“Get closer, though, and you start to see the shadows underneath.” These are some of the first words heard in The CW/Netflix’s mysterious new teen-drama Riverdale – and you couldn’t sum up the show any better. In this modern live-action Twin-Peaks-ian take on the classic 1940’s Archie Comics characters, the false perception of innocence is the name of the game.
Our episode begins with a flashback, recounted by character narrator Forsythe ‘Jughead’ Jones (your favourite Sprouse twin, Cole) as he writes his meta-novel about the show’s events. As his narration tells us, rioch biotch Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) and her beloved (incestuous? Did anyone else get that vibe?) twin brother and plot device Jason (Trevor Stines) went out for a nice innocent morning boat-row on Sweetwater River on the 4th of July. Innocent, that is, until fellow Riverdale High student, massive nerd (if the comics are any indication) and Boy Scout Leader Dilton Doiley (Major Curda) found a broken Cheryl in shock, sitting on the rock with a suspicious tale of her brother diving in after her lost glove and drowning. The lake was dragged, but the only Blossom found was the loathing for Jason blossoming in Alice Cooper’s soul, for breaking her daughter Polly’s fragile heart. No, not that Alice Cooper – Alice ‘mother-to-main-character-Betty’ Cooper, played by Mädchen Amick. Less than five minutes in and we already have multiple suspects to a potential murder classified as an accidental death. Juicy!
As Riverdale is still reeling from the unpatriotic death of Jason Blossom on Independence Day (how DARE he), on the last day of summer vacation, a fresh mystery rolls into town in a new Rolls-Royce. Classy ex-New-York-socialite Hermione Lodge (Marisol Nichols) is back in her childhood town to make a new life for herself as her husband Hiram is on trial for fraud and embezzlement and she’s relocated her sultry teenage daughter Veronica (Camila Mendes) with her. If you grew up on Archie Comics like I did, this development is a bit jarring; grumpy comedic foil Mr. Lodge was a welcome and common face in the pages in comparison to his so-rarely-seen-she’s-often-forgotten wife. The butler of their fancy new home, Smithers, offers menus to order dinner, but Hermione has been cravings one of Pop Tate’s Chock’lit Shoppe cheeseburgers all day. Veronica, however, hangs that lampshade and asks the question on the mind of everyone out of the loop on this comic Easter Egg:
Meanwhile, aforementioned Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart), good-girl-extraordinaire, is getting ready in her room for a friend-date with her hardcore crush Archie Andrews, and chatting about it with her GBF Kevin Keller (Casey Cott). Doesn’t that sound like the kind of name you just have to say as a full name? You can’t just say Kevin, it’s Kevin Keller. Upon seeing Archie (KJ Apa), who is also Betty’s neighbour and best friend, getting changed through the window next door, Kevin (I’m a hypocrite) reaffirms that Betty totally needs to hit that this year ‘cuz Archie went out and got himself a nice set of abs this summer. (He also calls Archie ‘swell’, as opposed to ‘swole’, as if to drive home the message ‘this is based off an old-ass property, we’re not just strictly modern.’) Sweet lil’ Betty is nervous to see Archie again, but reluctantly agrees to maybe try and take Kevin’s advice to assert control and ‘take that ginger bull by the horns’. At the Chock’lit Shoppe with Archie later, the pair catches up on each other’s summers and we learn that Archie got so jacked in the past two months by pouring concrete for his dad’s family business. (Note to self: get fast abs by working in construction.) Hating the work, he kept himself sane by writing songs and discovering this to be his new passion. Starting back at school tomorrow, Archie vows to follow this dream this sophomore year and ask the music teacher Ms. Grundy for tutoring, but does worry about this conflicting with his football tryouts and home life commitments, as he feels it’s too early to tell his dad. For now, mum’s the word.
Betty, empowered by being Archie’s only confidant in this (admittedly mild) secret, decides to go for it – but Archie’s attention is on the rich new high-rolling brunette who’s just walked in. Eager to make friends in her new town (and possibly curious as to what sorts of burgers a Chock’lit Shoppe may produce), Veronica interrupts at the worst possible moment to ask the duo the extremely important question of how good Pop’s onion rings are. She introduces herself (‘I’m Breakfast at Tiffany’s and this town is In Cold Blood’), and after learning that Betty is her peer mentor school guide an oblivious Archie invites her to sit with them. She declines, as her mom is waiting, but the moment is lost and Betty retreats back into her friendzone shell.
