Ever since the final couple episodes of its first season, Riverdale has been on a roll creatively, leaning into its darker, thriller roots and finding new, exciting ways to make its central characters more compelling. The series has especially upped the stakes throughout the first few episodes of Season 2, dealing with more mature themes, such as PTSD and sexual assault, while also embracing some of its campier, more theatrical elements, particularly when it comes to the Black Hood and Southside High.
Unfortunately, though, tonight’s episode of Riverdale, “Chapter Nineteen: Death Proof,” doesn’t quite live up to the creative highs of this season’s first five episodes. It’s by no means a bad hour of television, as it still features Betty fighting back against the Black Hood in a truly epic way, Veronica embracing her darker side when she turns a blind eye to her parents causing the St. Clairs’ car accident, and Cheryl rediscovering her power and reconnecting with her mother after last week’s traumatic incident. Honestly, all the stories centering around the show’s female characters work like gangbusters throughout “Death Proof”; it’s only when the episode deals with its male players that it begins to falter.
Although Jughead’s storyline has been extremely compelling for most of the second season, it takes a turn for the generic in tonight’s Riverdale, as he and Archie find themselves in a street race to save the Serpents and take down the Ghoulies. Jughead struggling with his darker impulses while trying to honor FP’s legacy is fascinating; the Serpents are, in many ways, a family for him, but their questionable behavior and the baggage that comes with them has begun to cause a rift between him and his Northside family, people like Archie and Betty. That story alone has worked well throughout Riverdale Season 2 because it’s so tightly intertwined with who Jughead is as a character—it reflects his dual nature: the outsider that comfortably watches and reports from the sidelines and the lost kid who is looking to be loved and accepted by others. However, this rivalry and competition between the Serpents and Ghoulies doesn’t enrich his character in any way or provide worthwhile drama. The Ghoulies exist for one reason and one reason alone: to give the Serpents an enemy that they can have cheap, manufactured, and downright boring conflicts with.
A much more engrossing take on this story would be to have Jughead become uncomfortable with the Serpents’ behavior throughout the season, as it begins to tip further and further into the realm of the illegal. Make characters like Tall Boy, Toni, and even FP flirt with crime (these crimes can be big or small), instilling them with more complexity and depth, rather than simply setting up stock villains whose names I can’t even recall. (Seriously, you guys: I can’t remember a single name of any of the Ghoulies off the top of my head, and that’s a problem.)
The only truly interesting direction tonight’s street racing storyline can push us towards is more serious conflict between Jughead and Archie, as the lifestyles and social classes of the two best friends appear to be setting them on a collision course. Archie’s decision to inform Sheriff Keller and the Riverdale police about the street race doesn’t feel completely earned in this episode (Archie’s deception could have and should have been hinted at more during the earlier scenes between him and Jughead), but I can make my peace with it if it leads to more gripping stories down the line. As Jughead warns him, the Ghoulies will be out of jail sooner rather than later, and once they are, they’ll want blood. Maybe that threat of violence somehow injects some life into an otherwise dull and predictable storyline.
Because I don’t really know how or why the Ghoulies matter too much when the Black Hood and Hiram Lodge are still causing harm in Riverdale. Betty finally opens about her phone calls with the serial killer to both Veronica and Jughead in “Death Proof” (although we don’t get to see her actually tell Jug about it at the end of the episode). The reunion of B and V, who work together to find out the identity of the Sugar Man, results in some of the best moments of tonight’s episode, like Veronica’s hilarious responses to both the scared drug dealer and the leader of the Ghoulies (both quotes can be found in the “Other thoughts” section below) and Betty’s refusal to play by the Black Hood’s rules near the end of the episode. Even though it’s clear that the Black Hood’s reign of terror on Riverdale is far from over (he does shoot and kill the Sugar Man, aka Jughead’s English teacher Mr. Phillips, in the hour’s closing moments), Betty’s defiance towards him plays like a triumphant scene—Betty Cooper will no longer be a pawn in this murderer’s game, and she will stop at nothing until she’s brought him to justice.
Veronica, on the other hand, seems perfectly fine playing along while Hiram continues with his misdeeds, at least when they result in a person like Nick St. Clair suffering. I’m very curious to see if Veronica’s indifference here will be a one-time-only deal (“Karma’s a b***,” she says when hearing the news about Nick, whom she also said she’d have no problem sentencing to death in her earlier conversation with Betty at Pop’s) or if it’s hinting at a larger turn for Veronica’s character. Perhaps she’s actually beginning to become more like her father. If that’s the case, we could be seeing Veronica Lodge’s full-blown vengeful side on display in these upcoming weeks on Riverdale, and if Veronica does start acting more like Hiram, what will the consequences of that be? Will this behavior push away Archie, Betty, and the rest of her friends, or will it inspire them to be more like her, making them realize that they must embrace their darker sides as well in order to take down the Black Hood before he hurts someone they truly care about?
- I couldn’t be happier that the lying between Betty and Jughead is finally over. Tonight’s episode and even last week’s, to a certain extent, felt off due to the physical and emotional distance between the two of them. Also, I love how much Betty knows about cars, and I love Jughead’s reaction to it: “You’re an enigma, Cooper.”
- I mentioned it briefly in my review, but I love how the Riverdale writers took Cheryl’s trauma over what Nick did to her in last week’s episode and turned it into this great storyline about her not only regaining her own sense of power but also power within her family. The scenes between Cheryl and her mother were much more emotional than I was expecting, and it’s a credit to the show’s writers and Madelaine Petsch that a character as flashy and over-the-top as Cheryl is still able to feel very human throughout “Death Proof.”
- Also, speaking of Cheryl, I can’t tell you all how much I love the fact that she refers to Betty as “sweet cousin” in this episode.
- Happy to see FP back in tonight’s episode, even if it is only for one scene. Skeet Ulrich always shines playing this character, no matter how much screentime he’s given.
- It’s a quick line and a small detail, but we do learn during the meeting about Jingle Jangle that Alice arranges between the parents and their children that Josie’s father has dealt with addiction problems in the past. I wonder if Riverdale will explore this topic more later on in Season 2. A storyline like that could add some much-needed depth to Josie’s character and give Ashleigh Murray more to do.
- “What about my change, a**hat?”
- “I beg your misogynistic pardon.”
What did everyone else think about this week’s episode of Riverdale? Comment below and let me know.
[Photo credit: Diyah Pera/The CW]
Riverdale Season 2 Episode 6 Review: "Chapter Nineteen: Death Proof"
Betty fights back against the Black Hood, and Jughead tries to save the Serpents with help from FP in an enjoyable but uneven Riverdale.