Friends, in the immortal words of Paul Simon, “these are the days of miracles and wonder.” By which I mean that miraculously, my decision to recap Riverdale has at last borne fruit, and my favorite female character on the show is now canonically queer. This stunning development comes on the heels of last week’s episode, which I didn’t even bother to recap because–despite the fact that Toni Topaz CAME OUT AS BISEXUAL, a noteworthy development, to be sure–the episode felt like all flash and no substance. The revelation that Jughead’s beloved English teacher was the jingle-jangle supplier carried absolutely no weight, because we barely knew him as a character. Betty and Jughead getting back together delivered no satisfaction, because they hadn’t been broken up long enough to digest a hamburger. And overall, Riverdale’s whole “journey into darkness” thing hasn’t really been working for me, partly because the real world is dark and wearying enough already. But in this episode, praise the lord, for at last I have seen the light.
So the whole thing starts off with some scrolling text in place of Jughead’s usual narration, which is clearly a reference to some classic film that I should be able to identify but can’t.
ONLY TRUE 40s KIDS WILL GET THIS REFERENCE!
The unusual introduction sets the stage for an episode broken up into three vignettes, titled “Jughead and Archie,” “Betty and Veronica,” and “Josie.” We’re going to be heavily focusing on Josie’s storyline, but let’s get the other two out of the way first.
We begin with Jughead, whose enthusiasm for the gangster lifestyle has faded (unlike his tattoo, which will tragically mar his arm forever). Jughead is hoping to permanently sever ties with the Serpents, but then he gets a call from Penny Peabody, Attorney at Lawless, who tells him that his dad has been attacked in prison and it has ruined his beautiful face.
YOUR DAD HAS GONE FROM LOOKING LIKE JOHNNY DEPP TO LOOKING LIKE JOHNNY DEPP IN 2017.
Penny tells Jughead that in order to secure an early release for his dad, Jug will have to do the favor he promised her: deliver a trunk to Greendale full of what we are given to believe is drugs but I think is a dead body. Since the trunk won’t fit on Jug’s motorcycle, he gets Archie to ferry him to Greendale, but they blow a tire on the way and are stranded on the side of the road.
As we’ve mentioned before, Greendale is home to Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Riverdale’s upcoming spinoff, so this storyline is the show’s way of gently introducing us to the idea that magic exists one town over. (That quantum leap is probably also the reason for this episode’s overtly horror-themed tone and structure.) The first example we see of Greendale’s mystical properties occurs at the border, when a dead deer suddenly springs back to life. (This event, plus a casual reference to Jason Blossom, lead me to believe that Sabrina is being imagined as a necromancer, an idea Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa already showed a fondness for in Afterlife With Archie.)
IT’S 2017, MY DUDE. ALL BETS ARE MOTHERFUCKING OFF.
Archie and Jughead are only stranded for a minute when an incredibly creepy dude rolls up and offers to give one of them (and only one) a ride into Greendale. Jughead accepts and gets in this terrifying stranger’s truck and for a minute I think that maybe the reason he has no voiceover is because he fucking dies this week.
TIRED OF ALL THESE FAKE TRUE-CRIME FANS WHO WON’T EVEN LET THEMSELVES BE THE VICTIM OF ONE.
On the ride, the highway-man tells Jughead the story of the Riverdale Reaper, a mysterious killer whose reign of terror predates the Black Hood, and he uses some very serial killer language himself about “sinners” and the need to cull the herd of weaklings every so often.
The driver and Jughead nearly come to a violent confrontation at an all-night diner, but Archie shows up at the last second, having gotten his tire repaired, and together, Jug and Arch take the crate to its final destination in Greendale. The crate’s recipient appears to be the superhero costume designer from The Incredibles, accompanied by a bodyguard. Both of them give off a vibe somewhere between “house band at a Berlin sex dungeon” and “I’ll get you next time, Indiana Jones.”
All in all, it’s a terrifying night for Jughead, but he consoles himself with the thought that at least he never has to work with the Serpents again and he helped protect his father’s face from further damage. Unfortunately, he’s wrong on both counts. Upon his return to Riverdale, he learns that Penny Peabody plans to make him her full-time errand boy. He also pays a visit to the town jail, where he sees that his father’s face is still as pouty and boyish as ever.
IT’S DAWNING ON ME THAT PERHAPS I, AS A 16 YEAR-OLD, AM NOT PERFECTLY SUITED TO OUTWITTING ADULT CRIMINALS.
Betty and Veronica’s storyline delivers a similar message about the perils of getting over one’s head, and it highlights each of the dynamic duo’s remarkable strengths and weaknesses. Namely: Betty is a tireless, indefatigable bird dog when she gets an idea in her head, which is a great asset when she happens to be right, and a massive liability when it exposes that Betty has some shocking moral blind spots and a sense of nuance that has been stunted by too much Nancy Drew. Veronica, for her part, is easily the smartest person on this show; she can run intellectual laps around all her peers. She chooses not to most of the time, relying on subtle tricks and machinations rather than really exerting herself, but this habit has made her lazy and manipulative.
