‘Riverdale’ Post-Show Analysis, Season 1 Episode 2: ‘A Touch of Evil’
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, Veronica tries to repair her relationship with Betty, Archie tries to repair his relationship with Jughead, we find out more about Jason Blossom’s death, and Josie and the Pussycats rock out at a pep rally. “A Touch of Evil” was directed by Lee Toland Krieger and written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa.
Emma: Welcome back to Pals 'n' Gals, everyone! I'm sure after last week's beautifully bizarre pilot episode you were waiting for this episode with baited breath, just like I was. This episode didn't disappoint, with some beautiful friendship moments, Reggie being Reggie, and a shocking reveal at the end. How did you like this episode, Chris?
Chris: You know, it's weird. I know there will come a day when the novelty of seeing the Archie characters in these ultra-melodramatic situations will wear off, but two weeks in and it's still going pretty strong for me.
There's a scene in this one where Jughead confronts Archie about his relationship with Ms. Grundy and tries to find out what he knows about Jason Blossom's death, and while KJ Apa and Cole Sprouse are doing these really intense performances and hissing lines like, "A kid is dead, Archie!" at each other, I'm sitting at home laughing my head off because that dude's still wearing his dang Jughead crown.
Emma: It's pretty great, I have to say. I think they had a good balance this episode between the ultra-dramatic moments and the brief bits of levity --- like Reggie's boasting to a whole room about how he's "Mantle the Magnificent," or Betty's mom spouting theories about the Blossoms secretly sacrificing their own son to pagan gods --- but the sheer novelty of these characters we've known for years getting into this kind of trouble is pretty entertaining in itself.
Chris: One thing I've noticed about the show, though, is that there's almost no actual comedy. I think part of that might be that the entire show is knowingly, patently ridiculous --- there is zero chance that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa doesn't know what he's doing when he writes a scene where Betty Cooper tells someone "get out of my house or I will kill you" --- and that winking at the audience even for a second might ruin the larger gag of... well, of the whole show.
What do you think? Would a little bit of actual levity make things work better, or would it tank the whole thing they're going for?
Emma: They've explicitly said they're going for a Twin Peaks vibe, and Twin Peaks is one of those shows that excels in the patently ridiculous but avoids making any jokes --- the show itself is the joke, but it's one we're all laughing along with. They can't bring out sitcom-style comedy, that just won't work here. But they can have Jughead say things like "Sardonic humor is just my way of relating to the world" and give the audience a knowing wink.
Chris: I feel like if Jughead had just a little more Dale Cooper in him, this thing might be perfect.
Emma: Yes! I'm not loving Jughead as a hardboiled detective writer, to be honest. Maybe he should be writing missives to Diane instead of his novel.
We continue this week to have Jughead as our narrator, and thankfully he does start to play a more substantial role in this episode. We learn when Jughead confronts Archie in the hallway at school that they were supposed to go on a roadtrip together on the 4th of July weekend, but Archie bailed at the last second. Now that Jason Blossom's body has been found and it's clearly a murder, with a timeline that conspicuously matches Archie's ditching of Jughead, Jug's a little suspicious.
Chris: Thematically, this episode is about friendships --- specifically building and rebuilding them --- and we see that a lot here with Jughead and Archie. Even though he's mad, Jug makes a point of doing his best to help Archie in an increasingly weird situation. He always talks to him about his suspicions rather than going straight to Weatherbee or the cops, and by the end of the episode, they're going to be back together as the pals we know from the comics.
Emma: I don't love this brooding Jughead, but I did really enjoy both Archie and Jughead standing up for each other this episode, even after everything that's gone down between them. Their reunion at the pep rally was perfect, with their continuing friendship "to be discussed... over many burgers... over many days..." That's my Jughead.
Jughead is also the only one to call out the completely inappropriate relationship between Archie and Ms. Grundy, although I guess he is the only one who knows. But it's really great that he pointed out to his friend that there are power dynamics at play in relationships like this, and Ms. Grundy does not have Archie's best interests at heart.
Chris: I cannot believe it took two episodes to get to Jughead talking about burgers, but yeah. In all honesty, I am kind of ready for the Archie/Grundy plot to be over. The longer it stays around and the more it's referenced --- even with the straight up goofiness of Grundy's Sexy Cello Playing --- the more genuinely uncomfortable it is to watch.
