On the roller coaster ride that is Riverdale, this episode is the lowest the show has ever taken us. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is echoing his old boss Ryan Murphy, and his old show Glee, with epic levels of character and plot inconsistencies, misogyny, sheer contrivances, and using audience manipulation in place of actual storytelling.
The Berlantiverse is known for many of those things as well. Just take a look at any character that the writers decide is mainly a love interest, whether it’s Mon El on Supergirl, Caitlin or Iris on The Flash, or Felicity on Arrow. Betty and Cheryl seem to be meeting the same fate on Riverdale, as their characters erode from the complex women that they were in season one into inconsistent caricatures.
This episode, Veronica and Archie continued their
sexathon relationship the way it had always been, complete with sex montage. After a particularly romantic tryst in front of her parents’ fireplace, Archie, overcome with endorphins, told Veronica that he loved her. She conspicuously didn’t reply, so they did the discomfort dance and decided that Archie should leave.
Their relationship deteriorated from there. Archie tried telling himself that he could handle it if Ronnie didn’t feel the same way back. Fred told him that love doesn’t follow a schedule. Hermione told Veronica that she can’t force herself to feel things. Veronica realized that she’s never heard her parents say I love you, so it’s clearly all their fault.
By the end of the episode, Archie realized that he didn’t want to keep fooling around in a casual relationship with a promiscuous big city girl who can’t love him, and broke up with Veronica. He looked out his bedroom window and saw Betty getting ready for bed. He knew she’d love him back, and Jughead’s voiceover tells us that it’s like he was seeing her for the first time. Probably seeing her in lingerie doing a pole dance was like seeing her for the first time, but close enough, I suppose.
FP is released from jail due to overcrowding. There’s no indication if the snake charmer helped or not. FP gets set up with a job at Pop’s. He vows to stay sober and clear of the Serpents from now on.
Betty and Jughead insist on throwing FP a welcome home/retirement from the Serpents party at the Whyte Wyrm, the dumbest thing you can do for a newly sober alcoholic and a newly reformed gang member. THE DUMBEST THING EVER. Surely everyone knows that you don’t take a newly sober alcoholic to a bar. So why the insistence on the party, and that it be at the bar?
So that Betty can do a striptease and pole dance, of course. While she’s setting up the party, she asks Toni, who’s an underage bartender, and who Betty knows doesn’t like her, how she can get the Serpents to accept her. An older female Serpent comments that Betty will have to do a pole dance, and Toni backs her up. Personally, I think they were totally playing Betty. By the time we get to the repulsive dance, everyone in the place looks shocked, and none look like this is part of an expected ritual.
FP gives her his Serpent jacket when she’s finished, and Jughead takes her outside to break up with her. The Serpents have now tainted her perfect Madonna innocence, so he needs to get her away from him before she’s dragged down any further.
Because obviously this pole dance happened due to a snake hypnotizing Betty and forcing her into it. Jughead implies that Betty has no agency of her own. Let’s not even get into the implication that Jughead can only love Betty if she stays LightBetty, or whatever the stupid opposite of “DarkBetty” is, as if she’s two different people because she doesn’t always live up to society’s standards for good, pure and perfect.
That dance, in a public place full of hostile strangers, was completely out of character for Betty. Or, it would have been, back when Betty had a consistent character. Now, she’s not even embarrassed afterward. It was an excuse to exploit the actress and pretend that they weren’t being misogynist by showing a pole dance, when they were. Why is Betty suddenly the stereotype of a teenage girl who needs her boyfriend’s approval and his friends to like her so badly that she’ll debase herself to do it? Why is she suddenly so stupid that she’ll do whatever someone she barely knows tells her to, without question?
Then there’s Alice, who can’t decide if she hates the Serpents or wants to be one again. FP talks her into going to the party, so she shows up all tricked out like she’s her high school self, and drinks and speaks the same way. The Serpents accept her as if she never left. What happened to all of their loyalty tests and oaths?
When Betty does her dance, Alice suddenly remembers she’s a suburban mom long enough to be disappointed in Betty. Not to protect Betty, or try to find out why Betty would think she needs to do something like that. Nope.
Meanwhile, back at the high school, Cheryl continues to stalk Josie. She disapproves of Josie’s new high paying gig, and tries to give Josie an intrusive shoulder massage in the locker room. Mr Svenson interrupts the massage when he stumbles in to clean the girls locker room. Cheryl drives him out with accusations of sexual harassment. Josie rejects Cheryl’s massage after that.
Guess we’re not supporting the #me too movement this year. That’s two weeks in a row that men have had false accusations raised against them, and when Cheryl had a legit claim she was forced to settle out of court with a gag order.
I feel empowered. Don’t you? Well, actually I feel like I’ve been told to shut up because women are all dumb, crazy, bitchy, lying sluts.
But let’s get back to FP’s story. He too gets to be a disappointed parent. During the party he finds out that Jughead has gotten involved with Penny Peabody. FP knows that Jughead is taking on his debt with Penny, so he sacrifices himself, declaring to the whole gang that he’s back, ready to be a full-fledged member and their leader, despite the fact that it means breaking his probation. He caps off the announcement with a few shots. Then he hugs Jughead, and whispers in Jughead’s ear that getting involved with Penny was the one thing he asked Jughead not to do. He says Jughead’s broken his heart.