Briefly we see our mains getting ready at home (with Luke Perry as Archie’s dad Fred!) and some dark implications involving an overachieving Betty and some Adderall, before school is officially back for the year. Archie’s comic book rival and frenemy Reggie Mantle (Ross Butler), along with meathead jock Marmaduke ‘Moose’ Mason (Cody Kearsley) comment on his newly hot bod and have some locker-room talk (isn’t that phrase just icky now?) about the babes Archie may have gotten with this summer, but good ol’ Arch shuts them down as just Reggie’s wank bank fantasies. Meanwhile, Betty and Veronica’s school tour becomes quickly derailed by social butterfly Kevin and talks of the town’s local party scene (‘a strip club called The Ho Zone, and a tragic gay bar called Innuendo’), before Kevin inadvertently lets slip that the whole school already knows all about Veronica’s dad, which upsets her greatly as she stands by him.
Before asking Ms. Grundy, Archie decides to check in with Josie and the Pussycats (yes, you read that right) who are mid-practice behind the school stage to see if any of them are willing to tutor him, but Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray) is much too focused and way too sassy to even come close to considering bothering with that nonsense. When somebody calls you Justin Gingerlake, you have no choice but to back down. As he exits dejectedly, a wild Betty/Veronica/Kevin combo spot him in the halls and the three muse about how they all want him, but upon learning that Betty plans to ask Archie to the upcoming back-to-school semi-formal, Veronica immediately backs down and gives her dibs. The school board plans to inform the school of the fate of the dance at a school assembly later that day in light of Jason’s recent kicking of the can. However, all is right in the world as the oh-so-generous (see: self-serving) Cheryl announces that she has asked for the dance to not be cancelled and instead repurposed as a celebration of her ‘soulmate’s’ life. (Her words, not mine. See? Incest.) During the assembly, however, Ms. Geraldine Grundy (Sarah Habel) – YES, ARCHIE COMICS FANS. THAT MS. GRUNDY – keeps making googoo eyes at Archie, and let me tell you: the feeling’s mutual.
Bam! Flashback to the summer, where sweaty sexy Archie is just getting off work and wiping his face with his shirt to show off his abs (as sweaty sexy people often do) when Grundy pulls up in her ‘60’s-era VW Beetle and peers down her sunglasses seductively to get a better look (as thirsty cougars often do). Small talk, small talk, illegal statutory car sex. I repeat: yes, THAT Ms. Grundy. I appreciate the creatives liberties the show has taken with several of these characters; everything from dark secrets to reimagined backstories to casting different races like an Asian-American Reggie and Dilton, a half-Latina Veronica or an African-American Pop Tate and entire Pussycats band – I welcome and encourage that. Making ancient crusty witch Ms. Grundy a young hot seductress sleeping with her students – and to make matters weirder, keeping her signature tight bun hairstyle? That’s spelled B-L-A-S-P-H-E-M-Y, folks. I’m not saying I don’t like the storyline. I’m just saying my childhood isn’t ready for it.
After the title card (yep, that was all within the cold open), Archie confronts a cold and professional Ms. Grundy post-assembly and is told to make an official appointment within office hours if he wants to discuss music and only music. Speaking of cold rejection, a nearly broke Hermione visits her old flame Fred at Andrews Construction to ask for a job working the books, but considering the Lodge family’s history of working the books a bit too much, he declines the offer. We do learn, however, that Archie’s parents are separated, that his mom Mary lives in Chicago, and that Fred doesn’t seem to quite be over Hermione choosing to leave him for ‘the rich kid’. After school that day on the lawns, Archie shows Kevin, Betty and Veronica one of his song demos and they love it, because it’s actually great. He rushes off to his music meeting and football practice, and Veronica unintentionally(?) flirts a bit with him before he goes, before expressing shock that her dad isn’t talk of the school. However, as Kevin puts it, that honour goes to Cheryl ‘trying to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Psycho for her role as Riverdale High’s bereaved Red Widow’ – and speak of the crimson devil and she shall appear. Cheryl barges into the conversation in an attempt to become Veronica’s new bud and suggests that she try out for the River Vixens cheer squad, where she is captain. Veronica is game, since Principal Weatherbee suggested she take extracurriculars, and tells Betty (to Cheryl’s chagrin) that she has to try out too. Betty has been passed over every year for being ‘too fat’, so cue Cheryl’s thinly-veiled, passive-aggressive insults delivered to her dead brother’s ex-girlfriend’s little sister before plugging her social media and exeunt stage right. (That’s a complicated way to say ‘she mocked Betty and left’. You still keeping up?)
