Madelaine Petsch (left), Lili Reinhardt

“Juggy, Jason’s death changed Riverdale. People don’t want to admit that, but it’s true—we all feel it. Nothing this bad was ever supposed to happen here, but it did. I want to know why.”

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For a show already all about a murder mystery and scandalous teens, Riverdale’s third episode is pretty intense. For starters, Betty’s decided to investigate Jason Blossom’s death, and she resuscitates Riverdale High School’s newspaper, The Blue & Gold, to do so. When she’s not working on that investigation though, she’s helping Veronica, Ethel (Stranger Things’ Shannon Purser, a.k.a. Barb), and other female classmates expose rampant misogyny at the school. Betty also almost burns a guy alive in a hot tub. (It’s a pretty big episode for Betty. She’s really not messing around this week.) Oh, and Alice Cooper finally gets slapped.

But as Jughead’s voice-overs keep telling us, Riverdale was always just a picture of perfection, hiding its true darkness until Jason Blossom’s death finally shook things up. Before then, Archie wasn’t hot, Betty was perfect, and things were seemingly good. However, since the disappearance (and then the murder reveal), that darkness has been out in the open. Or it’s at least been coming closer to peeking out from the crack. But if we’re being honest, Jason’s death didn’t really change anything: It just highlighted the darkness. The football players’ “playbook” didn’t just materialize the moment Jason died—Jason and his teammates had been objectifying girls long before that. Archie and Ms. Grundy didn’t just happen as a result of Jason’s death proving how precious life is—Grundy preyed on this kid at the beginning of that summer. If anything, the best thing Jason’s death did was kickstart certain people’s decisions to no longer bury their head in the sand.

“Chapter Three: Body Double” makes it clear that while Betty may be a nice girl, she really isn’t the type to bury her head in the sand. And when she puts her mind to something, it’s probably just best to stay clear. Unless she’s about to burn a guy alive due to a possible dissociative state. Her mother somewhat sarcastically calls her daughter a “Lois Lane type” in this episode, but as far as Riverdale is concerned, that’s the highest compliment that could be paid to the character. Because Betty Cooper is far more than the girl who pines for Archie Andrews, and this episode makes sure to shout that fact out for anyone who might still erroneously think that’s all she is.

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This episode’s Betty/Jughead team-up makes for a surprisingly nice dynamic, though it really shouldn’t be all that surprising: Both are very much about truth, justice, and the American way, only they both have obviously different approaches. Perfect, pink, girl-next-door versus edgy, hipster, “writer” is the type of relationship most other shows would make (and have made) a more contentious one, but even the scene of Betty trying to convince Jughead to join The Blue & Gold shows they’re on the same page, even with their differences. And the fact that Jughead makes sure Dilton Doiley (Major Curda) tells his story when Betty is around doesn’t come across as just a plot contrivance (because now she could eventually put two and two together if she learns Archie was also there); it actually reads more like the equal footing Betty promised him to get him on the paper in the first place. So often teen dramas get to a point where the weekly question becomes one of why these people are even friends. Gossip Girl and Dawson’s Creek were especially notorious for this, despite how “iconic” those fictional friend groups have become. Riverdale, however, is not only showing how any of these people are even friends in the first place, but making perfectly clear how these friendships would have to be mightily tested to really falter.

It also helps that these friendships don’t all revolve around Archie, which is typically another mistake made in any ensemble with an apparent central figure. Keep in mind, the only input Archie has in the Veronica/Chuck/Betty storyline is shock over his two girl friends storming into the boys’ locker room—and Veronica shuts any subsequent input down by telling him to hit the showers before he becomes a casualty of her wrath.

Naturally, Archie remaining divorced from these character-defining stories leads to a key criticism of the character. His main story is a tired teen drama trope (both the teacher-student affair and the father issues, though the latter has more subversion of expectations), while all of his friends are off actively investigating murders and doling out justice. Archie is the weakest main character on what is supposedly “his” show, but the show is called Riverdale, not Archie. While Riverdale and even modern Archie comics have done a lot to make the Archie character more interesting, he’s still understandably the least interesting character of the core four. It’s not even necessarily a bad thing, because if Riverdale ever tries to take him outside of that designation, then it’ll probably be time to pull the plug on the character before he goes full Dan Humphrey. It’s fine to have an “average” character, especially if it’s embraced; as I’ve mentioned before, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a good kid trying to make the right choices, especially in a coming-of-age story. Plus, there’s something especially funny about Archie not reacting to Jughead’s exit line about what’s going on in the rest of the episode: “I’d love to stay, but I’ve got to shake down an evil adventure scout.” It’s all just so… Well, it’s all just so Archie.

