Riverdale S2E5 Review: “When a Stranger Calls”


Riverdale has been putting together a really great season that continues to up the level of intensity each week. “When A Stranger Calls,” really dove into what might have been the show’s darkest point since it came to television last year. The episode’s in season two have been taking the town of Riverdale and its characters to a place viewers have never seen before, but the fifth episode started to tackle different styles of abuse and how they can hurt people. With everything going on in the entertainment industry right now, it feels like an appropriate time for Riverdale to tackle this subject matter, but even witnessing fictional television characters deal with abuse display just how unsettling it truly is.

“When A Stranger Calls,” puts a really heavy emphasis on Betty because it has been revealed that the Black Hood is doing everything for her. The episode continued to develop this connection as the character is now calling Betty’s cellphone and issuing out commands that she must follow or else he will begin to kill the people she cares most about, starting with her sister Polly. This is probably the strongest version of abuse that Riverdale delivers because it is the most extreme situation and dives into mental abuse rather than physical. Not to say that one is worse than the other, but within the show’s context, everything that Betty deals with is just flat out terrible, especially for her age. The character is stuck in a box that has her hurting her loved ones while feeling trapped to and unable to reveal the truth. The episode has her expose one of her mother’s darkest past secrets and destroy her relationships with both Veronica and Jughead. Watching Betty tear down Veronica is pretty sad, and while she is not necessarily wrong with her criticisms, she is betraying her best friend in front of everyone else she is close to. It’s embarrassing for Veronica and the first situation that is completely out of character for Betty.

The most painful moment is her dealing with the fact that she will have to break up with Jughead, which she can’t even do herself. Betty and Jughead have grown into a really great and strong couple on Riverdale, and they work well together. The couple has definitely been struggling to find time for one another and stay as close as they have been with Jughead’s recent move to the South side of town, but it has been very admirable to watch them work through things and stay strong. It’s a shame that she has Archie go and carryout the actual confrontational breakup though, because it makes the situation a lot messier than it could have been. Archie really lets his emotions get to him in the situation and handles the break up poorly, because instead of using it as a situation to help his two friends out, he turns it into a way to hurt Jughead for his decision to join the South Side Serpents. Instead of filling him in on the horrible abusive situation Betty is facing, Archie only pushes Jughead deeper into his decision to join the gang and suffer physical abuse to do so. Once again, Riverdale delivers a rough scene as Jughead, emotionally detached over the breakup, suffers a horrible beating from the other Serpents as his final test.

Despite showing everything that Betty and Jughead deal with, this was probably not even the most unsettling visual scenario that Riverdale provided last week. “When a Stranger Calls,” fully introduced viewers to Nick St. Clair, an ex of sorts from Veronica’s past who has brought his big city tendencies to the small town of Riverdale. Right from the start it’s clear that Nick is bad news but the episode wasted no time showing his true colors when Veronica throws a party in attempt to show him Riverdale isn’t as boring as it seems. Nick quickly wants to turn things up a notch with alcohol and drugs, which isn’t the biggest surprise as the show has made it clear Jingle Jangle is going around this season. This isn’t what makes Nick a bad guy though, because when everything is finished and he’s alone with Veronica he tries to force a kiss from her and even threatens to tank her father’s business deal if she doesn’t sleep with him.  When this doesn’t work the way he had hoped, Nick goes even further by drugging Cheryl the next day with plans to forcibly have sex with her while she is barely conscious. The entire progression of the scene is pretty sickening but he doesn’t get away with it. Riverdale utilizes this to show that the female characters on the show are strong and have each other’s backs as Veronica and the Pussy Cats waste no time in throwing Nick off Cheryl and kicking the crap out of him.

Everything that Riverdale presented in “When A Stranger Calls,” was pretty horrible; however, it took the opportunity to present multiple situations that are present in reality right now. While the situations presented are tough to watch play out, it dives into topics that feel real and are relatable for viewers, which is what makes this show increasingly better each week. The dark tone that season two has continues to make things better, because it is exposing everyone’s true nature, which is a lot of fun. It will be interesting to see where Nick goes as a character from here on out because he has, in one episode, alienated almost everyone possible. Regardless, Riverdale continues to explore a season of tough situations while executing them excellently.

Other Thoughts:

– As much as I’m enjoying dark Archie this season, he really handled Betty’s break up request like a jerk. Sad that he once again puts himself over others.

– Also can’t wait to see the fallout and reaction when Betty tries to get back with Jughead once the killer is caught and she finds out he’s with Toni specifically because Archie didn’t tell him the truth.

– Loved seeing Alice show up at the party! Her character doesn’t let anything beat her down!

– Veronica’s slap was badass. Glad she stood up to Nick and protected herself even though her parents asked her to “help the family.”

-Major props to Jughead for taking that snakebite.


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