Our favorite teen soap opera came back this week, and it looks like things are about to get even more complicated. Rather than dealing with the murder of one kid, we now have a serial attacker on the loose in the Sweetwater River area. Over the summer, the cast of the show promised that this season was going to get darker. Judging by the first episode, it’s already well on its way. Since this is only the season premiere there’s nothing quite as outright insane as what we saw by the end of season one yet. It’s certainly heading in that direction, though.
“Chapter Fourteen: A Kiss Before Dying” picks up right after the season one finale. Fred Andrews has been shot. Archie rushes him to the hospital, then calls all his friends to deliver the news. The show takes the opportunity to remind us where we left the rest of the cast. Betty, even after everything that happened last season, is strangely open with her mom about her sex life. (Well, her almost-sex life.) Alice is as judgmental as ever, immediately accusing Jughead of joining a gang. Veronica no longer trusts her mom, and is in open rebellion. She uses her father’s welcome home Cristal to make herself a mimosa. Underage drinking has never looked so cool.
The first half of the episode takes its time, letting us ease back into the bonkers world of Riverdale. It manages and effective portrayal of the grief and fear Archie is going through. This is probably the first time the show has managed to make an Archie-focused episode interesting. Early on in season one, he was insufferable. After that, he became kind of bland. It was only towards the end, when he started acting a little like the good-natured kid from the comics, that we could start to root for him. Now, when he spends an entire episode in fear of losing his dad, we can really feel for what he’s going through. Even with a more somber episode, the show continues to make deep-pull comics references. Jughead says that since Archie’s saved two people, he should become a superhero: Pureheart the Powerful. Can we please get an Alternate Universe episode of Riverdale? I so want to see KJ Apa in knockoff superman tights.
Veronica goes on a journey in this episode. Most of it is her learning how to care for her new boyfriend as he goes through something really horrible. Despite some trepidation at first, she tries her best and ultimately keeps him grounded, encouraging him to take care of himself. Riverdale can be hit-and-miss when it comes to these slower emotional moments, but with the stakes as high as they are in this episode, it nails them. Of course, Veronica is still dealing with her own problems. Having become completely disillusioned with her mother, she confronts her in the hospital chapel, thinking she had something to do with Fred’s attack. Her mother denies it, but not without making veiled threats of physical violence. Man, remember when we thought she was the one good parent in Riverdale? Also, this might just be my repressed Catholic guilt talking, but that Virgin Mary statue looked extra scary for this scene.
Veronica’s final moment is the most chilling of the episode. Hiram Lodge is in Riverdale. This scene makes it absolutely clear that he’s not the funny, doting father of the older comics. He’s cold, demanding and deeply uncomfortable to be around. His very first line is chastising his daughter for not being home to greet him, when he came home early to surprise her. He probably knows that doesn’t make any sense, and he clearly doesn’t care. I already don’t like this guy, and I’m glad Veronica drank his Cristal.
Betty and Jughead spend most of the episode worrying about Jughead’s indoctrination into the South Side Serpents. Jughead reassures her that he’s determined to keep things the way they are. He has no intention of joining them. We get two really interesting scenes from this subplot that set up a lot of possibilities for the season to come. The first is in Pop’s Diner, where Pop gives an ominous speech about The Angel of Death hanging over Riverdale. Jughead calls him out for sounding like a horror movie character, and dismissing him… which is exactly what a horror movie protagonist would do. The second comes later, when he realizes he’s a Serpent whether he wants to be or not. Earlier in the episode, he asked a few Serpents if they had information on who attacked Fred Andrews. The men he asked, show up in his dad’s trailer, having tied and beaten a man who didn’t do it, but was talking like he did. Whether he puts on the jacket or not, the Serpents have decided that Jughead is one of them. That’s going to be a huge source of conflict as this season explores his relationship with Betty.
But hey, all of that is pretty much boilerplate teen drama compared to what this series is capable of. This wouldn’t be Riverdale without the writers reminding us how much they love them some David Lynch. That part of the episode comes in two forms. First, Cheryl Blossom, whose mom is also in the hospital with third-degree burns. We learn that after Cheryl set her house on fire, her mom rushed into the blaze to save a painting. Cheryl told everyone it was to save her, and nearly suffocates her mom to make a point about the way things are going to be. Cheryl is still completely insane, and I look forward to her continuing to terrify me as the season goes on. (She also wanders into Fred’s hospital room to give him “The Kiss of Life” on his forehead. Yeah, she’s creepy. The second is all of Fred’s coma dreams, where he imagines all the major life events he’ll miss out on if he dies. They all end with someone casually reminding him that he’s dead, which makes them super-unsettling. Fortunately, he lives. Archie talks to him about Veronica, and he comes out of the coma. Yay! He actually is the one good parent in Riverdale. I would be devastated if he died. Archie is less OK, though. Now he’s afraid that the would-be killer will come back to finish the job. He’s spending his nights guarding the doors of his house. That’s not going to be good for his mental health.
Riverdale is back, and while it dialed back the crazy a little, there’s still plenty to go around. At 22 episodes, this season will have an ability to slow things down that the first didn’t have. As much as I loved the insanity of season one, certain moments weren’t given the amount of breathing room they needed to be effective. With the season two premiere pumping the breaks a bit, I’m hopeful that the show can use the extra time to really explore the town and the new mystery. Maybe it can build to something even more insane. It already looks like it’s heading that way. Miss Grundy makes a brief appearance right at the end. I was worried at first because her arc was the worst of season one, but she’s not here for long. We learn that she’s repeating her pattern of child molestation across the river from Riverdale. Then, she’s murdered with her own cello bow by the man who tried to kill Fred. One episode in, and the mystery is already deeper. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.
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