Riverdale Season 2 Premiere: More Darkness with a Hint of Needed Humor

Riverdale Season 2 Premiere Plot Summary:

Archie (KJ Apa) worries over the fate of his injured father Fred (Luke Perry). Veronica (Camila Mendes) tries to comfort him. Betty (Lili Reinhart) is concerned that Jughead (Cole Sprouse) is getting too close to the Southside Serpents.

At the end of last season, it was pretty clear where Riverdale was going with its characters. Betty and Jughead were closer than ever, but Jughead’s acceptance by the Southside Serpents might threaten that. Veronica’s homelife was quickly deteriorating, with her father’s return and mother’s descent.

And Archie…well, his dad got shot, so the lack of an interior life was made up for by an exciting exterior one. In some ways, that made the job of this season premiere a little easier, since it had ready-made directions to go. But it also meant it had to launch these new plotlines while contending with all the potential that has been building in our minds for the past year. So how did it fare?

Some of these plotline launches fare worse than others. For example, Veronica’s newly hostile homelife, between the return of her father Hiram (Mark Consuelos) and the increasing villainy of her mother Hermione (Marisol Nichols), doesn’t feel entirely earned. Hiram has been built up over the course of last season into a suitably monstrous figure, but between seasons Hermione has seemingly taken a giant leap towards straight-up evil. Where before she was a complex figure, manipulative but genuinely caring for Veronica, now she coldly threatens her own daughter. Maybe there is some explanation in the future, but for now it is too jarring to be entirely believable.

Similarly, Archie’s chief growth for the season, an overprotectiveness of his father born of guilt, is a little too confusingly presented to work. For much of the episode, a lot of attention is drawn to Archie hesitating when he describes his father being shot, and the show seems to indicate this may be a key detail for the investigation. When he finally opens up near the end of the episode, though, it turns out to just be guilt over freezing up during the incident. This development is ultimately a good one; it gives Archie something to brood over, as all teens must, that’s realistically built on his loving relationship with his dad and his own meathead instincts. But by shrouding it in an air of mystery the show makes it seem like something it isn’t, so when the reveal comes, it is confusing at best, disappointing at worst.

There is plenty that does work very well though. For one, Archie and Veronica’s burgeoning relationship is given some much-needed development as Veronica does her best to provide the comfort she knows Archie needs, even if he won’t admit it. The pair had chemistry but little depth last season, and it’s still probably a relationship headed for disaster, but this bit of growth is welcome. Similarly, Betty and Jughead working through Jughead’s seeming closeness with the Southside Serpents is handled quite well, as is the last minute set-up that he may be in deeper than he thought. The show has gotten pretty good at these little character relationship details, and it remains one of the biggest reasons to tune in.

The absolute best thing about this episode, however, is the inspired turn they’ve taken with Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch). After burning down her family’s mansion at the end of last season, she’s now feigning innocence with a story about an errant gust of wind knocking over a candle. She then threatens her severely burned mother with the ominously vague promise to tell people “what really happened in the barn” if she doesn’t play along.

Capped off with her giving the comatose Fred Andrews a kiss as a way of giving him the “kiss of life” Archie gave her when he saved her from drowning, it’s clear that Cheryl has gone completely off the deep end. And readers, I am here for it. The passive-aggressive, absurdly melodramatic Cheryl was a highlight of last season, but it always seemed inevitable that she would eventually be toned down and added to the main friend group. The decision to instead turn her into a loony anti-villain that leans into everything that made Cheryl great last season is more than welcome, and at this point the show might be worth watching just for her.

There seemed to be, in general, a greater awareness and embrace of the cheesier, sillier parts of Riverdale in this episode. From Kevin (Casey Cott) mocking Jughead’s much derided “I’m weird. I’m a weirdo” speech from last season to Jughead snidely telling Pops (Alvin Sanders) to tone down his dramatic monologue describing the killer, the show was demonstrating a self-awareness about itself that never tipped over into being too much. Yet this didn’t come at the expense of the genuine heart that has always kept the show from being just a silly melodrama. This slight tweak of the balance yielded more laughs while still fundamentally working as a show, so if this is a sign of things to come, we should be in for another surprisingly compelling season.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Chris Diggins is a staff writer and incorrigible layabout for The Pop Break. He usually reviews TV and movies, although he sometimes writes ludicrously long pieces of critical analysis and badgers the editors to publish it. He cannot be stopped.