At their meeting, Ms. Grundy agrees that Archie’s song is the bomb but doesn’t think it’s a good idea to be alone together, and questions his real intentions. Archie tells her that he’s tried every other musician in the school and she’s his last resort for getting lessons. He’s not entirely without ulterior motives though, and he needs to talk about the guilt he feels over ‘what they heard, but did nothing about’ with someone. See, on that very same 4th of July Archie and Geraldine were on a picnic date by the river’s edge when they heard a gunshot – and then decided to write it off as fireworks and stay silent about it so they wouldn’t have to explain what they were doing together. Uncomfortable, Ms. Grundy encourages Archie to pursue his music, but not with her. Meanwhile, at cheer tryouts, Betty and Veronica finish their blue-and-gold partner audition to a lukewarm reception from Captain Cheryl. Desperate for some ‘sizzle,’ Veronica decides to make out with Betty for their big finish. Cheryl still isn’t impressed and decides to provoke Betty on the spot for an ‘interview portion’, asking detailed personal questions about her sister and her institutionalizing nervous breakdown following her breakup with Jason. Clenching her fists so hard her fingernails draw blood, Betty takes the high road and expresses condolences for Jason’s death. Cheryl, realizing she can’t bully Betty into being a bitch, gives Veronica a spot on the squad and tells Betty to hit the road, but Veronica is not okay with that call. Standing up to Cheryl, she points to herself as living proof that every entitled person gets their comeuppance, before delivering the most badass line in the episode: ‘But maybe that reckoning is now. And maybe that reckoning is me. Betty and I come as a matching set. You want one, you take us both. You want fire? Sorry, @CherylBombshell, my specialty is ice.’
At football tryouts, Coach Clayton (Colin Lawrence) calls Archie over and gives him Jason’s old jersey, offering him his spot on the Varsity team. Due to the greater commitment, Archie tells him he needs to think about it, as he is ‘working more for his dad.’ (Earlier, he told his dad he couldn’t work more because he had football tryouts – the ol’ switcheroo!) The coach gives him ‘til the weekend to decide. Back to the girls, Betty and Veronica walk home in their matching cheer outfits and Veronica tells the story of how she used to be like Cheryl but the trolls coming out of the woodworks after her dad’s arrest made her realize ugly truths about herself and she vowed to change for the better. Betty, in turn, opens up about how Jason never loved her sister Polly and how their relationship made her mom disown her, blaming her mother’s reactions as the true cause for Polly’s mental state. At that moment, Archie jogs up after practice, and Veronica (calling Archie by his iconic comic petname Archiekins) tells him that Betty has something important to ask. However, poor Betty clams up and asks if he wants to come to the dance with the two of them. Ugh, Elizabeth. You can do better. Archie declines with a lot on his mind, but Veronica uses her silver tongue to sweet talk him into reconsidering, and he accepts.
At home, Betty is dancing it out to some sick jams because of how great her day has ended up, only to be scolded by her mother for associating with Cheryl and the River Vixens, for her choice in friends, and for getting involved with boys. Refusing to take off the uniform or back down, Betty takes a page from Veronica’s playbook and stands up for herself, fed up with being the perfect daughter living for everyone else. When her mom insults Veronica, Betty has had enough and storms out to buy a dress. Meanwhile, at the Lodge residence a mysterious suitcase of money has arrived from Hiram, spelling future trouble for Hermione. Back at Chez Andrews, Fred gets a call from Coach Clayton and confronts his son about lying about football, asking what’s really going on. When told the truth, he’s initially unsupportive of Archie, instead wanting him to go business school to someday take over the family business – a dream not shared by Archie. Instead of lambasting him over that, though, he frustratedly tells him that he doesn’t care if he plays football or works for him – just that he be confident enough in his choices that he doesn’t need to lie about them. AWH, DAD TALKS.
