The Future Is Female On 'Riverdale'

How Betty and Veronica put their friendship first and toppled the patriarchy, according to the stars of ‘Riverdale’

Riverdale established itself as a smartly feminist show from the very beginning, challenging the Betty-versus-Veronica dynamic that's been at the center of Archie comics since their creation in the 1940s. In The CW show's first episode, we met two capable young women far more complex than their ink-and-paper counterparts: Betty (Lili Reinhart), a bright, sweet, and stressed-out overachiever; and Veronica (Camila Mendes), who commands attention as the sophisticated new girl in town. They both could use a friend to see them the way they see themselves — messy.

These girls aren't your typical teen archetypes. Depressed and anxious Betty hides that she's one meltdown away from joining her sister in the psych ward by playing a picture-perfect girl next door. Meanwhile, former Manhattan mean girl Veronica has a chance to reinvent herself in Riverdale. But when someone on the football team makes up a vicious rumor about her, it still stings.

In Thursday night's episode, "Body Double," Betty and Veronica team up to take down the team that's been routinely slut-shaming girls in school. For Veronica, it's personal, after football star Chuck Clayton (Jordan Calloway) starts circulating a selfie of the two on a date that ends up with a disgustingly crude caption about him giving Veronica a "Sticky Maple." (It's kind of what it sounds like.) Kevin (Casey Cott) tells Ronnie that it's just a "Riverdale thing," but the woke socialite is quick to correct him: It's a "slut-shaming thing." Betty and Veronica confront Chuck in the boys' locker room to make it clear: "You are not allowed to go around humiliating girls for any reason, under any circumstances," Betty says.

"Slut-shaming is such a disgustingly relevant subject," star Reinhart told MTV News. "It's very real, and it damages women's reputations. To watch such a strong character like Veronica go through that is really powerful. There's something beautiful about the way her friends stood up for her and demanded justice for her. ... None of Veronica's friends ever questioned whether she and Chuck did what he said they did — they were automatically there for her. They were going to fight this with her."

Veronica wasn't the only victim of Chuck and his teammates' sexist behavior. As Betty investigates the story for the student newspaper, a number of young women step forward to tell their own stories, including quiet outsider Ethel (Shannon Purser), who reveals that the football team keeps a playbook that rates all the girls in the school based on looks and sexual prowess. Not cool, boys. So Betty and Veronica fight the good fight, uniting with Ethel and River Vixen terror Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) to steal the playbook for Betty's savage front-page exposé. To give Chuck a taste of his own medicine, Betty and Veronica execute a well-intentioned but ultimately flawed plan that ends with Betty nearly drowning Chuck after a "full dark, no stars" psychotic break. Still, "justice was served," Reinhart said.

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Riverdale Ethel

"What I love so much about working on this show is not only is [it] headlined by strong, powerful females, but it also doesn't pit them against one another," she added. "All of these women don't hate each other for no reason. There's friendships and alliances and teamwork. B and V are soulmates. They're a power duo."

That was always the intent of showrunner and Archie Comics chief creative officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who fell in love with Archie long before he created the show. Aguirre-Sacasa created some of the franchise's most ambitious tales, like Afterlife with Archie, and originally became fascinated with the world of Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper, Veronica Lodge, and Jughead Jones because he "wanted to be friends with them" — something he instilled in the show.

"One thing people really respond to is the fact that Betty and Veronica are friends and that they're not frenemies," Aguirre-Sacasa told MTV News. "Part of it is I love these characters so much that I don't particularly want them to be cutting each other down. It also felt like if we were going to include the character of Cheryl Blossom, she would be the villainess and the mean girl, and that allowed Veronica to be something different."

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Even Cheryl finds an ounce of empathy in her cold, dead heart to join Betty and Veronica's resistance — but not before Ronnie checks her on her victim-blaming. "When they're done with us, they shame us into silence," she tells Cheryl. (Calling other girls sluts does not fly with Veronica.) However, once Cheryl discovers that her brother Jason wrote his own notes about Betty's sister in the playbook, she changes her tune, even apologizing for her bother's rancid behavior to Betty. The action proves that Cheryl may not be as icy as her ironclad persona suggests; for all of her faults, Cheryl is not about to defend her dead brother for crudely humiliating other women.

"As a young girl, I never really thought I could stand up and talk about that," Petsch said. "But I hope that young people, especially young women, watch this episode and see the statement that it's making and feel like they have the confidence to stand up the way that Betty and Veronica do. We want them to tell their stories and to not feel like they have to bottle it up."

By the end of the episode, the girls are victorious, and the boys get their comeuppance when Chuck and his teammates are cut from the football team after Betty's exposé sends shock waves throughout the school. Even Josie and the Pussycats frontwoman Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray), an outspoken intersectional feminist, is there to watch the high school patriarchy burn. (Not to be confused with the scene in which Betty actually sets fire to the team's "playbook" and watches it burn-baby-burn.)

Riverdale's no-nonsense girl power onscreen also translates to the cast's rapport offscreen. "I actually enjoy watching everyone else more so than I do performing," Murray said. "These women — Madelaine, Lili, and Cami — are so strong and passionate. It gives me that kind of fire, and I'm in the show!"

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"It's so refreshing," she concluded. "These women are smart and willful and confident. We don't have a lot of that in TV and movies, especially today. So having a large group of female characters not play these archetypes, not needing a guy to make them feel fulfilled — no matter how scary some of the things they do might be, they're there for each other."

Betty and Veronica might not always see eye to eye, especially when it comes to their dreamy, ginger-haired blind spot, Archie. And they don't have to. That's not a realistic portrait of friendship, anyway. There will always be frivolous disagreements and seemingly world-ending fights. But when it comes to the truly important stuff, like sticking up for a friend or fighting for women's fundamental rights, B and V are an unstoppable force.

On Riverdale, the future is most certainly female.

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