‘Riverdale’ Post-Show Analysis, Season 1 Episode 1: ‘The River’s Edge’
Welcome to Riverdale, the latest CW show based on a comic; but instead of DC superheroes, this one is all about Archie Andrews and his pals 'n' gals! Archie Comics aficionado Chris Sims and CW teen drama superfan Emma Lawson will be your recappers for our weekly breakdown of what's hot and happening at Pop's Chock'lit Shoppe.
This week, we meet all the characters we know and love, including Archie, Betty, Veronica, Kevin, Cheryl, Reggie, and Jughead --- but none of them are quite what you might expect here in Twink Peaks, and one of them might be covering up a murder. "The River's Edge" was directed by Lee Toland Krieger and written by Archie Comics' own creative director Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa.
Chris: To say that I've been anticipating this show is sort of like saying that I've been anticipating oxygen, and this first episode did not disappoint. By 9:02pm, this was already one of the weirdest shows I've ever seen. Were you looking forward to it as much as I was, Emma?
Emma: Oh, like you would not believe, Chris. I love Hot Archie, I love weird CW teen shows, and as soon as they said "Twin Peaks" in relation to the show I was 110% on board.
You're a longtime Archie comic reader, right?
Chris: Most definitely, but in sort of a roundabout way. I read them when I was a kid, obviously, but it wasn't until I was an adult that I decided to get super into them, and that in turn led me to be a fan of the stranger side of Archie's universe. Stuff like the Spire Christian comics, the "serious" Archie stories from the '70s where Veronica was kidnapped at knifepoint and Betty had to fight a bear; those are the stories that appealed to me the most --- and given what we saw on TV tonight, I think it might've prepared me better than anything else could've.
Emma: I would love to see Betty Cooper fight a bear.
Chris: I honestly think we're about half an episode from that happening.
Emma: I got the double digests from my local corner store when I was a kid too, but I also read Teen Beat, and neither of them really stuck with me. I picked up the 2015 reboot series, but Riverdale is wildly different. My notes from this episode are mostly "Dang" just over and over again.
Chris: We knew going into it that this would be a darker take on Archie, with plots built around sex, murder, and Adderall, and while that was definitely enough to get my attention back when it was announced, I went in wondering if it could sustain itself for a whole series. I mean, I think it's safe to say that this episode gave us plenty to talk about, and "The River's Edge" leans hard into that contrast from the first scene, but once we're past that initial novelty of all this stuff happening to, you know, Archie, is it going to hold up on its own merits?
Emma: So far it seems to be a very smart, self-aware show. There's murder and family drama and high school vendettas, but underneath that there's a bunch of actually really interesting characters.
That's always been the strength of Archie; you can put these characters in wild situations and we still want to know what they're going to do. Apart from Kevin, who seems to be a bit of a Gay Best Friend stereotype (it doesn't matter if you acknowledge it if you don't do anything interesting with the trope, writers), and Jughead, who we know basically nothing at all about from this first episode, I really want to know more about these characters. Especially Cheryl. Oh my god, Cheryl.
Chris: Well, let's start with Cheryl, then. Our episode opens --- narrated by Jughead, who's working on his novel about The Events Of Last Summer --- with Cheryl Blossom and her twin brother Jason going out for a row on Riverdale's scenic Incestuous Subtext River, only for Cheryl to be found soaking wet a few hours later, claiming that Jason fell into the water and drowned.
Emma: The outfits these two had on for their casual morning boat outing are incredible.
Chris: Bright white, with red shoes!
Emma: It's all very suspicious, given the body was never found and all anyone has to rely on is Cheryl's version of events. And we do find out later, Jason didn't really drown...
Chris: Yeah, by the end of the episode we get the not-so-shocking reveal that Jason was shot in the head and then tossed into the river, which looks like it's going to be our driving mystery of the season.