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Basically, K.J. Apa may be a very attractive guy, and this Archie may be having an affair with his teacher, but Archie Andrews (hot or not) is still one of pop culture’s greatest goobers. It’s arguably for the best that Riverdale doesn’t try to change that, even if it doesn’t make for the show’s most interesting character. But who knows? Maybe the reason Riverdale really isn’t trying to change that is because season two will be the investigation of Archie Andrews’ death.

One thing is for sure, and that is that Archie certainly isn’t the hero of this story: That would be Betty and Veronica. Riverdale runs the risk of going after-school special by having “Chapter Three” be about slut shaming… So it blows that up by going Hard Candy meets Sweet/Vicious on the main (living) slut shamer in school and doing some actual good in its world of shadows. While the first two episodes have done a lot to strengthen the Betty/Veronica friendship, it’s this episode where they truly reach “ride or die” status. And honestly, it would have been unbelievable if they didn’t achieve “B&V 4EVA” status after this episode.

It’s in this plot that Riverdale hits that spiritual successor to Veronica Mars button, as the playbook is just like the fraternity scorecard from the Veronica Mars episode “The Rape Of Graff.” Points for hooking up with girls—or even just lying about hooking up with girls—and “bonus” points for things like being the new girl or the “big” girl. Naturally, this show’s Veronica is proactive enough to go “scorched-earth” on the situation—her immediate reaction is to cut Chuck’s (Jordan Calloway) brakes, though she doesn’t follow through on that—and it looks like the rest of the plot is going to be Betty strapping in to be Veronica’s sidekick. But since Chuck is the type of teenage boy who legitimately calls other guys “betas,” Veronica’s previously established force of reckoning can’t even get her out of this situation. It’s Betty’s “good girl” decision to dig and see if this has happened before and build an exposé from those reports that sets things in motion. And that’s great, because it’s important for Riverdale to establish that there are situations where Veronica’s approach to things is the right one and ones where Betty’s approach is; Veronica’s alpha girl behavior doesn’t actually work here, even though it’s still perfect for things like taking Cheryl Blossom down a peg or two.

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Of course, it is Veronica’s established need for blood that leads to the revenge plot even after finding the playbook, which then awakens Betty’s (even more driven) need for the same. The sight of Polly’s name in the playbook makes the established “toxic” Jason/Polly relationship even worse, because it really just was a game for Jason. That, plus Chuck’s blatant disrespect (and absolute reveling in his grossness) awaken something in Betty, and it’s something that’s far greater than leaving fingernail prints in the palm of her hand.

Riverdale then goes full Body Double (this week’s episode’s namesake), which in turn went full Hitchcock. Because as we all know, the kids these days love Hitchcock. As the pop culture references in Riverdale have people asking who these references are for, I would like to point out that pop culture heavy or influenced work can lead to younger audiences actively looking into who and what these references are. It’s an easy way to help inform people’s pop culture knowledge and eventual tastes, and that can’t hurt. Sure, it can be a little too much and miss the mark at times (like Chuck referencing Fall From Grace in this episode), but this is also a new show, and it’s got to get you used to its verbiage somehow. And sometimes you have to get used to Betty in a black bob wig, going into a dissociative state, and dousing a jerk jock with maple syrup in boiling hot water.

Betty and Veronica don’t go full Sweet/Vicious on Chuck, but at least justice is served. For now at least—as Jughead’s voice-over points out that not even this supposedly contained plot can have a happy ending.

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Also, Cheryl truly believing in the innocence of her brother when the playbook comes up is understandable, but seeing how Chuck and his friends are, there’s no real question Jason had to be part of this. Like Cheryl says herself, Jason was co-captain of the football team with Chuck. She believes he would have shut it down if he’d known, but the more reasonable answer is that he knew and either didn’t care or was part of it. Luckily, “reasonable” is a luxury that can sometimes be ignored when it come to twin “soulmates.” Even luckier is the fact that Cheryl finally realizes in this episode that her brother wasn’t perfect. Her acknowledgment that Jason did hurt Betty’s sister allows for some forward momentum that just can’t be ignored. Because as Sheriff Keller points out early in the episode, Jason’s plan to fake his death and runaway was simply “cruel,” which means he was capable of a lot more.

