Riverdale recap: 'Chapter One: The River's Edge'
Elsewhere on the Internet, you may find recaps of Riverdale written by diehard Archie fanatics who will tell you all about the unseen mythos and deeply-rooted details that have defined this comic-book high school series for the past 75 years. These recaps may Jugsplain to you that, actually, Betty and Veronica didn’t make out until issue 47 or, actually, Josie and the Pussycats covered five different Cyndi Lauper songs in their oeuvre, or, actually, Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe isn’t a problematic title. They are your Archie whisperers; I am not. This is not one of those recaps.
As a lifelong casual Archie peruser but general aspirant, I will approach Riverdale — The CW’s juicy new thriller set in the colorful universe of Archie Comics — with only the facts and mythos that the series itself presents, save for a light dip into online Archie lore whenever the situation truly demands it. (For instance, you better believe I had to double-check that two deuteragonists here were, in fact, named Hiram and Hermione, a bold naming choice that should have J.K. Rowling rowling in her multi-billion-dollar grave.)
If you’re an Archie amateur like myself, you ought to know the core characters: Archie, Veronica, Betty, and Jughead. Knowing their names is fundamental to anyone with a passing knowledge of pop culture, but I assume this foursome of friends has probably never had to deal with the drama Riverdale sets up in its pulpy first hour: Murder. Embezzlement. Statutory rape. A black-tie dance the first week of school.
Luckily, we have JUGHEAD JONES to fill us in. He’s our noir-adjacent narrator who’s busy writing a novel about the goings-on of what seems to have been a very busy summer in Riverdale. This Jughead isn’t the happy-go-lucky best friend of Archie that we know, but rather, a loner on the depressed side of a mysteriously dramatic rift with his former best friend. Nowadays, Jughead seems to be the omniscient eyes and ears of the town, posting up at Pop’s to glean what he can about the behavior of the town following the news that rocked Riverdale that summer: The death of Jason Blossom, the male half of a pair of creepy, elegantly dressed, possibly incestuous ginger twins.
According to Jason’s sister, CHERYL BLOSSOM, Jason drowned in Sweetwater River on July 4 during a casual matching boat ride with his twin. (I do not have a twin and cannot vouch for whether this is normal, but my gut says, um, absolutely not.) She dropped her glove, he went after it, and then he panicked and drowned. His body was never recovered, and so Cheryl’s story became fact; it was only weeks later that Jason’s body is finally discovered, and with a gunshot to the forehead no less — a surprising turn of events to almost everyone in town.
So, who are the suspects at play? Not to say that everyone in town is a potential killer, but now seems as good a time as ever to introduce our main cast.
Something called K.J. Apa plays Archie, a perennially popular and endlessly attractive sophomore who apparently got even more popular this summer after three months spent working at his dad’s construction company bulked him up to Hemsworth-in-high-school proportions. Everyone notices Archie’s sudden abdominal arrangements—including one of the school’s teachers, MISS GERALDINE GRUNDY, who, it should be noted, looks like this in the comic book. So, yes, God bless Riverdale. As token gay friend Kevin puts it to Betty, “Game-changer! Archie got hot! He’s got abs now! Six more reasons for you to take that ginger bull by the horns tonight.”
Beyond obsessing over his forbidden love, Archie’s secondary dilemma is that he and Grundy were picnicking near the river when they heard a gunshot the morning of Jason’s murder. The problem is, they can’t tell anyone what they heard or why they were together, as Riverdale doesn’t exactly Mary Kay Letourn-up with statutory rape.
So, big secret and taboo crush notwithstanding, Archie also heads into his sophomore year galvanized by Jason’s premature death to pursue his own dream of music lest he, too, be remembered as nothing more than the sum of his extracurriculars. Lying to both his father FRED (who wants him to work at the sexy family construction company) and his football coach (who wants him to play varsity, sexily), Archie instead turns to the school’s hottest band for musical advice and convinces Miss Grundy to meet with him for private music lessons. One of Archie’s fatal flaws may be his tendency to people-please, as by the episode’s end, he’s basically agreed to fill his year doing all three: construction, football, and music, two of which sound absolutely miserable.
Four, if you count girls. Well, technically, five.
NEXT: Enter Betty. Then, enter Veronica.
Betty’s the perfect girl next door who wants to leap out of the friend zone with Archie but stays there due to a crippling combination of shyness and light cardigans. While there are undeniable sparks between Betty and Archie, every attempt to tell him how she feels has been interrupted (namely by either Archie’s anxiety or the arrival of Veronica). When they do finally have a frank conversation, Betty goes big with the “love” word, and Archie returns it but only in a definitively friendly fashion, adding the harrowing excuse, “I’ll never be good enough for you,” which he delivers with all the believability of a New Year’s resolution.
