Why Riverdale's Date Rape Episode Is Its Most Important Yet

Photo: Courtesy of the CW.
Riverdale is a teen soap made up of love triangles, milk shakes, inexplicable pearl necklaces, and a dash of murder. That means when we first found out a handsome new guy from Veronica Lodge’s past, Nick St. Clair (Philip Graham), was scheduled to enter the world of Riverdale, it was plausible he would create some new over-the-top romantic tension between Veronica (Camila Mendes) and boyfriend Archie Andrews (KJ Apa). Maybe Nick would reveal a dark secret from Ronnie’s past or bring out her long-mythologized-but-rarely-seen bad girl side. While fans saw shades of that expected trope in the wealthy New Yorker’s “When a Stranger Calls” debut, Nick was actually there for a much more malevolent reason; Nick came to town to help Riverdale explore date rape. While allowing a twisty soap like the CW comic adaptation to deal with such a real-world, serious issue could have gone horrifically, Riverdale saved itself from disaster by how it handled the problem of Nick: letting young women defeat the monster.
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We first realize Nick is a true predator, and not a simple rich kid sleaze-ball, when he tries to pressure Veronica into sex. At the end of his jingle-jangle-fueled hotel party, Nick comes on to Veronica, claiming she, “Barely looked at that hayseed yokel all night.” That yokel is of course Archie, whom Veronica was in reality dancing with during the entire bash. But, because that version of events doesn’t suit Nick’s narcissism, he says Veronica “was all over him” instead. This is categorically untrue, yet Nick still pounces on Veronica. She tosses him off, and he doesn’t take the rejection normally.
Nick and Veronica’s resulting conversation has a distinct Harvey Weinstein scandal feel, with Oscar-bait acting roles swapped out for family real estate agreements. When Ronnie calls Nick a pig, he counters, “With the power to implode this pathetic deal your criminal father is so desperately trying to make happen. So unless you want that to go away, I’d be thinking of ways to start showing me some appreciation.” That type of sexual intimidation is already disgusting, but Nick makes it all the more awful by brushing Veronica’s hair and face with his hand, saying, “If you need any help I can suggest a couple.” Thankfully, Ronnie slaps Nick and leaves.
Yet, Nick proves he’s even more dangerous than we thought by blowing past indecent proposals and straight into date rapist territory. At a gala the next day, Nick apologizes to Veronica with a substance abuse sob story, and we’re led to believe crisis has been averted. Then Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) arrives at the party, and Nick shows his true, dark colors. Despite the fact Cheryl seems immediately romantically, or, at least sexually interested in Nick — hey, not all young women are looking for relationships — he drops a roofie in her drink.
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The fact that Nick decided to drug Cheryl proves this encounter isn’t about sex, this is about power. Cheryl was clearly attracted to Nick and seemingly would have hooked up with him if he had asked. The River Vixen gives him her best flirty, kinda-mean quip, saying she’s “choosing to blame Betty’s Britney [Spears]-esque meltdown” on the fact the duo didn’t get to chat at the party. Cheryl adds, “I’ll let you make it up to me.” Before she can bat her eyelashes though, Nick has dropped a pill in her drink. Sex is something you share with another person, and Nick doesn’t want to share anything with Cheryl — he wants to use her like a plaything.
Nick’s view of Cheryl-As-Plaything becomes even more obvious due to the way Nick treats Cheryl’s body after his roofies start taking effect. When you see him take her out of the gala, Nick looks like a little boy dragging his toy home from the park — as opposed to a young man taking a young woman home after picking her up at an event. Then, when Nick throws Cheryl on his bed, he splays her out like a broken doll, again turning her from person to living sex toy.
That is why the end to this literal crime is so satisfying. As an honorary Pussycat performer for the evening, Veronica sees from the party stage Nick abscond with an unquestionably unconscious Cheryl. Veronica and the other Pussycats decide to take matters into their own hands and follow the pair to Nick’s room. There, they find Nick, who’s already undone his belt, crouched over a passed out Cheryl. “Get off of her!” Ronnie screams and she punches Nick right in the face. What follows is a 20-second beat down of the predator by Veronica and two of the Pussycats, Valerie Brown (Haley Law) and Melody Valentine (Asha Bromfield). They each get a few hits in before everyone starts kicking Nick when he’s literally down. When the young women finish getting their retribution, it’s Nick who’s unconscious.
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The scene — which harkens back to a similar Scream Queens moment, but with more emotional depth — is powerful on its own, but the aftermath is equally important. After the hotel room beat down, Archie joins his girlfriend, Cheryl, and the Pussycats as they recover from the trauma they all suffered. A tear-stained Cheryl sits in the arms of her friends and Archie, rightfully angry, seethes about “where the hell” Nick is. “You can put your cape away,” Cheryl tells Archie. “The Pussycats already saved me.” This proves it’s not always man’s job to protect a woman’s “honor.” Obviously, ladies can help each other as much as any guy. That why it's no surprise at the same time Veronica & Co. were kicking the stuffing out of Nick, Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) was hot on the trail of serial killer The Black Hood.
The ultra-buff Red Circle may be trying to keep Riverdale safe, but, so far, young women are the ones catching the town’s biggest predators.
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