The most generous explanation I have for this episode is that the writers knew that it would be drowned out by Stranger Things buzz and they didn’t want to waste their best material on it. The less generous explanation is that Roberto Aguire-Sacasa is a man of deep passions and widely varied interests, and he is so desperate to express them through this show that he occasionally does it at the expense of the source material. It’s like when Marty McFly busts out his metal guitar solo in the middle of Johnny B. Goode in Back To The Future; what starts as a brave risk to introduce his audience to rock ‘n roll becomes a somewhat embarrassing spectacle when it ventures too far afield.
That’s not to say that this episode was a complete catastrophe. It had Cheryl, after all.
So, when last we left our anything-but-ragtag band of teens, Moose and Midge had just imbibed wee little fistfuls of jingle-jangle (which again, sounds like the drug the Keebler Elves would do during an all-nighter at the cookie tree) when they viciously attacked by the same masked assailant (presumably) who shot Archie’s dad and murdered Ms. Grundy. But don’t worry, because both teens survived, though Moose was shot several times while using his body as a shield.
The next day, Betty’s parents just happen to receive a note from the masked vigilante (probably because they wrote it and placed it on their own doorstep). In the note, the killer identifies himself as “The Black Hood” (still not as scary as “the white hood” IMO), and announces that he is targeting “sinners” and has a lot of targets left on his list. Naturally, Alice opts to publish the letter (which will doubtlessly be great for the paper’s sales, and I definitely wouldn’t put it past Alice to go on a murder spree to save print publications). The Black Hood’s message spooks everyone, but no one more than Polly, who rightfully points out that being “an unwed mother carrying my cousin’s babies” might put her at risk for reprisals. With that in mind, she runs off to the “farm” where she and Jason planned to go, and which she somehow still believes exists.
I’M GOING TO THE OLD DOG RETIREMENT FARM, AND IT IS THERE I SHALL AWAIT THE COMING OF THE STORK.
Naturally, this latest attack dials up Archie’s already debilitating paranoia, and he begs the rest of the gang to take the situation seriously. No one really listens, though, Jughead because he’s preoccupied with trying to fit in at Southside High, and Betty and Veronica because they are preoccupied with monitoring each other’s every breath and hair and fidget on the chair they have inexplicably (OR TOTALLY EXPLICABLY) chosen to share.
WHERE ELSE WERE WE SUPPOSED TO SIT? IT’S NOT LIKE THERE’S A BENCH DIRECTLY BEHIND US OR ANYTHING.
From here, everyone goes their separate ways. Let’s start with Jughead, but PROMISE ME you will stay with me until we get to Kevin, because I have THINGS TO SAY about him.
Okay, so remember how Jughead was so happy to be attending Southside High with his fellow poors, with whom he had already developed a lunch table rapport? Well no you don’t, because that version of events has been erased. Now Southside is a school divided between Serpents and the even badder Ghoulies, and Jughead must pick a side. Despite Jug’s initial enthusiasm for the Serpent leather jacket and motorcycle lifestyle, he has opted to resume his loner ways. His “peer mentor,” Topaz cautions him against this strategy.
AND BEHIND ME, YOU SEE THE CHAIN LINK FENCE. YOU CAN THROW YOURSELF AT IT DRAMATICALLY OR KISS YOUR STAR-CROSSED LOVER THROUGH IT, UP TO YOU.
Despite Jughead’s unwillingness to join a gang, he and Topaz form an immediate bond and set to work reviving Southside’s school paper, The Red and Black. (Man, this show is so bad at naming things!) Jughead also swiftly wins the mentorship of Southside’s One Good Teacher, who recognizes both how desperately Jug needs a male role model, and that he can’t trust one unless he is a little bit mean to him.
AROUND HERE, A PAPER IS NAMED AFTER TWO COLORS, OR IT DON’T RUN.
Jughead throws himself into newspaper work, hopeful that he can crack all Riverdale’s mysteries if he just exposes the Ghoulies as the town’s primary purveyors of Jingle Jangle. Unfortunately, all his digging around earns him a severe beating at the hands of gang members, in a scene that is deeply affecting and actually frightening.
LIGHTING IS DESTINY.
Jughead tells everyone he got his bruises from a motorcycle accident, and Topaz helps him lie to Betty about it, which is deeply unhealthy. It’s also pretty ironic how comfortable Jug is with telling lies in the surface of seeking the truth.
Next up we have Veronica, who is engaging in some hardcore deception of her own. In Veronica’s case, she’s tricking everyone into thinking that she’s genuinely interested in repairing her relationship with her father by fostering a new era of openness and transparency. This, of course, is total bullshit; Veronica doesn’t trust her dad in the slightest, especially since he fired Smithers the butler. (I know Smithers was a minor character, but removing him represents yet another tie to Riverdale’s source material that I think the writers are being rather too careless in casting aside.) Of course, Veronica lying to everyone isn’t a betrayal in the same way it would be with any other character; she’s a grand master of manipulation and she’s always got multiple games going at once. The problem is that she fails to inform Archie that her father is still not to be trusted, which leaves him wide open to Hiram’s manipulation.
Archie comes for a quiet dinner at casa de Lodge, and it’s frankly heartbreaking how little Arch is even aware that he’s out of his depth. He’s like a goldfish whose bowl has been launched into space.
A BEAGLE AMONG WOLVES.
After dinner, Hiram offers Archie some rum, at which point I began screaming “NO ARCH, IT’S A TRAP” at my TV. (I know because I’ve seen it before: my dad used to offer my sisters’ high school boyfriends a beer at dinner, and WOE BETIDE the boys who said yes.)
