Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Ups and Downs of Riverdale 2A: Part 1

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Last winter Riverdale took the internet by storm, as a perfect mix of a teen soap and a gripping thriller mystery, with its vibrant visuals and cool soundtrack as the cherry on top. The creators were able to walk the line between cheesy and serious, using familiar tropes but having fun with them. Season 2, however, seemed to lose a little bit of that self-awareness; the show didn’t feel like it was “in on the joke” as much anymore. Still, there was plenty of things to enjoy in 2A, so let’s talk about it, shall we?

We start off right where we left in the Season 1 finale – with Fred Andrews fighting for his life after he was shot at Pop’s by the mysterious Black Hood. While Fred’s in the operating room, Archie struggles with the guilt of not being able to save his dad, and fear that the killer might come back. Jughead uses his newfound pals in his father’s gang, the Southside Serpents, to try and find out more about the shooting. Betty isn’t too happy about her boyfriend being this chummy with gang members, but Jughead assures her there’s nothing to worry about.

As it becomes more and more obvious the shooting wasn’t just a random robbery-gone-wrong, Veronica starts to suspect her parents might have something to do with it; after all, Fred refused to sell his shares of the company back to the Lodges, which is quite the inconvenience on their side. Ronnie confronts her mother about it, but Hermione is appalled by the accusations; she also makes it clear that Veronica’s father will hear about this won’t stand for this kind of disobedience.

At the same hospital Mr. Andrews is at, we meet Cheryl, whose mother suffered horrible burns in the fire at Thornhill, although Cheryl doesn’t mention to anyone she’s the one who started it. Instead, she tells a story of Penelope heroically coming back into the burning house to save her daughter, but later we find out she returned for a family portrait. Lovely.

“I see you, villain!”

After a series of feverish visions about missing all of his son’s major life milestones, Fred finally wakes up and is ready to go home for recovery. Archie makes it his mission to protect his dad at all costs this time, so he spends his nights guarding the door with a baseball bat, waiting for the Black Hood’s potential return. But Fred’s not the only dad who’s come home…Veronica’s father Hiram is back from prison! And oh boy, does he not seem happy his baby gained a moral compass.

While everyone deals with their home drama, in a town nearby we see a familiar face: everybody’s favorite child predator Ms. Grundy, grooming yet another teenage boy. She sends him home after a late night music lesson, and when left alone, she gets attacked and brutally murdered by none other than the Black Hood.

After Fred’s been shot there, Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe is struggling to get any business. Jughead is especially upset, but doesn’t really have the time to do anything about it since he has to be there for his father’s trial; Betty takes it upon herself to save the diner, with a help of Ronnie, who’ll do anything just to stay away from her parents.

The whole school finds out about Ms. Grundy’s murder and it makes Archie even more sure the Black Hood has it out for him personally. Additionally, the lack of sleep and stress because of his night vigils are starting to get to him. He comes for help to Reggie, football team captain, and now a local drug dealer I guess. Here we get the first mention of Jingle-Jangle – the new, “cool” drug that’s all the rage among the teens.

Betty and Veronica decide to throw a charity event to save Pop’s and Hiram offers his help as a proof he changed his ways, but Ronnie isn’t ready to forgive him that easily.

Meanwhile, Jughead is furious with his dad’s appointed lawyer, who insists on taking the deal that will put FP in prison for 20 years. Yet again he comes for help to the Serpents, who send him to their sketchy personal lawyer, known as the Snake Charmer. She suggests judge will be more inclined to ease the sentence if the victim’s family forgives him. Her payment for the legal advice? A favor from Jug, when the right time comes.

The girls find out Pop Tate decided to sell the diner to an anonymous buyer. This sounds all too familiar to Veronica, whose dad already used a similar tactic to buy the closing Drive-in last season. She confronts her parents straight on but Hiram denies any involvement.

At the same time, Betty and Jughead go to see Cheryl and her mom, asking to speak on FP’s behalf in court. Not surprisingly, Blossoms aren’t really inclined to help, so the couple leaves empty-handed. Betty, however, refuses to give up that easily, so she decides to blackmail Cheryl: if she won’t help FP’s case, Betty will release video of her father, Clifford Blossom, shooting her brother Jason. Cheryl begrudgingly agrees, but also kinda gives Betty props for “going there”. The next day in court Cheryl lies that her father made FP to do his dirty work by threatening to hurt Jughead. Judge releases FP until all the information about the case is re-evaluated. All is good and well until FP hears about Jug’s deal with the Snake Charmer; he forbids Jughead to do her any favors.

Later that evening, the event at Pop’s is a hit. Pop Tate announces the diner is gonna stay open and he especially thanks the Lodges for their generous donation. Hermione is quite surprised to hear about this, but Hiram reassures her that no, they’re not being, God forbid, charitable, he just straight bought the place; in secret, of course.

