It’s only because Riverdale’s first season lived and breathed the concept of meddling kids that I’m willing to suspend some disbelief about “Watcher in the Woods.” Because Archie and co are the only reason anyone knows who killed Jason, I’ll throw them a tiny bone and not totally hate on Archie’s newly-implemented Red Circle, a glorified neighborhood watch made up exclusively of inexperienced (and, in the case of Reggie Mantle, probably drugged up) teenagers. I can see why other students would be willing to put their lives in the hands of their peers, particularly Ethel after Betty and Veronica were the only people rallying behind her against the football team. But this is, in fact, stupid.
Though Archie isn’t yet using that gun from Dilton, he is wandering around town late at night hoping that his baseball bat and an assist from Reggie will be enough to take on a trigger-happy dude calling himself Black Hood. Yeah, good luck with that Archie, make sure you order yourself a bulletproof football jersey from Amazon.
But maybe it’s not so stupid with The Black Hood being a deeply ineffective serial killer. For all his heeing and hawing, he’s only succeeded at killing Grundy (he’s the only person willing to call her a child predator, go figure), but he can’t manage to kill Fred, Midge or Moose — shot at point-blank range and multiple times. So maybe the Red Circle is just what Riverdale needs. Ineffectiveness versus ineffectiveness should at least cancel each other out, right? Probably not on Riverdale, but in some universe it would because the Red Circle is as dumb as the Black Hood is ineffectual. By episode’s end, Archie’s taunting him as if the Black Hood cares about a bunch of high schoolers who are probably on his list of Sinners anyway.
It’s a pretty good idea to have a killer attacking Riverdale in a backwards attempt to purge it of its sins. It creates an environment where everyone’s in danger. Fred was targeted because he’s an adulterer (Hermione is, too), Midge and Moose because they’re sexually active (like Veronica and Archie) and into drugs (like Reggie). Polly, onscreen for a grand total of five minutes (I’m being generous), gets this memo immediately and knows the unmarried girl pregnant with her cousin-kids probably isn’t long for this world. So she’s gone now, and Betty manages to be super annoying and land a major blow to her friendship with Kevin in her attempts to protect him.
This is the only storyline that makes sense. Kevin is the only character who makes sense this week. (Betty’s privileged and patronizing criticism of Kevin also makes sense, but it’s also so annoying). Sure, Kevin’s going out into the woods to hook up with other boys while a killer’s on the loose, but I get it.
For all of Riverdale’s heady explorations of teen romance and sexuality, Kevin’s been mostly excluded. Both because Riverdale has no idea how to effectively integrate Casey Cott (he’s almost as neglected as Ashleigh Murray) and also because Kevin, as a gay boy, doesn’t have the same options as our straight regulars. Kevin doesn’t get to go on cute dates at Pop’s or to the Homecoming dance or even invite love interests over for “studying.” It’s the woods and other dark and probably-unsafe places or nothing. So no Kevin does not respond well to Betty’s declaration he should have “more respect” for himself, a particularly condescending and privileged way of looking at Kevin’s choices.
It’s easy for everyone in Riverdale to shrug off the Black Hood’s ideology that cheaters and sexually active teenagers deserve to die. They know that’s not true, the same way I’m sure Riverdale knows a gay person doesn’t deserve to die for being gay. But “Watcher” tiptoes around this a little, surprising considering how honest and pissed Kevin gets to be with Betty for her privileged answer to his problems.
But Kevin’s not just in danger because he’s in the woods at night with people he doesn’t know, he’s in danger because some zealot sees his gayness as a killable offense. Riverdale had an opportunity to address the still-present danger to LGBT people in America, and only took it halfway. I’m glad for that half, but I still wish it had done more to acknowledge that there are people in our world (some in the White House) who think gay people are sinners in need of punishment. And even if we, at least here in the US, can easily decide someone killing a teenager for premarital sex is extreme and wrong, that same certainty isn’t applied to others.
Though Kevin stops his forays into the woods, that won’t solve his bigger problem: he’s gay and isolated in Riverdale, and the only place where he felt accepted and liberated has been taken from him. So where does he go now? His dad finally acknowledging it’s time for an actual conversation about Kevin’s sexuality is a step in the right direction, but it’s still only a step, and Kevin’s life isn’t about to dramatically change. Though I’m tentatively optimistic about more for Kevin, this is Riverdale so we probably won’t even see him for two to three episodes.
- Did Dilton also give Archie shooting lessons or is he just gonna wing it?
- Cheryl is, quite literally, a messy bitch who lives for drama. Her smiling while Kevin tells Betty to mind her own beeswax was highly amusing, and you know she only called Betty out there to confront Kevin because she wanted them to have that fight.
- Hermione makes no sense, and I’m sick of her. How dare they saddle Marisol Nichols with this foolishness! One minute Hermione demands Veronica (who also makes little sense this week) be respectful of Hiram and welcome him back, the next she’s issuing warnings that sound a lot more like taunts, telling Veronica she won’t get anywhere with Hiram. Girl, just pick one side of the Bad Parent coin and stay there.
- Jughead was so boring this week, still pretending he’s not a Southside Serpent, but I’m here for Toni Topaz.
Chelsea A. Hensley is a writer and blogger who recently received a BA in English from the University of Missouri. Besides television, she also loves chocolate chip cookies, puppies, and Dragon Age. In between episodes of her favorite shows, Chelsea’s hard at work on a young adult novel. You can read more of her writing on The Chelsea Review and follow her on Twitter @ChelseaBigBang.
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