We open with a wide, panning shot over the town of Riverdale. In voiceover, a character we will come to know as Jughead–but who for now just has the voice of one Cole Sprouse–monologues an introduction about how “this is a story about a town and the people who live here.” Many know “the people who live here” from the classic Archie comics, but this town and the people who live there are nothing like those Riverdaleans. No. Not at all.
To start with, there’s been a death. On the Fourth of July, Jason and Cheryl Blossom, red-headed twins with a strong Lannister vibe, choose to have a picnic on the river. According to Cheryl, when she dropped a glove in the water, Jason bent over to pick it up, tipped the boat, and drowned. Cheryl was found hours later soaking wet and shell shocked. The town gathered to watch as they search the river, and a blonde woman whispers to her husband, “May Jason Blossom burn in hell.” BOOM. Delightful small town turns American Horror Story in a flash.
Actually, Riverdale is more like a flavorful cross between the salted caramel drama of Glee and the instagram-filtered Teen Wolf, with cliquey teen queens fighting for the top, mysterious deaths, and a surprising amount of gay subtext as a garnish. The characters sort of echo their comic book counterparts, but each have a different note coloring them for this AU. Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) is the perfect college applicant with her anger issues buried deep; Veronica Lodge (Camilla Mendes) lets her snotty rich-girl personality give way to a kinder fight-for-the-little-guy soap box; and Archie Andrews (K.J. Apa), in Kevin Keller’s (Casey Cott) words, “GOT HOT!” Yeah, Archie is a football star with a six pack, a family business that demands his legacy, and a new passion for music-making. But the Most Changed Award officially goes to Jughead, who is a hundred times more emo, sporting a black crowned beanie and sulking in the corners writing his novel. #Relatable.
The pilot packs a heavy punch, setting up a season for these new interpretations to flourish. The Lodge ladies roll into town, settling into an apartment that, according to Hermione (Marisol Nichols), is “the only piece of property in my name and not your father’s.” Moments later, at Pop’s diner, Betty begins to nervously ask about taking her lifelong friendship with Archie to the next level when Veronica rolls in to place an order for her and her mother, dressed entirely in New York Black™, and all but takes Archie’s breath away. They get to talking and Veronica says, “Are you familiar with the works of Truman Capote? I’m Breakfast at Tiffany’s but this place is strictly In Cold Blood.” Archie goes nuts for this. Across the booth, Betty feels forgotten.
As it turns out, Betty is Veronica’s tour guide for her first day of school. The two end up in a friendship that goes from competitive to friendly to sexual back to friendly with breakneck speed. Betty tries to tell Veronica about the history of the school, but all Ronnie cares about is nightclubs (let me be the first to say: New York teens are insane). When she meets Kevin, she barely hears his name before noting that he’s “gay, thank god.” Kevin is apparently fine with this–or maybe it was just affronting enough for him to feel comfortable totally overstepping her boundaries, too, by asking, “Is it true what they say about your dad?”
“That he’s the devil incarnate?” a stony Veronica replies. “I stand by my father.”
OK, so the Lodges have money troubles and daddy issues. Good to know.
Later at lunch, Veronica sits with our core three and hears a snippet of Archie’s new music. Despite being super into Veronica before, Archie hates this and quickly disappears. Cue Queen Bee, stage left: Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) struts up to the table, serving season one Lydia Martin realness, and positively demands that Veronica try out for the cheerleading squad. Making no bones about wanting to be at the top of the social scene, Veronica agrees as long as Betty can try out with her. Betty would love to be a cheerleader, but is understandably nervous until Veronica says one of the gayest things I’ve ever heard: “You’re a total smokeshow now. As hot and as smart as you are, you should be the queen bey of this drab hive. I can help you prep. I’ve got moves.”
MOVES. SHE’S GOT “MOVES.”
It’s around this part which I started adding “because I’m a huge lesbian” to everything Veronica said, and it really paid off for me, because in the next scene they’re doing a pretty boring cheerleading routine… until Cheryl asks that they step it up.
“You haven’t seen our big finish yet,” says Veronica, and then she grabs Betty and kisses her on the mouth. Yep! You heard me! The rich bitch decides to mark her first day at Riverdale High by smacking a wet one on the girl next door. Be still my beating bisexual heart. Unfortunately for the not-so-closeted Betty/Veronica shipper in me, this scene was completely transparent in its shock value intentions, because literally nobody, especially not Veronica Lodge, would do something like that just to get on the cheerleading squad. Unsurprisingly, they never talk about it again.
