Riverdale‘s Edge #305: It’s Always Uncomfortable “When a Stranger Calls”

In the long, storied tradition of The Teen Drama, there’s never been a show quite like Riverdale, which takes the famously wholesome Archie repertoire and drops them into a dark, steamy soap where innocence is a liability and everyone looks unfairly gorgeous. Join Chuck Winters, Andrew Niemann, and Robyn MacLeod as they break down the good, the bad, and the flat-out amazing in this week’s walk on RIVERDALE’S EDGE.

CHAPTER 18: “WHEN A STRANGER CALLS”
Written by: Aaron Allen (episode “In a Lonely Place”)
Directed by: Ellen S. Pressman (Everwood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer; first credit in over 12 years)

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Tramps Like Us, Baby We Were Born To Run Our Mouths

Chuck: So The Black Hood calls Betty, he’s obsessed, he’s inspired, he’s gonna cleanse Riverdale, yadda yadda, but her sister Polly, well, “I KNOW ALL ABOUT THE SIN SHE CARRIES IN HER WOMB,” and he threatens to kill her unless Betty does exactly what she says. First up: Run a story in the Blue and Gold with a mugshot of her mother from back when she rolled with The Serpents.

Andy: Alice Cooper as a former Serpent makes so much sense to me considering this IS Madchen “Shelly Johnson” Amick we’re talking about. Is it too much money to ask for an MCU-style flashback where a CGI de-aged Alice is riding behind a young FP Jones whilst Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” is blaring?

Chuck: Hate to break it to you but it’d probably be the 90s. “Motherfucker” by Primitive Radio Gods would be a better fit…barring CW S&P of course. And the fact that it’s more of a grunge thing than a biker thing. I’m saying that “Motherfucker” is a badass song and there’s a reason I’m not a music supervisor.

Robyn: I don’t really get Alice as a character. She is cartoonishly mean to her daughters and hates her husband (though, that part has been explained). OF COURSE she was a Serpent (though no tattoo I guess?) and of course it was in a newspaper.

Chuck: Obviously mileage varies, but I think her meanness to her daughters is out of a twisted desire to protect them, and the only way she knows how to do it is control them. We can confirm she rolled with The Serpents back in the day, beyond a single line of dialogue from FP, but I still think that something much, much bigger happened to make her this way, and I wonder when—or even if—the show’s ever going to fully explain it.

NO, REALLY: JUGGY CAN’T BE HALF A GANGSTER ANYMORE

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Chuck: Y’all, I quoted Boardwalk Empire as a goof for a header a couple of weeks ago, and how does Sweet Pea whine when Jughead tries to stop him from detonating a pipe bomb—A PIPE BOMB—at Alice’s newspaper? “You can’t be half a Serpent!” Of course Jughead’s gonna join up to try and keep the peace.

Andy: I don’t understand The Serpents at all. One minute they seem cool and the next minute they seem to worship some kind of a evil snake god? I did enjoy Jughead’s Stonecutters-esque initiation but part of me felt like this was very silly. Hot Dog III was very adorable, however.

Robyn: Good thing they were able to order so many snake masks off of amazon.

Andy: Did Toni Topaz also have to get bit by a rattlesnake, too? Maybe they’re just messing with Jughead out of boredom.

TFW You’re Sure Your Childhood Friend Has Punched At Least One Kitten

Andy: I was excited to see a taste of Veronica’s cokehead socialite past and I’m glad we get a glimpse of that in her manipulative fuckboy friend Nicholas St. Clair (Graham Phillips). God, I hated him from minute one.

Chuck: So the Lodges are out of money for whatever they plan to do next, and they’re inviting a few potential investors for it. The big whale is The St. Clair family, including their only son, aforementioned douchebag Dr. Luke wannabe Nick.

Robyn: Ugh. This one is a huge minefield. I also hated Nick right away. His entrance was dripping with obnoxious smarm. I feel like we understood that he was a bad guy from the beginning, and they just kept doubling down on that. Harassing Veronica at his party was gross and upsetting, and then later…well, we’ll get to “later.” I guess we also got to see what the effects of “jingle-jangle” are. (Some kind of ecstasy type…thing?)

