Riverdale is the next big CW Teen Show(™) and we all have our favorites. Uncontested at the top of the pile is Cole Sprouse’s Jughead Jones, followed by an assortment of twenty-something-teens that get to showcase some killer outfits, musical talent, and super fine abs (we see you, Archie).
But I would like to make the argument that the real star of Riverdale is Betty Cooper, despite the show’s roots in the Archie comics and it’s attempt at evenly-distributed storylines among the characters.
Across the first season, Betty has great personal development as a character, and her subplots turn toward more complex topics like mental health and how someone deals with loss. By taking on the role of lead investigator in Jason Blossom’s murder, Betty steals the spotlight as a driven and nuanced character with a little bit more to worry about than her stupid crush on her neighbor.
Now that season 2 is in full swing, there is a lot to unpack (and cry about).
For those of us personally victimized by Riverdale’s episode 2.05, below is a look back at the first season and the reasons why Betty Cooper is the heroine we needed.
Departure From Normal Life
Betty is introduced as the perfect girl next door – and, as it turns out, she hates that particular designation. She’s a little bit stuck in the routine of her life: a super student with stellar extracurriculars, best friends with the sheriff’s son and the jock neighbor that she’s secretly in love with, with pastels and ponytails every day.
The routine gets shaken up when Veronica Lodge rolls into town – though really, the world of Riverdale has been a bit of a mess since the day that Jason Blossom went missing at Sweetwater River.
Veronica gets her to loosen up a bit and have fun, getting her to try out for the cheerleading squad and integrating herself into their friend group.
At the end of her rope, Betty tells Archie how she feels. It goes about as well as you think, with the audience having discovered that Archie is, in fact, boning his music teacher (as a brief aside, one thing that I do not appreciate about Riverdale is how they handled Miss Grundy – she was a predator and they never discussed what kind of an effect that really has).
But Betty is made of stronger stuff. In an effort to find out what happened to her sister and distract herself from the pain of losing Archie in the romantic sense, she restarts the school newspaper The Blue And Gold with the help of everyone’s favorite weirdo, Jughead Jones.
Trials of a Hero
As the season moves forward, Betty and Jughead get caught up in the investigation as well as their own personal crises.
Betty’s cage is her seeming perfection, and she tries to hide the effect it has on her – she has a darkness inside that is hard to face, and even harder to admit to. Veronica and Betty lead the charge in an anti-slut-shaming episode about boys at the school that keep score of their conquests, some of which are lies. In the infamous “Dark Betty” incident, she nearly drowns Chuck, who is the most culpable and at the center of the gross high school boy dealings. Dark Betty is the cracks in her Perfect Betty persona. Betty Cooper exists somewhere between the two, but with the pressure of school, strains on her friendships, her missing sister, the possible guilt of her parents, and the fear of Jason Blossom’s murderer at large, she splinters. Dark Betty takes over and she nearly kills someone in an effort to find justice for the young women at her school, and on the very personal level, justice for her sister.
The murder investigation also leads Betty to look more closely at Miss Grundy, who had been a private tutor of Jason’s (she may have also tutored his private parts, but we never get confirmation on that one). Jughead lets slip that Miss Grundy and Archie are involved, in another blow to Betty’s relationship with Archie.
By partnering up with Jughead in the investigation, Betty is set up for a nice big distraction from Archie Andrews and his abs. She’s primarily driven by her need to find what happened to her sister, and in one of the best episodes of the season, 1.06, she manages to track down Polly at a facility that her parents put her in, where she’s waiting out her pregnancy. The episode is a great expression of Betty’s love and concern for her sister, the only sibling relationships in the show that’s not super creepy.
This episode is my favorite because we get to see Betty in action – figuring out where Polly is and following the lead, and subsequently making a huge break in the case based on information Polly gives her about her plan to run away with Jason. And best of all, we get the payoff on the Bughead romance – while we all low-key vomited over the “Hey, Juliet” we all also melted a little. Their relationship starts in a place of mutual respect and deep care and support of each other (and then the showrunners decided to rip our dreams to shreds in 2.05, but it’s FINE).
And somehow Betty manages to navigate the ups and downs of being a teenager, with the added complications of a murder investigation in a town with its own impending civil war. She manages to botch a birthday party for her shiny new boyfriend, said new boyfriend’s father gets thrown in jail, and her mother throws a brick through a window in rage over her father’s secret attempt to have Polly abort her baby. Yet she and the Riverdale teens figure out the big question of the season: who murdered Jason Blossom.
What makes Betty such a fascinating character is her strong sense of justice. She seeks the truth as the editor of The Blue and Gold, but she uses it to back up her own ideas of right and wrong. While watching Riverdale the first time through, I felt that Betty was such a Gryffindor – she was brave and a little bit rash, fiercely protective and willing to fly into battle. In reviewing the season and starting on season 2, I’ve decided that Betty is more of a Slytherin. She has a strong sense of what she feels is right and wrong, and she’s willing to bend the rules to serve what she thinks people deserve.
She’s motivated by finding her sister, and later making sure her sister has everything she needs. She’s on the side of her female classmates unconditionally. And most important to the plot of season 2, she takes the side of the outcasts by standing up for the inhabitants of the south side of town, who are considered junkies and gang members by the almost-suburban north-siders.
Betty comes out the other side of the horrors of the investigation of Jason’s murder as a different person. The darkness has slipped out and is not so willing to retreat. We’re perfectly set up for season 2, with the plot of a serial killer on the loose in Riverdale. In the first few episodes we see Betty’s struggle – we find out that she is the killer’s motivation – and we find out just how dark Betty can go.