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Riverdale’s story continues, still as troubling as ever

Illustration for article titled Riverdale’s story continues, still as troubling as ever
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Time is a weird thing in Riverdale. Based on this episode, “Chapter Fourteen: A Kiss Before Dying,” the difference between the end of the season one and season two is only one day. The day after Mayor McCoy’s Riverdale Jubilee. Months have passed for the audience, but as soon as “A Kiss Before Dying” begins, it’s as though nothing has changed. Because it really hasn’t. Betty is still surprisingly honest with her mother, despite all the judgment. Veronica is still unpacking all of her parents’ criminal baggage, poorly. Cheryl is still half-way between mentally broken and absolutely terrifying. (It’s all a good look, strangely.) Jughead is still a weirdo and doing the voiceover thing. (“Our story continues” is perhaps the most understated way to return to Riverdale, as it doesn’t address just how bonkers said story is.) Archie is still… Archie. In his defense, the end of Riverdale—especially the Cheryl Blossom rescue mission—worked wonders to finally make his well-natured personality actually come across as well-natured. “A Kiss Before Dying” isn’t full-fledged, balls to the wall Riverdale. But it’s still a lot, and it’s a solid return to the series.

The Archie thing is important to immediately address, because this is the closest the series has gotten to an “Archie episode” so far. At least, it’s the closest it’s gotten to actively pointing out that it’s an Archie episode and being proud of that. Season one ended with the cliffhanger of a man in a homemade, modified hood not a ski mask—Riverdale wants this point to be very clear—shooting Archie’s father at Pop’s Chock-lit Shoppe, and season two begins with the aftermath of that.

So despite everything that came before this, the Riverdale season two premiere is an Archie/Andrews family episode. It’s strange, simply for that fact alone. The surreal dreams, the blood, the incompetence of law enforcement, the ominous Pop speeches, the banding together for answers—all of that makes sense in the context of Riverdale. But it takes some getting used to when you realize all of this is finally in service of Archie and Fred Andrews. Really, “A Kiss Before Dying” should be lauded for doing the impossible in starting off the Riverdale season by finally figuring out how to get Archie to truly be part of the important mystery stuff, one of the character’s major problems in the first season. And all of this is before the audience even knows just how integral Archie (and his status as Hot Archie Who Fucks) is to the greater mystery.

Think about it: Despite the focus in this episode, the previouslies for “A Kiss Before Dying” make it instantly apparent once more that this is (and very much was, in the first season) Riverdale, not Archie. Young Archibald is barely in the previouslies that serve as a reminder of what a crazy season of television Riverdale season one was. And when he is, his appearances are specifically dedicated to his peak moment of saving Cheryl Blossom’s life as the frozen over Sweetwater River and his father’s shooting. However, while those are obviously reminders that Archie really didn’t do as much as the rest of this friends—at least, not much worth revisiting in this premiere—they’re well-chosen clips for his role moving forward, as ill-advised as the bat-wielding version of that might end up to be.

“First Cheryl, and now your dad? You keep this up, you’re gonna need a superhero name. Pureheart The Powerful.”

As terrible of a superhero name as that is (despite the fact that it is actually an Archie comics reference), it’s an early line from Jughead that makes for a good frame of perspective for Archie moving forward. The most legitimately interesting thing about Archie is his attempts to be a good person and friend, and as Riverdale got closer to making that his actual characterization—as opposed to a crappy friend who throws parties his best friend doesn’t want or a male escort, for example—it became easier to actually enjoy his character. Sure, Riverdale proves in this episode that it still has no problem zooming in on his abs in the shower, but the two concepts don’t need to be mutually exclusive. After an entire first season of a show called Riverdale, it probably shouldn’t be a revelation that its version of Archie gets to do things, but that’s the biggest takeaway for Archie in this premiere: KJ Apa gets to do things, and as it turns out, he can be pretty compelling when given the chance.

