Negotiating power as a woman is notoriously tricky especially when you’re still trying to figure out your own identity. How can you gain power when even the mere hint of sexual desire, ruthless ambition, and independence will likely garner you scorn? It’s understandable that some young women would see playing by the rules as the easier path. But every woman has a breaking point. This week’s episode demonstrates how’s Betty at hers, revealing cracks in her perfect image.
For the most part, “Body Double” puts Archie’s storyline on the back burner to focus on the women of Riverdale, particularly the burgeoning friendship between Veronica and Betty. But that doesn’t mean Archie doesn’t have his own drama this week.
In the first five minutes it’s revealed that Cheryl didn’t mean she was guilty of killing her brother. Kind of a letdown, right? But she is guilty of lying to the police about what really happened. Apparently, Jason wanted to escape Riverdale. His plan was to fake his death. Only a week later he actually ended up dead. Cheryl also admits to hearing a gunshot after parting ways with Jason. That’s where Archie comes in. He finally decides to tell the truth to Sheriff Keller (Martin Cummins) and the principal, Mr. Weatherbee (Peter James Bryant). Well, not the whole truth: While he admits to being at the river that fateful day he keeps Ms. Grundy out of things.
She’s still pissed though, and retaliates by halting their tutoring sessions. The rest of Archie’s storyline goes how you’d expect. Fred grounds him after hearing from Sheriff Keller. He doesn’t abide and sneaks out of the house. Archie foolishly promises to protect Ms. Grundy. But if anything, he needs protection from her. The way the writers are approaching what statutory rape leaves me somewhat queasy. At least Jughead sees the manipulative dynamic for what it is. The most interesting thing in regards to Archie this week is that he uses the goodwill accrued from admitting to hearing the gunshot to get Cheryl to talk Josie and the Pussycats into working on music with him. Josie is leery about him sitting in on one of their sessions, but he proves to be valuable, going so far to help write a song they perform later in the episode. But enough about Archie: Let’s focus on the real draw of Riverdale: Betty and Veronica.
Veronica is used to being the queen bee. So she gets a date with varsity football player and all-around golden boy Chuck Clayton (Jordan Calloway). The date even goes well: They share some witty banter and make out for a little bit. It isn’t a romance for the ages but Veronica seems satisfied enough, until she learns the hard way that Chuck’s charm and good looks mask a rotten core. Rumors start flying at school thanks to Chuck posting an Instagram picture with a caption saying in no uncertain terms that they had sex. It’s slut-shaming for the digital age. Chuck may be the beloved son of the football coach but Veronica is not the kind to take something like this lightly. “I don’t follow the rules, I make them. And when necessary, I break them,” Veronica says, heading out on a warpath aimed right at Chuck.
With Betty in tow, Veronica charges into the boys locker room. But her righteous fury doesn’t put a dent in Chuck’s cocky bravado. She may have been a powerful figure in the teen social scene of New York. But this isn’t New York, it’s Riverdale. She’s only the new girl here. Veronica is crushed reading the comments on the picture. But Betty decides to put her anger into action and uncovers several girls at school to whom Chuck or his teammates did something similar. Including Ethel, who Stranger Things fans will recognize as the actress behind Barb, Shannon Purser.
Ethel is willing to go on record about Chuck doing the same thing to her, which will be great for the exposé Betty is writing for the school newspaper (when does this girl sleep?).
Thanks to a tip from a former football team member, Veronica, Betty, Ethel, and Kevin are able to track down the proof they need: a notebook full of Chuck’s team scoring various women they pretended to have sex with. Cheryl crashes their after hours sleuthing at school but she gets more than she bargained for when she sees Jason’s name in the book scoring Polly. This suddenly makes Betty’s determination personal. Polly being a victim of such heinous rumors and mistreatment was obviously a factor that led to her breakdown. But Cheryl isn’t believing it. She’s too busy deifying her brother when it’s increasingly apparent she doesn’t know him at all. With the evidence she needs for her story, Betty should be satisfied, but she wants to do more than just write about this, she wants justice. So she comes up with a plan.
One of my favorite scenes of the night is the briefest. Betty sits in front of the mirror putting on a striking red lipstick. “It makes me feel powerful,” she says to Alice, who watches her with a disapproving glare. Alice wipes the makeup off her face, handing Betty another shade, “Pink Perfection. It’s more you.” It’s a telling moment, highlighting the rules that govern Betty’s life and how she presents herself to the world. But to pull off her plan Betty has to step out of her comfort zone and become someone else entirely. Someone who can seduce Chuck.
When Betty walks into Pop’s diner with a dramatically different wardrobe and red lipstick she looks uncomfortable with the role she’s playing. But bad girls have more fun, right? She’s able to get Chuck to agree to come over to Ethel’s empty home so he can help Betty shed her good girl behavior. When he arrives, however, it’s Veronica who opens the door in nothing but a swimsuit, leading him to the hot tub. That he can’t tell he walked into a John Tucker Must Die scenario says a lot. Then Betty walks to the hot tub and the whole episode gets much darker.
In a black wig and sexy outfit, Betty is a whole different woman. “Betty couldn’t make it so she sent me instead,”she says, teasing out that she’s openly playing a role. Veronica just wants to get Chuck to admit to lying on camera. But Betty takes things a step farther, making me wonder if she got her inspiration watching Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction one too many times. She drugs his drink, handcuffs him to the hot tub, and ramps up the heat. Even after he confesses, she wants more. She’s out for blood. She pushes his head underwater with her black heel, screaming, “Apologize for what you did to me!” Then she calls Chuck “Jason,” revealing that every dark emotion she’s been carrying on Polly’s behalf she’s taking out on him. She’s not just angry, she’s unhinged. When Veronica said she wanted Betty to go “full dark, no stars” I don’t think this is what she had in mind. Veronica is able to stop her, but what if she’s wasn’t there?
The exposé about Chuck she wrote for the paper has a profound ripple effect. Chuck and his goon squad are cut from the team. Betty and friends are feeling utterly victorious. Even Cheryl admits she was wrong. But the fury Betty displayed lingers. Veronica is right to worry about her. If merely seeing Polly’s name set Betty off this much, what else is she capable of?
The episode ends by Jughead discovering it was the Adventure Scouts’ group leader, Dilton Doiley (Kyle Stehura) who fired the shot Cheryl and Archie heard. He’s a survivalist and has no role in Jason’s murder, but he does reveal to Jughead and Betty that he saw Ms. Grundy’s car that morning near the river in exchange to keep his name out of the school paper. Looks like Archie won’t be able to protect Ms. Grundy forever.
-At least one of the writers must really be a big fan of Truman Capote. He gets another mention when Jughead describes his novel about Jason’s death as “Riverdale’s In Cold Blood”.
-As much as I like the presence of Josie and the Pussycats, they could use a bit more development.
-Black Swan at this point is an obvious reference point for Betty’s narrative. The red lipstick, visual motif of mirrors, and unexpected display of vengeance all nod to the Natalie Portman film. I don’t think Betty is going to start hallucinating, but this does bring up a lot of questions about how deeply striving for perfection has warped her.
-It’s interesting to watch Riverdale comment on slut shaming, sexism, and how deeply it harms women. Is this a one-off or the kind of narratives the writers will continue to play around with?
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