Cheryl got her heart-to-heart with Veronica last week (though that apparently didn’t take), but in my experience, nothing bonds people more than setting a symbol of misogyny on fire in a barrel. Hopefully Riverdale realizes that moving forward with Cheryl.

However, this episode somehow gets us further away from the biggest mystery of this series: How in the hell are Josie and Cheryl good (possibly even best) friends? Josie And The Pussycats only rehearse with Archie because of Josie doing a favor for Cheryl (who is doing a favor for Archie). In fact, Josie says: “I love my girl Cheryl, so I am doing her this solid.” If it’s a friendly families situation, that’s somewhat ruined by the fact that the Blossom parents are pretty furious with Mayor McCoy for how Jason’s murder investigation has been handled. And until the reveal of the playbook, Cheryl is at her absolute worst in this episode, sadly uttering the line “boys will be boys” while calling Ethel and the other girls in the playbook liars (even though Valerie’s brother confirmed the playbook’s existence). Why are they friends? This episode starts with the character high of her dramatic perp walk and the reveal that she and Jason had simply planned his “drowning” as a way for him to runaway, but after that, until she shows up for a “B&E with B&V,” she is on a whole other level of cold.

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Again, the fact that she learns from this and shows genuine human remorse (which even Alice Cooper doesn’t do after getting the slap of a lifetime) is at least a good sign for the character.

But back to Archie for a moment, I noticed in the comments for “Chapter One” that there was a discussion about whitewashing on Riverdale, with regards to Archie (K.J. Apa is half-Samoan). On the one hand, it’s quite the big deal for the “all-American” (which, unfortunately, is typically a designation often reserved for white characters) lead of this series to be played by a person of color; on the other hand, Apa is definitively playing Archie as a white character. (Archie’s mother has been cast, though I’ll just put the link here for any extremely spoiler-phobic readers.) For lack of a better term, I wouldn’t quite call the situation black and white. But Riverdale’s decision to make Josie And The Pussycats black (instead of just Valerie) is something I have no problem speaking on, both as a black woman and someone who feels very strongly about Josie And The Pussycats. This episode expounds on Josie’s reaction to Archie in the pilot, which makes Josie look better (so why is she friends with Cheryl?). He’s this white, varsity football jock, who we know is a nice guy—but we also know is Archie fricken Andrews. We know he wants to write for The Pussycats, and while it ends up going rather well here, based on the original music we’ve heard so far from Archie, it could have gone a lot worse.

This episode addresses (again, without turning it into an afterschool special) that Josie, Melody, and Valerie are three black girls in a very small town, and just because it’s 2017 and Josie’s mom is the mayor, that certainly doesn’t erase racism and the struggle. Archie’s “I campaigned for your mom. I get it” deserves the ultimate “no, child” response from Josie after she brings up the amount of hate mail her mother got for winning the election, but instead, she calmly breaks it down for him in terms he will hopefully one day understand. They’re “pussycats” because of how they have to claw their way to get opportunities Archie could easily get, and that’s why they make their own music—no outsiders. Especially no Archie. It’s the “twice as good, half as far” speech in abridged teen drama form. But still, he can never truly understand, because as a straight, white, male—and a decent and attractive one at that—he’s pretty much got things covered in life. And yes, Chuck Clayton (a character was added to the comics for “diversity”) is black and living in Riverdale, but he’s also the town’s football star, on the dean’s list, and Ivy League-bound (pre-exposé). Obviously, he too had to claw his way to the top, but the problem is, once he reached that peak, he used his position of power (as Kevin says, dating the varsity football coach’s son in Riverdale is “like dating a Kennedy”) for nefarious purposes. The Pussycats are the lightness to Chuck’s darkness in a way.

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One mystery is solved in this episode, though. If there’s any question about whether Jughead’s book is any good or not, it’s very much answered in this episode: It’s not. It’s really, really not. In fact, while “Chapter Three” is a very good episode for Jughead (he doesn’t eat any hamburgers, but he does steal a youth’s milkshake), that doesn’t count for his voice-overs. The episode gets his point across about the duality of this town and its residents, but by the end of the episode, he’s talking about Pandora’s box, and all his good will in the episode proper is almost undone by him reminding the audience he’s just a 16-year-old writing a novel. Keep it to The Blue & Gold, Juggy.