Later that night Archie meets up with Dilton Doiley, the local firearm enthusiast, to get a gun. Now, knowing he has the means to protect himself, Archie finally gets some sleep. Not getting sleep though? Archie’s classmates Moose and Midge, who were having a little jingle-jangle infused fun at the Lover’s Lane, only to be interrupted by the Black Hood, who shoots them up in an awesome (strictly cinematically speaking) Zodiac Killer homage.

Sweet Pea and Toni Topaz

In Episode 3, Jughead is finally starting his education at Southside High, where he meets one of the younger Serpents members, Toni Topaz. Her vocabulary is 85% pretentious pop culture references, so naturally, she and Jug get along just great. She gives him a tour around falling apart school, we get another shoutout to Jingle-Jangle (kids here are using it right in the school halls), and in the end, she introduces him to the rest of young Serpents, including their sort of leader, Sweet Pea. They invite him to hang, but Jughead refuses because he’s rebellious like that. Tony warns him that being alone can make him a target for their rivalry gang, the Ghoulies.

Betty’s mother Alice gets a letter from the Black Hood, where he lets Riverdale know that his attacks are a way to cleanse the town from its sinners. By the way, remember Betty’s sister Polly? Yeah, she’s still here. Except not for long, because she’s afraid that carrying her cousin’s babies – out of wedlock, mind you – might put her on top of the Black Hood’s sinners list. So she leaves town for the farm Jason and her planned to run away to in the first season.

Back at Southside High, with a blessing from an English teacher Mr. Phillips, Jughead re-opens school newspaper, with one condition: he can write about gangs and drugs, but he won’t participate in either. Toni congratulates Jug on “finding [his] safe space, snowflake”, reminding us this show is written by 40-year-olds. As his first story, Jughead tries to expose Ghoulies as a missing piece of Clifford Blossom’s drug pipeline; in return, the gang beats him mercilessly, which forces Jug to start hanging out with Serpents.

Archie continues spiraling, getting more and more paranoid about the Black Hood. Wanding to be more proactive, he creates a neighborhood watch of sorts: the Red Circle. Still, policing streets and giving out flyers doesn’t feel like enough for him, so with some subtle encouragement from Veronica’s dad the Red Circle decides to record a threatening video to the Black Hood; it goes viral overnight and puts the town in a full panic mode.

In a shocking turn of events, teenage boys deal with consequences of their actions, and when principal Weatherbee suspends the football team, they start backpedaling on this Red Circle stuff real fast. Everyone, except for Archie, who only gets more determined. After pointing out all the Black Hood’s victims are Northsiders, he’s convinced the killer must be from Southside, so he decides to go there and somehow draw him out.

The Red Circle

Meanwhile, following her mother, Betty gets a letter from the Black Hood. This one, however, is much more personal. In it, the killer confesses how Betty’s speech at Jubilee inspired him to take action and taking another page from the Zodiac’s book he attaches the cipher to the letter, the one that only Betty can solve. If not, another “sinner” will pay. Betty takes the cipher to her mom and Sheriff Keller but leaves the letter to herself. They decide to post the cipher in the paper, so the whole town can have a crack at it.

Archie goes ahead with his plan to provoke the Black Hood, but gets caught vandalizing Southside property by the Serpents. Sweet Pea isn’t impressed but doesn’t have a chance to do something about it, ‘cause our boy Archie brought a gun to a knife fight, so the Serpents scatter.

The next day sheriff Keller comes to search Archie’s locker because some witness saw the altercation. He doesn’t find anything because Archie has hidden the gun in a school bathroom and later that day he asks Veronica to bring it back to him. Ronnie is beyond angry with the reckless behavior Archie’s been displaying lately but his football teammates, however, are more than impressed and want to revive the Red Circle. The reunion is cut short when the Serpents turn out at Archie’s doorway, ready for round two. Both parties agree to a good old-fashioned group fight. It all goes as you would expect until Veronica decides she’s had enough and fires Archie’s gun, scaring the Serpents away. Later, she takes Archie to a bridge so he can throw away the gun for good, finally starting to regain his sanity.

The same evening, Mayor McCoy arranges an emergency town meeting to discuss the Black Hood, and the growing tension between the Northside and the Southside. Alice Cooper is determined to paint Southside as the ultimate bad guy, however, Fred Andrews points out that they should focus on the serial killer running around, not pit Riverdale residents against one another. Hiram Lodge, an alumnus of Littlefinger’s “Chaos is a ladder” university, no doubt, seems to be enjoying this divisiveness among townies; we’re not sure what his end-game is exactly, but everything clearly goes according to his plan.

At home, Betty finally realizes the key to solving Black Hood’s cipher is in the old Nancy Drew book she used to read a lot as a kid. Along with Jughead she solves the riddle and finds out where the Black Hood will attack next – the Town Hall when he first heard Betty’s speech. They get there in time and no one gets hurt, though Betty now has no chance but to come clean about the Black Hood’s letter. When she gets back home the Back Hood contacts her again, only this time by phone. He goes on about how he has some grand plans for her and makes it clear that he knows about Polly, and if Betty will tell police or Jughead about their calls, he will make her pay. He doesn’t say anything about Archie though, so Betty confines in him.