This week, the idea that no one can prize from Betty’s jaws is that Sherriff Keller is the Black Hood. Her evidence is that the jingle-jangle dealer was killed in the town jail, and Keller is the one with the keys.
THINK ABOUT IT: “KELLER” “KILLER.” I REST MY CASE.
She persuades Veronica to run some recon on Keller under the guise of having a sleepover with Kevin. Veronica, for her part, thinks all Keller’s behavior is explainable by the fact that he’s probably having an affair while his wife is serving in the military overseas, but she knows it’s safer to play along with Betty than to let her go rogue. It bears mentioning that Kevin seems to have had his entire personality wiped and rebooted, since two weeks ago he was cruising for anonymous sex and knocking back party drugs like he was reliving the last days of disco, and this week he is playing board games and drinking milk. (Adults drinking milk is classic TV and film code for deviance and psychopathy so Kevin officially just became a suspect.)
I’M NO KILLER, I’M JUST THE MOST POPULAR HOST IN GAY WESTWORLD, AND BOY DO THEY HAVE TO ERASE ALL MY MEMORIES A LOT!
Anyway, Veronica goes sneaking around the house, in search of evidence of Sherriff Keller’s secret identity. And when she gets to the basement, she finds it.
MEET THE STAR OF “DREAM DADDY 2: FANNY PACK OF DESTINY”
No, I’m not talking about the fact that Sherriff Keller has been smuggling a six pack under his uniform; I’m talking about the fact that, alone among Riverdale parents, he exhibits healthy boundaries when dealing with teenagers! When Veronica awkwardly tries to flirt with him and suggests that he might be finding creative ways of “coping” with his wife’s absence, he treats those overtures with the wariness and alarm one would expect from an authority figure (unless that authority figure is the president, or a Senate candidate, or a TV producer, or…good god I am really tired).
Veronica reports back to Betty that Keller seems pretty blameless; even his man cave doesn’t have any “NO FEELINGS ALLOWED” signage on the walls. But Betty just can’t let it go, so she breaks in to Keller’s house and starts going through his stuff, which is crazy and yet pretty much in character. (For what it’s worth, the Black Hood did just make her break up with her boyfriend and criticize Veronica, so Betty has good reasons for wanting to put him away.)
Unsurprisingly, Keller catches Betty in the act! And how does he react? Entirely reasonably, by treating Betty with patience and empathy, going through his log book to prove he can’t be the Hood, and not taking any action harsher than calling Betty’s dad.
HA HA BETTY, WHY WOULD YOU SUSPECT THE SHERRIFF? DON’T YOU THINK YOUR OL’ DAD IS UP TO BEING A CRAZED MURDERER??? JK JK LOL.
Even then Betty can’t remove Keller from her suspect list, so she and Veronica tail him in the dead of night to a motel. After hours of waiting, they see him hauling a duffel bag that Betty posits contains his “murder kit.” But her theory falls to pieces when Keller is greeted by none other than Mayor McCoy, dressed in a manner that suggests that the two of them are not there to talk business.
OKAY, NOW I REALLLLLY WANT TO KNOW WHAT HE GOT IN THAT BAG.
I was hoping that this revelation would serve to chasten Betty and Veronica, gently reminding them that, as legal children, they are not in the best position to serve as the moral authorities for all Riverdale’s townsfolk, but sadly that insight is beyond them. Betty in particular observes that the town really is full of sinners, a sentiment that is a mere stone’s throw from “maybe that Black Hood fella has a point after all.” It never so much as occurs to Betty that maybe Keller and McCoy might have an arrangement with their perennially absent spouses, or even just a human need to put their enviable physiques to good use, because, as we previously mentioned, Betty has the loving heart, boundless dedication to her goals, and sense of moral nuance of a really good dog.
I TOLD YOU VERONICA, I CAN’T BE THE BAD GUY! I’M BLONDE!
WHEN THIS IS OVER, I AM TAKING ALL YOUR NANCY DREWS.
For all that the other two vignettes serve as fun character studies, or an opportunity to nudge the Greendale storyline a little further along, the episode’s only real revelation occurs in Josie’s storyline.
Josie, it transpires, has taken to staying late at school to practice some solo music in secret, without the knowledge of her fellow Pussycats.
THIS IS THE LITERAL PLOT OF “COCO” INCLUDING THE PART OF HOW YOU ARE CLOSER TO DEATH THAN YOU THINK.
The reason for the secrecy is that Cheryl Blossom has promised to get Josie some studio time with a music producer, but it’s an offer that doesn’t extend to her bandmates. (Not because Cheryl is trying to isolate Josie from her bandmates so Cheryl is her only friend or anything, just because it’s showbiz, kid; them’s the breaks; etc.)