Add to Betty’s romantic difficulty the discouragement of her mother, ALICE COOPER LOL. Beyond being a perfectionist tiger mom who markets in college applications and Adderall refills, Alice pushes Betty to stay away from Archie because he reminds her of the late red-headed Jason Blossom, who previously struck up a very tumultuous relationship with Betty’s sister, Polly, that sent her into a mental clinic. (FYI if you came to Riverdale hoping for pop culture’s great ginger redemption, you may have been misled.) Having been spotted early in the episode wishing hell on Jason, Alice is an obvious suspect in Jason’s death, but Betty may also be a dark horse candidate to have avenged her sister.
Encouraged by her new friend Veronica, Betty breaks character and attends cheerleading tryouts after being endlessly encouraged not to the year prior by head cheerleader Cheryl (who, when she’s not milking the sibling bereavement card for Instagram sympathy, is the school’s reigning mean girl). At tryouts Cheryl reverts back to her mean ways and chides Betty about Polly and Jason, taunting her until she displays a surprisingly violent urge and draws blood from her clenched fists. Betty doesn’t seem to notice her own action, but Veronica certainly does — suggesting that maybe Betty doesn’t quite realize the extent to which her bottled-up emotions can sometimes manifest. Is Betty one prom away from going full Carrie? The big question with Betty is not just what happened between Polly and Jason, but whether Betty’s aware of her mood swings and whether she ever made memorable contact with Jason. And, while we’re answering big questions, I’d love to know in what world you can try out for and make the cheerleader team and get your perfectly-fitted uniform that same day.
RELATED: Will Riverdale be your next TV obsession?
On the flip side of Betty, we have Veronica, and let me preface this by saying Veronica is the single best character on Riverdale. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the breakout star, the Empire Cookie, the Stranger Things Barb, the Mary Tyler Moore Show Mary Tyler Moore. Camila Mendes simultaneously rocks the cartoon aesthetic with perfect realism, and what’s more, she took a tough-to-like outsider and made her instantly empathetic. We’ve seen the newbie high schooler bit before, but not like Veronica.
Veronica has relocated from New York to Riverdale with her mother, HERMIONE LODGE, an old local who has made her way back to town after HIRAM LODGE thrust the family into national embarrassment with his white-collar embezzlement trial. Veronica took the opportunity to reform her own icy ways, and she seems to be doing a fantastic job at a new life of decency, immediately striking up a strong friendship with Archie, Betty, and KEVIN KELLER.
When she learns of Betty’s feelings toward Archie, she’s quick to leap out of the way and try to let the pair find their happiness — so it’s not Veronica’s fault when Archie reveals he doesn’t really feel that way for Betty, and it’s furthermore not entirely Veronica’s fault when she and Archie share an electric kiss during a chance game of seven minutes in heaven (a trope I truly did not think a 2017 TV show would ever actually employ, but alas). If we have to pledge allegiance, I’m siding — at least, for now — with Verchie, Archonica, or whatever the Tumblr MENSA shipping brain trust decrees.
There’s some mystery to Veronica, though it mainly concerns whatever her father did and how he’s going to drag the rest of the family into it (at episode’s end, Mrs. Lodge reluctantly discovers a bag of money sent by her husband). At Riverdale High, Veronica’s only secrecy is in how she’ll reconcile her desire to be a good friend to Betty with her growing interest in Archie. I wouldn’t count out the idea that she’s one text argument away from reverting to full mean girl and decorating Trapper-Keepers with Cheryl in her bedroom while listening to Taylor Swift not engage in political discourse. But for now, I’ll continue rewatching how she takes down Cheryl—”You wanted fire? My specialty’s ice”— in what I can only describe as fabulously brutal and brutally fabulous.
THE REST OF RIVERDALE HIGH
A few other nuggets of characters suggest some fun subplots to be had on Riverdale’s first season, and some possible suspects:
—Kevin, the first gay Archie Comics character, is on his way to turning the well-endowed MOOSE, the first Archie Comics closet case. Thank you, sweet Greg Berlanti, for this promising plotline and fan-fic combo.
—Mrs. Lodge betrays a Riverdale history with Mr. Andrews, as the two found themselves in a love triangle earlier in their youth that resulted in Hermione choosing “the rich kid,” Hiram, over the ostensibly chiseled bad-boy, Fred. I will be placing bets for how soon Marisol Nichols and Luke Perry are inevitably, ferociously Betty-ing each other’s Coopers on the wood planks behind the construction office, and I am here for it. (Plus, what happens when Mrs. Cooper meets Mrs. Lodge!?!)
—Jughead remains something of a mystery, given his fallout with Archie and his disconcerting new position as Riverdale’s Rita Skeeter. As something of a loner in the comics, his lone wolf act here isn’t itself strange, but I wonder if his relationship with longtime crush Betty suffered in the rift as well. Also, in the interest of modernizing these characters, someone has to explain how a boy in 2017 can unironically walk around with the nickname Jughead.
—JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS also show immense promise in their brief appearance. There have already been rumors buzzing of a backdoor spin-off for these characters, so I’m guessing they’ll stay away from the ickiness of Jason’s murder and be our purely promising ticket out of Riverdale in the future — but I wouldn’t mind an A+ cover of “3 Small Words” in the interim.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “I’m Breakfast at Tiffany’s but this place is strictly In Cold Blood.” — Veronica