Riverdale’s premiere got a lot done in terms of introducing its audience to a pre-established world and characters—with a twist. It had to make sure there was enough familiarity of the Archie comics characters within the context of a modernized, CW style, neo-noir approach to the source material, and it succeeded. “Chapter One: The River’s Edge” tipped the series’ hand with regards to its influences, following through on certain genre expectations and subverting others, and working as a solid start to a new television series. But like any other pilot, it also left a question of how the series would sustain itself after the fact. Second episodes, for example, often fill the role of being something of a pilot junior, reiterating points from the pilot before the show really gets going in the third and subsequent episodes. However, in the case of “Chapter Two: A Touch Of Evil,” Riverdale clearly realizes something about its second episode that prevents it from “just” being a retread of its first: There’s a murder investigation happening, and reintroducing any of these characters is the last thing that needs to happen here. Unless you’re reintroducing them with new murderous qualities.
“Chapter One” built the world strongly enough, and “Chapter Two” takes comfort in the fact that such world-building is enough and it can move on with the show. It’s right, but that’s also a pretty bold decision. Riverdale is both a new series based on an existing intellectual property and a new series based on mysterious, ridiculously sexy characters we’re just officially meeting. Not all intended audiences are necessarily on board with both of those aspects, but Riverdale has no problem moving forward as though they are. So since we met the characters last week, “Chapter Two” builds off the pilot’s work by playing more with the show’s characters and their relationships with each other.
To the audience, “Chapter One” immediately made it clear how “off” Cheryl Blossom is, both in her interactions with her brother and the way she gaslighted her way into power at the high school. But “Chapter Two” is much better when it comes to acknowledging that peculiarity within the world of the show. Here, Veronica actually calls out Cheryl’s entire existence as a character when she tells Betty she can’t determine if Cheryl is an absolute psychopath or an absolute genius for her ability to grieve in the form of planning a pep rally. And Jughead’s opening about everyone imagining Jason Blossom showing up to school on Monday morning as though nothing happened features the image of Jason and Cheryl continuing their ‘“terribly close” twin relationship, sharing a single milkshake with two straws like any other couple in a serious relationship. When Cheryl confesses to being guilty at the end of the episode, it’s acceptably melodramatic for the character so far, but it’s also barely on the same level as her speech about dissecting frogs or her evil Nancy Drew approach to finding out if Polly Cooper had anything to do with Jason’s death.
By the way, even with the confession at the end of episode, Cheryl’s intense desire to get information about Polly/Jason instantly puts her out of the running as his killer. It doesn’t change her from being a little mad herself, but it crosses off one suspect on the list. Plus, knowing Riverdale’s style, the show certainly wouldn’t find a way to get rid of Cheryl before it could attempt a Cordelia Chase-like redemption arc for the character. And no matter how weird Cheryl’s relationship with her brother has been portrayed so far, Madelaine Petsch nails the character’s emotional reaction to seeing Archie (who acts like a friend to her in this episode) in her brother’s uniform, leading the charge at the pep rally.
Then there’s Jughead, who was apparently the driving force of the promotional campaign for the show but little more than a quasi-omniscient narrator in the pilot. I’ll admit, upon my first viewing of these first two episodes, I honestly thought Riverdale was doing a (bad) twist where Jughead was secretly dead and only a manifestation of Archie’s guilt. Luckily, despite feeding into that unsubstantiated theory slightly with Archie/Jughead’s initial hallway scene, the episode also nips that idea in the bud as soon as Reggie body checks him in the same scene. Instead, this episode immediately gets the “mystery” of his and Archie’s broken friendship out of the way.
Jughead’s existence as an actual character in this episode is needed and much-appreciated, especially as it highlights how petty teenage friendships can be. Just like Betty wrongly points out how she and Veronica will barely be friends in a week (which would easily be true in reality), apparently Jughead and Archie’s friendship ended over Archie ditching him on July 4 weekend and Archie’s subsequent weirdness. It’s not an end of the world thing, but for teenagers, it can feel like it is. Fred Andrews points out that Archie isn’t exactly into having honest conversations these days, and simply bailing and keeping secrets from Jughead is what led to the strained relationship in the premiere. That’s far more honest than the concept of Archie possibly ditching Jughead because of his jock status–which is why Riverdale only teases that situation instead of following through with it. (In the student lounge scene, Archie pretends his defense of Jughead isn’t based on actually caring about him.) The general consensus of these first two episodes has been that Archie is a genuinely good person who wants to do the right thing but struggles, but it’s this particular episode that shows that Jughead is his (and perhaps the show’s) moral compass. That’s a far more interesting character trait than him just being a pretentious teen with a novel. Truth and honesty being his driving force above his writing makes for an interesting character, so maybe his personality will rub off on Archie.