Stray observations

  • Riverdale Roulette: I just binge-watched all of Sweet/Vicious, and now I’m suggesting the rest of you follow suit. If you were hoping for Veronica and Betty to go ninja on Chuck, this should satisfy your craving.
  • “Chapter Two” actually set up Veronica/Chuck by having the two of them flirt in the student lounge just moments before the Reggie/Archie fight. The scene was also right after Betty and Veronica had just reconciled, which explains why Veronica opted to sit with some random guy instead of Betty and Kevin when all of that was happening.
  • This week, in Ms. Grundy Is A Calculating Predator: So Archie does the right thing and tells Sheriff Keller and Principal Weatherbee that he also heard the gunshot on July 4. (He gets points for using the “working on some songs” excuse he should’ve used in the first place. Though I’ll cut him some slack about “in the first place,” because this is all happening in barely a week.) Grundy’s immediate response? “You were in the clear. We were in the clear.” No, she does not ask him how he is handling everything after telling the “truth.” Then, once Archie proves he won’t rat on her, no matter what (“I’ll stick to my story. I’ll protect you.”), she breaks things off with him. She got what she wanted, after all. Until she decides she wants more of this 16-year-old boy, that is.
  • Veronica: “What the hell is a ‘Sticky Maple’?”
    Kevin: “It’s kind of what it sounds like. It’s a Riverdale thing.”
    Veronica: “No, Kevin—it’s a slut shaming thing. And I’m neither a slut, nor am I going to be shamed by someone named—excuse me—Chuck Clayton.”
  • Cheryl: “I’m granting you one wish, Archie. Nothing is off the table. Except for my body.” That final condition is 20 percent funny, 80 percent a reminder that it’s a good thing she said that (even though Archie is a good guy), considering how awful a number of his teammates are.
  • Usually, the fact that every Instagram comment on Chuck’s page is a person’s full name (instead of a username, for the purposes of anonymity) would come across as TV writers being out of touch with technology, but the fact that it’s not anonymous makes the comments sting even more and show just how cruel people (especially teenagers) can be. Cheryl’s comment is of course the most Cheryl comment (“I usually pity the poor, but…”), but the dude insulting Veronica’s eyebrows (Ace McDonald) is the one who most needs to be revenged. Fan-fic writers, you’re welcome. (There’s also a “no gracias” comment, in case you were wondering if they got any mild racism in there. They did.)
  • There is nothing good about the playbook, but there’s something hilarious about this entry: “13 percent of females responded to Moose.” Did Moose do the percentages himself? Also, maybe don’t bark when someone says “bulldog,” Moose. That could be why it’s just 13 percent.
  • The Taste Of Riverdale is perhaps the most “CW event of the week” choice I’ve seen in ages (and definitely in these three episodes). A back-to-school dance? That makes perfect sense. The pep rally? Still makes sense. A “first annual” event leading up to the town’s 75th anniversary event, introduced with a speech by the Mayor that makes it seem like Riverdale’s town song is “Tubthumping” (they get knocked down, but they get up again)? That’s some true CW nonsense. Riverdale should probably consult Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries for tips on how to do this right.
  • Is it safe to say Josie And The Pussycats sound so much better without all the bells and whistles? Because Josie And The Pussycats sound so much better without all the bells and whistles. Are they putting these songs on iTunes?
  • In a fine moment of friendship, Jughead gives Archie the highest of praise on his lyrics: “Not bad.” He also voice-overs that he “would’ve done anything to protect Archie,” so Riverdale is working to make Archie’s relationships outside of his father and Ms. Grundy mean something.
  • Dilton Doiley, extreme survivalist. Riverdale truly knows what the kids are up to these days.
  • Alice: “Slut shaming. That’s what they call it when sluts get shamed.” I’m honestly surprised Alice didn’t brace for another slap after that line. Then again, Hermione Lodge continues to be one of the most (if not, the most) level-headed characters on this show, so it’s understandable. Also, say what you will about Alice (and it’s definitely deserved), but here goes another tip of the hat to Riverdale for both Betty and Veronica almost always having conversations with their mothers about what’s going on.

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