And this, I think, is where we in the comics-reading public have a little bit of an advantage, because we've kind of seen this story play out before. In Afterlife With Archie, the zombie apocalypse story that Aguirre-Sacasa was working on with Francesco Francavilla before he turned his attention to the show, we get a pretty similar setup with the same incestuous overtones and the same violent end for Jason. With that being the case --- and with everything else that we see in the episode --- I think it's safe to say that Cheryl will probably end up as our #1 suspect.
Emma: I'm leaning towards Cheryl so far; I certainly wouldn't put it past her. She's taking advantage of being the center of attention, but I don't think that in itself would be enough of a motive for murder. She's already captain of the cheerleading squad and queen bee of the Riverdale social hierarchy; she doesn't need more attention. But this is only episode one!
We did get to see at least one other person who hated Jason Blossom --- Betty's mom, who's hoping Jason is burning in hell. I'm so glad to see Madchen Amick back on my television.
Chris: Remember when I said it was 9:02 when I was convinced this was going to be full-on bananas? That's when Betty's mom says she hopes Jason Blossom is burning in hell.
Emma: My eyes lit up when I heard that line. This show is wild.
Do you have any other suspects, Chris? Or do you even care about the mystery?
Chris: The only thing that makes me think it wasn't Cheryl is that she's such an obvious choice. Well, that and the mysterious gunshot we hear later when Archie and Ms. Grundy are having sex in the woods at six o'clock in the morning, but I think we're getting ahead of ourselves. As for caring about the mystery, I'm honestly not sure yet. This episode goes out of its way to give motives to most everyone --- including Betty! --- but it seems like it's there as a vehicle to get everything else going.
Emma: Can we talk about Archie and Ms. Grundy? And Ms. Grundy's Lolita sunglasses in the car? I know the summer is the off season for teachers, but I'm pretty sure you are not supposed to be eyeballing your students like that. Also, who has sex in the woods at six in the morning? Even if you were up all night, woods get cold. And they are not sexy at night.
Chris: It's worth noting for readers who haven't seen the show yet that TV's Geraldine Grundy, unlike her comic book counterpart, is a hot young music teacher who's maybe in her mid-20s --- which is still definitely way too old to be creeping on fifteen year-old Archie Andrews while sucking down a milkshake and then banging him in the back of a Volkswagen. Seriously. This is what happens.
Emma: I forgot he's supposed to be 15. Oh no. Oh, Ms. Grundy.
Chris: Yeah! They're sophomores!
Emma: I come from Canada where we just say they're in grade 10, Chris. Things are different up here.
Archie seems to be the more responsible one in their relationship when school starts again in September. He acknowledges that they still have to interact with each other, and actually he kind of needs her as a teacher. Ms. Grundy on the other hand looks like she's five minutes from hightailing it out of town forever.
Chris: Ms. Grundy is also wearing some very sheer blouses and spike heels to her job at a public high school, which I have to imagine is frowned upon even in a town where Luke Perry is a schlubby dad.
You mentioned before that Cheryl is the Queen Bee of Riverdale High, but the social order is about to be disrupted by a new arrival: Veronica Lodge. She's being moved back to her mom's hometown owing to the elder Lodges splitting up when her father, Hiram, became the subject of a criminal investigation and beat feet for wherever people wait until it's time for them to show up in a dramatic mid-season finale.
Emma: Chris, you watch too much TV. But yes, Veronica is going to shake things up. You can tell as soon as she sweeps into Pop's Chock'lit Shoppe in her amazing cloak. (Side note: remind me to buy a cloak.)
Chris: It has a hood! She's dressed like a wizard!
Emma: Archie literally can't stop looking at her, and he's not the only one! Maybe he was under a spell. Maybe Riverdale is going to go full CW and bust out wizards and witches and werewolves, oh my.
Chris: Was there ever any doubt? I mean, Emma... They've already got Sabrina. It's not even going to be difficult.
Emma: Is Sabrina actually going to be on the show? I figured they'd keep it mundane for at least one season.
