Riverdale reminds us why we all watch in this week’s dramatic episode, “Chapter Eighteen: When a Stranger Calls.” The episode does everything right that a CW teen show mostly watched by adults should do, and then tops it off with a nice Riverdale touch that only Riverdale could do.
I am being completely serious when I say that this episode does everything right by Riverdale standards. In fact, I’d go as far as to say this is the best episode of the season yet. Why? Well, for starters, the episode entangles a harrowing story arc of Betty and the Black Hood with plenty of heartache and pain amongst the four friends. It also seamlessly threads Jughead’s initiation into becoming a Serpent with Betty’s task of having to break up with him (RIP Bughead). Finally, the episode manages to throw in some social commentary about sexual assault/rape and the audience gets the satisfaction of watching a rapist get the living daylights beat out of him by the Pusscats – amazing.
So here’s the deal with Bughead: that relationship was ultimate relationship goals. Seriously, every Betty dreams of finding her Jughead. I’m not sure the writers realized exactly how perfect Betty and Jughead were for each other when they first put them together, as I’m guessing that, originally, the end goal was Betty and Archie. But just like Dawson and Joey versus Joey and Pacey, Barchie is no Bughead.
The problem was – and this was very evident at the start of this season – if everything is fine and happy and perfect in Bughead world, there isn’t really a whole lot of internal conflict for Betty. Sure, the Black Hood is obsessed with her for some reason, but that’s a problem that will extend over the entirety of the season and be dealt with by all of our characters, not just Betty. Adding complication to Betty and Jughead’s love for each other and their determination to stay together makes their relationship more dynamic and keeps it from growing dull.
That being said, I really, really dislike Toni Topaz. And what a stupid name, honestly.
(Okay, so, as a woman who can hold her own in a gang full of men willing to go to anything lengths necessary for their own, she’s a pretty cool character, but she’s got it bad for Jughead and he goes for it as a rebound and for that, I really don’t like her.) (Also, note for any Riverdale writers that might be reading this: Please don’t turn this into a Ross vs. Rachel “We were on a break!” thing.)
The episode really makes us feel for our characters, as each one is subjected to some really harsh realities that no normal teenager should ever have to experience. For Betty, it’s trying to protect her friends and family by following the Black Hood’s commands. For Jughead, it’s trying to keep the peace by following in his father’s footsteps and officially being initiated into the Southside Serpents gang. For Veronica, it’s trying to appease her parents and help their business dealings by accommodating a scumbag friend from her past who turns out to be a sexual predator. For Archie, it’s trying to hold his friends together and keep them from spiraling out of control – and he’s failing, miserably.
I did enjoy the satisfaction that came with watching the show address the very topical issue of sexual assault/rape in this week’s episode. Yes, just like “Justice for Ethel” last season was maybe a bit inorganic to the show and more of a fun way for the writers to exercise their power over these stories, this storyline didn’t necessarily feel completely integrated into the show and these characters’ journeys. But while it was just a smidge preachy, it was a message well worth preaching about.
Veronica’s depiction as a woman not afraid of the threats trying to coerce her into sex, or as a woman willing to literally beat the crap out of someone trying to take advantage of someone else, is an inspiring show of strength that sends a message we all need to hear: you don’t have to put up with it. Women everywhere – especially younger, more impressionable and targeted teens and young adults – are scared. Afraid of being assaulted and afraid of what might happen to them if they try to stand up for themselves or report their assaults. Veronica’s actions are a bold statement that it is okay to stand up for yourself, and it is okay to fight back. It’s also another mirror up to our currently changing society that is finally, FINALLY saying, “enough is enough” and publicly calling for retribution.
But, as the show also tells Cheryl, it’s never your fault if you wind up in a situation where you can’t fight back. Even if it’s just because you’re afraid, it’s never your fault. It’s very important to also note this, because for so long society has taught us that it is the victim’s fault, and for that, we have a natural tendency to feel guilty. But we shouldn’t, and even though the show doesn’t quite make that clear, it does positively touch on this.
So what’s next on the Riverdale agenda, and will I have to endure a Toni-Jughead relationship for very long? I really, really hope not, but I suppose we’ll all just have to keep watching next week to find out for sure.
Season 2, Episode 5 (S02E05)
Riverdale airs Thursdays at 9PM on The CW
Tasha is a freelance writer currently based in Los Angeles. Originally from Kansas, when she’s not writing about or watching TV, Tasha is searching for the best BBQ place in LA to fill the KC BBQ hole in her stomach.
Keep up with all of Tasha’s reviews here.
Tasha Cerny | Contributor