Anyway, while sipping rum in Hiram’s study, Hi suggests that Archie really ought to take the whole “masked vigilante” situation into his own hands. As advice goes, this is down there with “you should get a perm” in that it is clearly designed to RUIN anyone dumb enough to take it. Nevertheless, Archie runs with this concept in spectacular fashion, and decides to assemble his own team of masked vigilantes!
AND I KNOW JUST WHAT TO CALL US.
WE ARE GONNA LIGHTLY SPOT THIS TOWN’S UNDERWEAR.
Along with his fellow football players, Archie institutes a neighborhood watch of sorts, planning to blind any evildoers with their dazzlingly white, hairless chests.
PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER BOYS.
It’s not long before they’re called into action, when Ethel Muggs is nearly assaulted while walking home from school.
IF PEOPLE WOULD WRITE ME A GIRLFRIEND, MAYBE I WOULDN’T BE SUCH A GODDAMN EASY TARGET ALL THE TIME.
Archie and Reggie are too slow to catch the would-be assailant, but the encounter reinforces their conviction that this is all a very good idea.
Under normal circumstances, Betty at least could be counted on to tell Archie stay in his own genre, but she’s busy reaching out to another troubled youth: Kevin.
NOTE THAT CHERYL IS STEALING THIS SCENE DESPITE BEING OUT OF FOCUS AND SILENT.
It turns out that Kevin was the first person to stumble on the scene of Moose and Midge’s shooting, because he was cruising for anonymous sex in the park, in the dead of night.
THANK GOODNESS WE ARE WEARING THIS UNIFORM OR HOW ELSE WOULD WE KNOW WE ARE EACH PERFECTLY GROOMED TWINKS?
Betty, for one, is appalled that Kevin is engaging is such unsafe behavior, especially when there’s a killer on the loose, but Kevin is not trying to hear a critique of his gay choices from Betty’s hetero ass.
So despite Betty’s continual warnings, Kevin continues to sneak off into the dusk, in wide-eyed expectation of a brief encounter. He talks about this briefly with Moose, who he used to hook up with on the sly, and who seems interested in rekindling a spark, especially after his liaison with Ethel nearly got him killed.
I’M EVEN WILLING TO RECONSIDER MY POSITION ON ALWAYS TOPPING, IF ONLY FOR BULLET-RELATED REASONS.
But Kevin doesn’t really want to talk to the closeted Moose about it. And he definitely doesn’t want Betty and Cheryl (whose motives are unclear) cock-blocking him on one of his night-time excursions.
COME ON KEV, AREN’T WE ALL BASICALLY QUEER THESE DAYS?
Then Betty goes even farther by telling Kevin’s dad, Sherriff Frozen-To-Death Chris Pine, what he’s been up to. His dad talks to him tenderly and firmly, acknowledging his limitations as a straight parent, but promising that going forward, he won’t let Kevin keep these dangerous secrets anymore. They hug and it feels like a step forward for their relationship. But it might just destroy Kevin and Betty’s friendship, as he makes clear by slamming his locker door in her direction.
So we’re left with the question, was Betty right or wrong in intervening in Kevin’s sex life? For me the answer is: yes.
As Kevin points out, even in his supposedly accepting school, his options are still quite different from Betty’s. She can be a sexual person, even figuring out her own BDSM kink, without the added layer of judgement to which Kevin is subjected. Unfortunately for this storyline, Kevin’s point is a little contrived. It was a poor writing choice to make Kevin the only out gay guy at his high school, which is totally unrealistic given how accepting it supposedly is. Also, regardless of how little he likes Grindr, “cruising for sex in the woods” is pretty retrograde, and I suspect difficult for most young gay men in 2017 to relate to. That’s what I mean about Roberto Aguire-Sacasa pushing his interest in these themes farther than this show is really equipped to go.
On the other hand, I know that most queer people can relate to having straight friends who forget that even in 2017, things are different from us. I hate having to explain that I can’t take the same romantic international vacations with my partner as my straight friends, because there are so many places we’re not welcome. I can’t tell them how it feels to have my rights constantly subjected to adjudication and pushback.
This past weekend I was attending my girlfriend’s brother’s wedding, at a Buddhist retreat center in upstate New York, and it was about as accepting an environment as I could imagine. After the ceremony, we took to the dance floor in our socks and swayed and spun each other and it was actually possible for me to forget, for whole minutes at a time, that anyone might be noticing us. That is, until I happened to look at the outskirts of the room, where my girlfriend’s grandmother was watching us dance with open-mouthed horror. I don’t think she ever understood what her granddaughter and I are to each other before seeing us dance like that, and the realization clearly came as a painful shock. My straight friends will never understand what it feels like to hurt an old lady by dancing with the person you love.
For years, straight society pushed queer people into the shadows, and it’s a disorienting experience to suddenly find those shadows floodlit. For Kevin, and for a lot of us, being gay has partly been about finding beauty in secrecy and darkness, because we had to. In some cases—definitely in Kevin’s case—that beautiful twilight world can facilitate some very dangerous behavior, and since Kevin is still in high school, I think it’s appropriate for his father to try and intervene. But it’s also true that Kevin has every right to be upset with Betty. As any concerned friend knows, there’s a big difference between “accepting who I am” and “accepting everything I do,” but meddling in someone’s sex life, even with the best of intentions, always means risking a friendship.
See you next week!