Since last week’s episode was primarily a tribute for the late Luke Perry, “Riverdale”’s second episode, “Fast Times at Riverdale High,” did all the heavy lifting to set up for the show’s Fourth Season. The episode sets up some of the big challenges and changes of this season: a new principal, Mr. Honey (Kerr Smith), Reggie’s (Charles Melton) struggle with domestic abuse, a possible new school for Jughead (Cole Sprouse), and Betty’s (Lili Reinhart) attempts to get her mom back from the Farm, a cult that pervaded most of last season. Basically, it was a lot. Although for the most part these plot lines seem less outlandish than Season Three’s strange off-brand Dungeons and Dragons cult storyline, there are hints — in the form of a flashback at the end of the episode — that something wild will happen to Jughead that will forever change the friendship of the main characters. Regardless of the relative normalcy of Season Four’s plotlines, the episode still managed to throw in a good bit of the usual “Riverdale” ridiculousness.
For one thing, Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) continues to provide a steady dose of over-the-top lines and story. This includes her insanely intense vendetta against the new principal and, more shockingly, her frequent talks with the corpse of her dead brother — whose death, for those who’ve forgotten, was the whole mystery of Season One, meaning he’s been dead awhile. So, while she’s hiding the rotting body of her deceased brother in some crypt-like room of her mansion, Cheryl is also providing viewers with wonderfully Riverdalian lines like, “Your name may be Honey, but I will always be the queen bee.” You really can’t make this stuff up.
The plotline surrounding the Farm — a cult that Betty’s mother joined (as a mole for the FBI) last season, which is lead by Chad Michael Murray’s unsettling Edgar Evernever, and whose main prerogative is to harvest the organs of new cult members — is a bit underwhelming. The FBI is involved and now we know what Edgar’s deal is, so although Betty’s mom is missing, the story just feels so bland next to all the other crazy things going on (the bar is high). However, it did bring about a wonderful exchange, in which Kevin (Casey Cott) apologizes for his role in the Farm and Betty retorts, “Oh, you mean when you drugged me by my ankles to get a lobotomy?”
Veronica (Camila Mendes) is dealing with the incarceration of both of her parents — her dad for, well, a lot of things, and her mother for trying to murder her father — and thus is being harrassed by the paparazzi. This exactly highlights all that is unrealistically hilarious about “Riverdale.” First, a boy is caught taking photos in the locker room because a press site called Rumordale.com offered him money for pictures of Veronica. Then, the press interrupt a very humbling conversation between Archie (KJ Apa) and Veronica (she says she’s a shoo-in for Harvard and Archie asks, “Where’s Harvard?”). Finally comes the most “Riverdale” moment of all: Veronica agrees to a press conference to discuss her parents’ situation, to take place at her own private (supposedly secret?) speakeasy, but only after a performance. The performance is none other than Veronica herself singing “All That Jazz” from the musical “Chicago,” dancing alongside several other girls, all of whom are clad in black, skin-tight leotards. Why she had to perform for the five or so journalists who were present for the press conference is beyond me, but I expect nothing less from this show.
And, surprisingly, this episode sets up some interesting discussion about education and domestic abuse. Jughead, whose family has struggled with poverty throughout the show, is offered a spot at an elite prep school. At first, he’s reluctant to take it, but after sitting in on a “salon” (essentially a seminar) that discusses Melville’s “Moby-Dick,” Jughead realizes he’s kind of into it. From episode three’s blurb it seems like things don’t go as planned, and maybe this will be a moment for “Riverdale” to touch on higher education, the disparity of educational opportunities across socioeconomic lines, or even admissions scandals — although it probably will do none of this.
Much more directly, however, this episode begins to tackle domestic abuse as Reggie’s father’s abuse becomes more public after he’s seen yelling at Reggie during football practice and later, Reggie’s large black eye. Archie publicly shames Reggie’s father (and Reggie promptly defends his dad), but later Reggie talks to Archie and decides to smash the windshield of his dad’s car. It’s certainly not the most nuanced portrayal of domestic abuse and perhaps doesn’t show some of the best, or most realistic, ways of combating it. “Riverdale” has set itself up to say something poignant on the topic, although only future episodes will tell if they drop the ball or not.
Overall, it’s exactly what you’d expect from “Riverdale”’s season premiere, which, in a way, this episode was. A lot of information was presented, the characters had their occasional unrealistic (and therefore hilarious) lines, and there was at least one unnecessarily sexual and unasked for dance number. All par for the course.
—Staff writer Caroline E. Tew can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @caroline_tew.