Episode 4 of Riverdale on the CW sparked some major turning points for the series, and as we begin to get a bigger picture of where the series is headed, it’s clear that the showrunners have an eye for structure and pacing. In some ways, the first four episodes of the new show have been about spending enough time with the characters to let them get under your skin. While the art design, wardrobe, makeup, and character presentation were immediately interesting in the ways they did and didn’t mirror the familiar world of the Archie comics, now we seem to be getting under the surface of these characters, specific to the show.
And Archie’s an interesting one. He needs to be presented as a good guy to stay true enough to his comic origins, but also a bad boy enough to fit with the neon noir feel of the show. For that reason we’ve seen him vascillate a couple of times between outright rebellion and a return to respect for authority. In some ways, Betty plays the barometer to Archie’s swings. When she’s hurt or disapproves, becoming more distant from her best friend, it’s a sign that Archie’s swinging to the dark side. When he makes a specific play to get back in her good books, he’s returning to form. There’s a little danger here that we won’t, as viewers, stay on Archie’s side if we don’t feel we can get to know him better.
But he’s not the only character in the show–just as strong an emotional connection is set up for Betty, and secondarily at this point, Veronica. Because Betty has been in more pain this season and more time has been spent on her family life, the viewer is more likely to side with her. Plus, she is a more “open” character by nature, and her lack of artifice makes her feel trustworthy and “knowable”. Episode 3 challenged that a little when we see her swing far more toward a bad girl routine in getting revenge for her sister’s past sufferings, and even Veronica is a little shocked and worried by this seeming “break” with Betty’s normal personality. So maybe Betty has her own extremes–just expressed in more explosive ways.
We could go through each of the characters in this way and show how their strengths and flaws have been featured and presented in different lights, and having a fairly large cast in the show eases the pressure on analyzing any one character too deeply. Our seeming narrator, Jughead, even has his own stories to tell, as last episode proves. The title of the show is Riverdale, after all, and that’s telling. The place, of course, is a character. It’s full of mysteries even in its familiar haunts, and if the story seems to hover too long over one character or conflict, it can swiftly move on to some other interrelated side plot.
However, there change is possible in Riverdale, as we have been hearing since the first episode. Everyone looks back to the time before the previous summer, which seemed to rock things radically. To the time before Jason Blossom’s death and the time before Archie’s affair with Ms. Grundy. There was a fracture, a jump, and now we’re watching an attempt to return to the status quo playing out. An attempt that characters are beginning to realize is doomed to fail, since something dark seems to have come to Riverdale.
[**Spoilers for last week’s episode 4 below! Proceed with caution!]
Our first real, big change, in the context of this season, though, is that Ms. Grundy has left. In a surprise jump (at least for this viewer) Archie actually came to realize he needed to break off the affair. Archie felt a little unknowable when he made this decision–one minute he was madly in love, and the next sweetly departing–but at any rate, that, and a number of other factors caused Grundy to hit the road. Interestingly, as she departs, we see a hint that she may well be a weaker figure than we’ve previously seen, and that Archie might not have been as special to her as she led us to believe.
With that central drama brought to an uneasy but settled conclusion, things in Riverdale are not poised to rise, though. In fact, they seem set to go full dark. The episode is even called “Heart of Darkness”, a reference to one of the most notable works of literature to really plumb the depths of human depravity. Based on the preview for this week’s episode 5, airing on February 23rd on the CW, the stirring up of darker elements in this sleepy town is well underway. What still lurks in the darkness in Riverdale?
Check out this week’s extended promo:
And here’s the extended “Inside” Episode 5 discussion with the cast, ahead of the show: