Let’s Ponder Cheryl Blossom As Riverdale Returns

by Erik Amaya

The CW’s Riverdale returned this week with an episode all about passions.
First, there’s the passion of the main four. Their vices, their jealousies and the way Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos) plays all of them against each other. If the show wanted to focus on how their bonds hold the town together, it might work. Unfortunately, the melodramatic tone of the series — which is a fair tone to adopt — means they must always be in what Jughead (Cole Sprouse) identified as a powder keg.
Also, Juggie finally met Dark Betty, which is a nice change.
But the more interesting elements of the episode occurred in the margins, back in Riverdale and far from the main four’s sexy teen weekend. Topping that list of compelling story points is Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) coming out to Toni Topaz (Vanessa Morgan). While it is difficult to say the show always intended this for her — what with the V.C. Andrews implications of her closeness with Jason — it still rings for the character; so much of her acting out could be explained by her intense repression. It also casts her Single White Female thing with Josie (Ashleigh Murray) in a new light. I wonder if the show will remember that weirdness as Cheryl’s emotional reaction to the coming out scene in Love, Simon is intended to be genuine. Maybe someone in the writers’ room realized that story line was a bad look and adjusted it to something far more positive.
Curiously, as the episode opened and it hammered home the idea that Cheryl is loveless, I wondered what a genuine relationship would look like with her. As I’ve mentioned before, Cheryl vacillates between victim and perpetrator depending on the needs of the plot; and as a consequence, she has been the most hollow of the characters in the main cast. So the easy solution would be some hapless person she could manipulate. But a genuine connection with Toni would be far more compelling as it means she would have to drop her facades and learn not to react to negative things with the nuclear option. Then again, we also learned her mother has a habit of using the nuclear option, so the challenge here would be for Cheryl to grow beyond the monstrous leanings of the Blossom clan. I’m going to assume this is the plan as Cheryl’s look was softened this week and Toni’s first line to her directly addressed the pain of being Cheryl Blossom.
Meanwhile, the Josie story line — now unmoored from the earlier weirdness with Cheryl — saw her finally be proactive about something. The specter of her parents impending divorce looms large as her mother (Robin Givens) and Sheriff Keller (Martin Cummins) no longer feel the need to hide themselves in her presence. But Josie is still a kid and lashes out by letting Kevin (Casey Cott) know about their affair and learns the consequences of taking choice away from all of the people involved. At the same time, though, it is lovely to see Kevin and Josie join forces and try to heal the wounds. An open discussion of what all of this means is an interesting choice to take. I just wish the show had more time with it as it is far more compelling than what was going on at Shadow Lake.
Then again, let’s ponder the real reason Hiram sent the main four out of town while we watch a preview of next week’s show. It seems all of the threads from this week will get amplified as Archie (KJ Apa) offers Jughead intel, Penelope Blossom (Nathalie Boltt) suspects something about Cheryl and Toni and Chick (Hart Denton) begins his real campaign of terror. I’m still low-key convinced he’s the real Black Hood.

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