Cheryl and Josie have always been close friends; while Cheryl’s attitude toward Betty and Veronica varies wildly from week to week, her devotion to Josie has remained constant. She is the only person, in fact, that Cheryl has ever treated as a peer, rather than a toy to be used for one form of gratification or another. And when I saw them walking the halls together this week, it actually flashed through my mind “could there be feelings there?” But immediately, I chastised myself for imposing my queer desires on every two girls sharing a moment of screen time in this show. “Girls can just be friends, Elaine,” I admonished.
GIRLS CAN JUST BE FRIENDS. BEST BEST FRIENDS.
In addition to feeling guilty about dodging her bandmates, Josie is also a little uneasy about a series of notes, gifts, and poems written in blood that keep appearing in her locker.
Josie’s secret admirer suspect list includes half the town, but at the top are the Black Hood, the Creepy Janitor, and Chuck Clayton. You remember Chuck Clayton, right? The guy who spread malicious rumors about Veronica, and was duly punished by BDSM Betty. (Possibly germane footnote: when Betty was meting out justice, she herself donned The Black Wig.)
Well, Chuck is back and has apparently been really trying to improve as a person, attending church, drawing pictures, and generally hoping his past indiscretions will be forgotten.
I UNDERSTAND THE MARKET FOR MALE APOLOGIES IS CRASHING RIGHT NOW, BUT I’M DOING MY BEST.
Chuck asks Josie out on a date, which she reacts to with fully justified incredulity and a very firm “no.”
SEE THIS IS THE PROBLEM WITH HAVING A MILKSHAKE THAT BRINGS **ALL** THE BOYS TO THE YARD.
But that night, when Josie is rehearsing at the school again, she starts getting a scary vibe (possibly augmented by the fact that she’s working on a song titled “Ooh Ooh Creepy Murder Boy”). She’s getting genuinely freaked out when she runs headlong into Chuck, in what might be the only situation in which he is a welcome sight. He gives her a ride home, which turns into milkshakes at Pop’s, which turns into dancing at Pop’s.
WHERE IS THE GODDAMN BLACK HOOD WHEN YOU NEED HIM?
After that date, Josie is cautiously willing to give Chuck a chance, which I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I want to believe people can change. I don’t want one of the only black male characters on this show to be sexually demonized. But on the other hand, my patience and faith in repentant dudes is at the lowest possible ebb at the moment. And as you might imagine, Cheryl—who was just assaulted by a man begging for a second chance two weeks ago—is Team Other Hand. She firmly insists that Chuck is bad news—not because she wants Josie all to herself, but because of his actual behavior. While making this point, she leads Josie to the music room, where they just happen to find a beautiful/creepy drawing!
WOW, JOSIE, WHOEVER DID THIS IS REALLY TALENTED AND CLEARLY CARES ABOUT YOU A LOT.
Cheryl immediately concludes that this is the work of Chuck Clayton, and Mayor McCoy and Sherriff Keller both put the fear of god in him to keep him away from Josie. (Gee Sherriff Keller, you sure seemto have taken an intensely personal interest in the needs of Mayor McCoy!) But Josie learns that Chuck couldn’t have drawn the creepy portrait, because he has not yet moved past stick figures in his artwork. Worse yet, the Pussycats find out about Josie’s solo aspirations and quit the group.
The terror of not knowing who is out to get her frightens Josie so much that her vocal polyps swell and rob her of her voice. But she needn’t worry, because it’s not the Black Hood who’s out to get her. It’s her best friend!
I LOVE YOU, ALWAYS FOREVER.
AND FOR MY NEXT PROJECT I SHALL MAKE US TWO LINKED FRIENDSHIP BRACELETS OUT OF METAL THAT ONLY I WILL HAVE THE KEY FOR AND YES, I AM DESCRIBING HANDCUFFS.
SO GUYS. YOU GUYS. DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS? It means that Cheryl Blossom, whose presence makes this show worth watching even when it is otherwise lost in its own bullshit, HAS A BIG GAY CRUSH ON HER BEST FRIEND.
I should have known something like this was brewing when Toni Topaz came out as bisexual last week, an event that would have been rather pointless if there were not another queer girl to pair her with. But I never would have guessed that they would give us Cheryl, the undisputed queen of this show.
Of course, Cheryl’s behavior towards Josie is not entirely “healthy,” or “sane,” or “legal,” but who amongst us has not been a high school student wild with desire for a best friend whose face we had gazed at during a thousand slumber parties, tormented by the closeness and the insurmountable distance from one sleeping bag to the next? No one! And neither do I expect the revelation of Cheryl’s sexuality to have any softening effect on her behavior. I don’t want it to. Let Cheryl be the same Cheryl—of the hallucinatory red lips, of the locker full of secrets, of the crazed and mutable passions and hatreds and schemes—but let her be all of them for us.
See you next week!