Still determined to drag this out, Cheryl attempts to goat Betty into insulting her and her family, because there was a weird history between Jason and Betty’s sister, Polly. Polly lives in a group home now, and Betty’s mother (the blonde woman from the opening, or as I also like to call her, Murder Suspect Number One) lays the blame at the Blossom family’s feet. From the close up on Betty’s clenched fists, we can gather she does also–but at this moment, she’s too much of a good girl to say anything. Her nails, however, are shown digging so far into her palm she’s making herself bleed.
Seeing Betty’s pain, Veronica comes in to save the day with a pretty uninteresting speech about how cruel and empty Cheryl is and how Veronica is here to be her “reckoning” and “ice is her specialty” or whatever. Anyways, it gets Betty on the cheerleading squad, and Betty is so grateful that the two have a heartwarming conversation about their pasts that extends onto the football field, where they see Archie finishing up tryouts.
What’s been happening with Archie, you might ask? Well, a lot: First, he attempted to ask Josie and the Pussycats for advice during one of the rehearsals. Riverdale’s Josie and the Pussycats are a Destiny’s Child reincarnation with the cutest hairdo’s possible, but they tell him to GTFO pretty quickly. They have a brand. So he turns to a second source for music help: the music teacher Ms. Grundy. In a Lana Del Rey music video-esque flashback to this summer, Ms. Grundy passes by newly-ripped Archie working on the Andrews construction site in her very tiny Volkswagen Beetle while wearing heart shaped sunglasses and drinking something through a straw. Apparently, this is what young teachers do in small towns. They have an exchange that’s supposed to be romantic but comes off extremely stilted in which she offers him a ride and–boom–they’re fucking in the back of her (did I mention “very tiny”?) car in the midst of a summer rainstorm. Um.
Back in the present, Archie chases her up a crowded staircase. She clearly wants to avoid him, but when he calls her by her first name–“Geraldine”–she can’t resist. He asks if they can talk and she’s very shady (probably trying to pretend all the statutory rape never happened) and tells him they can meet during her official office hours. When they do end up meeting, Ms. Grundy almost has another orgasm listening to his music sample, and Archie expresses his need to process what happened. Of course, he’s not necessarily talking about the illicit relationship, but rather about a gunshot they heard early in the morning on the fourth of July. They were canoodling close to the river, where Jason, unbeknownst to them, had just died. (Personally, I really hope he’ll also process the relationship. When will teen shows let this trope die?)
On the football field, Archie has all this on his mind and more when Veronica throws Betty at him, setting her up to ask him out to the dance. Instead of asking Archie, she ends up weirdly asking Archie and Veronica at the same time. Veronica takes what she can get; they all agree to meet up later.
Meanwhile, the parents are up to their own dealings. Hermione has met up with Archie’s father, Fred Andrews (Luke Perry). They rehash their past a little (they dated; Hermione “chose the rich kid” and is feeling the irony of that decision now), and Hermione asks for a job. It’s clear Fred cares about her, but he can’t risk his clients’ backlash given that her husband is in legal trouble for fraud. Based exclusively on this scene, I predict they will bone within the next four episodes.
Betty’s at home twirling around her room in her new cheerleading uniform, until her mother, who is certifiably the Worst, learns Betty is friends with Veronica and on Cheryl Blossom’s cheerleading squad. She does NOT like this, and tries to play the “those girls don’t like girls like us” card, but Betty, rightfully, is not having it at all and leaves. Archie also has a conversation with his dad, but it’s much more emotionally honest and inverts the this-is-your-dream-not-my-dream-dad narrative a little by making Fred Andrews a serious father figure who just wants his son to be honest with him. He gives him some “advice, man to man: these decisions that you’re making now, son, they have consequences. They go on to form who you are and who you will become.” It’s a nice bit of fatherly affection after Betty’s horrible mother.
At the dance, everyone is looking fancy, but Betty and Archie are still nervous. Archie escapes from Betty briefly to have a conversation with Ms. Grundy in which he blackmails her for music lessons in exchange for his secrecy. Kevin shows up howling about how Moose just propositioned him for some action in the bathroom. Cheryl plots an after party that is sure to be dramatique.
When Archie returns, he asks Betty to dance. Over his shoulder Veronica and Kevin, two huge gays in a convincingly heterosexual slow dance embrace, mouth that she needs to get a move on. So she asks him out in the most awkward way imaginable: “I have this fantasy of us as a power couple.”
Archie looks uncomfortable. We all feel uncomfortable. “Power couple”? “Fantasy”? He gives a longing look at Grundy. Her lack of sex appeal is very obvious from our vantage point, but I guess he sees something in her.
The post-dance party takes place at Cheryl’s house, which looks laughably like a dimly lit hookah lounge. They’re playing Seven Minutes in Heaven, and, lo and behold, it’s Archie and Veronica who end up in the closet (I mean, Veronica was already in there. I mean, what?).
