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 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 21: “HOUSE OF THE DEVIL”
Written by: Yolanda E. Lawrence (episode “Body Double”)
Directed by: Kevin Rodney Sullivan (episode “The Watcher in the Woods”)
Robyn: I agree. I watched this episode in the morning and then pondered it all day.
Chuck: …You know what, let’s just go into some of the other shit first, because I think it’s important to understand what was being set up here. So Jughead and Betty seem as close as they can be. So do Archie and Veronica, who start the episode sexing all over the damn place. In the heat of one such moment, Archie says “I love you,” and suddenly everything’s awkward.
Robyn: Yeah, the episode eventually dives into Veronica’s insecurities and how her parents are not the best role models for healthy romantic relationships. She realizes that she has never heard her parents say “I love you.”
Chuck: And in the midst of all this, Betty and Jughead find out that The Riverdale Reaper from however many years ago struck a home on the outskirts of Fox Forest—the same home Betty was led to by The Black Hood, where she was told to put on his mask. This is understandably freaking Betty the fuck out, plus Jughead has to plan for his dad’s homecoming anyway, so they ask Archie and Veronica to take over the investigation for a bit; to “be them” for a little while.
Robyn: And that’s the rub: Archie and Veronica look extremely uncomfortable, while Betty and Jughead look disgustingly cute.
Chuck: It’s a strong setup, and it’s interesting and a little heartbreaking to watch Veronica throw herself into the investigation to put off that inevitable conversation. It felt like a natural, real hurdle in their relationship. And the detective work they do is pretty solid too.
Robyn: Archie and Veronica discover that there was a survivor from the Riverdale Reaper’s massacre—it turns out to be the janitor, and I fell for that bait last episode. But he’s not The Black Hood; he thinks justice has been done. He saw the guy who killed his family (some preacher passing through town), rounded up a posse, and got his own justice. That isn’t the meat of this episode, though. Chuck…let’s get this over with.
Chuck: …yeah, well…okay, so FP’s out of jail, he plans on going straight with a job at Pop’s, and it kind of bugs Jughead that his dad used to get so much respect and is now treated like a common mook, so he wants to throw him a “retirement party” at The Whyte Wyrm. Meanwhile, with FP out of the picture, Betty realizes she can’t count on him to protect Jughead, so she wants to be “Serpent-adjacent.” Enter…the Serpent Dance.
Robyn: Obviously, the initiation into the Serpents for women is a pole dance. OBVIOUSLY. And Betty is so supportive that she does it. Much to the shock of…well, almost everyone. I have dreaded writing about this since I watched it.
Chuck: So have I! Which is why we’re going to talk a little more about Archie and Veronica at the party. So they’ve rented a karaoke machine…for this damn biker bar…and Archie signed himself and Veronica up to sing “that song from Donnie Darko,” at which point I reflexively said, “fuck you.”
Robyn: The musical interludes are becoming painful. Right before the “couple” takes the stage, Archie is a passive aggressive dick to Veronica, making for the perfect vibe for such an uplifting song.
Chuck: That they sing. At a biker bar. I’m autistic and I can read the room better than that, Archie. The fuck’s your excuse? Veronica runs out on Archie midway through the song for reasons other than “this is the worst karaoke song ever,” but there are literally thousands of reasons to run out on your boyfriend if he makes you sing that song, so I blame him for what happens next: Betty gets up on stage, takes over the song…and starts taking off her top while singing.
Robyn: And then the whole audience died a little. My feelings were so complex at this point, I was hoping we would see a bit of Dark Betty to ease the tension, but no, instead we saw a 15-year-old girl taking off her clothing in front of her mom and a bunch of bikers as she continues singing Gary Jules’ arrangement of “Mad World.”
Chuck: In lieu of any screenshots of this moment, please enjoy this dramatic reenactment of my reaction to it.
Now…there’s a couple of ways I can defend this (and I fucking hate myself for saying that), but first, I need to lay some of my own hypocrisies bare here. I didn’t do this kind of pearl clutching over the Archie and Veronica PG-13 sexytime montage, and I certainly didn’t do it when Dark Betty first showed up during her seduction/attack on Chuck Clayton. For some reason, though, this felt transgressive. What do you think?
Robyn: I feel like the scene with Betty was masterfully crafted to express the discomfort of the situation. Archie and Veronica are teens and are into what they are doing. The scene that sets Betty up for the dance, she is sort of reluctant and isn’t doing this for herself or because she wants to, but because she feels she has to; the tension is obvious. But also? Teens dancing for bikers is fucked up.
Chuck: And all of this is worth pointing out in Riverdale‘s defense, by the way. Toni Topaz calls the Serpent Dance a sexist bullshit tradition that needs to end. The show really seems to be against it in theory, and much of that scene is built to make you uncomfortable; the way the characters react to it says a whole lot. Watching Betty dance destroys Jughead. It’s followed up by FP applauding Betty and declaring “Well, fuck everyone, I’m not leaving the Serpents at all!” (Which, to be fair, also comes from FP trying to protect Jughead from Penny Peabody.)
Robyn: And again, don’t forget, Betty’s mom was also there (and apparently has a history with FP because why not).
Chuck: Alice Cooper asking FP Jones if he was sexually frustrated would register anything on the What-the-Fuck-o-meter on any other night. But it’s interesting to see how comfortable Alice is in The Whyte Wyrm. She doesn’t have any of that repression-based anger; she’s home, she’s comfortable there. But I think Betty doing the goddamn Serpent Dance is a thing she’s been afraid of her whole life, the fear that helped turn her into who she is. When she tries to drag Betty back home, she actually seems like the good guy for once. So much about that scene works in theory…but at the end of the day, the camera’s still ogling a 21-year-old woman playing a 15-year-old girl stripping in front of a biker gang.
Robyn: It made me sit and think for a good long while. “They are actors telling a story” / “the story is fucked up” / “yep, that’s kind of what the show’s agreeing with” is where I ended on it. It’s not great to watch, that is for sure.
Chuck: It’s not…fun. And it’s not really supposed to be, but when you make your bones on being a little bit trashy and you do something like this, it feels like a tacit endorsement no matter the intention. I won’t call it a shark jump (not that I ever would, I hate that phrase), but it’s a gut-wrenching stumble in a show that’s been walking an otherwise impressive tightrope.
Robyn: What’s the Die Hard line? “I’m getting too old for this shit?”
Chuck: That’s Lethal Weapon.
Robyn: Potato, po-tah-to (please don’t leave angry comments).
Chuck: One impressive thing that came from this debacle: The couplings of the core four are in shambles when they previously seemed bulletproof, and they all come from fairly complicated, emotionally interesting circumstances. Veronica breaks off with Archie because she isn’t comfortable with how cold she’s been in response to his confession of love, and Jughead pushes Betty away because he feels like he’s destroying her. And in the wake of that destruction, suddenly Betty and Archie are looking at each other with renewed interest.
Robyn: I had always wondered how this show, setting up such seemingly strong couples was going to fall back on the original Archie concept of “who does he pick, Betty or Veronica?!” and they set it up gracefully.
Chuck: I read Afterlife With Archie shortly before this show premiered, and a line stuck out to me: in a particularly tense moment, Archie tells Betty something like “I promise that I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to pick between you two.” And I thought that was such a…weirdly nice sentiment?
Robyn: I find “will-they-won’t-they” pretty exasperating, but I do get that it has been at the core of the Archie universe for so long, that I appreciate that recent tales are mature and interesting about it. Maybe I’m too much of a Betty on this.
Chuck: Well, yeah, I can see how it’d be annoying, but I read it as an admission that he just can’t help but love them both, and while I think polyamory would be a little too scandalous for even this show…I don’t know. I think there’s such a strong kinship between the core four that I wouldn’t mind seeming them casually mix and match amongst themselves for years to come.
Robyn: It’s the core of the show: exploring who they are when they’re together/apart/mix-and-matched.
Chuck: Well, it was a long roundtable, but I’m glad we covered everything at least!
Robyn: Oh! Don’t forget: Cheryl is still Single White Femaling Josie.
Your Riverdale Locks of the Week
Who is The Black Hood?
Chuck: I’m still fairly suspicious of Hal, but three things are working against that theory. One: Archie, dumb as he is, would know Hal did it the moment he looked in his eyes…then again, it seems significant that Archie and Hal haven’t shared any screentime this season. Two: The Black Hood is traditionally a cop, and suddenly here’s “Sheriff Howard,” the former sheriff who is reportedly dead and doesn’t have a face, but worked the Riverdale Reaper case and is thus in play regardless. Three: if it’s not the Janitor or the dead sheriff, maybe it’s one of the posse that hunted down the preacher that killed the janitor’s family, and developed a taste for Old Testament justice…and would Hal have been old enough to be part of that posse? I’ll say 1.5:1 Former Posse Member, 5:1 Hal Cooper, 10:1 Sheriff Howard.
Robyn: The posse idea is compelling. I’m compelled to think it was one or more of the posse, and they are covering for a mistake they made when they formed their own Red Circle. 2:1 Posse. 10:1 Some relation to the random preacher mentioned.
Chuck’s Star of the Episode
Chuck: I hereby give my star to Tears for Fears because they didn’t realize what they’d done when they recorded “Mad World” and they really need some love right now. Other Tears for Fears songs besides “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” that you should listen to: “Pale Shelter.” “Break it Down Again.” “Head Over Heels.”
Robyn: The musical choices the last few episodes have elicited huge sighs from me; “That Donnie Darko Song you like!” Am I out of touch? No, it’s the children who are wrong.
Robyn’s Star of the Episode
Robyn: I guess I give this to 22 year old actors playing ½ naked teens? Or Alice? I don’t know which way is up any more. Maybe I give it to us for getting through this without Andy?
Chuck: Love you, dude! See you next week!
Riverdale airs Wednesdays at 8/7 CT on The CW. New episodes are available on The CW’s website in the US, Netflix internationally.