At the end of each episode of Riverdale my daughter writes a flurry of texts to her friends, because she’s the intended audience, and I write a recap for a geek culture website, because I’m not. Here’s what you get to read.
It’ll be okay. Everything’s Riverdale.
Sheriff Keller is active or relevant in every single plotline this episode offers; the formation of the vigilante group, the activities of the gangs, the behaviour of his son. In normal television this might serve to centre his character, but normal television isn’t what we’ve got here. We need talk no more about the fellow. Well, not much more more anyway. His name will necessarily come up when we discuss Jingles the Christmas Elf.
Betty, in a departure from her stated policy this season, questions one of Jughead’s stupid choices. He quickly overrules her objections with a snog and the observation that she likes him when he’s reckless. Jughead should know, as he appears equally turned on by the thought of Archie going “all Travis Bickle.” With Veronica’s solitary reference to her boyfriend putting himself in the sights of a murderer being one that suggests she finds this trivial and cute, then the impression is given of a friendship group who find each other’s self-destructive behaviour to be either endearing or arousing. Except in the case of Kevin. The straight kids all agree that he should behave.
Jingles the Christmas Elf has been bringing festive cheer to Archie since 1961, but has never manifested in as surprising a form as he takes in Riverdale.
When Sheriff Keller said the words ‘Jingle Jangles’ in this season’s first episode then I think we all felt sure what was happening; The writers were fondly remembering the “hopped up on goofballs” line from The Simpsons and thought they’d give their own comedy policeman some old-timey drugs speak.
Then when the phrase recurred through the second episode I think we felt equally confident as to what was up; the writers had been tickled by a phrase and couldn’t stop typing it; like ‘waste extraction system’ and ‘self-sealing stem bolt’ on Deep Space Nine.
Now, as of the third episode, the truth is clear. ‘Jingle Jangles’ are how we are to talk about drugs in this show going forward. In the decade where music channels now censor metaphors about clinical use of morphine out of old Pink songs, ‘Jingle Jangles’ is the vocabulary in which the show is permitted to have this conversation.
Veronica alludes to both Audrey Horne and Hamilton in the same conversation. I find this relatable as that’s how I live my life – before this recap is done I’ll allude to Audrey Horne and Hamilton in the same sentence – but I’m not sure Veronica should talk like me.
Kevin. Kevin, oh Kevin. Kevin, my child. I knew you could do it. Sweet Kevin. You’re a real boy now. A whole episode in which you take a week off from reacting archly to the terrible and dangerous choices all the straight kids are making and get to make terrible and dangerous choices of your own. As if you want things! As if the things you want are different to them and as if your opportunities to pursue them are subject to different cultural constraints! Not only this but you get to articulate that effectively. Good Kevin. Best Kevin. But not a Kevin we’ve never seen before. This is the kid who was in the leaked pilot script. Riverdale’s Kevin Keller has finally caught up with where he was before Riverdale was filmed. Hopefully it’s all forwards from here. Oh, Kevin.
The Black Hood has killed 100% of the people he has tried to kill with cello bows and 0% of the people he has tried to kill with guns. Needs to have a rethink.
Cheryl and the lighting department are endgame.
Jughead has remembered which school he goes to and that it is not the one he appears to have been attending for the previous two episodes. “Can’t you just keep going here?” asks Betty. Unclear why he dismisses this plan as he seems to have been getting away with it undetected.
Archie tries rum. Presumably. We never see him take a sip. The scene cuts away at the exact point it would be really weird for him not to.
Fred doesn’t like guns. No wonder he was unsure about Archie having musical instruments in the house last season. Deadlier. Proven.
Hermione’s position becomes clearer and uglier. She knows she’s failing to protect herself and Veronica from Hiram but, since the toothpaste of shame always squirts out of the tube at inconvenient angles, how she feels about this has turned into a sozzled resentment of Veronica.
Polly is also squeezing that tube. It’s unclear how much poor Polly’s belief that she’s “the poster child for sin” comes from self-disgust and how much from an attempt to see through the killer’s eyes. But with her and her newborn twins all off to toil in the fields together then the important thing for the show is that they’ve now got somewhere to park these characters.
Hiram’s reactions to The Matchelorette are unrecorded.
Alice continues to serve as the voice of the press this season, a role I trust she’ll continue to enjoy until one of the two school papers scoops the killer.
Weatherbee is bold to think that “it’s a school club” is sufficient to end all questioning of an armed vigilante gang. Oh! Oh they’ve got a treasurer? Oh, then that’s fine.
Moose gets to talk about his queer identity, but it’s framed by him diminishing the idea that he might be attracted to Midge. Getting frisky in the woods was all her idea. He’s not sure if they’re ‘a good match’. We can’t talk about Moose being into blokes until we’ve cast doubt on the idea that he’s into a girl. Nothing in this show makes me so anxious as where it’s going with its framing of bisexuality.
Toni, our officially licensed bisexual, uses the implication of male homosexual desire to shame Sweetpea, shooing him off with the jibe that Jughead is “not that into” him. The way the character is being positioned is very telling and deliberate. Look! She uses ‘safe space’ and ‘snowflake’ mockingly! So don’t worry everybody, she’s not one of those bisexual teens.
