Riverdale imagines a twist on the classic Archie universe, where the All-American town is rife with secrets, aching to be exposed. There’s teen murder, elicit affairs, sticky maples, and blood feuds. And in the midst of it there’s a red-headed lunkhead who is driving viewers positively mad: Archie Andrews, the poster boy for the entitled mediocre male.
As season one tightens the noose on the Jason Blossom murder investigation, I find myself more and more fascinated by the subtle social satire implied by the centerpiece of this story. In the comics, Archie was undeniably the hero, the good guy with a goofy best friend and two girls—the girl next door and the glamorous rich girl—vying openly for his affections. But this is a story told for decades, so when Riverdale creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa aimed to make these characters fresh and relevant to a modern audience, he turned Jughead from goofy to brooding cynic, Betty from tomboy to tryhard good girl, and Veronica from a stuck-up bitch to a reforming mean girl. But where did this leave Archie? Assuming everything will be easy for him, and resenting or being completely confounded when it’s not. He feels entitled to his dreams and wants. And while he’s not intentionally cruel, his ignorance and selfishness causes much heartache.
Archie is no longer he “good guy,” but a wretched friend. Betty was his best friend, yet he publicly embarrassed her by making out with her new friend Veronica at Cheryl’s party. When he’s scared to sing at the talent show on his own, Veronica volunteers to help him. But then he blithely ditches her, while shattering the bond of the Pussycats, so Val can sing with him. Then he dumps her too because something about how he’s been born alone, will die alone and so should sing alone.
Val is into him anyway. They bond over music, and she can’t see past those abs to realize that Archie’s abrupt interest doesn’t compare to her deep dedication to her craft. So Val puts up with Archie’s whining and ego until he pimps himself out to Cheryl Blossom, being her faux beau and Jason stand-in for a pair of Maple Syrup Empire events. It’s all so the Blossoms will wield their influence to get him into a prestigious music program, which irks Val for a couple of reasons: 1) Archie is her boyfriend, so it’s insulting that he’s so chill with masquerading as someone else’s. 2) She believes an aspiring musician should earn their spot in a prestigious program with talent and skill, and not maple-flavored make-outs. (Women, amirite?) And when she says this incredibly clearly to Archie, he’s downright confused. Apparently the speech Josie laid into him early on about his White male privilege of being able to swan into rooms the Pussycats—as Black women—would have to claw their way into, had absolutely no impact.
Plus, Archie’s also been gallingly ignorant of the ongoing murder investigation. While Betty and Jughead have been snooping over getaway cars and trekking to the grim Sisters Of Quiet Mercy: Home For Troubled Youths, Archie’s been all, ‘But I like football and music!’ Even when he falls face first into this tangled web of lies and suspicion, he’s the worst. Once a pregnant and possibly paranoid Polly confessed she’s putting her life and her twins at risk by spying on the Blossoms—who she believes killed Jason—Archie is too stuck in his own interests to hear her out, and dashes after Cheryl. Of course, Archie doesn’t care at all about Polly. He proved that when he crashed the poor girl’s baby shower just to get in a snit. But he does care about his very best friend Jughead, right? And yet Jughead’s gotten the worst treatment of all at the hands of this supposed All-American good guy.
At the beginning of the series, we knew Archie and Jughead were estranged but not why. Later, Jughead revealed that Archie and he had plans for a summer road trip, which they were meant to leave on July 4th, the day Jason went missing. But Archie blew off the trip at the last minute to meet with Miss Grundy. Now, I’ll pause a moment to say I don’t hold the underage Archie responsible for being lured by a sexual predator. But looking back, Archie’s bailing on Jughead robbed the beanie-wearing buddy of his only friend when he needed it most. Jughead’s mom had fled—something which Archie could have related to if he was paying attention—leaving him with a FP, a drunk and criminal whose home was so unwelcoming that Juggy opted for squatting at the decrepit drive-in. For months, Archie’s long-time best friend was a homeless teen, and Archie didn’t know because he didn’t care.
But finally things seems on the mend as Jughead moved in with the Andrews. Then in last night’s episode “The Lost Weekend,” Archie decided to betray Jughead’s trust by spilling the birthday beans to Betty, who of course was going to want to throw her beau a birthday party. Now, Archie couldn’t have anticipated that “agents of chaos” Cheryl and Chuck would crash and turn the quaint disaster into a keg-fueled accusations fest, where the Archie/Miss Grundy scandal would come out along with Veronica’s vicious suggestions of twincest and fratricide. But Archie knew Jughead wouldn’t want a party. Yet because he started this by blabbing to Betty. Shit hit the fan, and now Bughead is on the outs. Good job, Archie.
There’s something sinister at the heart of Riverdale. But it’s not the Jason Blossom murder. It’s young man who is so focused on his own desires that he blithely ignores those around him if it doesn’t serve his own needs. Archie wanted to be a musician, so he swanned into the Josie and the Pussycats rehearsals expecting his newb ass to be welcomed with open arms. He wanted to kiss Veronica, so he ignored how it’d hurt his bestie Betty. He wanted to focus on Grundy and his music, so he ignored the plight of a homeless, lonely Jughead. He wants his parents back together, so he ignores his dad’s very reasonable arguments and clear pain. And all along the way, it’s meant fallout for others. The Pussycats briefly broke up because of him. Betty and Veronica nearly did too. Val is hurting and covered in beer because drunk Archie is bro-like belligerent, and things will only get worse when it comes out Veronica and he hooked up right after.
The archetype of Archie—the All-American good guy—has festered as his obliviousness has turned from innocent to dangerous.
Cheryl called him dead to rights when she proclaimed Archie Andrews a “mediocre” musician. But more than that, he’s a straight, White, cis-gender male who thinks his mediocrity entitles him to whatever he wants. He’s a problem, and he doesn’t see it. There’s a lot of characters doing damage in Riverdale, but most of them either recognize it and aim to reform, like Betty with her violent dark side or Veronica with her bouts of bullying. Or they revel in being the baddie, like the vengeful vixen Cheryl and smirking ex-jock Chuck. What makes Archie dangerous is that he is woefully oblivious to how his selfish actions hurt others. And more and more, I wonder if this isn’t a case of a poorly written character—a popular accusation among even Riverdale’s most fervent friends—but instead a setup that’ll tie back to the Jason Blossom murder.
What if Dustin is right, and at the cruz of the case is a case of mistaken identity? Jason died because he was mistaken for Riverdale’s other red-headed football star, Archie. With the resurrection of the Grundy scandal, she and her (possibly fictional) ex could be back in play.
Kristy Puchko needs more yarn.