“A Kiss Before Dying” isn’t a bottle episode, but for a return episode of Riverdale, there is a sense of insularity. The world of Riverdale High (including New Reggie) all comes to Archie and company at the hospital. The house of horrors known as Thornhill isn’t seen in the aftermath of the fire. Veronica’s home scenes are brief and sharp, over as quickly as you can think that you want them and their uncomfortableness to be over. Pop’s is disturbingly empty. F.P.’s trailer is shown and spoken of in this episode, but that’s barely a home. And Archie’s home feels more cramped than ever, suffocating the audience just like Archie suffocates when he thinks about his father’s fight for his life. Everything goes back and keeps being drawn to the hospital… until it doesn’t. The world of Riverdale opens back up at the end, but that openness immediately reminds the audience just how scary Riverdale is. Betty gives Jughead her blessing about his choices, only for Jughead to return right to the trailer and see he’s made a huge mistake. To see that the South Side Serpents aren’t just some fun resource to have at his disposal without full being in. Archie goes home with both of his parents, but that’s where the bat-wielding comes in. Veronica returns home and is “greeted” by her parents, officially signalling a new nightmare beginning in a town full of nightmares.


There are obviously scenes like Fred’s coma dreams and Cheryl Blossom’s abuse revenge against her mother and even the South Side Serpents beatdown, but the most chilling scene of the episode (within the confines of Riverdale city limits) is the introduction of Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos). He’s seated, fully in the shadows, with Hermione standing right by his side... and he’s immediately scolding Veronica (calmly, of course) for not being home to greet him as he arrived home early to surprise him. It’s an irrational point, because again, he arrived early to surprise her, so there was no confirmation that she would be home in the first place. But it’s a scene that confirms everything said and implied in the previous discussions about the Lodge patriarch. Of course he’s a bad guy. The fact that it took Veronica as long as it did in the first season for her to put together that her father was actually a villain was nowhere near as frustrating as her bold attempts to rebel against (and constantly address) said villainy, but now with Hiram actually being in the picture, the latter is even more upsetting. Both her rebellion against her father and her mother. The scene where Veronica confronts Hermione in the hospital church is clearly the closest Veronica’s gotten in terms of playing with fire, and it’s scary to see how much she can’t see she’s veering dangerously close to indelible territory. “I should slap you for what you’re insinuating,” Hermione tells her daughter. “But I’m not a violent person.” That’s officially the moment where the audience wants to shake Veronica and tell her to stop. But she’s not going to stop.

Riverdale’s first season saw Hermione Lodge go from Only Good Parent In Riverdale (though Fred competed with her) to secret monster, but as Veronica finally realized that secret monster, she tried to fight and treat her mom like she was still the same person she’d always known. Sure, at its simplest, Veronica’s story is one of realizing her parents aren’t perfect or infallible; but because this is Riverdale, even that can’t be anything less than something truly sinister. The way Hermione adds the little note that Veronica drank Hiram’s champagne isn’t just a wife telling her husband something because she’s subservient: She’s adding fuel to the fire. As Veronica calls out her mom for being the puppet master in this episode, there’s still the large possibility that’s absolutely true. The problem is, if Hiram’s the puppet, he’s definitely not one to be played with.


But while Riverdale’s return reinforces the terror that comes in the form of the place these characters call home, it also serves as an introduction to the same thing being possible nearby. (Yes, the world is terrifying, but Riverdale doesn’t have a monopoly.) That’s where the end tag comes in, with a stop just across the river (Greendale, home of Sabrina Spellman) and to the new home of “Miss Grundy.” It’s unsurprising, in a way, that the con artist and sexual predator masquerading as Geraldine Grundy would barely move far enough away to truly hide her sins—especially when you consider just how little time has past since she left. But as this episode confirms and her original exit implied, her predatory nature is serial. It’s also sickening, as we get official confirmation of just how much the Archie situation was her “thing.” But Riverdale does something unexpected—at least from the way the character was originally written off—and turns one of its worst aspects into a positive. (Kind of like Archie, but classifying him with the word “worst” feels far too negative of a way to describe a kid whose greatest flaw is usually just being a dumb teenager.) There’s a brutality in Grundy’s murder that feels atypical for Riverdale, but at the same time, it makes a couple of things perfectly clear:

  1. Grundy is dead. Super dead. While there’s an opening for flashbacks, given the show’s format, this officially closes up a possibility for her story in the present.
  2. All the publicity talk of Riverdale being darker this season wasn’t just lip service.
  3. The murderer also hates Grundy’s stupid cello. (Is that the bow Archie bought for her?)

