Riverdale just showed us its darkest and most true-to-life storyline so far.
In “When A Stranger Calls” we meet Nick St. Clair (Graham Phillips), Veronica Lodge’s old school friend. The party-loving rich boy she used to rule New York City with.
St. Clair has all the traits you’d expect of someone from Veronica’s upper-class New York past.
He’s wealthy, well-educated, very sure of himself, and under the impression he can have anything he wants.
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We realise pretty quickly that St. Clair isn’t a nice guy and by the end of the episode, it’s clear that he’s a dangerous sexual predator.
We first see signs of Nick’s predatory behaviour when he tries to convince everyone to take the drug jingle jangle with him at Veronica’s party.
Everyone, including Veronica, slowly caves into peer pressure and takes the jingle jangle.
After the party we start to see more of St. Clair’s true colours, when he begins to touch Veronica and then tries to kiss her after she repeatedly says no.
Veronica ends up slapping him and walking out of the room, horrified by her old friend’s sickening behaviour.
After Veronica rebukes his unwanted advances, St. Clair switches his focus to another target.
When Cheryl arrives at the Lodge’s house she is greeted by St. Clair. Within minutes of meeting her, St. Clair spikes Cheryl’s glass of champagne. He then takes her up to a bedroom to sexually assault her.
This is not an uncommon scene in pop culture – and sadly, in real life – but it’s one that TV shows often get wrong.
But this time, Riverdale got it so right.
From on stage where they're performing, Veronica and the Pussycats notice what's happening and jump into action.
They leave the stage and quickly rush upstairs after St. Clair and the now barely conscious Cheryl. They reached the room just in time to stop St. Clair from raping Cheryl.
Veronica and the Pussycats pull St. Clair off Cheryl and begin bashing him as a frightened, some-what conscious Cheryl looks on, suddenly realising just how close to real danger she had come.
When the full gravity of the situation dawns on Cheryl, she's horrified and she's immediately adamant that she's going to press charges against St. Clair.
In this storyline there's no grey area - there's a very clear victim and a very clear perpetrator.
There's no question about consent, no victim blaming, no he said/she said.
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We see that St. Clair is a dangerous predator, that he was in the wrong, and he was immediately punished for his actions.
Cheryl's sexual assault isn't gratuitous or exploitative, and it isn't just included in the show to move a male character's storyline forward. Instead, it's all about women helping women.
It's not Archie or Jughead who come running in at the last minute to save Cheryl, it's Veronica and the Pussycats.
Cheryl's plan to press charges is important too - so often sexual assault victims in TV shows do not have the support to be able to come forward to tell their story.
In this episode, unlike in so many other teenage sexual assault plot lines, the women are able to take back the power in even the most disempowering of circumstances.
We need to see a lot more of this on our TV screens.
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