A Town With Pep: Riverdale Recap — Episode 2
A common theme of the CW’s Arrowverse shows is friendship — relying on your friends, trusting your friends, not betraying your friends, fighting alongside your friends. If the CW remade the Fifth Element, Friendship, not Love, would be the key to defeating the Great Evil.
Even though Archie isn’t in the Arrowverse, friendship is still very much a key theme of the show. In the second episode, friendships are defined, both for the audience and the characters.
Betty learns Veronica is sincere in her apology and desire to be a better person and friend. Jughead’s confrontations with Archie come from a place of brotherhood. And Archie, in a rare display of being a good friend, defends Jughead when Reggie accuses him of being the murder. (Although, there’s something off about this confrontation. Reggie acts surprised when Archie defends Jughead, as if it wasn’t common knowledge that they were (or are) friends. Yet, Archie, Jughead and other ancillary characters have alluded to the fact that the two have been friends since childhood. Presumably Reggie would know that.)
While Riverdale can be over the top, it does a good job of grounding itself in some of the realities of high school. When we pour our heart out to someone, and that person doesn’t return our feelings, we’re left in an uncomfortable purgatory. We still want to be around that person, but we’re also still reeling from rejection, and there’s no easy navigation back to “normal.” Betty finds herself in this situation the day after she tells Archie how she feels. At first, she tries to deny her feelings, to force everything to go back to normal. She shows up at Archie’s house so they can walk to school, just like they’ve always done, as if nothing happened the night before. But later in the day, sitting at lunch with Archie, listening to him play guitar, she breaks. She says she can’t just pretend anymore, like the “good girl” is supposed to do. Once again, we’re brought back to Betty’s rebellion, becoming her own person, rather than the person everyone wants her to be.
The same goes for the dynamic between Veronica and Betty. Veronica sends Betty flowers and flies in cupcakes from New York City as an apology for hurting her. Betty accepts the apology, though halfheartedly, saying later to Kevin that it’s the path of least resistance. Later, at cheerleading practice, the fake niceness melts away, and Betty and Veronica finally have a real conversation, though one with an unpleasant ending. In this instance, Betty doesn’t realize that Veronica truly is trying to make amends. She believes she’s even more fake than Cheryl, and so invites Cheryl to get a manicure/pedicure after practice, even though she was supposed to get one with Veronica. Unsurprisingly, Cheryl turns out to be a horrible person, only hanging out with Betty to see if her sister, Polly, had anything to do with Jason’s murder. After watching Veronica console Cheryl later in the episode, despite Cheryl having done nothing to deserve such kindness, Betty gives Veronica a true second chance.
The show compresses these arcs, understandably out of necessity, but it does so without robbing them of emotional weight and realism. Betty makes up with Veronica, and as a result, makes peace with her relationship with Archie. Though she still wants more, she also realizes she doesn’t want to lose her best friend. Again, in real life, these resolutions would have taken weeks, not hours, but the show needed galvanize these friendships in quicker order to move the plot along.
As for Archie, Betty’s friendship isn’t the only one he has to worry about. Jughead has discovered Archie’s secret relationship with the music teacher, Ms. Grundy, and later pieces it together that Archie knows more about the fourth of July (the supposed date of Jason’s death) than he’s letting on. In the pilot, we didn’t get much of Jughead. Just a few moments of narration, an exchange with Archie, and some shots of him at Pop’s and the crime scene. The second episode, which could just as easily be a continuation of the pilot, gives us more Jughead, and we are all the better for it. Of the four “main” characters, Jughead feels the most real, as if he wasn’t peeled from the pages of a comic then adjusted to fit the idea of a modern day high school student. There’s a fine line between giving the audience reasons to find a character interesting and forcing the audience to find them interesting. Archie’s jock with the dreams of being a musician doesn’t make him inherently intriguing, because it’s not exactly a unique vision. Yet it’s pushed heavily onto the audience from almost the first minute of the pilot. Jughead is at least given a little room to breathe. While the character at times can lean too hard into the social pariah stereotype, we know there’s more to him than that, and want to see what that “more” is. And when we do learn more about Jughead, it’s over the course of several episodes, not a few minutes.
The episode not only reveals more of Jughead’s character, but his positioning in regards to Archie, too. Rather than being his sidekick or underling, Jughead is revealed almost as Archie’s conscience. A burger-smashing, beanie-wearing Jiminy Cricket. When he confronts Archie with what he knows about Grundy, and what he suspects about Archie, he does so to remind Archie of who he really is: someone who always tries to do the right thing. This resonates with Archie, quietly at first, then eventually loudly enough that he tells Grundy he’s going to tell the police that they were at Sweet Water River on the fourth of July and heard a gun shot. It may lead to a world of trouble, but it’s still the right thing to do.
Jason’s murder remains not quite in the background, but not the center of everything just yet. It’s more a cloud looming ominously over the town at this point. We learn that his body was tied up at one point, and, at the end of the episode, that he in fact died a week later than his originally pronounced time of death. If anything, murder serves as mostly an impetus for Archie and Jughead’s reconciliation. Without it, their friendship might actually have been lost forever.