Should 'Riverdale' Make Sexual Assault a Recurring Theme?
Should 'Riverdale' Make Sexual Assault a Recurring Theme?
Vanessa Frith
Vanessa Frith
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
Miss Grundy. Nick St. Clare. Chuck Clayton. 

Hollywood is undergoing an overdue culling of predators, and Riverdale is heeding the clarion call. One by one, the formerly sleepy town has listed off rapists and harassers, culminating in Nick St. Clair's (Graham Phillips) takedown just moments before he could commit a vile attack. But the CW series isn't quite finished.

Riverdale spins some outrageous yarns, often stretching our suspension of disbelief to its breaking point. Small town serial killers! Wildly incompetent parents! A school paper that practically runs itself! Yet, even as we wonder if Archie's (KJ Apa) Red Circle shenanigans are as outlandish as its going to get, the writers have seeded the pulpy drama with undertones of real-life issues. Boasting a cast that's nearly 50 percent female, Riverdale is in a unique position to tackle storylines that teen girls face far more often than a masked gunman. It's an opportunity the series has seized with alacrity. 

Nick, occupying a position of power as the Lodges courted the St. Clairs' bank accounts in "When a Stranger Calls," received a slap from Veronica (Camila Mendes) as she attempted to ward off his unwanted sexual advances. Seeming chastened, the trust-fund baby blamed his actions on the stresses of rehab. Even as his "apologized," his eyes were fixed on his next target. Drugged, Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) nearly became a date rape statistic before Veronica and the Pussycats dabbled in a little wish fulfillment and left Nick in a crumpled heap.

The scene received praise across the Internet, partially due to its efforts to give women the agency victims so often lack, and partially due to the current social climate. Viewers should remember, however, that this isn't the first time Riverdale has bumped up against issues currently dominating the news cycle. Last season, Ethel (Shannon Purser) teamed up with Cheryl, Veronica and Betty (Lili Reinhart) to take down Chuck Clayton (Jordan Calloway) and the football team's "playbook." Used to document the players' sexual conquests, the ledger promoted slut-shaming and sexual harassment across the board. The Scooby gang exercised that oft-transient agency to uncover the evidence (albeit in an unorthodox manner) needed for the principal to dole out just desserts.

Nor is Riverdale's handling of sexual assault limited to women. Archie kicked off the premiere in the arms of Miss Grundy (Sarah Habel), a predator of the highest order. A clear victim of statutory rape, the protagonist was lured into an illicit relationship with his music teacher, a coupling that, no matter how hard Pretty Little Liars worked to normalize it, is manipulative, disgusting and reprehensible. Although we didn't have a chance to see the emotional toll the affair took on Archie, we will see the fallout from Cheryl's nightmare. 

"There's definitely conversations about it between the core four about Nick St. Clair's appearance in Riverdale and what had happened," Apa told Bustle.

Those chats will take place against a backdrop of another potential disaster. When episode 7 rolls around, Josie (Ashleigh Murray) will experience an unexpected twist "when a secret admirer takes things one step too far." Between that and the Black Hood's apparent desire to own Betty, we're left to wonder how much is too much. 

As appreciative as we are of Riverdale's commitment to telling stories that are too often relayed in whispered tones and bathroom stall warnings, we're concerned that overplaying the issue will continue to put the female characters in the victim position. No matter how hard they fight against their attackers, no matter how many times as they emerge from the fire with justice by their side, these women will always carry the emotional scars of the encounter. That's one piece of the story Riverdale has failed to accurately portray. Overplaying the issue runs the risk of diminishing the impacts of these stories, and given the world we live in, we need these episodes to remain as powerful as possible. 

What do you think? Should Riverdale keep telling stories about sexual assault? Has the show done a good job of exploring the issue so far? Tell us in the comments section!

Keep up on the war between the Northside and the Southside courtesy of the BuddyTV Riverdale Facebook page. Catch Riverdale Wednesdays at 8/7c on The CW. 

(Image courtesy of The CW)