Emma: And her Sexy Pushing Up Her Glasses! Her performance is the only one on the show that doesn't really work for me. It feels like she's trying to hit that overly dramatic tone but it doesn't have any of the honesty or self-awareness that everyone else's performances have.
Chris: The main focus in this episode, though, is on Betty, Veronica, and Cheryl, and they are basically amazing. Where do we even start with them? Can we just skip to Betty threatening murder? Do we talk about the world's most ridiculously sexy high school halftime show? Cheryl admitting to fratricide? All of these things really happened on this television show based on Archie Comics!
Emma: Cheryl continues to delight and amaze me; every minute she's on screen is beautiful, beautiful television. She's the one who Betty threatens to murder. As Betty's trying to deal with her feelings about Archie and Veronica, Veronica goes a bit overboard in apologizing --- with flowers, cupcakes flown in from New York, hers and hers mani pedis (be still my shipper heart) --- and Betty can't really handle it.
She invites Cheryl to go with her for the mani pedis, and they end up back in Betty's room in a very homoerotic moment, until Cheryl ruins it by digging at Betty for information about her sister. The one who used to date Jason.
Chris: So much to unpack here. First, I really like Riverdale's version of Veronica, and the choice to play her as the character who's probably the most honest about who she is and what she wants. There are references to "the old me" throughout the show that give you the idea that Veronica's really trying to make up for being more like Cheryl --- and more like the slightly more snooty, conniving character that we know from the comics --- before she moved to Riverdale.
The fact that she's making such a genuine effort, and that it's Betty who's so furious that she decides to snub Veronica, might actually be the most interesting deviation from the regular formula that we see on the show. And it definitely lends itself to the shipping, especially when Veronica says "I ship it" in the actual episode.
Emma: Veronica really worries about whether she can in fact escape her past. I think she will here, with Betty and Archie and the friends she's making, but I'm sure the Lodge part of Veronica will come back to haunt her --- her father's lawsuit, the mysterious bag of money. She's still very much a rich kid from New York, even just in the way she holds her purse. Camila Mendes does a great job with Veronica's physicality.
Betty is just struggling, with everything. Her relationship with her best friend has just been shattered, and the new friendship she was building crumbled in that closet. She's angry at her mom, she's angry at her sister, she's angry at Archie and Veronica, and this is a girl who does not know how to express that kind of feeling.
Chris: It's her anger at her mom that leads her to invite Cheryl over, which leads to the scene you were talking about earlier. I was definitely expecting that scene to turn into Cheryl and Betty making out, and honestly, I think we're supposed to think Betty was expecting it, too.
Emma: Something that would piss Betty's mom off like nothing else. Cheryl's the type to use her sexuality when she can (even with her brother, ugh), and Betty is the perfect virginal maybe-gay girl who would get caught up in that.
Chris: Plus, the way it's staged is with Cheryl giving Betty a makeover while standing close enough that she pretty much has to be straddling Betty's lap. Riverdale is many things, but subtle is not one of them.
Emma: Even the way Cheryl was talking about the pinkness of Betty's room made me blush.
Chris: Of course, that all goes south when Cheryl reveals that she's just trying to trick Betty into confirming her suspicions that Polly --- Betty's unseen sister who's been locked away in a group home, a piece of information that's always shared with the hushed reverence of an urban legend --- was the one who shot her brother.
This in turn leads Betty to tell her to get out "or I will kill you," and it's nice to see that Riverdale has applied its lens to the old comics trope of Betty being prone to mild freak-outs. Still, it's kind of hard not to have sympathy for Cheryl here --- assuming she's not the one who actually killed Jason, I mean.
Emma: Especially when we see Cheryl herself have a freak-out at the pep rally, when she sees Archie running in the rain in his football uniform, looking just like Jason with his red hair. She's distraught, and it's the one time that Cheryl seems to be actually feeling something instead of performing.
It makes sense once we get to the end of the episode, when Principal Weatherbee and the sheriff come into class for Cheryl. She knew they would, and she actually says, "I'm guilty," but I don't think she's guilty of murdering her brother. She wanted him to come back, expected him to come back. They clearly got up to something weird down by the river, but probably not murder. Do you have any idea what she and her brother had planned, Chris?
Chris: Judging by the way they were sharing an incestuous milkshake at Pop's, I think I know exactly what they had planned, Emma.
Emma: Beyond the creepy sex stuff, Chris! I don't need Cheryl's twintuition to figure that out.
