a party for his dad and Betty has the insight to observe that the closer she gets to the Black Hood, the more she seems to resemble him. That leaves these two.

LIKE, IT’S GREAT THAT JUG AND BETTY HAVE THESE COUPLES HOBBIES, BUT ARCHIE AND I JUST HAVE ACTUAL SEX.

After tediously going through some official channels, Archie and Veronica reach the inevitable conclusion that they must go to the murder house itself, where they (unsurprisingly) learn that one member of the family, a young boy, survived the murders. I was fully expecting this boy to have grown up to be Betty’s dad, but instead it’s Mr. Svenson, the janitor who keeps happening to turn up whenever Josie is alone or in a state of undress.

Archie and Veronica have no information about this guy other than the fact that his entire family was murdered, but they still feel entitled to shove him up against a locker for information.

WHY ARE YOU THE ONLY PERSON IN THIS TOWN OVER THE AGE OF 45? WHAT DID YOU DO WITH THE REST OF THEM?

During the interrogation, Archie concludes that there’s no way Svenson could be the Hood, because he lacks the piercing green eyes (and god forbid it would occur to this CRIMINAL MASTERMIND to wear contact lenses). They let Svenson go, but god only knows how much psychological damage they’ve inflicted on the man. I don’t really look for morals in Riverdale, but it’s hard to overlook just how much collateral damage the gang does in its hunt for the truth. Whereas most teen mystery shows establish that the kids have to solve the crimes themselves because they can’t trust the authorities, our heroes have thus far managed to ruin the lives of everyone except their quarry. (Which, if I were a certain civic-minded local mom looking to get all my rivals out of the way, would be entirely to my liking.)

HOW CAN I REBUILD THIS TOWN FROM RUBBLE IF YOU CAN’T EVEN BE BOTHERED TO PROPERLY DESTROY IT?

Of course, Svenson isn’t entirely blameless, since he does intrude upon one of our precious Cheryl scenes this week. Cheryl and Josie are in the locker room, wrapped in towels, when Cheryl observes that Josie’s back is as knotted as “a sailor’s rope” and INSISTS she give her a massage.

I read a piece last week that wondered whether Cheryl had actual feelings for Josie or was just terrorizing her as a lark, but I think her delivery of this line puts that theory to bed. Because Cheryl Blossom can pull off any line, no matter how outlandish. She can quote Tennessee Williams at length or introduce herself as “Riverdale’s resident It Girl,” and do it with such overwhelming confidence that people have no choice but to blink dumbly and agree. But in reaching out to Josie here, she sounds so wrong-footed, so desperately contrived, that you can practically hear her inner monologue screaming “Oh god, a sailor’s rope? That is not an expression. I am doing so bad at this.”

HAHA, YOUR BACK IS ROPES! I JUST WANNA TIE EM UP LIKE A BIG STRONG SAILOR OR SOMETHING, IDK IDK.

When I first saw this scene, I thought it was a little ridiculous that Cheryl wouldn’t have the courage to sign her own sketches of Josie but would have the nerve to work the tension from her shoulder blades. And then, like a slow, icy wave of shame, I remembered that “the causal shoulder massage” was, from the ages of about 19 to 22, my main move. My only move, even. I wasn’t trying to be creepy or anything, I just literally had no idea where to start, and I at least hope that some girls got some good massages out of my pitiful confusion.

Of course, what I needed to do, what Cheryl needs to do, is say how she really feels so Josie can gently reject her and she can move on. But this can’t happen because Svenson the janitor has to come barging in like a fart in a sauna.

GOD, A GIRL CAN’T HAVE A MOMENT OF SEXUAL DISCOVERY AROUND HERE WITHOUT **SOME MAN** COMING IN TO CLEAN THE TOILETS.

Later, Josie and and Cheryl are sharing milkshakes at Pop’s when Josie lets slip that she’s planning to spend some time with Reggie Mantle. If Cheryl had any control over her emotions, she would simply pretend to ignore this information and secretly, untraceably destroy Reggie’s life from the inside. Instead, she is so overwhelmed by jealousy that she takes it out on her poor, blameless milkshake, and on Jughead’s dad, who is working at Pop’s and has to clean it up. Jughead sees this behavior and is outraged that his father would be “humiliated by the likes of Cheryl Blossom.” This of course, manages to outstrip even “carnal defiance” for the dumbest thing Jughead says this week, since being humiliated by Cheryl is the loftiest height to which most of us could ever dream of ascending.

