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"And our friendship?"
"To be discussed. Over many burgers."
While the second episode of Riverdale delivered some pretty compelling clues and one hell of a cliffhanger, "A Touch of Evil" centers as much on the kids' friendships as it does on Jason Blossom's murder investigation. It's a smart choice, as the pilot's so jam-packed with plot (and STYLE) that we scarcely get a chance to know these characters, other than what we remember of their comic book archetypes. With the second episode, the characters are given a little room to breathe, and consequently to matter to us.
Cole Sprouse as Jughead, in particular, is served by his extra screentime. In the pilot, he's a cool noir narrator, a loner watching this case from the outside. Many people, myself included, compared him to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Brendan in Rian Johnson's perfect high school noir, Brick. But the heart of Archie comics has always been Archie's friendship with Forsythe Pendleton Jones lll, and who wants to watch thirteen episodes of these boys glaring at each other from their lockers? We see Jughead and Archie show real concern for one another, with Jughead warning Archie that Miss Grundy is so obviously manipulating him, and Archie standing up for Jughead to Reggie. So when they reconcile over the promise of "many burgers" at the end of the episode, it feels like some cosmic comic wrong has been righted.
Another friendship in need of repair this week is Betty and Veronica's. Despite Veronica's epic apology (there is nothing I wouldn't forgive in the face of roses, cupcakes, mani-pedis and a blowout), I like that Betty didn't forgive Veronica as easily as it seemed she might at first. Their friendship is a little prickly, a little onerous - after all, they've got seventy-five years of rivalry to contend with - but it's more rewarding for how hard-won it is. When Veronica tells Archie that she believes she and Betty are destined to be best friends, that's a destiny we can believe in. Despite some love triangle foreshadowing in Pop Tate's (and despite Jughead's voiceover drawing our attention to "a blonde girl, a raven-haired girl, and the luckiest redheaded boy on the planet"), the friendships between Betty and Veronica and Archie and Jughead - and even Archie and Betty - take priority over any romance this week. And, according to showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, that's a trend we can look forward to throughout Season One. "It’s nice to tell friendship stories," he says in this interview, and as a person whose favorite books, films and TV shows are all about friendship, that's music to my ears.
Well, friendship and murder, and Riverdale has plenty of both. Some clues this week: Cheryl says of Jason, "He was supposed to come back," and coupled with her shocking (though not to her) arrest at the end of the episode, we can assume this means she and Jason had a plan. He was running away from something or faking his own death, but then he turned up dead. Cheryl blames Betty's sister Polly, whom we still haven't met, but we know it can't be Polly or we wouldn't suspect her this early. Miss Grundy's shady and manipulative as hell, and now that we know Jason died a week after July 4th, she no longer has an alibi - even an illicit one. And Alice, Betty's mom (okay, yes, her name is Alice Cooper, you made me say it), is still spectacularly bitchy and clearly hiding something. Mädchen Amick is a forever babe and a stone-cold boss in this role.
In fact, all of the women of Riverdale show real steel. There's not a shrinking violet among them. Sweet, wholesome Betty seems like the most likely candidate to be a doormat here, but we see all sorts of backbone from her this week. Veronica's obviously eternally badass, and Cheryl won my heart the moment she stabbed that frog's corpse. "Actually, I'm amazing." You sure are, girl. #RiverdaleStrong.
Let's keep talking about how gorgeous this show is, because Riverdale would just be trashy fun if not for its elegant visual style. The neon splashes against that chilly Vancouver blue-grey make such a cool, creepy dissonance. And the slow-motion, rain-soaked cheerleading performance set to Josie and the Pussycats' "Sugar Sugar"? MAGICAL. (Although it was a little distracting to see the girls' hair soaking wet one moment, dry the next and then wet again. Can we get a continuity supervisor over here?)
Ultimately, "A Touch of Evil" is a strong followup to a tremendous pilot. Riverdale is tightly plotted and full of surprises. It looks great, it's sexy as hell and every time they show Jason's gnarly-ass corpse I cheer. We're only two weeks in, but if it stays the course, Riverdale could go the distance.
A few more tidbits:
Who plays Mr. Weatherbee? He's not credited on IMDb yet, but the actor's terrific in the role.
We're going to need about 100% more Kevin Keller. I'm ready for this character to reveal some hidden depths beneath all of those glib references.
Luke Perry as Fred Andrews is Dream Dad. He's so wise and kind!
Next week on Riverdale: