Riverdale Season 2 Episode 5 – TV Review
You know, my inner SJW was ready to rail against Cheryl being brought back into focus only to be immediately made a damsel in distress.
But that’s kinda been her role the whole show, and it was used to brilliant effect last season.
So I’ll allow it.
TL;DR Veronica hosts an old city friend, who is a rapey drug addict; Cheryl is saved from him by the gang; the Black Hood pressures Betty to cut all her sinner friends out of her life; Alice’s South Side past is outed to the public; Jughead officially becomes a Serpent to protect his North Side friends.
Who knew that Jughead Jones and Alice Cooper would end up being our premier Serpents?
So we’ll start with Betty, who picks up right where last episode left off. The Black Hood threatens to murder Polly if Betty doesn’t comply with his demands, the first of which is publishing an exposè of Alice’s past. Betty feels momentarily conflicted, until Alice accuses her of making up the letters from the Black Hood (it’s discovered they don’t match the one Alice received), so Betty does it. But then things get real when he starts demanding she cut her friends out of her life. First is Veronica, and then, powerfully, Jughead. Archie is Betty’s shoulder to lean on throughout, but when he sees Jughead initiating with the Serpents, he doesn’t feel so bad about what Betty has to do to him. Meanwhile, Jughead realises that the only way to keep the Serpents from fighting back against his real friends is to become one of them and keep the peace (a role Skeet apparently used to fill). So he does, figuring the self-sacrifice is worth it. And with Betty “dumping” him, that frees his bed up for Toni. Ew. Meanwhile, the elder Lodges host some old city friends with hopes of having them invest in their development project. This plan entails Veronica playing hostess to their high school-aged son, Nick, who has Chuck Bass written all over him. This turns out to be very true when he drugs and attempts to rape Cheryl, but luckily Veronica, Josie, and the Pussycats save her in time. And even more unluckily for him, the Black Hood closes the episode by compelling Betty to give him a name for his next victim (lest he default back to Polly), and Betty gives him Nick.
You stay safe for now, Toni.
After a pretty stellar run so far this season, it was inevitable that a place-setting episode was going to appear. And here it is.
I’m not saying this is a bad episode of television, or even a bad episode of Riverdale. Any episode of Riverdale is still better than anything else in the genre.
But this is the first episode this season that felt like work. Because it had a lot of work to do.
Why I hate this episode:
I think the major problem is that, after Archie’s arc about heroism and his inability to protect the ones he loves focusing so well on internal conflict, this episode relied mainly on external conflict. The chief complaint there obviously goes to the Nick subplot, with this card-carrying villain just appearing randomly to piss everyone off and then get offered up to the Black Hood. Nick comes out of nowhere, and is obviously there just to be a plot coupon. And it’s not like Veronica, whose subplot this is, learns anything valuable about herself in the process. “Rapists are bad.” Yeah, we know.
This subplot also criminally wastes Cheryl. Yes, she does make for a good damsel in distress. But did she have to lack any agency at all? She just shows up to party with Nick because…? And suddenly everyone is into doing drugs? Everything around Nick just felt like a means to an end. And Cheryl deserves better.
That end, of course, is the Black Hood’s next victim. And Betty’s interaction with the Black Hood also causes a bunch of externally-driven conflict. I’m worried that Riverdale has taken this horror/thriller thing on too hard and too fast. I admire Betty’s well-intentioned martyrdom, but I think Riverdale hit the life and death stakes too soon. Aren’t these kids in high school?
Riverdale keeps trying to remind us that Josie is Cheryl’s bestie, but let’s be real: it’s Kevin. Why is Josie even here?
Jughead’s Serpent initiation is boring.
I still don’t think Riverdale did enough to establish the North/South opposition. The high school-aged Serpents plan to set off a pipe bomb at the newspaper office, for goodness’ sake. Are things that bad?
My hope that last episode’s promise from the Black Hood about doing something “where it all began” would mean an attack on Veronica and Archie at the river didn’t pan out. That shit didn’t pan out at all.
Oh, and Alice’s re-emergence at the Lodge event as her Serpent Queen self gets a delicious slo-mo walk entrance, but then she doesn’t do anything with it. Maybe next episode?
But it’s not all bad:
Alice does know how to strut some shit, though. And just think about it: if Alice was as cuntish as she was before when she was pretending to be an upstanding North Sider, imagine how much more terrible she could be as the Queen of Snakes. Sign me up.
The tidbit about the Black Hood letters not matching passes by pretty quickly, but Alice does make a good point about Betty possibly having made it up because what self-respecting serial killer would use a Nancy Drew cipher? She’s got you there, Betty.
But he is definitely real, or at least real enough to pose as a serial killer to manipulate Betty over the phone. I typically don’t support martyrdom, but Betty’s explanation to Archie that she’s willing to bear the Black Hood cross and destroy all her friendships as long as this keeps the Black Hood from killing people is fair. Betty is a hero.
Of course, when the Black Hood discovers she’s been blabbing to Archie, that’s when he asks for a name to kill. Betty, again, because she is a hero, at first refuses. But some threats to Polly later, and it’s not a difficult choice to finger Nick.
Despite being archetypal and predictable, which is rare for Riverdale, Nick is fun and requisitely reprehensible as Chuck Bass-lite. And in addition to his impending murder, it was cathartic to watch Veronica, Valerie, and Melody literally kick the shit out of him after they’ve pried him off a drugged Cheryl.
Jughead’s subplot about initiating with the Serpents is boring, but he does run parallel to Betty as someone willing to put their own best interests aside to keep their friends safe. Again, I’m not usually on board for martyrdom, but the Riverdale characters genuinely care about each other, so it doesn’t come across as hollow and self-aggrandising.
Also, my knee-jerk reaction to Jughead allowing Toni to kiss him was “you cheating slut.” But then I remembered that Betty did dump him (via Archie), so it actually is fine. They were on a break.
I think Hiram and Hermione’s plan they were whispering about last week is simply to do with their new urban village development thing, which is part of their purchase of the old drive-in land from last season, right? I think I’m up to speed now.
As part of Betty’s deal with the Black Hood, he allows her to ask him questions after the completion of each of his demands. He won’t tell her his name, but he does concede that if Betty were to see his face, she’d recognise him. At the end of the episode, he plays some ominous game with her by making her put on a hood and look into a mirror, proclaiming they’re the “same.” So the conspiracy theorists saying it’s Alice’s firstborn child are probably right (good catch, you guys. I forgot about that one).
Unless it’s Polly? That’d be fun. Or, even better, unless it’s Dark Betty. But sadly that theory can’t be true, because Archie is present for a phone conversation between Betty and the Black Hood. Darn it.
Cheryl gets the best line of the episode, when she suddenly appears in the doorway after Nick invites the gang to a party at his place: “Did somebody say ‘party?'” Yes.
Oh, and legit, I can’t be the only one noticing that Riverdale keeps pairing Kevin and Cheryl together. I’m telling you, they need a goddamn bottle episode.