JUST FEELS NICE TO BE NOTICED.

This rather odd fit of pique doesn’t go unnoticed by Josie, so despite the fact that their storyline only has two scenes, it is progressing.

Finally this week, Jughead’s dad is released from prison, full of promises to leave the Serpents and stay sober. And poor Jughead not only believes his father, he holds himself personally responsible for his rehabilitation. To celebrate the turning of this new leaf, Jug throws F.P. a “farewell to all that” party at Serpent headquarters, because what better way to start your new life on the straight and narrow than a party at a bar with all your gang friends?

Betty, meanwhile, decides to use the occasion as a chance to get deeper into the Serpents’ world, which apparently can only be accomplished by performing a live striptease for the gang!

THAT SEEMS AWFULLY MALE GAZE-Y.

IF IT MAKES YOU FEEL ANY BETTER, I WILL ALSO BE OBJECTIFYING YOU.

Toni Topaz says out loud that having Betty strip is “misogynistic,” which is one of the best examples I’ve have ever seen of a storytelling technique known as “lampshading.” Lampshading is when storytellers want to do something they know is problematic, but get around criticism by calling it problematic themselves.

At any rate, the party is a shitshow in a class by itself. It’s like if David Lynch directed an episode of Glee. (Incidentally, the other best example of lampshading was when Glee covered “Blurred Lines,” prefacing it with a discussion of how creepy and rape-y it is, while still selling the single on iTunes.)

The best part is that Alice Cooper, for no discernible reason, brings Betty to the party and immediately starts taking tequila shots.

MRS COOPER, I MUST SAY, THIS SEEMS KIND OF CONTRARY TO YOUR CHARACTER.

OH JUGHEAD, I DON’T HAVE ANYTHING SO COHERENT AS A “CHARACTER.” I JUST GET UP IN THE MORNING, SWALLOW A HANDFUL OF MYSTERY PILLS, AND SEE WHERE THE DAY TAKES ME.

I really do love her.

Archie and Veronica are also in attendance, and Archie is insisting that he’s FINE with the fact that Veronica can’t say she loves him. To prove it, he proposes they do a duet of “Mad World,” the anthem of disaffected teens everywhere, which seeks to reveal the gaping moral chasm under the concept of, among other things, birthdays.

 I FIND IT KIND OF FUNNY/I FIND IT KIND OF SAD/THERE’S NO SUCH PLACE AS HOGWARTS/AND SANTA’S JUST YOUR DAD.

Midway through, Veronica decides this is just too childish for her (she figured out how disappointing the world is and moved on ages ago) and she runs off stage. At which point Betty climbs up and takes over the lyrics, while stripping down to her negligee.

I AM “BETTY, PUT YOUR CLOTHES BACK ON!” YEARS OLD.

It is honestly surreal, especially when Betty’s vocals keep going even when she stops singing and swings disconsolately around the stripper pole. In fairness, this entire scenario sounds exactly like Jughead’s most specific fantasy. But Jughead is unable to enjoy it because his dad announces that he is returning to his old life of crime and drinking after all! And, in case you were unclear about it, IT IS ALL JUGHEAD’S FAULT FOR WORKING WITH PENNY PEABODY.

In the wake of all this, Jughead tries to break up with Betty, and Veronica tells Archie that she just “can’t go there with him.” It feels incredibly rushed, especially given that both these couples have been solid for a long time now. In fact, I thought the decision to forego the Archie Comics famous love triangle was one of the boldest departures of this show and breaking them both up within five minutes of each other is too overwhelming to even get the impact it deserves. What’s worse, Archie doesn’t even get to mourn his first relationship properly before looking for a rebound from the girl next door.

HOLY SHIT, I LITERALLY NEVER NOTICED THAT THIS WAS NOT A MIRROR.

 

I will be unavailable next week, but will endeavor to get you your next recap ASAP! Have a jingle-jangle Christmas!

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