Andy: Ecstasy was exactly what I pegged it as. It’s definitely a designer drug for partying and looking stupid while dancing to loud music. I must admit I have been Betty at Nick’s party in…many situations in high school. Being the only sober voice in a party of idiots is not a fun experience I would wish on anyone and I totally understand her anger.

When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong

Robyn: “I’m selfish, Betty; I don’t like sharing you with other people. So I need you to cut them out of your life, or I will. My way.”

Chuck: First on the chopping block: Veronica, which Betty finds the courage to do after watching Veronica behave like a fool at Nick’s party.

Andy: Betty’s on-and-off again relationship with Veronica is such a central part of Riverdale lore and for once I’m actually glad to see Archie really has nothing to do with the first major rift.

Chuck: And I like that Veronica knows that something’s up if Betty’s acting this way. “I’m fine; obviously she’s not,” she tells Archie before telling Reggie to turn the music back up.

Alas, Poor Bughead

Chuck: Give a mouse a cookie, and he’ll want you to break up with your boyfriend.

Andy: Betty uses Archie to give a Dear John to Jughead which could not come at a worse time. At least it’s not by Snapchat or anything.

Chuck: No, she would’ve been better off using Snapchat. Archie, our good dumb boy, goes off on Jughead once he finds out that he’s about to be initiated into The Serpents and makes the breakup as cruel as possible. The only way it could’ve gone worse was if the breakup text came with a picture of Naked Archie.

Robyn: Then Jughead kisses what’s her name, and I sighed heavily.

Chuck: I like Jughead better with Toni, but who couldn’t see this coming?

Robyn: Agreed.

Hiram is Opening a Whole Foods on the Southside

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Chuck: So Hiram throws his party and lays out his plan, and it’s pretty much what I expected: With the help of his investors, he plans to buy up the Southside and gentrify it into “SoDale.”

Andy: Hiram’s ultimate plan seemed way more sinister but I should’ve know that mere capitalism was the ultimate evil.

Robyn: Totally, Andy. I expected something evil but I guess selling land to Archie-brand Starbucks is bad enough.

Andy: But who can forget Alice walking up to the gala to the tune of that Imagine Dragons song looking HOT AS HELL. My favorite bit was her walking past her husband and sneering at him.

Robyn: “Shove it Hal” was perfect. We can all agree that the Riverdale shops are all sold out of fake tanner and double-sided tape.

Chuck: And then the Pussycats played the gala with a cover of “Out Tonight” from the musical Rent.

Robyn: This was so embarrassing.

Chuck: What’s more painful? Archie trying to be Jason Mraz or The Pussycats trying to be Daphne Rubin-Vega?

Andy: The Pussycats have more rotating slots than Spinal Tap has drummers. I’m pretty sure the only person in town who hasn’t been an honorary Pussycat is like…Jason Blossom, and only because he’s dead!

Chuck: They’re basically The Pussycat Dolls now…oh wait

Andy: Is anyone else kind of bummed that Josie, Melody, and Valerie seem kind of like non-entities this season? Seems like a missed opportunity considering the mayor is TOTALLY in cahoots with Hiram. They’re like glorified extras so far.

Robyn: They are all so interesting in their own right, I hope we see more of them.

So That Happened

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Chuck: So with everything that’s been in the news this weekend, this is gonna be…a thing to talk about. During the party, Cheryl meets up with Nick, and he roofies her drink, and carries her to his room at The Five Seasons while she’s passed out. Veronica and the Pussycats save her in the nick of time…but it was real close.

Robyn: This was the worst, you guys.

Why did they do this. We know Nick is bad. We get it. We just watched him try to bully Veronica into sex, and it STILL wasn’t enough; we had to watch him actually abduct Cheryl. It was obvious it was going to happen, too, which made it really painful. Riverdale’s at its best when the writers defy expectations, but they went right for it here. I don’t know what the writers were thinking, I can just say I was disappointed.

