Tonight’s Riverdale episode ended with a literal bang, as a shot went off, seemingly killing Serpent gang member Fangs Fogarty (Drew Ray Tanner), or at least critically wounding the innocent teen. After a shaky season of heady highs and less-than-necessary lows, the unexpected shooting felt like a reminder of why people watch the CW teen soap: Sometimes it will legitimately shock you. But, while picking your jaw up off the floor after the final seconds of “Shadow of a Doubt,” it is impossible to avoid one nagging question: How did Reggie Mantle (newly-minted series regular Charles Melton), all-American jock, become an apparent killer? The answer is a lot of gaping narrative jumps.
At the start of Riverdale season 2, we noted just how much Reggie had changed after the Archie Comics adaptation’s inaugural year. Not only had the role been recast — blame 13 Reasons Why season 2 for Internet bae Ross Butler’s exit — but the fictional athlete seemed completely different. When Riverdale started, Butler’s version of Reggie was a mere horndog of a teenager who enjoyed heckling our protagonist, Archie Andrews (K.J. Apa). Yet, in season 2, he transformed into a bonafide bad boy. Melton’s new Reggie wears leather jackets just as often, if not more, than his varsity jacket and serves as Riverdale High’s leading drug dealer. He even wears his hair slicked to the side as proof he doesn’t play by the rules.
Reggie’s new darkness meets his old, simpler status as RHS’ big man on campus when the Black Hood’s reign of terror begins to harm his fellow Bulldog athletes. That’s why Reggie’s journey toward eventual gunman begins in earnest when the Hood shoots Midge Klump (Emilija Baranac) and Moose Mason (Cody Kearsley) point blank during the pair’s drug-induced hookup. Unsurprisingly, Reggie is the one who supplied his friends with the jingle jangle. While the couple survived the attempted murder, both Reggie, who is Moose’s best friend, and Archie, whose father (Luke Perry) was nearly murdered by the Hood, realise they need to create a watch group. They call it the Red Circle. This is a sensible reaction for two people paranoid about the safety of their loved ones.
After a number of antics go awry with the Red Circle, it’s disbanded. Again, this is sensible.
What is not sensible is Reggie’s reaction to RHS being integrated with Southside High after the school is closed (in a scheme by the Lodges, naturally). As the new students arrive in “Blackboard Jungle,” Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) shows up to explain why she’s against the Southside infiltration: More students mean more packed classes, and more packed classes mean plummeting GPAs. Reggie, however, doesn’t explain why he’s so irritated by the change. His only comments are that Archie should remember the Serpents' attempts to beat him up — that’s why Archie should be concerned, not Reggie — and that everyone who’s trying to welcome the Southside High students are “traitors” who “picked the wrong side.”
We would at least have some clarity on Reggie's hatred for the Southside if Reggie merely mentioned the fact a Southsider stabbed Dilton Doiley (Major Curda) during the “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” rubble, which sent the teen to the hospital. Yet, we get nothing. Despite this fact, Reggie’s mounting hatred for Southsiders, who appear to have done nothing to him personally, becomes a major character trait in the back half of season 2. At one point, he ruefully tells Archie, “I’m against the Southside.” Please remember drug dealer Reggie once confirmed his narcotics source was from the Southside. That means the Serpent-hater wasn’t too upset with that part of town when it benefited him financially.
Still, this confounding hatred leads Reggie to join Archie’s vendetta against two of Hiram Lodges’ (Mark Consuelos) mob rivals. In an effort to protect Hiram and the prison he hopes to build, Reggie helps Archie blow up a car. In fact, Reggie is the one holding the canister of gasoline, as opposed to official Lodge teen capo, Archie. This is the moment the disbanded Red Circle, which was made up by the RHS Bulldog roster, is reborn and renamed the nefarious-sounding Dark Circle.
Let me reiterate, Reggie Mantle hates the Southside so much, he blew up a car over it. This is an interesting decision when you compare it to Archie’s motives, which have nothing to do with Riverdale's most derided neighbourhood. Rather, Archie is so terrified after witnessing the almost-murder of his dad Fred, he has turned to the black-and-white justice of an organised crime lord for the feeling of safety. Archie will do whatever Hiram tells him, since he truly believes it’s the only way to defend the people he cares about. Reggie doesn’t get any of these trauma-inflicted layers, since he can’t blame the Southside for Moose’s shooting, and no one seems to care about Dilton’s stabbing. The poor Boy Scout was never even seen again after a knife went into his leg.
So, with Reggie’s rage for the Southside boiling for four episodes, we come to “Shadow of a Doubt,” where Reggie shoots Fangs. In the first half of the episode, Reggie’s actions make sense, as it’s revealed mob boss Hiram is paying the Dark Circle to stir up vigilante trouble in the Southside as part of a political scheme. Then, towards the end of the episode, Hiram tells Reggie that Southsider Fangs, who is accused of killing Midge despite a lack of real evidence, is leaving jail. Hiram says there’s nothing he or Reggie can do about it, “short of taking justice into your own hands,” that is.
The next time we see Reggie — with his completely baffling hatred for the Southside and newfound obsession with “justice,” even with his Southside-supported drug dealing past — he’s hiding a gun and headed for Fangs, who is walking out of jail. When Archie tackles Reggie to stop him, the gun goes off, shooting Fangs in the middle of the chest.
Reggie looks genuinely shocked to see he has seemingly murdered someone in cold blood — probably because he never even had a real motive in the first place.
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