Let’s Ponder Fear And Riverdale’s Class Struggle

by Erik Amaya

 

By introducing the Black Hood killer, Riverdale opened up an interesting storyline for its formerly wholesome, All-American town: the reaction of affluence to a bogeyman.

Sure, in the show’s reality, the Black Hood has a legitimate kill to his name. But it seems the game he’s playing is one of fear. And this week, that led Archie Andrews down a very familiar path: fomenting a mob. The fact he’s from a prominent (if somewhat underprivileged) Northside family only underscores how this fire tends to light in our reality. First, a horrifying incident occurs — to avoid too many politics, I’ll chose the Black Plague — and the local landed gentry reacts with fear. It’s often the first legitimate fear they feel in their lives because it’s an element they cannot control with economic pressure. But it also presents an opportunity to take more control over the area by blaming this new fear on an old fear: the other. Using the Black Plague example, the other was Jewish communities all over Europe. On Riverdale, it’s the Southside and its well known trigger words of gangs, drugs and violence.

All images Alice Copper (Madchen Amick) conjures up in her newspaper and at the town hall meeting. Although, it’s important to note that Alice is herself a Southsider. I wonder if her intense self-loathing motivates her control-freak tendencies? But that’s a personal detail to a very old script. Whatever her origins, she is part of the gentry now and with little evidence blames the Southside for producing the Black Hood. She also tacitly supports Archie’s Red Circle gang.

And yes, I’m calling it a gang because that’s exactly what it became within a week of forming. But that’s also part of the script. Given marching orders by the local gentry, the relatively underprivileged (which still exists in a well-to-do region like the Northside) begin forming their own groups to patrol the township. At first, it’s an innocent way to feel empowered, but as soon as the gentry target an element of their community they want swept away (like, say, the Southside), attention gets focused on that easily identifiable, and often already marginalized, group. The inevitable outcome is, of course, violence because these groups vilify one another.

But Riverdale is not subtle; it’s not intended to be. It’s a primetime soap opera and therefore it offers a very easy answer to these longstanding issues of community and wealth: blame the Lodges. While it’s still unclear if Hiram and Hermione orchestrated the Black Hood themselves, they’re certainly using it to their advantage and named their motive for us tonight. They want to clear the Southside for new development. Just as the plague allowed city fathers to clear their communities of Jews and take their land, violence, from this ugly standpoint, is a legitimate means for economic gain. Killing people and starting gang wars is, after all, a lovely way to end up building luxury condominiums. And nothing gets those conflicts going like fear.

I wonder if Alice knows she’s playing right into the Lodge playbook?

Meanwhile, the killer, whoever he is, has a personal interest in Betty Cooper. Which, if we assume the Lodges are pulling his strings, only intensifies Alice’s fearmongering. But let’s ponder that connection and the class struggle while we watch a preview of next week’s episode. Betty takes a call from the Black Hood and, it seems, he has a plan for her. He may have also kidnapped Polly, which suggests a Blossom connection. The richest family in town has been notably absent from this little play. Maybe their darkness is still infecting the land.

Also: I’m utterly disappointed that Kevin’s conflict with Betty was brushed aside. Confronting her cis-het assumptions about the world is a story the show needs to tell.

Riverdale airs Wednesdays on The CW.

Erik Amaya

Host of Tread Perilously and a Film/TV Writer at Comicon.com. A contributing writer at CBR, Fanbase Press, Monkeys Fighting Robots and Rotten Tomatoes. Voice of Puppet Tommy on The Room Responds. A seeker of the Seastone Chair and the owner of a Legion Flight Ring. Sorted into Gryffindor, which came as some surprise.