Riverdale “Chapter Eighteen: When a Stranger Calls”
Director: Ellen Pressman
Starring: KJ Apa, Lili Reinhart, Cole Sprouse, Camila Mendes
Writer: Aaron Allen
A review by Michael Walls-Kelly
In unity there is strength.
That quote isn’t just one of the Southside Serpent’s weird, formal laws, it’s also solid advice. Arche (KJ Apa), Veronica (Camila Mendes), Jughead (Cole Sprouse) and Betty (Lili Reinhart) work best as a team. When they’re united for a single purpose they can solve murders and punch through frozen rivers. It’s pretty damn cool. Unfortunately the group is fractured, and this episode only makes those divides wider.
Betty continues where she left off last episode, on the phone with The Black Hood. He reiterates his devotion to her and gives her a gift: Alice Cooper’s (Madchen Amick) mugshot from when she was a young Southsider. Betty and Alice have almost never been a united front, and that’s not about to change, especially after Betty publishes the mugshot as “justice” for Alice’s crusade against the Southside. I have no idea why a school paper would allow an old mugshot of a student’s parent to be published, but who cares? It’s Riverdale, baby!
Betty fractures two major relationships this episode: her friendship with Veronica and her relationship with Jughead. It’s sad to see. The Betty/Veronica friendship was a highlight of season one, so it’s sad to see Betty do what she thinks she has to by calling Veronica out. Mendes is great at playing Veronica as someone is strong enough to own who she is and make no apologies for it, while still striving to be a better person.
Case in point, Veronica’s entire relationship with Nicholas St. Clair (Graham Phillips) when he and his parents visit Riverdale. Apparently Nick and Veronica were torn from an episode of Gossip Girl when they were friends in the city, but his instant obnoxiousness and Veronica’s diplomatic way of handling him are great showcases for how far she’s come. She’ll still party and use Jingle Jangle — ugh — with her friends but she’s not going to put up with his smarmy attitude. It isn’t a story about Veronica being pulled between her old life and her new life, which is smart, it’s a story about Veronica being in a better, more mature place as a person.
Which brings us to Jughead. Poor, poor Jughead Jones. He’s taken over the season one Archie role of being mostly separated from the main plot. Luckily the Southside Serpent drama is more inherently interesting than Archie trying to be John Mayer. Jughead decides he needs to go full-Serpent and has to go through their trials. First he’s woken up by the Serpents in dumb-looking masks telling him to watch “the Beast”, an adorable dog named Hot Dog. Then he has to recite the Serpent rules or laws or whatever, and he studies them with the help of Toni (Vanessa Morgan) like they’re the SAT’s. The final trial is less comic book-y and more traditional gang: he gets jumped in by the rest of the Serpents. Discovering this makes it easier for Archie to tell Jughead that Betty doesn’t want to see him anymore. It’s a sad scene and KJ Apa plays it well. You can tell Archie is sad and reluctant that he has to lie to his friend, but there’s that dumb Archie Andrews self-righteousness that sneaks in there.
Really, Betty choosing Archie to confide in makes a lot of sense. He’s not good at coming up with reasonable solutions or dealing with stress, but if you want dumb, supportive loyalty then he’s your man. The episode basically ends with Archie being the only thing connecting our main four together, which is a good spot for the presumed main character of the series to be. I appreciate how well the show has utilized Archie and KJ Apa. They’ve taken a lot of the character’s weaknesses from the first season and turned them into strengths, allowing Apa to show us he’s pretty damn good when he’s given something to do.
Archie’s character isn’t the only great thing about season two so far. “When a Stranger Calls” has one of my favourite moments from Riverdale to date. Veronica, Josie and the Pusscats are all performing a standard Pussycat cover of “Out Tonight” from Rent when they see Nick St. Clair taking a roofied Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) to his hotel room. The song scores their mad dash to the hotel room to rescue Cheryl in time and absolutely kick the shit out of Nick. It’s an amazing, Death Proof-esque scene that I watched again as soon as it was over.
As much as Betty has cut herself off from her friends due to the Black Hood, she’s still rightfully upset when she learns about the assault. So it’s no surprise that when the Black Hood asks her for a name of someone to kill instead of her sister Polly she gives up that asshole, Nick St. Clair. If Nick does turn up dead, will Betty be able to handle the guilt? Especially without her core group of friends to help her through.
Keep Watching! Now that we have the possibility of a Black Hood copycat I’m sure the mystery and red herrings are going to really amp up. We also found out dumb old Dilton Doiley dumb old stabbed his dang self during last episode’s rumble, which is funny. This show is so good at doing the most entertainingly ridiculous storylines — like, say, a rain rumble ended by Veronica firing a gun in the air — and then following them up the next episode with a character going “wait, what the hell happened?!” It takes itself seriously enough so that we care about the story and the characters, but it knows exactly what it’s doing when it names a drug Jingle Jangle or has school papers act like they’re the Washington Post. I really don’t know how you could stop watching the show at this point.