This review contains spoilers.
2.6 Death Proof
Tonight’s episode began with another obvious yet still true observation from Jughead – that we often wear masks that cover who we really are. Although this episode was written and filmed before the Harvey Weinstein/Louis CK/et al stories broke, its impossible to view it outside of the context of that news cycle and how it gave rise to the #metoo movement. There’s a lot going on in this week’s episode but the most important element here is far and away the Cheryl/Nick/Veronica storyline. Last week we saw Nick St. Clair go transform from New York City-based textbook case of Affluenza to monstrous would-be rapist. After attempting to blackmail Veronica for sex and assert his power over her, he was stopped in his tracks by her and subsequently set his sights on someone he thought was an easier target for his disgusting sexual misconduct: Cheryl Blossom. He drugged her drink, took her back to his room at the Five Seasons and was about to rape her until Josie and the Pussycats with Veronica stormed in, stopped him and beat the ever-loving shit out of him. As I mentioned in my wrap-up last week, their revenge sequence was reminiscent of the end of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, which itself now has the unwanted stink of subtext forever attached to it due to Weinstein’s involvement in that picture.
Death Proof is the name of this week’s episode, but there is no bombastic on-screen revenge taken against Nick. Sure, we learn that he and his family have been run off the road in an accident clearly set up by the Lodges (subtle, the line of “checkmate” was not) after Hiram and Hermione learned that the youngest St. Clair tried to assault Veronica, but the emotional core of the story tonight belongs to Cheryl. Her actions echo the sentiment of Jughead’s clunky opening monologue because she is the character who most on this show is constantly wearing a mask. Several of them in fact. Cheryl Blossom is more of a force of nature than a character on Riverdale, always quick with a biting bon mot or featured in a slow-motion sequence designed to illustrate how she owns herself. (Seen tonight as she waves the flag to usher in the start of the big drag race). Meanwhile, she is clearly hiding some serious inner pain. The argument can be, and no doubt many forthcoming thinkpieces, will, be built on the thesis that Riverdale wants to have it cake and eat it too – constantly sexualising its characters while also trying to mix in big issues like assault with its enjoyably silly plots involving maple syrup blood feuds and drug dealers with nicknames who make them sound like the antagonist in shitty 1980s slasher films. The result is largely one that should play like an afterschool special from the Bizarro World, but Riverdale doesn’t feel like the intent here is an exploitative one because this is a show that out of the gate has been pro-female, with the women characters often light years ahead of their male counterparts. (Who are also regularly sexualised, i.e. endless Hot Archie jokes). The delivery is still a bit problematic, but one must make note of the fact the show seems to be genuinely trying – and these lessons it is trying to tell need to heard by its young viewers.
“Nothing really happened to Cheryl,” coldly intones Penelope Blossom to the Lodges. Mere feet away, Veronica and a crestfallen Cheryl overhear these words and instinctively she reaches for her mask and tries to dismiss the internal chaos that she is experiencing. Later when Betty visits, she tells her that she is “compartmentalising,” something that so many victims have had to do, afraid that their attacker were too powerful to take a stand against. Here, Cheryl fears that she will become a “laughing stock” if she faces off against Nick – a man who is such a vomit that he wrongly refers to her as “Sharon,” proving that she was nothing more to him than just another person his power and privilege would allow to victimise. Making matters worse is the fact that her own mother, a person who she already has a tempestuous relationship with – takes hush money from the St. Clairs and dismisses her daughter’s claims. In the season’s emotional highpoint to date, Cheryl, free of any masks, plaintively tells her mother that “you defend Daddy even after he murdered your son, but you won’t stand up for me, not even against my would-be rapist.” Penelope eventually takes these words to heart and the payoff cheque from the St. Clairs burns like Thornhill recently did. It remains unclear how this storyline will play out – will Cheryl take him to court? Will Veronica join her? – due to the fact we learn that Nick has been severely injured in a car crash. And while the ultimate handling of such a timely storyline may be clunky at times, I still give the show credit for attempting to do some good here.
After such a weighty topic, it’s difficult to segue into the rest of tonight’s episode, which was probably the goofiest the show has gotten to date. We learn that Jughead and Toni didn’t do much more during their sleepover than some “PG-13 groping,” much to the relief of #Bughead fans everywhere. Betty comes clean about how the Black Hood has been emotionally torturing her, and, over a milkshake at Pop’s with Veronica the pair not only restore their friendship but hatch a (completely vague and utterly ineffective) plan to turn the tables on the Black Hood. Betty, being the smartest and most self-aware character on television right now tells the Hood “I found out who killed Jason Blossom, I found out who the Sugar Man was… you’re next.” A cheer-worthy moment to be sure, even if the following shooting death of Sugar Man Williams in his jail cell upends whatever B&V’s mission of vengeance was.