Andy: I really hate that the writers chose Cheryl because that’s a character who is an actual survivor and placing that on her not only feels like overkill but also incredibly lazy to me.

Robyn: Yes, agreed. Hasn’t Cheryl suffered enough?

Chuck: I think there’s a reason why it had to get as far as it did, why we REALLY needed to hate Nick; because of what happens at the end of the episode. We needed to see how easy it was to make the choice that was made. But at the same time…it is a lot. God knows we have enough empty-headed rape/revenge narratives in our lives that don’t really say anything about rape and the fraught relationship between the sexes besides “rape bad.” This one just goes onto that pile.

Andy: I must admit while I didn’t enjoy the actual rape narrative, I did like Nick getting his ass kicked Death Proof style.

Robyn: The silhouette of them winding up and kicking him is solidly implanted in my memory.

Obviously my feelings are my own, but I am just exhausted by these stories and the state of the world, quite frankly, and wish the show would have chosen a different direction. I understand they want to say “this is bad” but it is awful to watch, even for the revenge fantasy. Frankly, it is crappy having to talk about it.

We’re Not So Different, Except For the Part Where I’m a Sort of a Serial Killer

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Chuck: Betty’s reward for her compliance is that The Hood will tell her who he is. She’s directed to some creepy abandoned shack, where she’s forced to put on The Hood and look in the mirror. Why? Because “We’re the same.” Fuckin’ jagoff.

Andy: Chuck, I am so sick of these “we’re not so different you and I yada yada” scenes aren’t you?

Chuck: At least I see the reasoning behind it, which made the episode so smart for me: Betty doesn’t do ANYTHING that The Black Hood tells her to do until her targets give her a reason. Alice started getting all self-righteous about the Southside, so Betty published her mugshot. Veronica regressed into her cokehead socialite ways, so Betty got too real with her (kept it 150, let’s say). The only thing that doesn’t work for me is her sending Archie to break up with Jughead, because I feel like we would’ve gotten the same scene with the two of them and having Archie in place just seems like a needless complication that makes Betty look shittier. Every break she’s made, everything The Hood forced her to do, are things she might have done herself if she wasn’t trying to be “the good girl.” Too bad having Betty put on his hood and telling her “WE’RE THE SAME” was such a dumbass way for BH to demonstrate this.

Andy: There’s an easy lay-up here where we can find out that BH is just emotionally manipulating Betty but that makes her kind of seem very naive for someone who loves Nancy Drew books, unless of course Betty is just playing along to see how far the rabbit hole goes. I’m not saying Betty isn’t affected by the affair but maybe, just maybe, she’s smart enough to play along and see if BH outs himself prematurely.

Robyn: This was another scene where they went right where I thought they would go, and was disappointed. I had hoped that something interesting would happen with this scene, but instead, Betty scares herself and runs away—which perhaps is referencing her previous humiliation of Chuck Clayton?

Just One Last Thing, Betty

Chuck: For bringing Archie into the game, The Hood is ready to kill Polly unless Betty gives him a name to take her place. As much as she stresses over it, well, the answer is pretty simple: Nick St. Clair.

Andy: On the surface this seems bad but I feel like Betty is…up to something we don’t know yet. Either that or Dark Betty is about to come back in a BIG way.

Robyn: I guess we are going to see Nick get killed and the reason we have him doing Bad Things is to justify that…Potentially if she knows the target, perhaps she could lay the trap for the Black Hood?

Chuck: We’ll see next week!

Your Stars of the Episode

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Chuck: Betty was the spine of this episode and Lili Reinhardt really stepped up for it. Good for her.

Andy: Alice Cooper for serving up both looks and vicious barbs at everyone

Robyn: Fake tanner and double sided tape really were the stars of this episode.

Riverdale airs Wednesdays at 8/7 CT on The CW. New episodes are available on The CW’s website in the US, Netflix internationally.

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