Chris: I'd be surprised if she wasn't eventually, but yeah, that does feel like something we're going to get in season two. By season six, Jingles the Christmas Elf will be showing up and he'll have the sweetest abs.
Emma: Everyone gets ripped over the summer in this town.
Chris: So Veronica is introduced to us with some dialogue that emphasizes her high-class status by being loaded with just the most pretentious literary references. "Are you familiar with the works of Truman Capote?" she asks Archie and Betty at the Chock'lit Shoppe. "I'm Breakfast at Tiffany's, and this place is strictly In Cold Blood."
Eventually, though, that gives way to some really interesting character work. With Cheryl filling the role of Rich Girl As Villain, Veronica can be the driving force of a friendship with Betty. A friendship that leads to them inexplicably making out as they try out for the cheerleading squad.
Emma: I'm not into gratuitous fake-lesbian kissing, but I may ship Betty and Veronica now.
Chris: Yeah, unless the kiss actually leads to something --- I've been a proponent of a bisexual Betty ever since our own Elle Collins made a pitch for the idea a few years back --- it feels weirdly tacked on here. Like Kevin as the "Gay Best Friend" stereotype, it's something that the show draws attention to --- Cheryl talks about how hack it is --- but, you know, the thing about that is that the show's still doing it. In a show that's defined by shock value, this is one of the bits that doesn't feel like it has an emotional core. Which is a shame, because Betty and Veronica are super easy to ship, especially after this scene.
Emma: I love their friendship. The whole time during their cheerleading tryouts, I just wanted Betty to be a little more confident. Give her a few years at college to figure out she's bi, and she'll be amazing.
I totally agree with you, though. They're still giving us girl-on-girl in a way that feels extremely male gazey; commenting on it doesn't give them an out. I'm hoping that will get better as the season goes on. At least one of the show's writers is active in fandom and queer fanfic communities, so I've got my fingers crossed.
Chris: I'm a big enough fan of Aguirre-Sacasa and this first episode that I'm more than willing to give Riverdale the chance to settle into something a little better, for sure. And you're right about this cheerleading tryout scene. The whole thing with the kiss comes as a result of Cheryl demanding to see the girls show some fire, and after she unsuccessfully tries to provoke Betty into lashing out by bringing up her sister, Polly --- who is now living in a group home as the result of a toxic relationship with Jason Blossom, hence Betty's mom's hellbound hopes earlier --- Veronica's the one who rises to the challenge instead. Specifically, she tells Cheryl that "Eventually, a reckoning will come. And maybe that time is now. And maybe that reckoning... is me."
Emma: Yes, Veronica! I am here for this!
Chris: For real. I have always been a Betty partisan, but TV Veronica (TVeronica?) is the best character on the show.
Emma: I love Veronica. I too was always a Betty fan, but dang. I like this Veronica. After everything that's happened with her dad, Veronica does seem to be aware about who she was and who she wants to be. She tells Betty at one point that the trolls on the internet who were saying awful things were right about her. She's certainly trying to turn a new leaf in Riverdale, and I believe she's going to be a great friend to Betty, but Veronica also needs to learn to let Betty (and everyone else) slay their own dragons.
Did you notice she wore her pearls to the cheerleading tryouts? So good.
Chris: Yes! I actually said it out loud while I was watching!
So needless to say, they end up on the cheer squad, and along with some friction between Betty and her mom, this also lands them an invite to Cheryl Blossom's Twin Peaks Sex Party.
Emma: The only thing that would make this better is if Audrey Horne had shown up.
Chris: Cheryl, sensing an opportunity to destroy lives --- pretty in tune with her comic book characterization --- arranges for Archie and Veronica to spend Seven Minutes In Heaven (or at least in a closet). Archie goes into it with the best of intentions, but after some deep, revealing questions, he ends up making out with Veronica and sending Betty off in tears.
Emma: Cheryl drops what is arguably the best line in the show at her party, when she calls upon Archie to go first in Seven Minutes in Heaven. "Let's see who's riding the ginger stallion tonight." The ginger stallion. I can't believe she wasted that on Archie when Cheryl is clearly the ginger stallion herself.
