(Author Note: I’ve been incredibly lax in my posting schedule, so I’m using this as an exercise to force myself to produce content. I promise I won’t rely on recaps for everything forever. Enjoy!)
The episode begins with a narrator. We don’t know who it is until the end of the cold open. It’s Jughead, best known in the comics for eating burgers and having a dog. We’re clearly going for a Twin-Peaksy vibe, and a moody, evocative, stylized opener. Two beautiful redheads in a red convertible, with romantic music playing. They’re both (over)dressed in white, which anyone who’s seen a movie can tell you spells out bad things for them.
“Are you scared, Jason?” Cheryl Blossom smirks at him. He isn’t. The scene plays out like a love scene, though we have established the two are in fact not only siblings but twins. Really going for that Supernatural periphery demographic, here, aren’t you, CW? The next thing we know, Jason is ostensibly dead, his sister-widow shellshocked and soaked on the shore. A pretty, preppy blonde couple in their late 40s scoffs from the shore “I hope he suffered, making them, you know, not suspicious at all. These are Betty’s parents, it turns out, and they are awful.
The cold open ends with a car pulling up and a pretty young woman peering out at Riverdale High. Most of this episode is laying groundwork, so I’ll just lay this out by character for this round.
When we finally meet series lead Archie, we get the impression that he’s on the other side of an ugly duckling summer, and has had a mysterious summer romance with a woman who turns out to be his MUSIC TEACHER. Gone is the stern but kind Miss Grundy of the comics. Nope. Now she’s younger, hotter, and A COMPLETE PREDATOR. The show seems to try to make the power dynamic in this completely messed up situation look even, despite the fact that she’s easily a decade older, probably more. Archie wants to study music, and become a musician, suddenly, because working at his dad’s construction company made him sad. So he quasi-blackmails Grundy into teaching him music He and Jughead aren’t speaking. Who knows why. Maybe Jughead got as tired of him as I am already. I feel like Archie is in a different, dumber show than literally everyone else.
Modernization looks good on Betty. She’s obsessed with her college resume, returning from a prestigious internship that she got after freshman year of high school. Her sister has disappeared over the summer to be institutionalized after a breakup with now-dead Jason. Her mom is pretty much the worst, pressuring and nagging Betty at every turn. She has a sassy gay friend, recent addition to canon Kevin Keller. Betty wants to be a cheerleader (the inappropriately dubbed “River Vixens.”) and becomes instantly best friends with Veronica Lodge. Her character translates far better than Archie’s to 2017. She pursues a Taylor Swift-esque romance with the boy next door that looks like the director really, really liked the video for “You Belong With Me.” Betty seems to be one bad day away from snapping, which is a fascinating element to sweet, perfect Betty. However, in very un-Taylor fashion, Betty gets rejected big time by Archie in her big romantic confession scene in her front yard.
Cheryl’s characterization is intentionally inconsistent in the pilot. She seems to be using her brother’s demise for as much sympathy as she can, while not being a nice or even acceptable person, or even all that sad after the first scene. She taunts Betty about her older sister’s relationship with Jason. She acts like keeping the dance from being canceled is the equivalent of solving world hunger. She’s terrible. She also has Josie and the Pussycats (who are awesome but don’t add much to the plot in this episode) play the song she and her brother were conceived to in his memory. WHAT.
Riverdale really needs you to like Veronica, and they go to every length they can. They sink the Archie/ Betty ship in the pilot, make it Miss Grundy’s fault instead of Veronica’s. When she and Archie kiss in the closet at the School Dance Afterparty, Veronica is falling on the grenade so that Cheryl doesn’t hook up with the dude everyone’s comparing to her brother because why. She pushes the Reformed Mean Girl trope, trying to be kind to all, and dressing down Cheryl when she’s cruel to Betty. Veronica is obviously attracted to Archie, but doesn’t want to lose Betty as a friend despite knowing her for roughly twelve seconds. I’ve never seen a show try so hard to make you like a character- but it works, and I do like her.
I’m glad to see Kevin in a major role, even if he’s written as a little stereotypical. Kevin is clearly picking up the comic relief mantle since Jughead left it somewhere in his Dashboard Confessional phase. His affair (I wouldn’t call it a relationship) with Moose catalyzes the end of the episode- sneaking off into the woods, Kevin and Moose discover Jason’s body, not drowned as we’d been told, but with a bullet wound in his head.
Barely seen in this episode despite being one of the main four. He’s definitely the character pulled furthest from his roots. He and Archie had a fight. We don’t know why. I still think Jughead got tired of Archie.
The biggest issue with this is the Archie/ Grundy plotline. We seem to be ignoring the fact that she is a predator. PREDATOR. Secondly, I have to consistently remind myself that not only are they in high school, they ARE FIFTEEN. SOPHOMORES. Most people turn sixteen over their sophomore year. These are CHILDREN. MISS GRUNDY THAT IS A CHILD.
Another much smaller issue I have is the over-the-top hyper-literate teen dialogue. Despite the fact that I actually talk like that, it seems really forced. It seems super weird, but it’s only the pilot. So, let’s see how this goes!