At first, it’s awkward, but they play a truth-or-truth game and things get… well, even more awkward. First, we have to remember what we’ve learned so far in the episode, which is that Archie was head over heels for Veronica when he first saw her, and Veronica thought he was pretty cute too. However, Veronica has been trying to hook him and Betty up this whole time, AND she KISSED Betty, I assume because she’s a huge lesbian. Also, Archie has feelings for an adult woman who took advantage of him. He’s having a really rough time. Knowing all of this, let me replay the conversation for you:
Veronica: “Is that all you and Betty are? Just friends?”
Archie: “We’re not just friends. We’re best friends. My turn. Did you have a boyfriend in New York?”
Veronica: “No. [Because I’m a huge lesbian.] My turn. Could it ever possibly become something more?”
Archie: “Are you asking for Betty or for yourself [because you’re a huge lesbian]?”
Veronica: “For Betty. [I am obviously looking to tap that, ASAP.] And you didn’t answer my question.”
Archie: “I have never felt whatever I’m supposed to feel with Betty. [I’m having a really rough time here. Can someone just hug me?]”
Veronica: “Have you felt it though, with anyone?”
Archie: “Yeah, this summer. [Will this show examine this particular teen drama cliche they’re putting me through? Because, like, I’m having a really rough time here.] You?”
Veronica: “Maybe once. [For Betty.]”
For some god forsaken reason, they end up kissing.
When they exit the closet, Betty has disappeared. Archie goes to find her, first checking Pop’s. Betty isn’t there, but Jughead is, looking moody and squinty. Archie sits down, and they have a conversation. Archie muses about finding what he really wants in life, but Jughead gets right to the point: “Whatever happened, just talk to her, man. It will go a long way. It would have gone a long way with me.”
Archie seems to know what this means. He nods and looks away, and the next thing we know he’s walking up to Betty’s front door. They meet outside. Betty asks him tenderly if he loves her. Archie gives an extremely lame spiel about how “of course” he loves her but he’ll “never be good enough for her.”
This answer is unsatisfactory to Betty (and me, and my roommate, and everyone on planet earth), who grimaces and turns away.
“The night was far from over,” the omnipresent Jughead tells us, and we quickly see why: back at the river, Kevin is taking advantage of Moose’s offer. The two boys have a cute conversation about how Moose is “not gay” but wants to do everything but kiss, but as Kevin laughs and moves to take off his shirt, he falls down onto the riverbank. The warm experimental moment goes from friendly to frightening: Jason’s decaying body has washed up on shore, and he has been shot in the head.
- Kevin is apparently so gay that neither he nor Betty saw anything weird about her hanging out in her bra around him. I mean, I barely even hang out in my bra by myself, especially if that thing has underwire, but like, do you girl.
- What on earth was that huge stack of cash Hermione came home to? Please let them not leave that one hanging.
- Per most Archie related material, a few wonderfully self aware moments come through–most notably when Veronica asks Betty if she and Archie are dating, and Kevin answers, “Betty and Archie are not dating, but they are endgame.” Thanks for clearing that one up for us, writers.
- I’m really confused on age here: We know from a conversation Betty has with her mom that she is a sophomore (so let’s say 15 years old), which follows that Archie and Kevin and Veronica are also sophomores. Since Cheryl is in their little squad, I assume she ALSO must be a sophomore, and so was her twin Jason. If Betty’s sister, now in a group home, dated Jason and he really fucked her up, Jason and Polly must have been dating when they were.. what, freshmen? According to the comics, Polly is quite a bit older than Betty, so either she dated a freshman as a senior in high school and he somehow fucked her up enough to put her in a group home, or they’re rewriting it so that Polly is younger than Betty by a year. Which would mean they dated when they were… like fourteen. I’m just saying, how bad can two fourteen year olds fuck with each other? You know what I mean? Also, how is Cheryl the captain of the cheerleading squad AS A SOPHOMORE?
- “Too season five Betty Draper” is a phenomenal burn, and shoutout to Kevin for not being afraid to say so.
- The acting was really great in this episode. I’m counting on more “areyoufuckingseriousrightnow” facial expressions from Lili Reinhart.
- Apparently Ms. Grundy is 80 years old in the comics. I’m unsure how to use this information.
- They are giving Veronica all the best lines. “Can’t we liberate ourselves from the tired dichotomy of jock and artist? Can’t we, in this post-James Franco world, be all things at once?” I’m going to use that one.
- At one point Cheryl calls Jason her “soul mate.” OK Cersei, we get it.