The same probably can’t be said about Reggie, who fills the role of jerk jock quite well this episode, making Jughead’s comparison of him and his crew to “the rich kids from The Goonies” quite apt.
And while Jughead’s goodness—despite his much discussed sardonic nature—makes him a fascinating character, this episode continues where the pilot left off with regards to Betty’s inner rage. Betty’s need to be “perfect” is put to the test here, and while the pilot had Archie juggle to have it all, it’s a much different beast watching Betty attempt to push her feelings aside just to keep things from changing or becoming awkward. Consider the fact that, despite her mother’s constant criticisms and general coldness, Betty apparently still tells her everything, whether it’s about the post-dance situation with Archie/Veronica or even about her having Cheryl Blossom over after school. While the death of Jason Blossom is supposed to be the catalyst for a lot of the behavior in Riverdale, for Betty, her behavior is more the aftermath of her sister Polly’s broken status after her relationship with Jason. And we’re seeing that while Betty is still the nicest, most girl next door character possible, she’s understandably sick of being put in a corner. So she reacts as such here, for the most part. She accepts Archie’s apology at first as an attempt to go back to being “best friends,” but she’s honest with him when it becomes too much and she realizes she can’t just push her feelings aside. Because of course she can’t: That’s not how humans work. Her anger with Veronica is also part of that perfectly human (also perfectly teenage girl) reaction, as short-sighted as she is when it comes to being friendly with Cheryl. But it’s her reaction to the verbally abusive Cheryl (in aforementioned evil Nancy Drew mode):
“Cheryl, get the hell out of my house before I kill you.”
No silent suffering to the point of breaking the skin in the palm of her hand–just pure silent rage. There’s the darkness in her specific choice of words, especially as Cheryl is (poorly) inquiring about her own murdered brother, but that’s also just the result of her keeping so much inside. By the end of the episode, Betty is already in a better place just because she finally gets all her feelings out. She’s also better for eventually accepting Veronica’s explanation that it really isn’t her fault Archie isn’t into Betty. Just like it’s not Betty’s fault. It kind of is Archie’s fault though, but that’s because he only has eyes for someone else, as inappropriate as that situation is.
“Chapter Two” thankfully presents the Archie/Ms. Grundy as something other than the “sexy” student-teacher relationship trope that felt obligatory in “Chapter One.” Obviously, “Chapter One” put some focus on the Betty/Archie/Veronica love triangle and served as the introduction of that relationship, but that didn’t dwell on how the actual obstacle in the Betty/Archie “endgame” was Ms. Grundy. (Really, despite the slow motion introduction and the closet moment with Veronica, Archie’s romantic feelings in that episode were all for Grundy.) It’s clear to anyone truly paying attention that Ms. Grundy’s a manipulative predator who knows exactly what’s she’s doing; the fact that she’s a predator is a given, as she’s a teacher sleeping with her newly turned 16-year-old student. But Riverdale could (as ill-advised as it would be) easily take steps to “prove” the teacher-student affair is true love… and that’s not what happens here. Instead, this episode subtly makes it clear how it really sees Grundy before explicitly stating it in the form of Jughead. And it’s not going the easy way of her evil smirking her way through her emotional manipulation of Archie, even though it could. You see, the one redeeming quality about Grundy—that she ended her illegal relationship with Archie—is immediately thrown out once she starts to fear for their secret relationship being revealed (while Archie’s only spiraling about the gunshot on July 4).
“I could lose my job, you could be expelled, we could go to jail!”
Sure, she’ll lose her job, but she’ll also go to prison, because it’s statutory rape. Archie, on the other hand, is the victim, but he’s also a stupid, sexed up 16-year-old boy who thinks he’d get in trouble too. Archie tries to wise up, asking if their relationship and feelings were “real”—because otherwise, he has no idea what he’s “protecting”—but he still doesn’t get that that’s the trigger for her own self-preservation. All of a sudden she wants to get back together, begging him to be her savior. “Archie, I’m putting myself in your hands,” she says, after also claiming that if he tells Principal Weatherbee, they “will never see each other again.” Archie finally decides to do the right thing and tell Sheriff Keller and Principal Weatherbee what he heard at the lake (leaving her out of it), but he’s saved by the autopsy bell. For now, at least. Archie/Grundy is automatically the weakest plot of the series so far because of its low-hanging fruit status (it’s pure teen soap schlock), but it’s not as though there’s a lack of effort in telling the story it wants to tell.
