Riverdale S2E16: Primary Colors

by thethreepennyguignol

A few weeks ago, I wrote a Riverdale recap that focused on the lead four (Jughead, Betty, Veronica, and Archie) and how their stories and arcs had been unfolding this season so far. But in doing that, I missed out on the chance to talk about my favorite arc of the show so far: Cheryl Blossom.

Now, the uninitiated might look at her story these last couple of seasons (beloved twin/cest brother violently murdered, father committed suicide amongst drug empire scandal, mother became an escort, family fortune lost, a rape attempt, a long-lost uncle, a coming-out story) and, not incorrectly, surmise it as “the shit that stuck to the wall”. But what Cheryl’s story has lacked in nuance and, uh, even vague cohesiveness, it has made up in sheer gothic teen charm, and this week’s outing, Primary Colors, isn’t going to let me forget that.

All credit here to the exceptional Madeleine Petsch, who must just be the most fun character to write for as she can deliver lines like “I’m afraid this ghoulish slumber party wasn’t just for fun” in that impractically campy way of hers that renders nearly anything out of her mouth the quote of the week. The backdrop of lacquered lips, black lace, and the endlessly gorgeous Blossom family mansion is arguably the centrepoint around which this episode revolves, as Cheryl’s mother Penelope and her “uncle”  begin plotting against Cheryl and her grandmother to get rid of them for good.

It’s a really strange story when you juxtapose it against the rest of what’s happening in Riverdale right now, but that’s how this show rolls: it wants to have it’s genre-cake and eat it too, and if that means adding “De Maurier-esque psychosexual gothic horror” to it’s current roster of genres (which currently stands at “gangster movie”, “journalism flick”, “teen drama” and “whatever the fuck show Madchen Amick thinks she’s in”), I’m not going to argue. I think the show can pull of Cheryl’s story when they actually give it the time to breathe, as they do here – whether it’s exchanging flirty, nervous pillow talk with Toni, making references to oblique Sofia Coppola movies (suck on it, Jughead – I bet he’s only ever seen Lost in Translation), or confronting her increasingly deranged mother, Primary Colors offers an actual chance for Cheryl’s plot to move forward as opposed to just being a collection of weird shit the writers couldn’t find another story for. I think there’s actually a relatively interesting character arc in there somewhere, regarding all the trauma Cheryl has gone through at the hands of her family, and I want to see the show give it some real space like they did this week.

Anyway, there’s plenty else going on in Riverdale in a packed-out forty minutes this week: Veronica is running for student body president for reasons related to Barb from Stranger Things (does this mean Riverdale is the Upside Down? Answers on a postcard to hell), Jughead is protesting the building of a prison, and Archie’s mother is back in town to help his dad get out of a contract with Hiram Lodge in plots that are surprisingly briskly-paced and good-humoured, given how Riverdale tends to struggle to keep it’s b-stories afloat (especially when they involve the godawful Molly Ringwald’s return). Oh, and Betty is waging psychological warfare against her brother. You know, I’m not even going to pretend to focus on any plot but this one, it’s just too juicy.

Dark Betty, as the show seems to sometimes forget, doesn’t require Lili Reinhart to slap on a basque and a wig – it requires her to really, really want to expose the truth, and she’s shown that she’ll do anything to do that. This week’s best scene comes in the form of her waking Chic up in the night by flicking a lighter in his face and telling him that every man she has come after in the last year has wound up dead – it’s a genuinely unsettling sequence, credit to Lili Reinhart and the writers, and the way the power shifts between the two of them over the course of this episode is genuinely intriguing. Not to mention the fact that the grudge match is refereed by none other than Alice Cooper, one of the towns’ most notably terrible parents (and that’s a real achievement).

Honestly, this was a good week for Riverdale as far as I’m concerned, because anything that forefronts both Betty being a mild sociopath and Cheryl fighting against her family (and swooning around in little nighties) is right fine by me. I have to admit that the town’s politics stories are losing some of their pull, but Riverdale has to keep grounded in some kind of reality so I’ll let them slide for now. As long as we don’t get another week of Molly Ringwald which, chillingly, it looks as though we might.

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