Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 7 of Riverdale Season 2. Not seen Riverdale? Catch up with spoiler-free review of the first three episodes.
After the Thanksgiving break, Riverdale returns with a fantastic episode riffing on everything from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) to Pulp Fiction (1994) and Doug Liman’s Go (1999). It begins with a title crawl and voiceover informing the viewer: “What you are about to witness are three twisted tales connected to the tragic and macabre events that befell the town of Riverdale. Known as the “Black Hood murders,” they were all the more tragic because those who bore witness to these terrible things were so young…”
First up to bat in the triptych: Archie (KJ Apa) and Jug (Cole Sprouse). Remember when F.P. (Skeet Ulrich) told his boy to be wary of Southside Serpent lawyer, Penny Peabody (Brit Morgan)? He was bang on the money. Here, she gets Jug into lots of trouble and has him well and truly under the thumb. Penny is known as the Snake Charmer for good reason, folks – she’s charming and potentially deadly. Asking F.P.’s boy for a big favour, in return for working on his old man’s case, she tasks him with driving over a mystery box to shady peeps in Greendale. “What’s in the box?” as Brad Pitt famously asked in Se7en (1995). Well, that’s where it gets all mysterious.
Peabody refers to it as “pancake mix” (so, it’s probably a primo shipment of Jingle-Jangle). As Archie and Jug head over to the next town, they meet special guest star Tony Todd on the road, who is there to deliver exposition about an old mass-murderer, known as the Riverdale Reaper, and generally act like a red herring. The writers also throw in a reference to Todd’s iconic role as The Candyman (no relation to The Sugarman, although what a screen pairing that would be). The crappy roadside diner Jug and Todd’s deer hunter stop at is arguably referencing Hap’s Diner from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992). Making Greendale, as Deer Meadow does in TP, a sort of anti-Riverdale hellhole. Archiekins and Jug drop off the cargo and meet a grannie in a wheelchair (very Ma Fratelli from The Goonies) and a cohort who looks like he’s off for a night of dancing at Police Academy’s Blue Oyster Bar.
Josie (Ashleigh Murray) takes up the reins for the second part, detailing her budding relationship with Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch), who is so grateful for Josie’s role in saving her from rapist Nick St. Clair (Graham Phillips) that she’s threatening to become obsessed and go all Single White Female on the singer-songwriter. It is here, too, that Chuck (Jordon Calloway) begins to make his interest in Josie overtly known, although initially she’s having none of his Mr. Nice Guy routine. The pair dance a la Pulp Fiction in Pop’s and are rudely interrupted by Mayor McCoy (Robin Givens) and Sheriff Keller (Martin Cummins), who reveals the Black Hood has been sending messages threatening to cut off her head and all sorts of other nastiness.
Plot strand 3 turns to B and V (Lili Reinhardt and Camilla Mendes), who set about investigating rival suspicions. Betty thinks Sheriff Keller is the Black Hood, while Veronica’s Spidey sense tells her the town’s chief lawman is having an affair. Both set out to prove their theory, which involves Betty pretending to be interested in the recent snuffing out of The Sugarman, the dope slinger and Southside high school teacher killed in his cell by The Black Hood. When her questions are not satisfactorily answered, Betty breaks into Keller’s home and finds what she believes to be even more incriminating evidence of foul play. Veronica, meanwhile, stages a sleepover at Kev’s (Casey Cott) and finds Sheriff Keller pumping iron in the basement (never go down into the basement, that’s Horror Movie 101) and looking super-buff. Who knew? Veronica makes a lame-o excuse about searching for a soda pop. The scene is hilarious, combining the awkward character interaction, the inappropriate, and Veronica’s shock that Sheriff Keller has the body of a Chippendale stripper.
Episode 7 (Chapter 20: Tales from the Dark Side, to go with the official show listing and subtitle) is another Season 2 high point. Funny, playful, silly but not to its detriment and – once more, with feeling – boasting gorgeous lighting schemes and shot composition, crafting a hyper-real mood and dreamy image texture. When Riverdale is good, it’s very good. The show upends stereotypes, toys with conventions and is socially and politically conscious without bragging about it. The way Veronica, Josie and the others consistently call out male BS is inspiring, terrifically devised and delivered by the writers and cast.
Riverdale is available exclusively on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive every Thursday, within 24 hours of their US broadcast.
Photos: The CW Network