Meanwhile, at the Lodges residence, Veronica is given the chance to get more involved with the family business; her parents are hosting an open house for potential investors, and their biggest target is St. Clair family. Veronica used to be friends with their son Nick back at NY, so Hermione suggests Ronnie should help him see all the goods Riverdale has to offer, so he can pass it along to his father.

The tension between Southside and Northside keeps growing, but unlike Hanna Montana, Jughead can’t have the best of both worlds and is forced to choose a side. He decides to join the Serpents officially, to once and for all end speculations about his loyalty. To do so, he has to go through the hardcore initiation process, that includes taking care of the gang’s dog, remembering a bunch of the generic “one for all, all for one” type of laws and, at the end, getting beat up by the existing members.

Betty receives another call from the Black Hood. His first task is to expose Betty’s mother, who’s been dragging Southsiders through the dirt in her newspaper, as an ex-Southsider and a troublemaker herself – by publishing a picture of her mugshot from back in the days. In return, the Black Hood promises to answer one question about himself. Betty is resistant at first, but after a small quarrel with Alice, she goes ahead with the article.

The St. Clairs arrive in Riverdale and we finally get to meet Nick, and he’s everything you’d imagine…bratty, arrogant and condescending. Minutes after his introduction he does a line of cocaine, shamelessly flirts with Veronica in front of Archie and scorns the small town lifestyle.

The Black Hood sticks to his promise and lets Betty ask one question about himself. Betty asks if she would recognize the face behind the mask; the Black Hood says yes. His next assignment for Betty is to break her ties with all of her friends, starting with Veronica, or he will do it “his way”.

Nick throws a party at his hotel room, inviting all of Veronica’s friends, including Betty. The fun gets a little out of control when everyone, excluding Betty, takes Jingle-Jangle. She sees this as an opportunity and lashes out at Veronica, calling her shallow and spoiled, pointing out how quickly she returned to her old ways, as soon as Nick arrived. Veronica, justifiably hurt, kicks Betty out. After everyone else leaves, Nick makes a move at upset Veronica and when she rejects him, he, not surprisingly, can’t take a “no” for an answer. Ronnie slaps him instead and leaves.

The next day Betty comes clean to confused Archie about her real reasons behind yesterday’s behavior. She also says Jughead is next on her list of people to cut off. Archie, obviously, isn’t a big fan of her going along with the Black Hood’s games, but Betty points out he hasn’t hurt anyone since they’ve started talking, so she’s willing to continue to be a distraction of sorts. She also asks Archie to be the one to break the news to Jughead. He thinks it’s gonna be really hard until he comes to see Jug and realizes he’s one final task away from officially becoming a Serpent. They fight and Archie warns Jughead to stay away from Betty. Jug finishes the initiation, and later that evening lets emotions get the best of him and ends up making out with Toni.

In the meantime, Lodges’ open house party is in full swing. Alice shows up looking like an absolute boss, embracing her Southside roots, at least for today.

Definition of YASS QUEEN!

Nick apologizes to Veronica, sighting addiction struggles as the reason for his unacceptable behavior. They both agree to move on and Nick moves on, all right: on Cheryl. While acting all charming he spikes her drink and takes her back to his hotel room Thankfully, Veronica, Josie, and The Pussycats get there in time, saving Cheryl and beating the shit out of Nick.

The Black Hood calls Betty to make sure she did as he demanded. He then sends her to an abandoned house in the woods, where she supposedly will find a clue to his identity. When Betty gets there, she finds a box with a black hood in it. On the phone, the Black Hood makes her wear it and look in the mirror, implying they’re one and the same. Betty hears some noises and runs away. On her way, she gets a call from Archie who tells her what happened with Cheryl.

When Betty gets home, the Black Hood calls again and states that he knows she’s been talking to Archie about him all this time. He threatens to kill Polly as a punishment unless Betty gives him another name. After a moment of consideration, she names Nick St. Clair.

Finishing thoughts

Overall, Season 2 of Riverdale had a strong beginning, but started declining pretty fast in the middle.

I can’t exactly pinpoint what went wrong there: maybe it was the sheer amount of subplots, or maybe, it was just their poor quality. Between the mess that was the Red Circle, undercooked St. Clair drama, Jughead almost starring in a spinoff, and whatever-the-fuck Lodges’ plot is, the show felt unfocused – managing to be kinda boring but overwhelming at the same time.

There was one shining beacon of greatness, though: Lili Reinheart’s acting. No doubt the strongest actor from the younger cast, she’s been pulling some serious weight this season. She was especially phenomenal in episode 5 “When A Stranger Calls”, where Betty was forced to deal with the Black Hood’s demands; you could feel the agony and exhaustion through the screen.

On a bright side, I do feel like Episode 7 is where the show really starts getting back on track so hold tight, people! We’re almost out of the woods!

Images courtesy of CW

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