Speaking of Sugar Man, the idea of this dealer-ex-machina is far more interesting in concept than execution. It’s not like he’s been developed enough that we actually care when he gets busted/killed. However, I’m super into the idea of the Sugar Man being some kind of supernatural force of evil in the town, and don’t think we’ve heard the last of this character as this increasingly strange season of television progresses.
Oh man, all this and we haven’t even come to the drag race yet.
Yes, there was a 1950s style drag race on a 2017 TV show. At least I guess the show is set in 2017, because the characters have cell phones and know Kelis songs. But then again, I have no idea what time of the year the show is set in because a few weeks back Cheryl was submerged under ice and today she is sunbathing while some characters wear high school letterman jackets and others parade around in T-shirts and my god, it’s probably best not to focus on these details as if you do the joyous insanity of Riverdale will make you lose your mind. (Additional points to ponder: Do they ever do schoolwork? Was Alice Cooper’s big meeting during a school day? How do these kids just come and go as they please so much? What’s the security like at Riverdale High? Why not stake out a truant officer at Pop’s like non-stop? Here’s an expose for the Blue and Gold: Is Mr. Weatherbee as shitty an educator as Sheriff Keller is a cop? And so on).
So yeah, drag race. Even though Sabrina has yet to rear her head on the show – although I’m CONVINCED that FP is talking about witches when he tells Archie and Jughead that the Serpents have dealt with “much worse” than the Ghoulies – someone has clearly conjured up a contrivance potion and given it to Tall Boy, because last week he was the Noble Serpent and this week he’s looking to sell out his entire crew to get in bed with his Jingly Jangly rivals who “dress like fops” and are into “crazy souped-up retro cars and hearses.”
You guys, this show.
The head Ghoulie is a guy named Malachi, a guy who feels more like James on Twin Peaks doing bad David S. Pumpkins cosplay than anything else. Anyhow, he agrees that he’ll have his gang stop dealing the Jingle Jangle if he loses a drag race against Jughead. If he wins? The Ghoulies get control of Serpent hangout the Whyte Wyrm and Jughead’s home base, the Sunnyside Trailer Park. Before you can say Grease meets Rebel Without A Cause on poppers, the race is on. Then Archie, thinking ahead (badly) as always, stops the car, sending Malachi into a police ambush that our red-headed hero somehow had the intellectual fortitude to pull off with the help Riverdale’s other resident dum-dum, Sheriff Keller. So the Ghoulies are off the street and all is well, right? Nooooooppppe. Jughead wisely mentions that once the Ghoulies caught in the sting – really, isn’t it just Malachi? I mean, he wasn’t dragging in a clown car – are freed from jail they are going to cause some serious problems for Archie and all the Serpents. But that’s a problem for another time. And by then, maybe FP will be out of jail. Or the whole town will be overrun by witches. Man, I really want some witches on this show…
– With Nick St. Clair out of commision for the time being, my new least-favourite character is Malachi, leader of the Ghoulies. He speaks entirely in dialogue snippets cut from Anthony Kiedis’ character in Point Break like “chaos is how we thrive” and “evolve, baby, evolve.”
– Once again, Kevin gets the line of the episode. In fact, it’s a tie! So I’ll let you choose. It’s either his incredulous meta remark that “#Bughead is no more” or his looking at the squalour of Pickens Park and declaring “I wouldn’t even go cruising here.”
– Speaking of Pickens Park, this is a very important locale in the Archie Comicsverse as it is a mere stone’s throw from Memory Lane, a magical junction point that has given these characters a glimpse into their possible future at times. Let’s hope it turns up on the show, which it might if things keep getting as deliriously weird as they have been so far this season.
“Not today Cha Cha, I was born for this moment.” Sometimes, Cheryl is everything we need in the world.
– The name of the bridge that Jughead and Malachi are approaching during their race is Herk Harvey Bridge, named after the director of Carnival of Souls — a wonderfully spooky movie that chronicles the experiences of a woman who is involved in a drag race gone wrong.
– Reading in fundamental! Betty checks out Thomas Harris’ Silence Of The Lambs at episode’s end while Veronica plunks down at Pop’s with Donna Tartt’s 1992 effort The Secret History.
– It was only on screen for a second, but did you catch Fred popping pills? He’s been kind off off this season so far, and I’m guessing the brief appearance of Chekov’s Opoid Addiction marks trouble ahead for the elder Andrews.