Riverdale’s (Too?) Perfect Veronica
The Limits of Perfection for TV Characters
“A new mystery rolls into town,” a sleek black car pulls to a stop in front of a mansion, and peeking out from behind its half-open window is Veronica Lodge. Trimmed eyebrows, neatly applied red lipstick, pearls draped around her neck — the new girl is more polished than the gloss of a magazine cover. Her first words, “Quality always,” said in unison with her similarly sophisticated mother, are the key to her character. And there lies much more quality under the surface than her already pristine appearance suggests.
In the CW’s version of Riverdale, the Archie comic characters are revamped 21st-century kids. At first glance, the cast fits in the Mean Girls’ cliques: Cheryl Blossom is the top queen cheerleader bully, Betty is the sweet girl-next-door and Archie the sweet boy-next-door, Moose and Reggie are the jocks, and Jughead is the loner. Add a murder to the mix, and it’s the perfect Pretty Little Liars offspring.
Much like its other distant parent Jane the Virgin with telenovelas, Riverdale is aware of its teen TV stereotypes and plays with them while working within their structure. Veronica Lodge is at the heart of this narrative remodeling. She is nothing anyone at her new school expects, starting from their first encounter.
A slow night at Pop Tate’s. A succession of close-ups, a background in soft focus. An overload of eye contact. Betty is on the verge of telling Archie she has feelings for him when the diner’s bell rings.
Veronica walks in, Archie looks up, the soundtrack suffuses the scene, and everything slows down. In her first encounter with Archie and Betty, the scene knowingly sets Veronica up as a disruptive element in opposition to the blonde girl. However, the show is equally quick to dismantle that assumption. Despite the underlying awkwardness from Betty’s interrupted confession, the young Lodge is personable and warm. One of the first things she tells them is: “Are you familiar with the works of Truman Capote? I’m Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but this place is strictly In Cold Blood.” The show’s dialogue is heavily stylized, with the characters’ back-and-forth full of pop culture tidbits. Veronica’s cultural references, which punctuate every conversation she has, boost her prestige within Riverdale’s dynamics. They are rich, witty, and they add to her likability, contrarily to Cheryl Blossoms who uses lines such as “too season 5 Betty Draper” to insult others. The contrast between both of their pop cultural lexicon further distances Veronica from any snobbish bully characterization. As she explains to Betty, she used to be like Cheryl, but she “made a pact with [her]self to use [her move to Riverdale] as an opportunity to become maybe, hopefully, a better version of [her]self.”
It is this person, who vehemently defends everyone and speaks out on social issues, that has us all swooning in front of our screens. Veronica Lodge is the prime example of what characters in teen TV should be like. When Cheryl rejects Betty from the cheerleading squad, Veronica angrily calls her out. She then addresses her own privilege: “You’re rich, so you’ve never been held accountable, but I’m living proof that certainty, that entitlement you wear on your head like a crown? It won’t last.” Ronnie is an important character because she acknowledges her shortcomings. At the end of a drama-filled pilot, she gets involved with Archie despite knowing about Betty’s feelings for him. It’s her biggest mistake and, in theory, it should have caused backlash. Except that that was never the intention. Instead of pitting them against each other, as would be expected, Veronica’s screw-up eventually brings the two girls closer. The conflict also shuts down any tension or possibility of a love-fueled rivalry developing. Riverdale plays with this Archie comic book trope before turning it inside out, and rejecting it (at least, for now).
What’s most telling about Archie and Veronica’s short-lived closet fling is how she handles the aftermath. In those scenes, the New York expat does all the right things, and says all the right things. Teen TV usually prolongs conflicts by having characters avoid apologizing or unintentionally worsen situations. Here, though, Veronica approaches Betty, not expecting her to accept her apology, then later gives her the space she needs. When Archie is scared he’s lost Betty forever, Veronica is the one who tells him to “give her time.” She takes on a mediating role in her interactions with others. While Jughead dips in and out of scenes, Veronica glides from scene to scene, and from one character to another. After Betty has a surreal dissociative experience in which she imagines herself as her sister, Veronica tries to reach out to her: “You came through for me, in a way that no one else ever has before. But can we talk about what happened?” She’s there to investigate on Ms. Grundy with Betty. She’s there to comfort Cheryl when she breaks down at a pep rally. She’s our gateway inside the Blossoms’ family during Cheryl’s brother’s funeral. In episode 5, Archie’s nerves fail him at an audition. Veronica shows up in the next scene, and tells him she got him a spot on the talent show. Really, she’s perfect. Too perfect.
In each of these scenes, Veronica either acts as a tool of self-reflection for the person she’s with, as a sounding board that reveals more about their personality, or as a driving force for their narrative (thanks to her, Archie performs in front of the school). She may have her own storyline, but her role is crucial when it comes to others. Veronica is too perfect insofar as she is more of a narrative device than a real-life, relatable character. My friend and I were gushing about her when it hit me. “Don’t you think she’s too perfect?” Without missing a beat, he said, “She’s not realistic. She doesn’t exist.” He didn’t mean that she was a fictional character, but that someone like her doesn’t truly exist. I doubt I’ve ever seen a character maturely handle situations or say the right thing as consistently as she does. Veronica represents an ideal version of what we all aim to be: understanding, resourceful, and rational. She’s the person you are when you walk away from a conversation, and suddenly find the perfect comeback, but it’s too late.
That level of perfection has its limits for a TV character: she is too polished to be real. But can we relate to her? Surprisingly, yes. When she calls out Chuck for slutshaming her, she is hurt and emotional, and that gives her the strength to not let him get away with his abusive sexism. In Chapter 6, Veronica opens up to her mom about her dad in what is one of her most touching moments. Her questions about what will happen when he gets out of jail give us a glimpse of a younger, more fragile Ronnie. These scenes reveal a person hurting behind the confident driving force that she is. There is more to Veronica than perfect lines. Right now, Riverdale has mostly shown us the easy-going, friendly girl. She’s encouraged others to confide in her, but she hasn’t opened up to anyone yet. As the show progresses, however, it needs to let us see these other sides to Veronica. Her impenetrable veneer needs to be chipped away. Being let inside a character’s intimacy is the magic of television, just as getting closer to someone in real life requires putting your guard down. It would be a shame not to give viewers more insight into a compelling and complex character like her. As fierce as she is, I hope that we will see her falter more. Veronica’s vulnerabilities are what will give us a perfect flesh-and-blood character instead of a perfect idealized one. And when that happens, “you better be willing to go full dark, no stars.”