‘The Watcher in the Woods’ is a very busy episode of Riverdale that is probably not going to be ideal for any newcomers to the show jumping in at this point, but for viewers who have allowed Riverdale to get its hooks into you these past fifteen chapters, there is a lot to chew on and enjoy.
The first thing to note is how damn good Casey Cott is this week. After only being a recurring presence in the first season, Kevin has been upgraded to regular status this season and there is some beautifully played and believable anger to his performance throughout the episode. Fuelled by Betty’s concern for his well-being due to his decision to use nightly runs within the Riverdale forest as a means to hook up with other boys, his anger and bitter speech about how this is the only way to do it because it’s the only option he has available to him in comparison to Betty is pretty powerful stuff.
Best of all, Ross Maxwell’s script doesn’t sugarcoat its way into any resolution by the end. With Betty turning to Kevin’s father in order to save him from any potential danger, Betty may have genuinely sabotaged, for reasons she truly believes in, her friendship with Kevin and there may be no turning back for either of them. That final moment where she goes to approach him but Kevin just walks away carries a lot of weight.
The episode doesn’t shy away from the potential danger that Kevin is putting himself in. There is a brilliantly played moment when Kevin imagines actually dying by being stabbed, that the audience isn’t clued into the dream nature of at first. It’s unnerving, incredibly disturbing and isn’t afraid to be violent either. Amazingly, nobody actually dies this episode. Even last week’s final scene is replayed from Kevin’s perspective and we learn that Moose and Midge survived, but The Black Hood is everywhere this hour, impacting on to the life of everyone and every thing in the town. The episode even puts a returning Ethel in danger, the week Stranger Things returns to our screen, no less.
As for The Black Hood, his letter to Alice and his declaration of intention could almost be from someone who wants Riverdale to be more like Archie Comics in the 50’s and is instead finding themselves in a show that is filled with infidelity and all sorts of modernity that they find off-putting. Brilliantly, this aspect of the episode pays off Archie’s hunt for Fred’s wallet from two episodes ago.
While we’re at it, should we even be considering The Black Hood a killer? So far he has only managed to kill one out of four victims he has targeted, and by serial killer standard, that makes him pretty bad at what he does. The only one to actually die was Miss Grundy, with everyone else managing to survive. What with the horror movie of a serial killer running around town, Jughead finds himself in something approaching a horror movie set, now that he’s stuck in Southside High. The moment he gets beaten up is played pretty much as a potential horror movie scenario, featuring long, darkened corridors and blue filters on the camera lens.
Best of all, Jughead’s side of the show allows Riverdale to explore a little bit of the social drama within its world, which was touched on in the season one finale but which looks ripe for further exploration this season. Having recently started to binge read the Mark Waid run on Archie, different to the show that we have here, but equally brilliant and filled to the brim with charm and comedy, it appears that the Archie universe has a very middle class feel, and the show itself sometimes had that in droves in its first year.
We know that Jughead is lower down on the social pole compared to Archie and Betty, and even lower than the very well off Veronica, but now the show is really going at it by putting Jug into the poor part of town and in a school that is every parents worst nightmare; graffiti on the walls, gangs in the cafeteria and a metal detector that isn’t just there for detecting metal. Whether or not the show will completely follow through on this we’ll have to see, but it’ll be great to see it do so.
Also, for a CW show, Riverdale is throwing out a lot of references to R-rated movies; if it’s not The Godfather feel to the scenes with Hiram Lodge, then it has characters referring to Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, or the incredibly distressing and darkly powerful American History X. Riverdale is not that extreme, but by CW standards this is feeling brilliantly dark and emotionally engaging and suspenseful; Hiram inviting Archie to drink rum in his study is brilliant in its quiet, unnerving tension, while Kevin’s dad, Sheriff Keller, confronting him on his whereabouts is subtly devastating. The latter could be a moment played out in many a teen show, but the threat that the Sheriff is worried about makes it feel as if the stakes are even higher, while a lead character meeting his girlfriend’s dad is another teen show staple that Riverdale is beautifully subverting by having the undercurrent of threat living under it.
Also, what the hell is going on with Hermione Lodge? Initially I figured the show had made her a darker force between seasons somewhat illogically, but now it is starting to seem there may be some method to her behaviour. Don’t get me wrong, Marisol Nichols is great as a villain, and the moment she somewhat taunts Veronica at the table after Hiram invites Archie to his study and not her and is entertainingly brilliant and antagonistic, complete with a brilliantly arch drink of wine. Hell, she could almost give Cheryl a run for her money. Speaking of Cheryl, she isn’t as prominent this week, but she nearly steals the show just from simply lurking behind Kevin and Betty.
It’s another entertaining episode from a season that is revelling in its drama, suspense and angst. It’s another beautifully grim hour for a show that is revelling in taking Archie into darker territory that isnt promising to getting lighter anytime soon.
Riverdale airs on Netflix in the UK every Thursday. Let us know what you think of the season.