Chris: This all happens the night of a big dance, which gives us a couple of interesting moments. First, in a classic Archie setup, Betty freaks out at the prospect of actually asking her long-time best friend on a date, and ends up asking Archie to go to the dance with her and Veronica, inadvertently creating the triad that would probably solve most of their problems.
Second, at the dance itself, we find out that Moose Mason, who doesn't consider himself gay, is definitely down to have sex with Kevin Keller, which they head off to the woods for tout de suite. What is up with all these kids having sex in the woods? The woods are terrible! Things live there!
Emma: They were going to go skinny dipping first, Chris! At least this time it makes sense, the woods are right next to the river.
Chris: You'd think there'd be a dale in there somewhere.
So while Archie and Betty have a tearful conversation about how Betty loves him but Archie doesn't believe that he's good enough for her (because he's been deflowered in Ms. Grundy's VW), Moose and Kevin find their down-low fun times interrupted by the discovery of Jason's body, complete with a bullet hole in the forehead that Cheryl never bothered to mention.
Emma: And unlike Archie and Ms. Grundy, who heard a gunshot during their 4th of July tryst and told nobody, Moose and Kevin seem to be decent folk who go to the cops even though Moose probably wasn't ready to be outed yet.
Archie's "You're so perfect, I've never been good enough for you" speech bugged me so much. I was Betty when I was younger, with the unrequited love for a friend who would then go make out with our mutual friend while I cried at home, and if they had told me that, I'd be so pissed. Just be honest, Archie. It's so much easier to get over it that way.
Chris: In this first episode, Archie is definitely the weak link for me. KJ Apa is good in the role, but much like in the comics, Archie ends up being a pretty passive character who just has things happen to him rather than driving anything in the plot himself. His only goal seems to be songwriting, and while that ends up with him being the kind of affable, a-little-too-nice Archie that we know from the comics in his interactions with Grundy, it doesn't seem like he's got a whole lot more going on as a character. "Will he play football, or focus on music?!" isn't really a story I'm interested in when it's up against "Did Cheryl Blossom shoot and then drown her brother like he was a redheaded Rasputin?"
Emma: This is why I ship Betty and Veronica. They are each far more interesting than he is! Ditch the nice but boring guy, even with those new abs, and find yourselves in each other.
Chris: Again, I wouldn't be surprised if that happens.
Emma: Even Archie's conflict here ends up with a middle of the road solution --- he's going to play football and take music lessons. Problem solved.
Chris: So, final thoughts on the episode?
Emma: I loved it. It's got some things to work out, for sure, but considering how much of my notes are in all caps, it's safe to say I liked it. I just want Jughead to actually do something next episode. What about you?
Chris: The lack of Jughead is always a huge strike against it, but on the other hand, we didn't talk about how utterly perfect Reggie Mantle was. "Look at these arms! That's diesel!"
Emma: Reggie is perfect in this show. Of course he knows like four different types of performance enhancing drugs Archie might be on.
Chris: I think what's really telling about this show is that we're already caught up in the web of intrigue that it's trying to weave around us. We can't even talk about one thing for a few seconds before skipping around in the episode to talk about all the pieces that it connects with, and that makes for a really fun viewing experience. It's a little overwhelming, too --- we didn't even talk about how the cheer squad is called the River Vixens, or how Cheryl watches the tryouts from a literal throne!
Emma: Or that the water polo team is called the Aquaholics! I do have to shout out the visuals. From the throne to the costuming to the way Cheryl literally pushes Betty out of the shot when she's talking to Veronica at lunch, it was all on point.
Chris: I'm still not sure how well it's going to hold up once we get over that initial shock of The Archie Characters... But Dark!, but I think there's enough here that's fun and self-aware that it works.
Emma: Fun and self-aware and absurd is all I want in a television show. Can't wait for the next episode. See you here next week, pals!