Wow, those shots took effect fast. He’s gone from well-adjusted good guy to blame-passing narcissist in 10 seconds or less. Does he really think that Jughead voluntarily signed up to work for Penny? Couldn’t FP try to work something out with Penny without being a Serpent? Can’t he be a Serpent and avoid drinking? While it was clear the job at Pop’s wouldn’t last, there are still construction jobs in town. But of course none of those options are viable. He needed an excuse to take the easy way out, and blaming Jughead and Penny Peabody was perfect. This storyline is sadly realistic for an alcoholic.
Skeet Ulrich does a fantastic job playing the ups and downs FP goes through. Your heart breaks for him as he loses his battle with the bottle, again. He and Alice continue to have chemistry, and the show continues to tease that they have a past together. It remains to be seen whether they’ll ever pay off the teases or not.
Finally, the storyline that turned out to be the most interesting, much to my surprise, since I haven’t particularly cared about the murder mystery. Jughead and Betty ask Veronica and Archie to investigate the Riverdale Reaper, the murderer that Jughead learned about in last week’s episode.
They ask Sheriff Keller about the murders, but he only knows a bit, since it was before his time. Sheriff Howard, his predecessor, handled the case, and kept the case notes. Veronica and Archie contact Howard’s daughter, but she hangs up on them. They go to the murder house to see if there’s any evidence there.
It’s the house that the Black Hood sent Betty to when he gave her the mask and made her look in the mirror. Maybe there really is a connection between the two murderers. As they wander the house, they discover that someone has left the case files there. Veronica also notices that there are height markings on one of the doors, showing that the family had three children. The reports all say that the Reaper murdered the parents and two children.
They search through the case files and discover a family photo of the victims with a third child pictured. Veronica looks through old school yearbooks until she finds a photo of the third child. It turns out to be Mr Svenson, the custodian. They go to the school and confront him.
Svenson was originally named Joseph Conway. After his family was murdered he was adopted by another family and changed his name. He witnessed the murders of his family and was able to identify the murderer. A group of local men found the conman who was the killer, and executed him, then buried him. That murder was never reported.
Archie and Veronica accept that Conway doesn’t have a motive for murder. Archie tells Veronica that he’s looked into the Black Hood’s eyes, and they aren’t Svenson’s eyes. At the end of the episode, Svenson is looking at a photo of several men with shovels standing over a freshly dug grave, likely the grave of the Riverdale Reaper. Could one or all of them be the Black Hood? Could Svenson be their eyes and ears, helping decide who the sinners are?
The Black Hood sent out a form letter this week, informing at least a dozen families that they’re sinners and he’s watching them. The Lodges received one of the letters.
Riverdale was original, with amazing, complex characters and storylines, during its short first season. More and more, it’s taking on the defining characteristics of the DC Berlantiverse shows:
1) At least a few female characters will start out strong, but by the end of the second season they will be eroded into crying emotional messes, slutty bad girls, or weak, waifish girlfriends.* The Berlantiverse loves a Madonna-Whore dichotomy. (See Riverdale- Cheryl, Supergirl- Alex, The Flash- Caitlin).
2) The male characters will grow in prominence, while the female characters’ importance to the storylines will shrink, and their ability to accomplish anything without male help or to provide intelligent information will evaporate, even if their original role was to be the intelligent independent character. It’s important for women to know their place in the Berlantiverse, and learn to be nonthreatening to men. (See Riverdale- Alice and Betty, The Flash-Caitlin and Iris; Arrow kills its inconvenient women- there are too many to list; a weakened Felicity is the sole survivor).
3) The male characters will begin making decisions for the female characters, and this will be accepted as normal. The females may even be grateful. It’s not enough to be non-threatening. Women need to know that men are the true adults. Male egos must be propped up at all times. Women who don’t comply fall onto the Whore side of the scale. (See Riverdale- the entire Black Hood storyline, Hiram and Hermione, The Flash- Barry and Iris).
4) Couples will break up for contrived reasons and will keep secrets from each other at every opportunity. The reasoning for this will always be that it is for their partner’s own good. Honesty between romantic partners is highly discouraged. (Lol. The examples for this are literally every couple on every Berlanti show ever, especially if superpowers are involved. Felicity broke off her engagement to Oliver because he took a couple of hours to tell her he’d discovered he had a son he never knew about.)
Supergirl is the exception that proves the rule. Since she’s the titular star and the most powerful person in the room, she has the privileges of a man, and her love interest, Mon El, functioned as a woman in the relationship. On Glee, the character of Rachel was given the same privileges. Sara Lance is a Captain Kirk archetype on Legends, so she’s earned some degree of masculine privilege as well.
Villainous women virtually always function as men. As visual code for this, Reign’s costume mirrors Supergirl’s, minus the skirt. Evil girls aren’t real girls in the Berlantiverse.
Same sex couples in the Berlantiverse will be heteronormative, with one functioning as the controlling, mature, repressed male and the other as the overemotional, immature, needy female. Maggie and Alex were the perfect example of this, right down to Alex’s intense need to be a mother, while Maggie wouldn’t even consider it.
*I’m using the shows’ judgements of women in these descriptions, not my own.
A little more Bughead: