Riverdale is a very interesting show. It feels like the Archie license went public domain and somebody chose to make an edgy batshit adaptation. Except this isn't something born out of the public domain, but is an officially licensed show running under the CW. It's currently in its fourth season and as of now, I've finally worked through the second season.
"But Dari, why not write about the first season, first?" Well, it's been a while since I watched that, so it's not fresh in my mind. And besides, the first season is actually comparatively mundane to whatever the hell's going on with the rest of the show. Like okay, the first season of the show deals with the murder of a teen (Jason, brother of Cheryl Blossom) and has some gangsters running around. I think that's kinda standard for an edgy adaptation?
But, in the grand scheme of having to churn out more content, the show got insane moving forward. And kinda dumb. You know how people make fun of Kingdom Hearts with its whole "darkness" thing? Well, Riverdale Season 2 talks about darkness residing within people a whole bunch and it doesn't have the justification of anime characters doing it, so it's actually more absurd.
As season 2 directly kicks off from the end of season 1, there's going to be spoilers. So, if you want to watch the first season of Riverdale first, here's Safe for Work Sasuke to block you off from spoilers until you do that.
Season 1 ended with Archie's father, Fred, getting shot in Pop Tate's by a man in a black hood while taking a bullet for Archie. Fred ends up having fever dreams of dying before seeing his son graduate and succeed in life which... honestly hit me really close to home. In all honesty, Fred coming close to dying and his dying dreams affected me more than anything else in the season. So, uh, I'm probably going to end up going through it when I eventually get to season 4, as Fred gets killed off because his actor, Luke Perry, died during season 3.
For now though, Fred pulls through but oh no, the fiend that shot him is still out there. This guy gets creatively stuck with the moniker "the Black Hood" and he's the serial killer that terrorizes the town throughout the season and is one of the many villains introduced.
The problem with the Black Hood is that... he kinda sucks at being a serial killer? The dude fails to kill multiple characters despite having them dead to rights. In his second attempted murder, he shoots at two teens at point-blank range... and somehow fails to kill either of them. The one that took most of the bullets actually recovers pretty easily, all things considered.
Anyway, Archie's got serious PTSD from the event, and I don't really blame him. His response to his trauma is to start a militia group and later becoming a gangster. See, I feel that if the Riverdale writers were smarter, this would be a narrative about how vulnerable young men could get radicalized toward right-wing violence, but aside from one character calling his group fascist, it doesn't really dig too deep into that. It's just a thing he does.
Archie had gotten into a relationship with Veronica Lodge at the end of last season, so he gets put in the sights of Hiram, Veronica's dad that happens to be a crime lord in this adaptation. Hiram convinces Archie that he needs to take matters into his own hands, which leads to Archie forming the Red Circle to fight the Black Hood. This results in one of the series' most iconic images:
This looks like a homoerotic ISIS video. I lose my goddamn mind every time I see it. Anyway, he and the boys are convinced that one of the Southside Serpents is the Black Hood and they clash a bunch. I don't quite remember everything that happened here, but Archie and Jughead Jones' relationship is briefly strained. They get over that though and the Red Circle ends up getting disbanded without succeeding at doing anything meaningful.
So, the Serpents. The Serpents are a gang on the Southside of Riverdale, led by FP - Jughead's father. FP is arrested at the end of season 1 for helping cover up Jason's murder at the hands of his own dad, as Jason discovered that the maple syrup business that the Blossoms run is actually a front for a drug trade. Jughead and Betty Cooper are normal and threaten Cheryl to help get FP off or they'll leak the video of her brother being murdered by her father. It kinda makes them look like assholes, and honestly? Riverdale seems to have a problem with accidentally making characters look like smug assholes.
In the meantime, Jughead gets acclimated to the Serpents and winds up leading the youth division of the gang. Despite wanting nothing to do with his dad's gang life in the first season, Jughead is now all in on it. It ends up being a problem because the Southside has an intense rivalry with the Northside where everyone else in Riverdale is.
But there's another, bizarre bit to the Serpents. Halfway through the season, it's revealed that the Serpents are the descendants of a Native American tribe that was massacred by Cheryl's great grandfather, the town's founder. As the plot of the mayoral election (more on that in a bit) kicks off, the Serpents wind up protesting the statue of the founder and the head of the statue is later removed as a way to frame the Serpents in an attempt to get them out of Hiram Lodge's way.
And the thing is, it's incredibly stupid because it doesn't really come up again? I mention this now because it literally doesn't seem to matter in the grand scheme of things. To me, this whole plot point felt like a cynical ploy to cash in on current events. Riverdale season 2 aired throughout 2017 and coincidentally, the whole controversy about taking down statues of Confederate figures happened in 2017. It absolutely felt like the writers wanted to tackle that for brownie points and did so in the most ham-handed way possible. This is YIIK writing, my guys.
Anyway, besides the Black Hood, something else is terrorizing Riverdale: Jingle Jangle. It's a drug that people consume through pixie sticks. Yeah. Cheryl's dad used to distribute the stuff, but it's still circulating around even though he's dead. Turns out, the trade is now being run by the Sugar Man. No, I'm not joking about any of these names.
While Archie goes on misguided fights against the Black Hood in the midst of his emotional spiral, Betty ends up getting calls from the Black Hood. The Black Hood senses a kinship with Betty and tries to get her to cooperate with him in ways such as being an accomplice and convincing her to break up with Jughead. At one point, he asks her to provide a victim for him.
Cheryl ends up deducing the identity of the Sugar Man and provides it to Betty. She ends up forwarding it to the Black Hood and he kills the Sugar Man - who turns out to be the English teacher at Southside High - after he gets arrested. Despite doing little work herself to find his identity, Betty later smugly brags about how she got the Sugar Man arrested. Congratulations, I guess.
But do you know who was working with the Sugar Man? The Ghoulies, a rival Southside gang looking to take Serpent territory. Yes, that is also a real name. They actually get beaten really easily when Archie tricks them into a drag race and calls the cops on them, but they come back, don't worry.
Also easily beaten is Penny Peabody, a Serpent lawyer that helps clear FP of all charges in exchange for making the Serpents her personal drug couriers. Jughead gets sick of this shit and teams up with his fellow teens to cut out her Serpent tattoo with a knife and send her away. Normal.
Back to the Black Hood plot, Betty ends up confiding in Archie since they're next door neighbors, so her talking and hanging out with him looks normal. They do some investigating and find a guy who escaped the wrath of the Riverdale Reaper, a precursor to the Black Hood that for some reason wasn't brought up until now. He goes missing and they try to investigate, but the Black Hood outsmarts them and tries to get them to dig their own graves. The sheriff swings by and kills him and it turns out that the Black Hood was the guy that went missing? Hm.
Meanwhile in Betty's life, she goes through family issues. Her sister Polly, who had a premarital baby with Jason, gets sent away because she's a perfect target for the Black Hood. Her mom Alice is going through it, so Betty decides to look for the twin brother that her parents gave up. Enter Chic, a real creepy guy that lives with the Coopers for a while, driving away the father, Hal. One of the "creepy traits" that he's associated with is being a sex worker, which is... real shitty?
In fact, that's also considered a negative trait for Cheryl's mom, who turns to sex work for a brief time but ends up sincerely enjoying it. Like hey, Riverdale, you have no right to be portraying sex workers as evil and amoral when you're horny about high schoolers all the time. You showed Betty Cooper - a character that's not even a senior in high school within your own canon - doing a pole dance. Fuck off.
Anyway, some guy comes to fight Chic and the dude gets fucking merked in the middle of the living room. The Coopers cooperate with the Jones family to do clean up duty but the body is discovered a few episodes later. The one person that knew the guy as well as the manager at the hostel Chic previously lived in shows up at the Coopers to blackmail them for money but Jughead leads the Serpents to get them to back off. Alice wisely chooses to throw Chic out after this.
Meanwhile, we got Hiram Lodge. He's been buying up land all over Riverdale and plans to destroy the Southside to create a private prison. The Serpents however are hardliners and refuse to leave in one of the very few tie-ins back to the Native American heritage stuff. So he spends much of the season trying to manipulate the Serpents to do bad stuff to convince law enforcement to come down and clear them out. At one point, he bribes the mayor to shut down the school, forcing all the Serpent students to go to school in Riverdale where they're singled out by students that are uncharacteristically anti-gang. Riverdale High is a school of narcs.
Hiram also doesn't like Archie that much, because he hates Fred because he knows that Fred and his wife Hermione had a thing in the first season. I'm somewhat convinced that he wanted Archie to start the Red Circle in hopes that he got himself killed. But yeah, he doesn't like Archie, but Archie likes his daughter, so Archie ends up becoming a junior gangster under Hiram, because I guess Archie needs something to do in this show.
There's an FBI agent in town investigating Hiram and he pressures Archie to be a narc. Archie does not give in, even when a gangster that's fucking named Papa Poutine gets killed because Archie discovered him plotting to kill Hiram. Turns out that no reasonable FBI agent would recruit a teenager to be a spy, because he's actually a capo recruited by Hermione to determine if Archie's loyal to the family.
But you may ask, what is Cheryl up to? As it turns out, her father had a secret twin-brother that was not mentioned before that even she didn't know about, and he's out to take over the business with her mom from grandma. Seems about right.
During this turmoil, it's also revealed that Cheryl is a closeted lesbian, who's slowly been opening up to Jose of Josie and the Pussycats and Toni Topaz, one of the Serpents. Cheryl and Toni watch Love Simon and she comes out to her, which is nice and sweet. Her mother finds out that she's getting close to Toni and to put a stop to that and to keep her out of the plans to take her grandmother out, Cheryl's sent to a secret gay conversion therapy camp.
So, I finally found the need to mention Kevin. Kevin is the gay son of the sheriff that hangs around with the main group but isn't really considered a main character. Well, if he is considered to be a main character, the writers sure treat him more as a gay best friend side character. Anyway, it turns out that he knows that there's a gay conversion camp and there's a secret escape passage. Despite being the sheriff's son, he does nothing about the illegal camp because he likes to hook up with and take advantage of escapees. This very fact made him the worst character in Riverdale, in my eyes. Truly, the son of a cop.
The gang springs Cheryl out of the camp and she and Toni have a nice kiss in front of an anti-gay film being played. This revolutionary act is undercut by the fact that... the gang still chooses to do nothing about the camp? Like, there's at least 8 other people in the gay conversion camp and in the gang's escape, they exposed the secret escape tunnel that will most surely be closed off, so there's no way they're getting out on their own. Like. You can't do a side-plot about the evils of gay conversion but only save the important character from that fate. You can't do that.
Anyway, it's the musical episode! Everyone's doing Carrie the Musical and there's a lot of singing. It's kind of annoying, but the episode sets up a lot of stuff. Archie, who had been drifting away from his father in favor of Hiram, chooses to realign with him after considering the character parallels between him and the guy he's playing. They promise to work on fixing up a car together but nothing comes of it because a side-character and previous attempted murder victim, Midge, shows up dead at the play in what's probably the most successful dramatic moment in the show. Surprise baby, it's the Black Hood.
Midge ends up being the only successful murder the Black Hood pulls off that actually feels bad. Sure, he kills Ms. Grundy at the start of the season. But also, Ms. Grundy was a pedophile and her last scenes shows that she moved on to other victims, so it's honestly hard to feel bad for her at all.
And Ms. Grundy's death also shows that the Black Hood is inconsistent with his MO. He declares that he wants to cleanse Riverdale of sin and targets Riverdale citizens that have committed biblical crimes. He notably rejects the opportunity to kill Nick St. Clair, son of the rivals to the Lodge family and a would-be rapist, because he doesn't live in Riverdale. Which makes him going out of his way to go to a different city to murder Ms. Grundy bizarre. There are further contradictions with his MO, but that'll be for later.
Josie's mom, the mayor, has dropped out, so there's an election going on. Hermione is running against Fred, and despite not being associated with a crime family, Fred is losing because the Lodges are using the atmosphere of fear created by the Black Hood's reappearance. Archie is divided on who to support because of his split loyalties, but he winds up getting kidnapped by Nick St. Clair, who Archie beat the shit out of after he discovered he attempted to rape Veronica.
He holds him hostage for Lodge money, but Hiram decides to write Archie off. Veronica decides to save him herself by tricking Nick into drinking a roofied drink like he tried doing to her and she ends up holding him for ransom instead. It completely works and she winds up with a bunch of money for this and tries to create her own casino deal with it.
So, Veronica's whole arc throughout this season is that she wants to be treated as an equal within the Lodge crime family. Which kinda goes against her whole "I hate my gangster dad" bit in the first season, but whatever. However, despite showing that she has initiative, Hiram does not respect his daughter's attempts at crime and even takes the ransom money for himself, killing off the casino deal before it gets off the ground. As a result, he winds up alienating Veronica and Archie.
Meanwhile, Kevin's dad steps down from being sheriff because everyone's mad that he allowed a teen to die on his watch. He's replaced by Sheriff Minetta, a stooge of the Lodges that's upholding Hermione's "law and order" platform. He detains Fangs, a member of the Serpents, based on video footage from Jughead; Kevin for some reason asked Jughead to record a documentary of the play and Jughead ended up recording footage showing Fangs to be one of the last people to talk to Midge. Fangs' arrest ends up riling the Northside/Southside divide even more than it already has.
I forget why, but Betty and Jughead decides to look back into Chic's past in the orphanage Betty's brother was supposedly sent to. The orphanage is under the same umbrella as the gay conversion camp and instead of going to the authorities with that information, they hold that threat over the head of the nuns to get information on the other Cooper. Turns out, Chic is not Betty's brother, but somebody that lived with him. Betty's back in contact with the Black Hood so she siccs him on Chic.
She's feeling pretty guilty about that. But what's making her feel worse is the realization that her father, Hal, may be the Black Hood because he's unaccounted for the night she goes out to get Chic killed. And yeah, it's Hal. It's not hard to piece together for yourself because he's completely unaccounted for for most of the season, uses a book that only her daughter's had to create a cipher and has the same body type. What an awful serial killer.
Hermione and Fred have a mayoral debate. Everyone in town is in a fascistic fervor that's really into the Lodge's law and order platform and they want blood. Suddenly, the Black Hood shows up and starts shooting up town hall from the balcony. Mysteriously, Hal's present when this is happening. Anyway, this second Black Hood also sucks pretty fucking bad at murder because it doesn't look like he hits anyone.
Meanwhile, the previous mayor, Josie's mother, has become a lawyer and helps spring Fangs from jail. However, despite the appearance of the Black Hood at the town hall while he was locked up in jail, there's an angry mob outside of the jail that wants his blood, because Riverdale is a town of frothing sinful dogs. The Serpents attempt to rush him out but Fangs gets shot.
So then comes the penultimate episode, where everything goes batshit. A riot happens throughout Riverdale, with Serpents looking to smash up everything to avenge Fangs in spite of Jughead's attempts to get them to knock it off. Remember the Ghoulies? They're back, and they're taking advantage of the chaos to cause more chaos. Remember Papa Poutine? Well, his son comes knocking and his dad told him that the normal way to respond to his murder would be to kill everyone Hiram loves. Luckily, Hermione manages to shoot him to death but now she's just as jaded as Veronica.
In the midst of the chaos, the Black Hood (Hal) tries to kill Cheryl, but for some reason, Cheryl's decked out like an archery-themed superhero in this episode and snipes him. Another Black Hood (???) also attacks Archie and Fred but he gets scared off. Additionally, Toni gets kidnapped by the Ghoulies and Jughead and Cheryl go to rescue her and guess what? It's Penny, and she's working with the Ghoulies now. This truly is the episode where everything comes together.
Hal gets off his third successful kill on a doctor that doesn't matter and he heads home, where he reveals that he's the Black Hood to his family. It's revealed that the Riverdale Reaper was his dad and that he was groomed by his parents to kill sinners.
Which makes the Black Hood's MO more inconsistent. Despite having an ultra conservative reasoning to his killings, Hal's also on the record for pressuring Alice and Polly to get abortions. One could say that he's being a hypocrite. However, because he doesn't express these views himself until the moment he reveals himself to be the Black Hood, it just feels like the writers forgot what's going on with him.
Anyway, he gets knocked out during an attempt to strangle Alice and ends up getting arrested. Because he's very smart, he asked Alice to record the family's conversation because... ??? I really don't know, guy sucks at murder, guy sucks at everything.
The Ghoulies threaten to go to war with the Serpents. The Serpents are all riled up to fight them, especially when Fangs supposedly dies in the hospital. Jughead is a brain genius and realizes that the riot and the reappearance of the Ghoulies were orchestrated by Hiram so that him and Sheriff Minetta would save the town and come out as heroes. Jughead offers to give himself to the Ghoulies and Penny in exchange for preventing a gang war. Despite knowing that Hiram is a slimy liar, Jughead wisely thinks he'll uphold his end of the deal and hold the gang back. Jughead gets the shit beaten out of him by everyone and as expected, Hiram does not honor the deal.
Which leads into the nuts situation where the Serpents go to war with the Ghoulies... offscreen. We're just told the results of what happened. The Serpents basically lost and FP believes that the Serpents should just cut their losses and run away. Also, Fangs isn't dead, the police just told them that to encourage them to fight. Maybe these characters should stop taking the words of everyone associated with Hiram at face value.
So all of the villains are either defeated or winning... except for the second Black Hood. Considering the fact that he mostly went after Fred, everyone figures this is Lodge connected.
...And that matters gets resolved quickly because the police kill him offscreen. Cool, good season finale. Turns out that the second Black Hood is Tall Boy, an ex-Serpent. Tall Boy was the Serpent that removed the head from the statue of the founder under orders from Hiram to frame the Serpents way back when. It's just that I mostly forgot about that because Tall Boy does not matter.
