From the sounds of it, season two of Riverdale is going to double down on all the dark, gritty themes from the first season.
This also means seeing a lot more of the so-called “Dark Betty”, as the iconic blonde character from the Archie comics unleashes her wicked streak, manipulating those around her for her own twisted pleasure (albeit generally with an altruistic motive at heart).
Dark Betty does return in the latest episode of Riverdale‘s second season, albeit without the black wig that made her so significant when she first broke character to turn to the Dark Side.
This is all a lot of fun, but considering just how much the show is already leaning on this subversion of the standard Betty personality from the comics, it’s easy to see how this could quickly unravel the entire show.
In Archie comics, the titular character spends his time trying to decide between Betty and Veronica, two girls who are constantly vying for his affection. Betty is the cutesy sweetheart; innocent, optimistic, friendly, and outgoing.
By contrast, Veronica has a little more bite to her – she’s naturally a bit more reserved, sometimes manipulative, and generally carries the air of a “bad girl” (whatever that means in a comic universe aimed at kids that’s stuck perpetually in a Hollywoodized 1950s setting).
Riverdale is all about taking the public consciousness’ enduring idea of the Archie comics, and breaking it; filling it with kinky underage sex, drugs, murder, and whatever other taboo subjects the writers can come up with.
It’s natural, then, for Betty to be reimagined as something other than a Goody Two-Shoes, but changing her in this way risks messing with the dynamic of the characters.
If Betty is a “Bad Girl” (again, this feels like a weird term to apply to the character, even in this show’s context), then what is there to separate her from Veronica? The two characters work well in the comics because of their different outlooks on life.
It’d be like, for example, if instead of being optimistic and filled with hope, Superman were to appear in a live-action adaptation as a brooding, tortured soul who’s struggling to come to terms with the death of a parental figure.
When such a character then clashes with Batman, there’d be no real ideological struggle, because they’d both be equally grumpy and dark. The director would have to invent some kind of kidnapped mother plot contrivance to make things work – and surely, nobody would be dumb enough to make that movie, right?
Alternatively, in order to make Veronica seem darker and edgier than Betty, the writers of Riverdale could take her character further down the rabbit hole of existential teenage angst.
That never ends well, as invariably, whenever grown adults try to write about teenagers turning to the dark side, it ends up with a heavyhanded and unrealistic sex or drugs story arc that nobody enjoys. Riverdale could well end up tipping all the way into a full-blown grimdark nightmare if sweet, kind Betty keeps tipping the balance.
This isn’t to say that Betty can’t show some attitude; but it is important for her to remain morally grounded. The dark, sexy antics that everyone else is getting up to can only really be shocking if there’s someone around to be shocked. Clearly, in Riverdale, that character isn’t Betty.
Maybe Riverdale runs the risk of ending up in the tired, grimdark mold that was used for Batman v Superman. Perhaps, instead, they’ll find a good way to balance the show so that it doesn’t get overly grumpy and preachy.
Either way, here’s hoping that Dark Betty doesn’t show up too often in the coming season – she’s fun, but too much of a good thing can quickly ruin everything.