‘Riverdale’ Boss on Cheryl’s Near-Assault, Jughead as Southside Serpent and ‘Rent’ Montage

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the fifth episode of the second season of “Riverdale,” entitled “Chapter Eighteen: When A Stranger Calls.”

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s “Riverdale” may be an adaptation of a timeless comic book, but the fifth episode of its second season (“Chapter Eighteen: When A Stranger Calls”) is an extremely timely tale.

While Hollywood has been entrenched in one sexual harassment scandal after another, the small town of Riverdale has one on its hands, too. Veronica Lodge’s ex Nick (guest star Graham Phillips) came to town and promptly drugged and attempted to rape Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch). Luckily for Cheryl, her friends realized what he was up to and arrived just in time to pull him off of her and punish him.

The episode also saw Jughead (Cole Sprouse) finally pick a side and decide to fully join the Southside Serpents — which meant getting “jumped in” during initiation. And Betty (Lili Reinhart) not only engaged with the Black Hood but gave into his demands more than once, including outing her mother’s youthful indiscretions, breaking up with Jughead, and giving up the name of another sinner in town for the Black Hood to target.

The darkness of the season may have started with the new mystery of the Black Hood, but it has certainly only exploded from there. Here, Aguirre-Sacasa talks with Variety about these recent turns.

Jughead is running around Riverdale calling the Black Hood a serial killer, so will the show pay off that promise and actually kill off at least one more character?

I can tell you that the Black Hood is only getting started so far.

What is the biggest challenge in going this dark this season? How do you still strike the balance with the more typical teenage fare like Pussycat performances?

We kind of used the inspiration of a couple of movies. One was “Zodiac” and one was the Spike Lee movie “Summer of Sam.” And those movies were all about how those areas — those towns — were affected by the killer or the threat of violence. But life didn’t stop. People went to work, people went to school. They looked over their shoulders more, they tried to get home before it got dark, but life continued. And that’s what’s going on in Riverdale. From episode 5 through the resolution of the Black Hood story, it only gets more and more intense.

How did you select “Out Tonight” from “Rent” for Hiram’s (Mark Consuelos) business event?

I love that song! And it’s one I knew I wanted to do a version of since we started “Riverdale.” We knew we wanted kind of an upbeat song for the Pussycats. Sometimes we just use whatever the event of the week is as an excuse to showcase the Pussycats, and sometimes the songs are more thematically tied and sometimes less so. It varies, but in this case, I think if we had given it more thought, we would have talked ourselves out of it, honestly!

This version felt even more upbeat because it was juxtaposed with such a violent montage. 

When we did it, there was a moment where we were editing the episode where I was like, “This is completely bonkers!” It felt bonkers. It also felt like only “Riverdale” could kind of hold these disparate tones in the same exact moment. But I’m not going to lie, in the edit bay, it was, “What are we doing?” I think we pulled it off, and again, it shows that “Riverdale” isn’t just one thing. Whenever we do these musical numbers, it captures the essence of the show, which is the tension between the teen, fun stuff and then the darker material.

The Nick and Cheryl storyline is extremely timely right now. What commentary is the show making on the kind of character Nick is and whether or not he can get away with the behavior?

We wrote that story before the Harvey Weinstein stuff broke, and the conceit of it was “Let’s take the Archie characters and put them in a story with a Bret Easton Ellis character and let’s see what happens.” So Nick, in our minds, was a Bret Easton Ellis character from “Rules of Attraction” or “American Psycho.” He’s a certain kind of person who’s entitled and basically has no empathy.

What kind of network notes did you see from stories like this, or the earlier, willing drug use from these characters? How far can you take these characters?

No one loves these characters more than I do — no one treasures them more than I do. So I think we try to handle things with care, but they are teenagers, and teenagers do bad things. We try to not do it for shock and salacious reasons. We try to make sure it comes out of an emotionally true place for the character, that it’s earned, and that we follow through on all of these things.

What kind of lingering effects are in play for Cheryl in coming episodes?

That started as a one episode story. We were going to be done with Nick in episode 5, but 1) the actor who plays Nick — Graham Phillips — is excellent, I think, and 2) we thought, “Wow, this is actually a huge, deep story that can continue for not just Cheryl but Veronica, their parents, and Archie.” So far, it’s something we’ve been tracking through the rest of the season.

With the girls beating him up and Betty giving the Black Hood his name, are you promising he will get his due?

Nick is going to get his due — 100%!

The Black Hood keeps saying he’s going after sinners, but if he really knew her, he’d know about Dark Betty, and then she might be a target.

Yeah that’s true. No spoilers, but I think he’s going to find out about Dark Betty.

How close is he to her now? Why has he picked her?

Well I believe what he says, which is, “You inspired me at the jubilee.”

So his motivations can be trusted at this point?

It’s our big season mystery, so there will be twists and turns. When we reveal it, it might not be who you think it is, but it might be exactly who you think it is. I can tell you this: as happened last year with Jason Blossom, the identity of the killer shifts week to week.

Why didn’t you land on the identity first and craft the story around that?

What we did last year and what we did this year is we came up with a list of three suspects that could have been Jason Blossom’s killer and could be the Black Hood. And we built the seasons with those three suspects in play so we have options as the show develops, and we’re also making sure we’re doing our homework in terms of red herrings and stuff.

Was it a conscious choice to put the Black Hood on speakerphone with Betty and Archie so the audience knew he was a real person and not just Dark Betty having some sort of episode?

That was not a conscious decision! But people thought for awhile that Betty was making up Polly, so it’s good that we did it!

Jughead losing Betty has to be a big loss for him. How does that change him, and does that change him more than being a Serpent may change him?

Betty and Jughead being apart for whatever reason, for however long, will affect them both deeply — deeply. I think [those two things] are very, very intertwined, to be honest.

How do Archie and Jughead bounce back as friends from this? Or, do they have to turn to others to lean on like they used to lean on each other instead?

They’re definitely not in a good place, that’s for sure. They’re going to work through this, but it’s not going to be an easy reset with them. They don’t have anyone else to lean on, except for each other, even though they are enemies.

Is there anything that could bring the North and South sides together, and even if they came together, would that actually solve anything?

I think if they came together it would actually solve stuff, but we’re nowhere near that. It’s only going to start getting worse!

Because Hiram is gentrifying the South side?

I think for sure, though we haven’t called him a gentrifier yet, that is what he seems to be proposing, and yeah, I think people have very mixed feelings about gentrification.

Watch the extended performance of “Out Tonight” below:

“Riverdale” airs on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on the CW.

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