It had to happen sooner or later. Given Riverdale’s ability to mix in aesthetic elements from the 1950’s, it should come as no surprise that a drag race has made its way into the drama.
Picking up from last week’s season-best episode, it wouldn’t be a surprise if ‘Death Proof’ dropped the ball a little bit, or at least slowed down a touch, and while not quite hitting the dramatic heights of last week, the episode is not a let down, or disappointment, throwing in one or two very unexpected twists and a healthy dose of teen angst that it mines for some intelligently well done drama.
It would be so easy for the show to mine certain character elements easily, but they subvert our expectations at various points in clever ways. Last week, Betty pretty much caused some divisive schisms with her relationship with Jughead and her friendship with Veronica, and while “Bughead” is at the centre of a lot of wonderfully frustrating drama, amazingly Tessa Leigh Williams and Arabella Anderson’s script doesn’t pit Veronica and Betty against each other for too long and manages to write their way out of their bitterness in a funny and witty way without compromising either character.
It could so easily have had a ton of plot exposition delivered, but instead, after Veronica asks Betty for an explanation, we cut to Betty finishing a milkshake after having confessed everything. It’s a lovely moment and spares us any horrible levels of angst at seeing the two at each other’s throats, and it still manages to write around it better than it did with Kevin and Betty’s falling out earlier in the season. The episode even manages to throw the joke in twice, by replaying a similar cut from Archie and Jughead explaining everything to FP (Skeet Ulrich) during their prison visit, only this time to the commercial break.
If ‘Death Proof’ manages to nicely work out Betty and Veronica’s differences, it does manage to have its cake and eat it with Betty and Jug as Betty promises to explain everything to Jughead throughout the episode, and ends up not doing so until its final moments, ending the episode on a lovely sweet moment between the two… before cutting to The Black Hood claiming his next victim.
At first it looks as if the social dynamics of the town are going to be at the heart of this week’s drama once again; Mayor McCoy leads a raid on Southside High, but in reality this is a catalyst for everything else going on around it, although it’s pleasing to see that this is a part of the show that isn’t going away anytime soon. Even better, there is also a feeling generational drama coming into play. The episode begins with a scene where nearly every main character is with their parents in a meeting organised by Alice, and when Fred talks about Archie’s friendship with Jughead being similar to that of Fred’s own with F.P when they were younger, it subtly reinforces that while the years pass on, these characters are pretty much playing in dramas similar to those of their own parents who grew up together and are still entangled in messy lives to this day.
‘Death Proof’ may begin with a highschool raid, but the real fall out to deal with is without a doubt the events of last week and Nick St Clair’s assault on Cheryl. Without a doubt one of the most vile characters in the show, Graham Phillip’s performance is skin crawlingly good, and there is a large part of you that wants him to endure another kicking. While The Black Hood is a serial killer, at least he admits to his crimes and his actions; Nick on the other hand taunts Cheryl about her being all over him and worst of all, he looks as if he actually believes what he’s saying.
Once again this give Madelaine Petsch the chance to show how much of an asset she is to the show, with the character going beyond the realm of “mean girl”. In fact the episode throws in some fantastic moments between her and her mother, Penelope (Nathalie Boltt), now looking more like herself, except for the black glove on her left hand which makes her look like she’s a potential murderer in a Hitchcock or De Palma directed thriller. The moral repugnancy of both brushing aside her daughter’s assertion of being assaulted while discussing it with Hirman and Hermione (who even looked disgusted at this downplaying of her daughter’s accusations) and allowing herself to be bought off by the St Clair’s makes for intense and brilliantly frustrating drama.
It’s one of many moments between parent and child dotted throughout that really drive home the generational by-play of much of the drama. By the episode’s end Penelope throws the cheque that’s been used to buy her silence into the fire, a noble gesture, but then the episode goes and throws a suggestion that there may be a touch to Veronica that is more like her parents than she might like to admit. Even though it’s plausible she may believe that the St Clair’s were in a legitimate car accident, it’s hard not to feel that there’s a hint that maybe she knows what really happened and is perfectly fine to go with her parents’ Godfather-like actions on a vile piece of scum like Nick St Clair.
Even as all of this darker-hued drama is going on, we do get one sense of victory by episode’s end; Betty takes back her friendship with Veronica, her relationship with Jughead (all hail Bughead) and begins to take back the power in her dynamic with The Black Hood. One could suggest there is a hint of Dark Betty, but it’s better to think this is the Betty we all know and love taking action when she hasn’t been able to since she started communicating with the killer.
Lilli Reinhart’s ability to channel Liam Neeson from Taken is bad-ass and awesome, and with our resident serial killer claiming his next victim, this time the latest incarnation of drug dealer Sugarman, the two-week wait for the next episode is going to be agonising.
Riverdale airs on Netflix in the UK. Let us know what you think of the season.