Midge is unhelpful at identifying people. Reports that the killer’s eyes were blank, satanic and devoid of all humanity. Okay, fine, but you just cut off someone who was about to tell us if they were green or not. Let’s get the basics down first.
A Cuddly Toy Moose appears on screen for the first time during Midge’s ‘devil’s eyes!’ speech. Undercuts sense of infernal dread.
The Ghoulies solve a problem. The Serpents are established as a frequently sympathetic organisation. The Serpents are also established as a drugs gang. Morality on this show is exactly as black and white as it keeps telling us it isn’t, so we need these guys; the bad gang who distribute the bad drugs. They are street racers while the serpents are bikers but it remains to be seen if that will be mapped on to the moral schema.
Reggie is immune to these considerations. A free floating ‘bad kid’ unrestricted by consistency of action or facial features. As the comics used to superposition B&V as both best friends and bitterest rivals, Reggie is traditionally both an integral part of the gang and an external bully. Riverdale’s version of the character is an equally adaptable ne’er-do-well. When there are drugs to sell, he’s there selling them. When there are skulls to crack, he’s bought the wrench. He is naughty.
Dilton fits in better with the Bulldogs than you might have thought. That someone who has previously just been ‘dangerous outsider nerd with a gun’ happens to be sat comfortably and confidently in the room with the football team as the Red Circle is no accident. Archie drops the ‘no weapons’ pretence as soon as he gets in the car with Reggie; He wanted Mister Guns invested in this from the start.
Sweetpea is our new voice of young serpenthood in the show, there to articulate the Serpent party line within the apocalyptically lit halls of Southside High. Shame it couldn’t have been Joaquin really. That would have been more fun. Presumably a reimagining of an old Archie Comics character, but I’m going to pretend he’s the baby from Popeye.
Captain Murder has yet to appear. Suspicious.
Is there a cascade of educational damnation? We know that if you fall from the grace of Riverdale then you plummet down to Southside High. So if you get expelled from Southside High, do you then go to Ghoulie Schoolie?
What is the provenance of the Cuddly Toy Moose? Either it’s a gift from Midge (which would be weird as their relationship seems too far along for “Ha! You’re name is MOOSE! Like a moose!”) or Midge has brought him his favourite Cuddly Toy Moose from home to make his stay in hospital more comfortable.
What is sin? Jughead often packages events up for us in a Manichean “LIGHT VERSUS DARKNESS” narrative where light is an idealised nostalgic fantasy of small town Americana and darkness is pretty much anything else. But the notion of sin that debuts here feels different, like the Al Hartley Archie comics have somehow sneaked in.
Presumably the Black Hood has a conception of what he thinks sin is, but his language is all over the place. Fred’s shot for adultery. Classic. Classic religious taboo, your adultery. Bang to rights there, Fred. Then the Hood identifies his next victim as “the child predator” which isn’t particularly theological language, but okay.
After that though, he says the teenagers got shot at for being “drug and sex addicted.” Whoa, whoa, whoa. Whatcha doing there, Mister Hood? Addiction’s a whole different discourse and one that noticeably manages the concept of attribution differently to a discourse of sin, and noticeably is one that nobody else is applying to Midge and Moose.
What sort of a comics reader is Archie? I feel like the sort of kid who has DC Rebirth posters on their wall and the sort of kid who treasures a stack of ‘80s Red Circle books are at different stages of their journey with the medium. More data is needed.
THE TOWN WITH LIE$
There are two sorts of agent in this story, two sorts of people that make things happen. People making dangerous choices in pursuit of their goals and people escalating the consequences of those choices to serve goals of their own. Archies and Cheryls.
What Hiram wants is unclear. What Archie wants is very clear. The audience is with Archie, inside his head, as we follow every step that takes him towards the posting of an embarrassing YouTube video that will blight his entire life as much as Michael Rosen’s has been blighted by that one clip from his mashed potato poem. Nice.
We know what he wants and we know where it gets him. But we also know that Archie doesn’t get there, attempting to menace a 25% effective angel of death with his personal exploration of BDSM aesthetics, without being nudged by Hiram. The formation of the Red Circle and their adoption of these tactics are outcomes that Hiram wanted and has brought about to suit his sinister schemes, but there’s no intimation of what these sinister schemes relate to. To be honest, it’s hard to pretend that the writers have settled on what Hiram’s sinister schemes are, isn’t it?
Over in the woods, Cheryl is exploiting Betty’s concern for Kevin to drive a wedge between them. We know which desires motivate Kevin’s choices. We know which desire’s motivate Betty’s. And we also know what desires motivate Cheryl – She’s re-asserting her power over Betty and getting some revenge for last week’s blackmail – but we only know that because we saw last week’s thrilling instalment. None of that stuff is in the recap and no reference is made to it in the episode whatsoever. This is a story about Cheryl taking a shot at Betty that creates a deliberate distance between the viewer and the reasons why Cheryl’s taking a shot at Betty.
Cheryl’s sinister schemes aren’t like Hiram’s, her motives are established while his are [tbd], but their presentation is identical. At this stage in Riverdale there are people who make choices, like Archie and Betty with whom we ride along in their heads as they do, and people who steer those choices like Hiram and Cheryl. Their desires, even if known to us, are positioned at a remove. As Audrey Horne sung in Hamilton, isn’t it too dreamy in the dark?