That night, at the ‘Jason-plastered-everywhere’ memorial semi-formal, Veronica leaves Archie and Betty (sans ponytail, for the first time yet) alone to ‘grab some punch.’ Archie, distracted as usual, has an idea and runs off to talk to Ms. Grundy chaperoning, but while Kevin runs up freaking out to Betty because a certain Moose with a certain horse-like appendage just propositioned him in the bathroom. Archie, with Ms. Grundy, strikes a deal: if she tutors him three times a week before school with the promise that music will be the only thing taught, he won’t tell anyone about them, the 4th of July or what he thinks happened to Jason Blossom. Returning to Betty just as Kevin is making eyes at Moose and Josie and the Pussycats start playing Cyndi Lauper, Archie asks his friend if she’d like to dance. Three guesses to what she said. As she and Archie slowdance, Keveronica slowdance parallel to them, mouthing ‘DO IT! DO IT!’, which gives Betty just enough confidence to finally come out and say it aaaaaaand… Archie shuts down. He doesn’t know what to say, and keeps glancing at Geraldine from across the room – but either way, his body language is clear: ‘I’m not interested in you like that. BOOOOO.’ As the song ends, Cheryl, watching from a distance like the overlord she is, tells her minions to ensure that Betty, Veronica and Archie all attend the afterparty; she’s in the mood for chaos.
Later later that night, at Cheryl’s beautiful mansion (because what better way to help your parents mourn than to trash their home), she sets up the classic chaotic party game of Seven Minutes in Heaven, and hand-picks Archie to be the first partner – which Reggie backs up. Now, Cheryl must have a loaded Cherry Cola bottle or something, because it stops right in between Betty and Ronnie, clearly foreshadowing the triangle-in-the-making. However, she decrees that it’s clearly pointing at Veronica, and if refused, house rules are that the host gets to take your turn. Devious. Heartbroken, Betty watches as her friend traipse off to the closet of love. In the closet (Cheryl’s, not Moose’s), Archie and Veronica pass the time by asking each other small-talk questions, which eventually evolve into personal questions about Betty and love interests and taking a step closer after each. Once it’s determined that Archie feels nothing for Betty and Veronica is single, that evolves again into the Charizard of passion, and the two make out while confirming to each other that they ‘definitely shouldn’t do this.’ Seven minutes later, Reggie is congratulating Archie and Betty has fled the party, with a remorseful Veronica chasing after her, admitting she messed up. See?
At home, Veronica comes home earlier than expected and cuddles up to her mom, feeling awful. Archie, equally feeling terrible, decides to head down to Pop‘s to look for Betty – but instead, finds the remarkably absent-from-most-this-episode Jughead. Excitingly, he is also wearing a beanie that pays definite homage to the comic character’s infamous whoopee cap. Reluctantly joining him, the two make small talk about Jughead’s novel, Jason Blossom and football, with Jughead throwing sarcastic remarks at every pass. When the conversation comes back to Betty, Jughead gives sound advice: ‘Just talk to her, man. It would go a long way… it would’ve went a long way with me.’ AND THERE YOU HAVE IT. In this twisted mysterious pseudo-world and mishmash of Archie Comics characters and dark scenarios, the saddest development of all is that the classic power-bromance of Archie and Jughead no longer exists. Side note: do you think Cole is squinting his eyes to look more Jughead-esque? I want that to be true so badly.
Taking his former friend’s advice, Archie goes to confront a puffy-eyed Betty outside her home, and reinforces that he can’t give her the answer she wants, but this time provides an explanation: he has always believed she is so perfect, and will always be way too good for him. Betty doesn’t accept this answer, and walks back inside leaving Archie in the cold. ‘And so it wasn’t one heart that broke that night, it was two,’ narrates Jughead, apparently overlooking my broken heart as well. The night being far from over, Kevin and Moose meet at the edge of Sweetwater River to explore what they might possibly do, if Moose was maybe perhaps a little bit gay. Spoilers: everything but kiss. They plan to start with skinny-dipping and letting one thing lead to another, but Kevin trips over something mid-strip in the shallow water. Horrified, he and Moose look on at the bloated, pasty, waterlogged corpse of Jason Blossom – a gaping bullet hole in the center of his forehead. As Jughead’s voice over tells us, the autopsy will be performed that coming Monday – and on Tuesday, partway through fifth period, the first arrest will be made.