There’s something smart about putting Ethel Muggs (Shannon Purser) in danger. Riverdale loves dancing with its cultural touchstones as much as it loves playing with its characters. And few moments resonate as well as Ethel’s two scenes in last night’s episode. Consider: despite not offering Purser a regular spot on the show, it uses her connection to Stranger Things as an ongoing element of Ethel’s character — right down to Cheryl invoking the #justiceforbarb hashtag. That connection was once again in play as the always put-upon Ethel fears for her life when confronted by a very seedy looking van. It may not be a swimming pool or the strange vistas of the Upside Down, but the intent was clear. We were meant to fear for Ethel.
And that the episode aired the same week as Stranger Things second season debuts is likely no accident, either.
In the end, though, Ethel was safe. Perhaps because she never ventured into the woods, Jughead’s stated theme in this week’s show. Her van encounter took place near a cornfield. But for one character, the woods represented both danger and freedom in a surprising turn for the show.
As Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) astutely pointed out, there are not a lot of options for a gay teenager in a town like Riverdale. Therefore, cruising seemed like the best option; even if there is a madman looking to punish “sinners” out in the woods. Betty, for her part, was totally in the wrong and verging on intolerance with her condemnation of his actions. It’s interesting that the show allowed her this failing and leaned into actor Lili Reinhart’s online reputation as a homophobe. And though Betty’s busybodying appeared to have a net positive result — Kevin and his father actually talking about his sexuality — losing Kevin’s friendship, if even for a time, is a fair consequence here.
Hopefully, Kevin will turn to Moose (Cody Kearsley), who revealed a surprising level of depth and concern for his onetime downlow partner. The show has not had a lot of time for characters on the periphery, particularly Josie (Ashleigh Murray), but it would be interesting to see the friendship between Kevin and Moose develop. Even if it never becomes sexual again, there are interesting places to take these characters.
Meanwhile, there is one monster hiding far from the woods. As we get to know him, Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos) appears more and more the classic 1980s primetime soap villain. It’s a brilliant choice as the show enjoys playing with those tropes as well. His corruption of Archie’s Red Circle concept (heh) into a nigh-fascist militia only scratches the surface of the sort of darkness he clearly enjoys creating. It’s probably no accident as well that Archie took the name from a Red Circle comic book featuring characters from Archie Comics’ Dark Circle line. One imagines it will only be a matter of time before Hiram’s influence on the group causes someone to refer to Archie’s club with the current name for the companies superheroes.
Come to think of it, the Black Hood himself is pulled from those comics. I wonder if we’ll eventually discover that the killer was inspired by an obscure Red Circle comic book. Or, perhaps, Hiram Lodge was making these connection long before he arrived in town.
But let’s ponder these things as we watch a preview of next week’s episode. It seems Archie dance with darkness continues and a possible war between the Red Circle and the Southside Serpents will take the group off-mission.
Riverdale airs Wednesdays on The CW.