Riverdale continues to mine interesting material by setting social issues against the soapy backdrop of the Lodges’ SoDale scheme. In fact, it is a good way to introduce the show’s younger audience to some of the inconvenient history of the US and ugly events which transpired not so long ago. But you also get to watch Archie (KJ Apa) wrestle.
But first, let’s talk about Josie (Ashleigh Murray). One fair criticism of the show is how Murray appears more in publicity material than Riverdale itself. As the only prominent black member of the cast, she is often marginalized by Bughead drama and Archie’s latest goofy story. And though the show still lacks the proper time for her, that marginalization seems to be a part of the story now. Caught between the manipulation of Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) — we are going to come back to that, right? — and her own mother, Josie is always adrift and never in control of her own destiny. Even her friendship with Veronica (Camila Mendes) was often a tool of convenience for the younger Lodge; even if Ronnie can’t see her own manipulation there. The only people who ever had her back, the other Pussycats, have been walled off from her as everyone wants a piece of Josie’s potential for their own ends. If the show had more time to focus on it, it might be a really compelling plot. Come to think of it, it may yet become the most explosive of the stories being told this year.
Meanwhile, marginalization was a key theme this week as the show introduced its own ersatz Thanksgiving, Pickens Day. Named after a decorated general who helped found the town, we slowly learn he was hired by by early Blossoms to clear the land of its indigenous people so the family could begin its economic stranglehold of the region. Yuck. It’s important to note that the two main characters most effected by this revelations are Jughead (Cole Sprouse) and Cheryl; whose continued revulsion toward the family history gives her victim/perpetrator binary some interesting shading.
Jughead learns the Serpents were formed by the survivors of the Pickens massacre — some 400 people were slaughtered — which only fueled his growing rage against the Northside. But here’s the interesting twist in the story: it was not Jughead’s tale to tell. Quickly writing an article about Pickens’ rampage, he appropriated a story from Toni Topaz’s grandfather Thomas (Graham Greene). Toni quickly called him out for it.
It’s a glorious complication as Jughead may have been the only person who could write the story and get it published, but he failed to grasp the larger implications. And he took Toni’s opportunity to offer it the proper context away from her. Once again, this is Riverdale, where the drug of choice is called Jingle-Jangle and mayors worry about stories written in the high school newspaper. The fact the show would broach this topic and discuss the difficulty in being an ally is astonishing.
Also astonishing is the course correction with Jughead. Tapping his mouth shut, Toni speaks when the Serpents show up at the Pickens Day festival in protest. Though he almost loses his cool when Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos) defuses the situation with his Wormtongue-quality speechifying, he heeds the unspoken advice of Thomas to stand down.
Nonetheless, the SoDale project is leading to a reckoning. As the episode closes, we learn the Pickens statue has been beheaded. While the Lodges and the mayor suspect the Serpents, I think its possible that Cheryl is the real culprit. When the Serpent protest began, she was visibly upset, but left the story entirely at that point. Considering the current financial insecurity of the remaining Blossoms, you almost have to wonder if Cheryl will learn about the true inequity fueling the town’s growing social unrest.
Or maybe she’ll just murder Josie.
But let’s ponder those things as we watch a preview of next week’s episode. It seems I may be wrong and Jughead himself decapitated the statue. It also seems Dark Betty is back. Meanwhile, Archie’s infiltration of the Lodges continues and Snake-charmer Penelope (Brit Morgan) returns.
Riverdale airs Wednesdays on The CW.