Riverdale Recaps: The Watcher in the Woods
When I first heard that Riverdale’s second season was going to be twenty-two episodes long, I was concerned. Because with shows like this one, brevity is the heart of it’s brilliance: last season worked thanks to it’s breakneck pace, refusing to slow down enough for the audience to go “uh, but, huh, bluh?”. A longer season could have spelled the show attempting to drag out it’s central plot, far enough that the whole thing started to tear. But this week’s episode, Watcher in the Woods, proved that the show is willing to explore it’s underserved corners over just dragging out one story across the season, a vast improvement over last week’s snoozefest.
Most notably, it’s Kevin Keller who gets a decent run this episode: after being limited to sassy back-talk for most of last season, this episode brought him to the forefront and it was a serious boon. Casey Cott (a name that would have fit just as well with the ridiculous titles people go by in Riverdale as his actual character name) is one of the finer actors amongst the younger cast, and when he was actually given a real arc to work with, he was pretty damn great: his conversation with Moose, all veiled references to “guys like us”, along with his well-deserved chewing-out of Betty after she tried to stop him cruising while there was a killer on the loose, were some of the best scenes of this season so far. The show took Kevin and actually seemed to acknowledge the struggles someone like him might face in a town like Riverdale, and it was satisfying and felt more real than anything else Riverdale has been pulling this season.
Because yeah, the rest of this episode was batshit insane, in the most quintessentially Riverdale way possible: Jughead explores the epidemic of a hard street drug named Jingle Jangle (I screeched with laughter every time someone delivered those words with a straight face), Cheryl remains admirably committed to stirring just stirring all kinds of shit for no reason other than that the costume department had a bunch of different Cheryl outfits they wanted to get use out of and needed her in a bunch of different scenes, and Ariche starts a vigilante group to try and protect the town against a masked murderer who’s started sending threatening letters to Madchen Amick (who, like Cheryl, mostly stamps around being deliciously, po-facedly unpleasant in this episode). Veronica continues to feud with her parents, with every trip to the Lodge residence like walking into a nightmare version of Jane the Virgin where all the feel-good warmth and ridiculousness is replaced by sour scheming and candlelight. And ridiculousness.
There isn’t a lot of point trying to dissect each one of those plots on their own merits (one big merit: Polly has literally been shipped off to a farm out of state like a dead pet dog, and I am fine with it because she is just holdover from last season), because they don’t really have any merits of their own: they’re silly, fun, wildly entertaining, and played with a fabulous po-faced camp that has become the calling card of this show. With a strong emotional through-plot with Kevin’s story around which to wrap the story, everything else is just Riverdale reminding us what it does best while showing us that it can go further that it’s surface oddness too.
This is a beautifully directed episode, on top of everything – in fact, as go as far to say as that’s one of the reasons the plots landed so strongly today, even when they were utterly ridiculous. The show’s commitment to creating this strikingly beautiful world evocative of classic thrillers from the sixties and seventies really elevates the material out of the garbage fire of ridiculousness it often resides in. That sequence – shot like something from a John Carpenter movie – of Jughead attempting to flee the school before being caught and beaten up by the Ghoulies (a rival gang to the Southside Serpents who I refuse to dignify with any more discussion that this because that name is so dumb), all saturated neon blue light and whispers emerging from the shadows, was just fucking gorgeous, and it makes me sad to think that so many of the nerdy film people I know would love this kind of thing won’t watch this show because it’s, you know, still the Sexy Archie Comics CW thing.
But this season, the show is leaning in to it’s darker edges, both stylistically and with this ridiculous serial killer plot, and it’s a delight. If they can continue to find the human stories at the centre of all this stupidness, then they’re on to a winner. And I can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.
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