In a town rife with criminal masterminds, the teen heroes of Riverdale have overlooked one of the most dangerous villains to ever walk the halls of Riverdale High School: Ethel Muggs.
Allow me to explain. Over the course of the CW teen drama, Ethel has exhibited warning sign after warning sign of a turn toward the dark side. What else would drive a young woman to carry a strawberry milkshake across a very large town to throw it in a classmate’s face? Who else would commit hours and hours to a smear campaign in a student body election? It may seem unlikely — perhaps even absurd — but Ethel is the true villain of Riverdale, and it’s only a matter of time until she strikes again. Three key pieces of evidence lay out the (very serious) case against her.
Exhibit A: The Carrie Letters
For starters, let’s examine Ethel’s actions during the Riverdale High production of Carrie: The Musical. When Kevin Keller casts Cheryl Blossom for the lead in the high-school musical without open auditions, Ethel gets infuriated because she was “born to play Carrie.” She may have expected someone — literally anyone — to stand up to Kevin’s unfair casting choices, but no one did. From her perspective, is anyone really on team #JusticeForEthel?
Of course, Ethel has some options here. She could complain to Principal Weatherbee, a man known for his willingness to curtail creative expression. She could talk to Kevin directly, or perhaps appeal to his assistant, Fangs. She could even try to rally Betty “Justice” Cooper to help.
Instead, she decides to send threatening letters mimicking a serial killer who terrorized the town and is presumed dead.
Ethel’s first note is a simple threat to Kevin insisting he recast the lead. Once a sandbag nearly falls on Cheryl, Ethel writes a much more threatening note: “Replace Cheryl. Next time the sandbag won’t miss!” We can draw two possible conclusions from this second note: Either Ethel rigged the sandbag herself to force Cheryl out of the role, or she decided to capitalize on Cheryl’s near-death experience to get what she wanted. In both scenarios, Ethel has escalated from angsty teen poet to twisted sociopath.
After the real Black Hood murders Cheryl’s understudy Midge (RIP), Sheriff Keller questions Ethel about those threatening letters. She denies ever wanting to hurt anyone, but we know she’s a great actress — who’s to say her tears are even real?
Exhibit B: The Hiram Lodge Factor
When considering a crime, one must always remember to ask a basic question: Who benefits? Who benefits from Veronica’s humiliation in the cafeteria, the attempted derailment of her campaign, and the return of the Black Hood? Who benefits from the arrest of Archie Andrews?
The answer: Ethel Muggs and Hiram Lodge.
When Ethel embarrasses Veronica with a strawberry projectile and Burn Book–style flyers, she gives Hiram leverage to keep his willful daughter in line. After all, Hiram wants Veronica to lay low at school while her mother’s mayoral campaign weathers the revelations that Lodge Industries bought most of Riverdale for its private prison. He already has to deal with Jughead’s hunger strike over the issue and doesn’t need to have his daughter riling up the youth of Riverdale, who seem to have an inordinate influence on town operations.
For Ethel, it’s the chance to publicly embarrass Veronica in front of the entire school. Veronica had been Ethel’s friend back in season one, but what has she done for Ethel lately? She didn’t invite her along to cabin weekends or get her a spot on the River Vixens. Veronica has the social capital that Ethel wants, but somehow Ethel doesn’t make the cut into the popular crew. Even though Ethel’s flyers don’t completely halt Veronica’s campaign, Betty drops off the ticket, and Archie joins on an “unexamined trauma” platform. Hiram manipulates Archie with ease, so Ethel’s actions give him additional pull over Veronica.
Most important, because Ethel’s notes suggest the Black Hood is back on the loose, Hiram can point to his wife’s law-and-order mayoral campaign as the solution. The Lodges are sponsoring the musical after all, and we know Hiram is not above hiring a fake Black Hood to frighten the town (see: the faux Black Hood at the mayoral debate) or paying teens to do his dirty work. Midge’s murder is obviously an unfortunate tragedy, but the ensuing riots, vigilante justice, and attacks on the South Side play directly into Hiram’s hands. Riverdale is burning, and Hiram holds both the match and the fire extinguisher.
Exhibit C: The Framing of Archie Andrews
And so we reach the final piece of the puzzle. While it may seem that taking down Archie is all Hiram since he knows enough to frame Archie for murder, who’s the only other candidate in the race for student body president? Ethel Muggs. Could Hiram have promised Ethel a clear path to power in exchange for writing Black Hood letters and sabotaging his daughter’s campaign? Could Ethel have aligned herself with the man who nearly destroyed her own father in her quest for her rightful place at Riverdale High?
From Hiram’s perspective, the answer is obvious. There are perhaps two people in the entire town that he has not tried to bribe or successfully added to the Lodge payroll. It would be more surprising if he hadn’t reached out to Ethel.
Yes, Ethel’s background with the Lodges is a bit complicated. Her father lost the family’s life savings and attempted suicide due to Hiram’s embezzlement. Veronica stood by Ethel during her moment of crisis, but has now realigned herself with her mob-boss dad. Ethel must be feeling betrayed by Veronica’s newfound support for Hiram, and her flyers depicting Veronica as a devil princess indicate deeply held anger. That kind of imagery doesn’t spring from a financial motivation alone.
What we know for sure is that Ethel Muggs isn’t the background teen she’d like us to think. Keep your eyes on Ethel in season three. She’s a wolf in Bulldog clothing.