During the course of its first season, Riverdale was a compulsive mix of teen drama and murder mystery. Stemming from the Greg Berlanti stable of shows, the series was glossy, visually stylish and came across like Dawson’s Creek mixed with Twin Peaks, no surprise given that Berlanti stared his career on the Creek and Shelly Johnson from America’s creepiest town is now Betty’s mother.
For the most part, the first season did brilliantly, but stalled somewhat in its finale when it functioned more as a set up for the second season, coming off the high of a penultimate episode that resolved its central mystery.
Thankfully this was not an omen for season two, as “A Kiss Before Dying” opens fast and brutally and doesn’t let up for a second; dream sequences, shower sex, a shocking death in its final moments and a subtle reference to the forthcoming Sabrina the Teenage Witch spin-off, Riverdale opens strong for a second season that looks as if it’s going to plunge headlong into a serial killer story arc after the drive of a murder mystery in its first year.
In fact, there’s a sense the show isn’t going to be afraid of going dark this year. Three of the main characters are seemingly inhabiting a darker milieu than last; Archie is prepared to arm himself with a baseball bat to protect his father, motivated by his own inaction during the shooting, Veronica looks as if she’s found herself in her own personal version of a Godfather movie, complete with religious imagery and a father literally hidden in shadow at the dining table, and despite his protestations, it doesn’t look as if Jughead is going to escape the shadow of the Southside Serpents and their violence methods anytime soon.
Speaking of Jughead, finally the guys gets his crown from the comic books, only if it’s drawn on to his motorcycle helmet, a motorcycle he reveals with the coolness of a superhero.
As is always the case, the episode brilliantly deploys voiceover, and tips itself into gorgeously portrayed surrealism with dream sequences as Fred hovers between life and death. Yes, some of the dialogue is a little on the nose and obvious, but the visual style and use of lighting once again marks the show out as very different from every other teen show out there at the moment, and its use of a 1950’s influence in the production extends outside of Pop’s Diner and to the costuming of the hospital staff attending to Fred.
As all of this is going on, and all of it is great as usual, Madeline Petsch walks into the episode for a few scenes and nearly threatens to steal the episode right under everyone’s nose. If it’s not the greatest hair flip in television history, or the creepiest “kiss of life”, or, better yet, threatening her mother as she lies on a hospital bed after nearly being burned to death at the end of last season, Petsch takes the character to brilliant extremes and might actually be the most frightening mean girl in television history only because there is a sense she might actually kill you if you do something she doesn’t agree with.
All of this is brilliantly compulsive television, but just when you start to get too comfortable, it goes and throws a real spanner in the works when Ms Grundy comes back, still seducing her students, and then gets violently dispatched mere moments after returning to the show. Suffice to say, it is a violent and shocking end to the episode, suggesting a serial killer element to the season. If this is where we’re going, great. As engaging as Fred’s shooting has been, a simple case of “who shot Luke Perry” was not going to be enough to sustain a season, but if his would be killer is going on a spree, then that has the potential to be unmissable.
Welcome back Riverdale. I’ve missed you.