Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for the first three seasons of Riverdale.
Riverdale Showrunner and writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa made his name as the writer of the 2013 Carrie horror remake so it is no surprise that as the Chief Creative Officer of Archie Comics he wanted to combine his interest in the teenage experience with darker themes such as murder and gangster violence. These serious themes contrast what we have typically come to expect since 1939 from Archie and his friends, but it is part of what makes each episode of the Netflix adaptation so engaging. In season two, Riverdale high school organised ‘Carrie’ the musical. The shocking psionic powers were shown and the brutal events of that night explain why the showrunner’s interest in the supernatural is rumoured to influence much of the season three plot. Likewise, Agguire-Sacasa’s this month new Netflix Archie comics adaption- The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina the Teenage Witch- will focus on a teenage witch learning to hone her supernatural powers, so it will be interesting to see if any of themes or storylines overlap with Riverdale.
The teen drama follows a group of close friends who work together to uncover the secrets and attempt to maintain the moral integrity of their small yet mysterious town. Each episode is narrated by the witty Jughead Jones (played by Cole Sprouse). Betty Cooper (played by Lili Reinhart) is the classic girl-next-door archetype pining after her oblivious childhood best friend Archie Andrews (played by KJ Apa) who appears more interested in the New York socialite Veronica Lodge (played by Camila Mendes) who has recently arrived in town. Other memorable adolescent characters that attend Riverdale High School are the very bold Cheryl Blossom (played by Madelaine Petsch) who often has some of the most unforgettable lines, aspiring singer Josie Mccoy (played by Ashleigh Murray) and the gay son of the town Sheriff Kevin Keller (played by Casey Cott).
I felt the credibility of Riverdale’s promising narrative and character development was damaged in the second season by a ridiculous amount of storylines that were thrown into the narrative purely to heighten tension and were barely acknowledged again. Betty and Archie’s highly anticipated scandalous kiss that threatened the state of their relationships and the trauma caused by Cheryl’s immoral ordeal in the Sisters of Quiet Mercy’s gay conversion therapy camp were major plot points that were simply brushed over too soon after they occurred. Sadly, these particular continuity issues have not yet been addressed or rectified. However, I commend the writers for taking steps to make a renewed impression by giving some well-deserved screentime to recognise changes in important relationships between central characters.
For example, Archie’s treacherous treatment of his Dad (played by Luke Perry) was only ever mentioned in a few seconds of dialogue. Another subplot which wasn’t really highlighted throughout the second season was Toni (played by Vanessa Morgan) and Cheryl’s blossoming relationship which was not only important to many fans because of LGBTQ+ representation but was also deemed significant because of the positive impact that their relationship was having on Cheryl’s misunderstood character.
In the opening scene, we see a slow montage narrated by Jughead depicting how the gang have spent the summer working summer jobs, relaxing by Sweetwater swimming hole and preparing for Archie’s trial. There are various scenes set in court and the Andrews family home where we see both of Archie’s parents vouch for his innocence after he was accused of the murder of Cassidy Bullock at Shadowlake at the end of season two. His Mother, Mary (played by Molly Ringwald) attempts to protect him by using her expertise as an attorney. While his Dad’s efforts to continuously reassure Archie of his love for him (In season two, we saw Archie betraying his family’s trust in supporting the schemes of Hiram Lodge) should have lessened Archie’s worries since in this episode he and his dad seem to have now bonded during the fight for proving his innocence.
Clear manifestations of Archie’s guilt and anxiety are shown during and after the days of his trial in a few tonally muted nightmares. One of such sequences was where his friends leave him behind in Sweetwater Swimming hole symbolising fears of abandonment as their lives progress while he drowns in projected guilt and uncertainty. He later wakes up in a sweat after dreaming that he actually did kill Bullock in the woods and did not just hear a distant gunshot suggesting that he is aware that many people imagine the murder taking place in a similar way to his paranoid nightmare.
Similarly, ‘Choni’ a fan favourite ship that has previously had little screen time finally got a mention and a meaningful scene. Although their romantic summer road trip was a throwaway line of dialogue in Cheryl’s dramatic entrance, their shippers got a cute moment in which Toni comforted her girlfriend when she admitted feelings of guilt and helplessness regarding Archie’s court case because he saved her from drowning in ice when she was at her lowest point in the first season. Additionally, the writers referencing to season one allows them to refocus the plot by reminding the audience how character interactions have noticeably changed.
Running in parallel to Archie’s murderous accusation Betty’s Black Hood and Chic family trauma is discussed, Jughead learns to be Serpent King by helping his Dad (Played by Skeet Ulrich) give Archie prison survival tips. We see Veronica confront her parents about their role in her boyfriend being framed for murder, in which Hiram denies involvement and Hermoine (Played by Marisol Nichols) paints herself as an imprisoned victim.
Betty’s Mother Alice (played by Mädchen Amick) and her sister Polly (played by Tiera Skovbye) tell her to burn the awful memories that are festering in her diary and embrace the ‘Farm’ which Betty believes is a toxic cult. Her beliefs seem unlikely to be true until it is revealed she has been taking medication to calm her nerves by forging prescriptions from an imaginary doctor. However, near the end of the episode, we see Jughead notice some strange satanic markings on dead bodies when innocent Archie is immediately sentenced to juvenile detention, a storyline that will hopefully not be deserted. Then in a final glowing, we witness a low angle shot of Polly’s twins levitating in the air. Although this malevolent and evil imagery may be a sign of Betty’s unstable and traumatised state of mind, Jughead’s morbid findings reinforce the rumours that supernatural forces are going to have a prominent part to play in the complex and interconnecting storylines of season three.
Featured Image Via @Vanessamorgan.