The Whyte Wyrm, the Serpents' main base, is the last property on the Southside that Hiram doesn't own, so he tries to get it raided. On top of that, all the Southside students are being expelled because they're being blamed for damages done at the school during the riot... which is actually kinda reasonable because that actually happened. Jughead, Cheryl and Archie lead an evacuation of the Whyte Wyrm and despite all the previous hatred for the Southside Riverdale High had, they convince the students to wear Serpent jackets in solidarity with the Southsider students to keep them from being expelled. I don't know if it's a change of heart or if the writers forgot they're hated there. Whatever.
Veronica threatens to reveal Hiram's secrets to the world in exchange for her money back and uses it to buy the Whyte Wyrm at the last minute. She offers to trade it for Pop's, which Hiram bought out when it was doing bad financially way back at the start of the season when somebody nearly died in there. See, after FP got off free, he got a job at Pop's, but was presumably fired in retaliation for the Serpents' behavior. He only agrees to the deal if Veronica also signs over her inheritance and power within the family, and she agrees because she's a good person.
As Veronica willingly trades her power away to her father, Betty's grappling with hers. She's reasonably torn up by the fact that her dad is a serial killer that also wanted her to do serial killing. She worries that Polly's babies might grow up to be evil and that perhaps she still has darkness in her heart. Finally, she decides to confront her dad in prison, denouncing him and rejecting the darkness.
I'm not sure how much this will stuck though because I've seen the season 3 screencaps. I know that Betty has serial killer genes inside of her.
FP decides to retire from the Serpents and formally declares Jughead to be the new leader. For his first act, he inducts Cheryl into the crew in a way that mirrors his embrace of the Serpents in the first season finale. It's kinda nice except for the music trying to make it Epic.
Anyway, like all recent elections, Fred loses in the mayoral election because the people of Riverdale are too fascist to vote for good people. Also, I forgot to mention but there's a school election throughout the season running alongside this. Archie wins! But, uh, he gets arrested in retaliation for threatening Hiram's life on the night of the election.
So, I also forgot to mention this, but during Archie's period as a teenager capo, the main crew went on vacation while Cheryl, Toni and Kevin were watching Love Simon. A bunch of robbers attempted to raid the house, but they got scared off by an alarm. One of the robbers got killed by one of Hiram's other capos and Hiram decided to pin the murder on Archie.
And so, the final shot of the season is Archie getting led away in handcuffs in front of the school. Like Archie, come on. What the fuck did you think would happen, going up to a crime lord and threatening him.
Riverdale is an incredible series, yet also an incredibly dumb series. I love to watch it. This is anime for normal people. Going into the show, you need to have some suspension of disbelief, because the characters do and say incredibly stupid things all the fucking time - and I love it for that.
A lot of characters had surprisingly strong arcs. Well, with the exception of Archie. There's a general idea of him trying to regain a sense of strength after the traumatic experience of seeing his father get shot, but also, it feels like the writers were all over the place trying to convey that arc. As bizarrely memorable as the Red Circle ISIS video is, the Red Circle plot was done within a few episodes. Like hey, do you also remember Archie being really into music, to the point that he played into the hands of a pedophile? Well, he's too busy being a gangster now, no time for that.
Some character relationships also seem inconsistent and comes off as bizarre. For instance, as previously mentioned, the whole of Riverdale High was suddenly in solidarity with the Southsiders. Like, literally for the whole season, Reggie (leader of the football team) and Riverdale's other jocks were in constant conflict with the Southsiders. They had literally no reason to suddenly be in support of them - especially considering that the principal had an actual justifiable reason to throw them out.
And speaking of Reggie, I will still not get over him showing up in support of Fred in the hospital but then pranking Archie by dressing up as the Black Hood literally an episode later. Like, what!?
The only exception to this rule is Cheryl. From the very beginning, she was a character that thrives on chaos, so it makes sense that her loyalties to everyone but her dead brother and Toni are inconsistent. Like, what keeps her likable to me is that she never goes too far with her behavior. She's the ideal bully character: loves to mess with characters, but not enough to cause terrible physical or emotional harm. Her choosing to side with Jughead when he unveils that her great grandfather committed genocide honestly helped seal her as my favorite character in the show.
A frequent issue I had with Riverdale is the music. I fucking hate Imagine Dragons, dude, yet they keep playing Imagine Dragons tracks in a coordinated assassination on me. Like, if it weren't for the actually strong plot stuff going on in the musical episode, that probably would have been my least favorite episode of the show, because I think the music kinda sucked.
My other main beefs from the show have been brought up throughout this ridiculously long post. As I eventually head into season 3, there are some fears I have. Will it actually commit to Cheryl and Toni, or will they just be relegated to side character gay best friend status, like Kevin? Will it try to poorly tie in more current (or at least, current at the time) events into the story?
Well, I have all of season 3 open to me on Netflix, so I hope to report to y'all soon.