Riverdale Recap: Justice for Ethel


Chapter Three: Body Double
Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating *****
Madelaine Petsch as Cheryl Blossom. Photo: Diyah Pera/THE CW

At the end of last week’s episode, Cheryl Blossom told the world (well, her biology class) that she was “guilty,” but she clumsily clarifies what she meant at the beginning of this one. She’s not guilty of her twin brother’s murder, you see — just guilty of lying about the events of July 4. The real story: Jason wanted to leave Riverdale for reasons he didn’t share even with his sister. Cheryl agreed to help him stage an accident as a cover for his disappearance, but he never reached out to let her know he was safe, as he’d promised he would. They, too, heard the much-talked-about gunshot that morning.

In the aftermath of this revelation, Archie finally confesses to the principal and Sheriff Keller that he, three, heard the gunshot. (Did anyone not hear it? I’m starting to feel left out.) He covers for music-teacher-slash-friendly-neighborhood-statutory-rapist Miss Grundy, saying he was at the river alone, working on some songs with his dog. As you do. But Miss Grundy is nevertheless upset that Archie talked to the authorities at all, so she cancels their music lessons. Archie’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day gets even worse when Fred realizes that his son must have lied about taking a Fourth of July road trip with Jughead and grounds him.

Meanwhile, B and V both have big plans. After uneasily watching her mother smear her anti-Blossom family vendetta all over the Riverdale Register, Betty sets out to revitalize the school newspaper, the Blue & Gold. She recruits Jughead (whose voice-over narration has revealed, time and time again, that he is a terrible writer) to investigate Jason’s murder. He’s starting with Dilton Doiley and his scout troop, who came upon a distraught Cheryl at the river on the day in question.

As for Veronica, she’s got a date with Chuck Clayton, hunky son of the varsity football coach. Like I said, big plans.

Parked outside Pop’s, Veronica and Chuck take a selfie in his car and make out like the healthy American teenagers that they are. But the next morning, it seems that a very different account of their evening has spread around the school. Mean girls ask Veronica about the “sticky maple” Chuck gave her. To my disappointment, a sticky maple is not a beloved local pastry, but an act of visual slut-shaming. An edited version of Chuck and Veronica’s selfie, with maple syrup superimposed on her face (which looks more like dried blood than semen, to be perfectly honest, which is still rude and disturbing), is all over social media.

Veronica is furious. Seeking “full dark, no stars” revenge, she storms into the boys’ locker room, trailing a more hesitant Betty. Veronica demands that Chuck take the picture down, but he refuses, proving himself to be an aggro creep with a “preppy murderer half-brain.”

To thank Archie for corroborating her gunshot story, Cheryl calls in a favor with Josie, who invites him to observe the Pussycats’ rehearsals in advance of their gig at an upcoming Taste of Riverdale event. Poor, grounded Archie sneaks out his window, guitar and all, to watch the band practice. He wants the Pussycats to perform his songs, but Josie is not convinced that he, what with his white-boy blinders, could write for “divas of color” like them. Archie wins her over when his suggestions for tweaking their lyrics improbably turn out not to be terrible.

Betty has gathered a group of young women who were slut-shamed at the hands of Chuck and five of his football cronies, who are said to keep score of their “conquests” in a secret playbook. Here you will surely recognize Ethel Muggs (Shannon Purser), a.k.a. Barb from Stranger Things, who can’t seem to get cast as a single character with a non-elderly name but is killing it regardless. (Side note: I have only one issue with this otherwise rousingly feminist story line, and it is this: Riverdale makes it very clear that the girls who’ve fallen victims to the “sticky maple” narrative didn’t actually perform any of the sexual acts that the football boys suggest they did. But … so what if they had? Slut-shaming, under any circumstances, is unacceptable. Okay, thank you for your time.)

Betty, Veronica, Ethel, Kevin, and Cheryl (who refuses to believe that football co-captain Jason would ever have taken part in such misbehavior) go full Nancy Drew with some light breaking and entering to find Chuck’s playbook. Inside, they find not only Ethel and Veronica’s names, but Betty’s sister’s name, too.

Now it’s Betty who’s bent on justice, ready to go “full dark, no stars” on these misogynists. She invites Chuck to participate in her bad-girl-ification at Ethel’s house, but he arrives to find Veronica instead. She explains that they’ve decided to “share.” Betty comes out in lingerie and a black Uma Thurman–in–Pulp Fiction wig. “Betty couldn’t make it, so she sent me instead,” she says. Wait, I’m sorry, what is happening? Is this Polly? Is this Betty in disguise? Are Betty and Polly also twins? Is there something in the water in Riverdale that makes everyone have twins?

Meanwhile, Betty/Polly mixes a powdered muscle relaxer into Chuck’s drink to form a “truth serum.” He comes to with his arms cuffed to the sides of a hot tub and the heat turned all the way up. On camera, they force him to confess what really happened between him and Veronica. But to Veronica’s dismay, Betty takes things even further, pushing his head underwater with her high heel and dumping a bottle of maple syrup all over his face. Seemingly dissociating, she demands he apologize for “ruining Polly,” addressing Chuck as Jason and instructing him to “say you’re sorry for destroying me.” This is by far the weirdest scene in any episode of Riverdale so far, and I am very much here for it.

The next morning, Veronica is appreciative of but freaked out by Betty’s “Dr. Jekyll, Mistress Hyde” act. Betty’s nonchalance is not terribly convincing, especially considering that the wig is now in her locker.

In the wake of Betty’s exposé on the playbook, Coach Clayton cuts his son and the other five garbage boys from the team. “#JusticeForEthel,” chirps Cheryl. (That sounds familiar!) Betty dumps the playbook in the trash and douses it in lighter fluid. Cheryl, having realized that maybe she didn’t know everything about her brother after all, sets it on fire.

At the Taste of Riverdale — which Archie snuck into despite being specifically forbidden to attend by his dad, because nothing matters — Fred bumps into Miss Grundy, who assures him that his son has musical talent and that he’s a “special kid.” Ahem. Back home, Fred soundproofs the garage so Archie can practice (music, that is, not illicit sex) even while he’s grounded.

Archie goes to thank Miss Grundy for talking to his dad and asks if they can restart their lessons. She pants sensually in response, which I interpret as a yes.

As for that mysterious gunshot, we learn a quite a bit. Although Dilton “Moonrise Kingdom” Doiley insists that neither he nor his boy scouts heard anything unusual on that fateful Fourth of July morning, one of his underlings later informs Jughead that the gunshot in fact originated from Dilton himself, while he was teaching the scouts how to shoot. Dilton begs Betty and Jughead not to print that he fired a gun. In exchange, he offers them a better story: He saw Miss Grundy’s car by the river that morning.

There’s no amount of panting that will help you now, ma’am.

Riverdale Recap: Justice for Ethel