Even if Archie's red hair is still completely unconvincing
Chapter Thirteen: The Sweet Hereafter

I won’t bury the lede here: In the premiere episode of Riverdale’s second season, Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) finally eats a hamburger.

Of course, this being The CW’s dark, neo-noir take on the classic comic, he’s eating it in Pop’s with a pool of blood still glistening on the floor after a masked man shot Fred Andrews (Luke Perry) in last season’s finale. (Someone surely could have mopped it up in the hours between shooting and burger eating, but where’s the drama in that?) So guided along by Jughead’s Hunter S. Thompson-meets-J.D. Salinger narration, we’re re-introduced to Riverdale with Archie (KJ Apa) anxiously driving his fading father to the hospital and later running his own bloody hands through his hair as his friends assemble at his side.

Apa is at his best here — expressive and a little bit frantic in a way that makes him more endearing than he ever had been in season 1. He was wasted in the first season’s arc of Archie as a prototypical softboy, mooning over Miss Grundy (eye roll) and shuffling his feet about whether he can be a jock and work at his dad’s construction business and be a musician (double eye roll. It’s like, High School Musical came out back in 2006, Troy).

It was always a familiar sentiment among comic readers that the dweeby ginger never seemed wholly deserving of the fawning attention of these two gorgeous women begging him to take them to the sock hop: Season 2 Archie (unconvincing dye job notwithstanding) is finally providing ample crush material, and not just because we get to see his shirt come off in the shower. But, you know, the shower thing doesn’t hurt. The rest of the central cast is equally strong — the chemistry between rumored real-life sweethearts Lili Reinhart (Betty) and Sprouse is sweet as a chocolate malt, and Camila Mendes’ Veronica is the frontrunner for this decade’s Blair Waldorf crown (competition categories: bon mots, best wearing of a plaid skirt).

While Archie languishes over his father, who’s wandering through dream-sequences in the middle space between life and death, Veronica welcomes back her cold, ex-con father (Mark Consuelos) sitting ominously at their dining room table. There seem to be strange psychosexual BDSM elements at play in every single parent-child relationship in Riverdale: Veronica concedes a tense kiss on her father’s cheek and murmurs with her mother as they kneel in a chapel; Betty challenges her mom with stories of her would-be sexual exploits; Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) restricts the air tube from her mother (suffering from severe burns after last season’s Blossom house fire) and hisses that she will now have control over her air, her food, her movements, her life itself. That exact monologue could have been lifted straight from an intimate Fetlife come-on.

But Riverdale wouldn’t be Riverdale if everything wasn’t dripping with unnecessary, glorious drama. Season 2 leans into its murder mystery camp — it isn’t just a single, isolated murder that needs to be solved; there is now an immediate threat: a masked villain we get to see at work, plucking off people and providing ample cliffhangers. Thank goodness for Kevin (Casey Cott) and his funny one-liners that prove the show is in on the joke. And so, in spite of its unapologetic, campy excess, or perhaps because of it, Riverdale is a worthy addition to the teen drama pantheon — essential popcorn-and-Twizzlers-invite-your-friends-over viewing. A–

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Chapter Thirteen: The Sweet Hereafter
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