First thing’s first, let’s start with the most important thing in Riverdale: Bughead. Only an episode into Jughead and Betty’s romance and they pretty get sidelined by the rest of the show. But that’s par for the course for Jughead, a kid who’s used to being jettisoned in no man’s land.
Archie notices Jughead putting his arm around Betty in the school common room, and Veronica needles the truth of their relationship out of Betty mid-episode, but neither kick up a fuss. That’s partly because they have bigger things to worry about in their own bubbles (and because Archie is more likely to bury his emotions, like, deep down, so he can use them in his attempts to be Ed Sheeran or whatever), but it’s also because Jughead isn’t that kind of character: Cole Sprouse plays the reticent heartthrob with minimal hysterics, delivering a performance full of shrugs, smiles and glances.
Bughead taps right into that vibe, only poking its head above the surface briefly – when he consoles Betty by putting his arm around her; when she realises she knows where Polly is and kisses him in celebration. These are tiny gestures of affection, each one helping to flesh out Jughead’s character – because while he may seem like the awkward, self-aware narrator of our hard-boiled thriller, there’s more to him than meets the eye.
Speaking of first impressions, it’s both a relief and a disappointment that Polly seems to be far less unhinged than we first thought – not least because she hasn’t been hiding out in a cave in the woods. The town doesn’t know that, though, and so we’re treated to a massive search party trawling the forest to find her. It’s a sequence right out of cheesy mystery thriller territory, complete with rival factions of searchers – on the one hand, Sheriff Keller and the Blossoms; on the other hand, the Coopers and Lodges, plus Archie and co. They even have a stand-off in the middle of the hunt, both groups throwing sass at each other to see what sticks.
But Betty soon realises, that, just like when they were children, Polly is actually hiding in the attic of their home. While her parents seem keen on having Polly locked up again, though, Cheryl catches wind of Betty’s discovery (pro tip: never talk secrets in the common room, especially when one of Cheryl’s cronies is hanging nearby – so much for that Nancy Drew Detective Handbook) and she leads a Blossom family recruitment drive to get Betty to hide Polly with them. After all, with Jason’s baby in her tummy, they want to make perfectly sure that the kid’s as safe as possible. Because the Blossoms weren’t creepy enough already.
Madelaine Petsch remains wonderful as Cheryl. She continues to become more than just the Regina George stereotype she began as, although we get to have a giggle at her terrible use of hashtags in demonising the Coopers: “#pollycooperkilledmybrother” and “#sharpenyourpitchforks”. Those will never start trending. Trevor Stines and Barclay Hope are just unnerving enough as her clingy, controlling, possessive parents – somewhere between the Addams Family and the Cullen clan from Twilight. It doesn’t take Cheryl too long, bless her, to realise that her parents may be a little too keen on bringing up baby Jason – “Jason always talked about how much he loved you,” Polly tells her, but even incestuous Lannister wannabes have to draw the line somewhere – and so she offers to help Betty, but by hiding Polly at the Lodges’ house instead.
It’s the kind of move that only makes the Blossom’s twisted family unit even more intriguingly warped, as one of their own is willing to double-cross the group, albeit out of the same fanatical love for Jason’s unborn child. Let’s not forget how much the Blossoms and the Coopers dislike each other, because maple syrup. If Cheryl’s parents don’t end up the main villains of this whole show, we’ll be very surprised.
While all of this is going on, Veronica is busy working out her spat with her mum, as Hermione still refuses to admit she faked her daughter’s signature on the business contract with Fred’s building company. How does Veronica get her way? By going to a club and spending a load of money, until her mother gives in. It’s the worst storyline we’ve seen for Veronica so far, with even Camila Mendes struggling to keep us engaged in this privileged rich brat behaviour. Even Hermione’s eventual phone call with husband Hiram (still in jail, still unseen) isn’t addressed after the fact – will we get to meet him this season? Or is he on hold for the now-confirmed Season 2? And, given their inevitable conspiratorial connections, will Hermione rat on Cheryl and Betty to the Blossoms? The latter question aside, it’s an underwhelming subplot, but at least it means we get more time with Kevin (the fabulous Casey Cott), as he and Veronica hit the town in fashionable style.
But really, this episode is all about Jughead. And he gets more screen time than ever here, as we catch up with his new digs: the janitor’s cupboard at school, complete with a copy of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Archie takes no time at all to discover it (side question: why does Archie turn up at school so early?), but Jughead, bless his whoopee cap, is more concerned with what Betty would think if she found out.
Jughead’s father, F.P., also gets more screen time, and Skeet Ulrich makes the most of the chance to convey just how much of a screw-up he is. Jellybean, Jug’s sister, and Jug’s mum have both fled to put their lives back on track. So what does F.P. do, other than bike around in the Southside Serpents gang? Rather than answer that, Riverdale spends most of the episode explaining what F.P. used to do when he was younger – specifically, hang about with Fred. There’s a neat parallel that unfolds between Jug and Archie and F.P. and Fred, which is spelled out explicitly in a dinner scene at the diner, but remains no less endearing.
The pair of middle-aged men relate anecdotes of their youthful heyday with an immediately believable chemistry, one that’s laced with regret and old grudges as much as affection. Luke Perry is on fine form, perfectly selling the washed-up 90s stud schtick. He also manages to make Fred Andrews a likeable dude, repeatedly going out of his way to help his drunkard friend, even though it only never really paid off for him – a trait that could come across as patronising or smug in another actor’s hands. Even when Jughead is brought in by the sheriff for questioning (sample question: ‘So Jughead, remember when you got bullied that at school?’), Fred turns up to bail his mate’s son out (lying in the process to give Jughead an alibi – that’ll come back to haunt him). F.P. turns up too, of course, but minutes too late to help.
The result is a tender, tragic insight into Jughead’s home life and backstory, one that, thanks to the generational echo, also deepens Jughead’s bond with Archie. They relationship is a key part of this focus on our favourite outsider, and the episode makes that clear from the outset, with a bizarre dream sequence featuring the duo in their traditional comic book costumes. Later, when Archie offers to let Jughead live in their house, his kindness is refracted through the experience of his father – and, for the first time, KJ Apa’s bland protagonist actually feels like someone with more than two dimensions.
It’s that development of both Archie and Jughead that makes Episode 7 of Riverdale work; the storylines may be uneven, but the emotions land without fail, a testament to both the cast (yes, even Apa) and indie director Allison Anders, who maintains the show’s knack for dishing up teen drama without too many histrionics. F.P.’s messed-up life may be so downbeat that he undermines the idea of the Southside Serpents being as threatening as we first thought, but before you can rule that narrative strand out, we discover that F.P. has Jason’s jacket in his trailer. Like father, like son: appearances can be deceptive. Long may that continue.
Riverdale is available exclusively on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription, with new episodes arriving every Friday. Episode 8 will be released on 31st March.
Bughead Bonus: Deleted Scene
Here’s some added Bughead action in a deleted scene from Episode 6.
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