Riverdale Recaps S2E7: Tales from the Darkside

by thethreepennyguignol

And we’re back! Yep, Vikings is broadcast on the same night as Riverdale so it’s taking pride of place for the time being (since I’m not the only one reviewing it in our house) and Riverdale recaps are going to be shifting to Friday instead (and hey, in case you want something to fill the gap between recaps, I published a super fun, meta-commentary lesbian romance earlier this week!). And, well, frankly I’m glad to have had the extra day to give this episode some thought because it was…a lot.

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Tales from the Darkside is proof, if nothing else, that Riverdale isn’t content to sit back on it’s considerable morals from it’s first season: many shows in it’s position, especially with the compressed production schedule for season two, might have blasted out something passable, pandering, and preening based on what they knew appealed to audiences from it’s first run of episodes. But season two is striking out into new territory, and I can’t shake the feeling that this is what the creators wanted to do all along.

So, what was it about this episode that made it so dang special? A Rashamon series of three vaguely interlocking plots, Tales from the Darkside danced between tones, stories, characters, and twists with a deft hand that just about kept everything afloat. Oh, and Tony Todd was in it for some reason, and as a die-hard Final Destination fan, that’s always good to see. Anyway, let’s break down these plots one by one, starting with the opener, a story revolving around Jughead and Archie as Jug is blackmailed into transporting drugs after the Serpent’s lawyer tells him that his father was attacked in prison.

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More than anything, this plot underlined just how much KJ Apa has improved since first season. He was truly awful for a good long while there – hell, I even said in the first recap for this season that he was the show’s biggest weakness – but as Jughead has taken some of the leading man strain off Archie’s shoulder, Apa seems to have relaxed into the role a little bit. Neither he nor Sprouse are superb actors but they have an easy, platonic-adjacent chemistry that keeps this plot ticking over and really reminded me just what a curse the leading man role can be. When Apa was stuck at the centre of the show he was boring, bland, and downright bad, but these days he’s having a little more fun and it shows. Or maybe he’s actually just learning how to act. A little from column A, a little from column B, methinks. This plot also featured the much-missed Skeet Ulrich (the beaten-up leather jacket of my dreams) and some just lavishly beautiful direction, not to mention a goofy, gory guest turn from the always-welcome Tony Todd; even if it was the most serious of the stories on show tonight, his presence kept it just on the right side of camp.

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And over in the “holy shit this couldn’t be more camp if they were pitching tents in it” column we have the Josie/Cheryl plot, as Josie deals with an apparent stalker and the amorous interest of the sharp jawline who harassed Ethel in the previous seasons. It’s nice to see Josie actually get a front-and-centre plot here for a change, but it’s whipped out right from underneath her by Cheryl – shoving Archie and Jughead into lockers, strutting around the school in any number of fabulous jumpsuits, slaying the entire cast with her deadly liquid lipstick game, it’s Madeleine Petsch as the psychotic avenging feminist angel of death who owns this storyline, and, fuck, this season too. I’m glad to see that they are acknowleding the trauma of her attempted rape a few episodes ago, even if it is through the medium of stalking Josie. This show is taking that plot as seriously as it can, and, in Riverdale’s world, Cheryl’s attempts to give back to Josie for saving her feel genuine. Not to mention that this entire segment plays like if Baz Lurhman in his Romeo + Juliet phase got his hands on an episode of 90210, all glaring gothic neon and spookily synthetic sets. Dawn Wilkinson is to thank for the striking visuals Tales from the Darkside has to offer, and I for one am just revelling in it. Those richly saturated colours and dead-space filled frames just appeal to me on a gut level, almost as much as Madeleine Petsch, my lady and saviour, in an embroidered jumpsuit.

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The third plot for this episode comes in the form of Betty and Veronica, and boy is it nice to see Betty have a little fun for a chance. As she becomes a little unhinged in the wake of another threat from the Black Hood, she determines that Sheriff Ladykeller (as he shall henceforth be known) must be the man behind the mask and launches an investigation of her own to bring him down. It’s a light touch with which the show deals with a deranged Betty targeting the ostensibly innocent sheriff (while, innocent of what she’s accusing of, anyhow) and Lili Reinhart seems like she’s having a ball leaning in to the pointed weirdness at the centre of her character. Camila Mendes still kind of just is, but at least in a more naturally goofy plot she seems to fit a little better, her quips feeling tone-appropriate as opposed to just…there.

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But yeah, this is a belter of an episode: as Riverdale as Riverdale could get, and yet also completely different from itself at the same time. Opening with that po-faced crawl that sets up the episode’s interlocking storylines, Tales from the Darkside revels in how much it can get away with, how meta it can be, how it can cram Tony Todd emoting about a serial killer into an episode and have that somehow not be the weirdest thing about those forty minutes. Pointedly strange and equally fun, Riverdale isn’t resting on it’s laurels – and, with more than a dozen episodes of the season still to go, I just want to see if it can keep up the pace.

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