This final scene also seemingly gives a big piece of the mystery about who shot Fred at Pop’s: Somehow, Fred had to have known or figured out where Grundy was. Meaning that the man in the hood sought him out and took his wallet for that particular reason. Does this mean that the man in the hood is part of Grundy’s abusive ex-husband backstory? Does that mean said backstory is even true. Honestly, hopefully not, as that makes the delight with which the horror scene was very clearly shot—it’s very ‘90s slasher-esque—more problematic than the show might be equipped to handle and possibly gives Grundy an ounce of undeserved redemption. But it does mean that Riverdale isn’t slowing down, at least not anytime soon. It also probably means—sorry Andrews men—that promises of anyone protecting anyone aren’t worth much of anything in this town.

Stray observations

  • Riverdale Roulette: Time for a new season of Riverdale Roulette, y’all. Because of the coma dream situation in this episode, I feel it’s important for me to suggest one of teen television’s best coma dream episodes, “The Chrismukk-huh?” In which Ryan Atwood and Taylor Townsend share a coma dream, proving once and for all that they are soulmates and also solidifying The O.C. season four as a classic season of television.
  • Arguably the best explanation of Archie’s character comes in the form of Jughead’s voiceover as the redhead speeds and swerves to the hospital, when he points out that the boy doesn’t have a driver’s license (and from the looks of it, doesn’t have a learner’s permit).
  • Alice Cooper calling Jughead a “beanie-wearing cad” is something I think we all needed. That and his dramatic motorcycle reveal. I’ve missed this show!
  • This episode doesn’t really connect with its namesake, but the title does allow for the fake-out (spawned by the emotionally manipulative coma dream tour, if we’re being honest) of Cheryl’s “kiss of life” on Fred possibly leading to his death. Instead, the actual kiss before dying comes in the form of Grundy to her “student,” Ben. Also, at first I wanted to say that Cheryl’s lipstick print on Fred was possibly too much for this show, but then I realized just how appropriately comic book-esque it is. It’s important the show never loses that.
  • Also, in true Riverdale coverage fashion, I feel it’s my duty to acknowledge that its CW event-of-the-week is Fred Andrews’ grasp for life. The structure works, y’all.
  • Speaking of Fred’s grasp for life, his first coma dream—Archie and friends’ graduation—is most notable for how Cheryl Blossom somehow got away with wearing a red graduation cap and gown. Remember, the Riverdale High colors are blue (which all the other kids wear) and gold. It’s an important choice to note, not necessarily because it speaks to Fred’s very vivid subconscious, but it speaks to just how intentional every stylistic choice in Riverdale is. Fred Andrews is not a character who should include that detail for a character who’s only even in the background of his coma dream, but Riverdale definitely should.
  • Fred’s doctor (who gives his full name, Steven Masters) tells Archie to “keep it positive” when talking to his dad. This man obviously had never met Archie before, and I’m a bit disappointed the episode doesn’t just cut to Archie singing one of his whisper rock songs to his dad. But then we would be saying “R.I.P. Fred.”
  • Guys, does Josie think The Pussycats are really cats? I’m concerned.
  • Riverdale really is a beautiful nightmare town. That’s all I could think while Archie and Veronica walked Vegas.
  • We learn that Penelope Blossom (who was fine at the end of the first season) ended up getting third degree burns because she went back into Thornhill… to save a family portrait. Still no update on the old witch Nana Blossom, but I’m sure we’ll hear back come Sabrina time.
  • The scene where Jughead (panderingly) eats a burger features him explaining to Betty that he hasn’t eaten since last night. And when you think about it and Jughead’s position in life, his affinity for large quantities of diner food makes sense. He’s just a hungry orphan. He’s also a rude hungry orphan who tells Pop to lighten up when he’s going on about the “angel of death.” This, from the same kid who keeps reminding everyone how Riverdale is a nightmare town and they should always keep their guard up. Speaking of: The scene with Sheriff Keller confirms Jughead should give up on writing and become a fed.
  • Full disclosure: At the sight of Grundy’s car, I immediately let out (and wrote in my notes), a “GODDAMMIT.” However, it’s a nice touch that the previouslies feature none of Archie affair with her; it makes the episode’s reveal work out even better, without telegraphing it. Good job, Riverdale. Sarah Habel is credited in the guest star portion of the episode, but that’s not as blatant.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Despite her mother's wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB's image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya's your girl.