Simply put, while this week’s episode title is obviously in reference to an Orson Welles classic, the only true “touch of evil” in this episode come in the form of Ms. Grundy’s relationship with Archie. You can’t say the show’s condoning the relationship when you look at it like that.
One of Riverdale’s biggest tests will be how it brings the mystery together, and this episode definitely adds some more color to that. We now know Jason “was supposed to come back” (according to Cheryl) and that his death didn’t happen until a week after July 4 (making the gunshot Archie and Grundy heard a part of a different mystery now). And in terms of its role as a second episode, “Chapter Two” isn’t satisfied with just being a rehash of its pilot, which is a good sign early on. Archie’s midnight run is also a good sign that the spirit of “sexy Archie” will never die, but something tells me that won’t just be an episode two thing.
- Riverdale Roulette: As I mentioned Cheryl’s Cordelia Chase-like existence in this series, I couldn’t help but think of a good Cordelia Chase episode for the pick of the week. So here we go with the Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode “Bewitched, Bothered, And Bewildered.” Technically, “The Wish” would be a better choice for the character and the vibe of Riverdale, but I made a choice for the one with more Cordelia.
- Fred Andrews, Good Dad continues as he tells Archie no late night sneak outs while a killer is on the loose. Because, seriously: there’s a killer on the loose.
- The fact that the show isn’t having Kevin stuck playing Moose’s closeted (or confused) hook-up game is a smart choice, but damn is Kevin harsh (which he acknowledges) in how he says Moose should probably just stick to girls or stay in the closet.
- Other than the fact that she’s played by Mädchen Amick, Alice Cooper doesn’t have a lot of redeeming qualities and certainly doesn’t have any journalistic integrity. But her immediate decision to sage Betty’s room post-Cheryl Blossom visit is pretty funny and very understandable.
- In the Kevin Williamson-esque student lounge, Reggie brings up the fact that everyone knows Kevin and Moose were together when Jason’s body turned up. So that’s common knowledge, but it’s not something that gains much traction here. That makes me think if Moose were to come out, at least no one at the school would care. Except for a jerk like Reggie or Moose’s girlfriend Midge, of course.
- Why did Alice hate Polly and Jason dating so much? “Many reasons. Everything [the Blossoms] touch, it rots.” Not really an answer, but now we know Polly ended up in a group home and barely knows what day it is. The adult antagonists in this show definitely have a skill when it comes to changing the topic though, as Alice does the smoothest transition ever to avoid Betty’s line of questioning about Polly.
- Hermione Lodge may feel like she’s slumming it by working at Pop’s, but Marisol Nichols definitely rocks the look. Eat your heart out, Alice Cooper.
- In my review of the first episode, I wrote: “Come for the neo-noir Archie spin, stay for the strong female friendships.” I also wrote that Veronica is like “Blair Waldorf, reincarnated and fully appreciated,” but that didn’t stay in my final draft. So it’s nice to see the “xoxo V” card sign off evoke some good memories of Gossip Girl. If you weren’t sold on the Betty/Veronica dynamic in the first episode, Veronica telling Archie she feels like she and Betty “were meant to be best friends” and that she missed her “destiny” by screwing it up should do the trick.
- My favorite ridiculous moment of the episode is when Archie picks up food from Pop’s (in daylight), gets roped into walking Veronica home (at sundown), then finally gets home with the food… only to get in an argument with Jughead (at night). Hopefully Pop’s food microwaves well.
- The River Vixens’ routine is awful—especially the butt shaking portion I can’t even attempt to call “twerking”—but I’d be lying if I said Cheryl’s cheertatorship didn’t feel right at home in in a ‘90s teen movie. That’s definitely good. The Pussycats’ number (I’ll leave a link to the original “Sugar Sugar” here) at least distracted from the performance.
- While I can’t say I’m truly hooked on the “Who killed Jason Blossom?” mystery yet, there is one mystery that truly has my attention: How is Josie McCoy friends (or at least friendly) with Cheryl Blossom? Josie might have been cold to Archie in the pilot, but Cheryl comes across as the type of person who would say, “I have a black friend.” And would Mayor Robin Givens really want her daughter to socialize with the Blossom girl after all this drama?