Chris: I think that's probably the extent of their plans, but I think the question now is how involved was Cheryl in whatever happened after. We see a little bit of Jason's autopsy --- complete with Betty's mom bribing the coroner for unknown reasons! --- and there's a reveal later in the episode that he was tied up for a week before he was died, and that his body might've been kept in a freezer. So did they really just fall out of the boat like she said, or was she in on whatever led to that?
Emma: Betty's mom works for the paper, right? She bribed the coroner for the scoop.
I thought that Cheryl and Jason planned to fake his death, although I don't know why. And instead of him making his way safely out of the river, someone else finds him first.
Chris: The way this show is going, I'm guessing it was the Elevenaire, who in this version of the Archie Universe hunts men for sport. If you escape his compound, he rewards you with your life... and eleven dollars.
Emma: You'd think Jason would have been better at running, given his football career!
Speaking of football, I'm glad that Reggie didn't say anything homophobic when he talked to Moose about what he and Kevin got up to down by the river. I was expecting a "tight end" joke.
Chris: We get some interesting stuff here with Moose, too, who seems to be more accepting of his own bisexuality than the pilot might've led us to believe. The problem here is Kevin, but I saw some discussion about how his insistence that Moose is straight because he has a girlfriend could be an intentional character flaw for him. Any thoughts?
Emma: I could see that. I kind of read it as Kevin realizing that this thing with Moose could potentially be more than just fooling around by the river, and using Moose's heterosexuality as a way to protect himself. Kevin can't get hurt if he doesn't let himself feel anything.
Chris: Interesting. It's nice to see him get a little more depth after the pilot --- especially with the reveal that he's the sheriff's son in the TV continuity, which might give him a more prominent role as the investigation continues.
Emma: I'm ready for some Teen Wolf-style shenanigans, with Kevin and Betty breaking into his dad's office to read reports on Jason's death.
Chris: I think the last major scene we have to mention here is the football game, and it's... I mean, it's amazing.
Emma: Technically I think it's just a pep rally! But I went to a tiny high school with no sports teams so I don't entirely understand what that entails. At the pep rally, the River Vixens bust out some sweet moves while Josie and the Pussycats perform the classic Archies tune "Sugar Sugar."
Chris: Last week I was hoping that the deep, soulful poetry set to music that Archie was talking about writing over the summer turned out to be "Sugar Sugar," but this was even better. It's a full-on new version, and it's accompanied by a dance routine that would literally never happen at a school. Like, there is a line of twerking cheerleaders that Veronica vogues through. It's ridiculous. I love it.
Emma: Josie also manages to make "Sugar Sugar" super sexy and super queer. It's amazing.
Chris: Yeah, I noticed they didn't change the pronouns. It's pretty great.
Emma: Maybe a little bit of queer-baiting given everything else we've seen in the last two episodes, but I enjoyed the heck out of it.
Chris: By the end of the episode, Jughead, Archie, Betty, and Veronica are back to hanging out together, but the next day brings us Cheryl standing up in Science Class --- even Mr. Phylum is hot in this show, what is happening?! --- and being carted off by the cops for a murder investigation. Any final thoughts on the episode?
Emma: I'm glad we've got the gang back together! Seeing the four of them together at Pop's was just lovely. Hashtag Riverdale strong.
Chris: I even liked Jughead's overwrought narration acknowledging that while there were four of them at the table, he's the one who's outside the love triangle.
Emma: For sure. I wish they were going to keep Jughead asexual in the show, but at least they're not pairing him up with Betty or Veronica.
Chris: Traditionally, Jughead clashes with Veronica and usually sides with Betty against her, but I can't see him not getting along with this version of Ronnie. She's so nice! And she buys burgers!
Emma: That's the way into our boy's heart, that's for sure.
Chris: Oh! One more thing! We had a couple of references and Easter Eggs for the comics in this episode --- Archie has some issues of Pep on his nightstand, for instance --- but there's one that really stuck out to me. At one point, Kevin Keller makes a reference to Madame Satan, which means that either The Fox exists as a comic book in this universe, or that The Fox, the actual vigilante who fights a villain named Madame Satan, exists in this universe. At this point, I'm not really sure which one is more likely, but I'm kind of holding out hope that this show goes full-on Pureheart the Powerful by season three.
Emma: I would put nothing past this show.
Well Pals, join us next week as we find out what Cheryl did and whether that "beautiful, exotic hothouse flower" can handle the consequences.