“Chapter Twenty-Four: The Wrestler” brought some major drama to Riverdale. Archie joined the wrestling team to get closer to Hiram “The Ram” Lodge. (Scoff if you will, but it worked!) Betty learned her brother Chic has a secret life as a “cyber trick,” also known as a webcam boy. After a shade-throwing fight, Veronica sang with the Pussycats, sans Josie. And Jughead discovered that Riverdale founder General Augustus Pickens was a genocidal thief, who murdered 400 of the native Uktena tribe and stole their land. And it was this last reveal that offered a new twist in the potential redemption arc of Cheryl Blossom.
In season one, Cheryl was posited as the vicious Queen Bee of Riverdale High. She runs the River Vixen cheer squad with an iron fist, a heavily lip-sticked sneer, and a Head Bitch In Charge captain’s shirt. She picked fights with poor Betty, crashed Archie’s party, and generally treats everyone in town like their her lessers. But it’s worth noting Cheryl was also grieving over the murder of her beloved brother (and maybe lover) Jason, which drove her to a suicide attempt in the season finale. But since rising from the icy grips of the Sweet Water River, we’ve seen a new side to Cheryl. She’s opening her eyes to the skeletons in the Blossom family’s walk-in closets, and rebelling against their wicked legacy.
At the end of the first season, Cheryl was shocked to learn that her family’s maple syrup dynasty fronts a drug ring. Then, her dear old daddy seemingly hung himself in the family’s barn to avoid prosecution for murdering his son over this sordid family business. But Cheryl brought down hellfire on her mother by burning their mansion to the ground. So began a mother-daughter war that’s involved cruel words, Christmas trees, hush money, and Penelope selling her body to a mall Santa.
Cheryl still has bursts of mean girl behavior. For instance, she’s manipulated Josie (who she may be crushing on) away from her Pussycats, an isolating move thats common in abusive relationships. And when the Southside kids came to Riverdale High, she was far from welcoming, referring to the situations as “Dickensian” and telling them in no uncertain terms they weren’t welcome on her turf. Which is part of what made this week’s events at the Pickens Day celebration all the more astounding.
Cheryl begins the episode giving an oral history report on General Augustus Pickens, but more specifically on how her ancestor Barnabas A. Blossom bankrolled him in the founding of Riverdale. She declares history has been unfair in papering over the Blossoms’ role in Riverdale’s creation, even going so far as to suggest the upcoming Pickens Day be renamed in honor of Barnabas. However, her family pride once more turns to cringing shame when Jughead’s controversial news story about Pickens’ slaughter of the Uktena hits, noting how Cheryl’s Great-great-great Grandpappy Blossom hired the general to get him that land, by whatever bloody means necessary.
Stricken, Cheryl confronts her mother over the story, and Penelope responds with “How did you think we got started in the maple syrup business?”
Let’s pause for a second and recognize the camp deliciousness of Riverdale where that line can exist and be delivered with a straight face. This show is amazing. And if you’re one of the people who is still commenting on these posts with, “Maybe I should watch this show.” Yes. Yes you should. Season one is on Netflix. Get on it.
Anyhow, here’s how the rest of that conversation unfolds:
Cheryl: That means our family is partly responsible for killing literally hundreds of people. For what? A bunch of maple trees?
Penelope: It wasn’t just trees. Dark fertile earth. A mighty river. Back in those early days, we had a hand in everything, building the railroads, operating the saloons, and yes, even a brothel. The old ways die hard it seems.
Then, Penelope marches off with a wound of a smile on her face, while Cheryl is left alone and in tears.
The episode touches on how history in America is often whitewashed to give us cozy stories of which we can experience easy, uncomplicated pride. But Cheryl’s is a story of many white families whose ancestors either had a hand in running Native Americans off their lands through intimidation and murder, or who owned plantations that subjugated and enslaved Black people. How can such families be proud of their accomplishments went they were built on the exploitation of their fellow man? This is the heady question that faces Cheryl in “The Wrestler.” She’s forced to confront her privilege, and how it came at the cost of hundreds of Uktena.
Reluctance aside, Cheryl and her mother go to the Pickens Day celebration, as do Archie, Veronica, Kevin, and the Cooper family. But then the Serpents—who we’ve learned were founded by the Uktena who escaped genocide—show up to protest the celebration. Some have their mouths taped shut to reflect how their story has been silenced. Some carry signs that note the land that the Lodge’s are gentrifying and rebranding as SoDale is sacred. Then Toni Topaz takes to the megaphone, and declares:
“We’re here representing the dead and the silence. Pickens Day is a lie. General Pickens slaughtered the Uktena tribe, my grandfather’s family. And this land, the land that we’re standing on, the land that will soon give way to a no Southside was stolen from them. And we can’t bring them back. But we can and we must honor them.”
Battle lines are once more drawn between the north and south sides of Riverdale. And Cheryl crossed lines, stepping away from her mother and joining with the Serpents in the protest. It’s a slap in the face to her loyalty-demanding matriarch. And it’s immediate consequence seems to be Penelope seducing Hal Cooper, because Cheryl hates that her mother has turned to sex work, and Riverdale loves an incest twist. (Remember, the Coopers and Blossoms are related.)
But Cheryl isn’t one for faint gestures. As Jughead, Toni and the Serpents gear up to fight for the future of the Southside, expect Cheryl to be fighting alongside them. She’s a powerful ally, but also a dangerous one who is not afraid to burn it all down. So, I’d put money on her being the one who decapitated the statue of the disgraced General Pickens.