One of the most obvious ways in which the CW’s Riverdale differed from the Archie comics it spawned from is in its depiction of teacher Miss Grundy.
In the original Archie comics, Miss Grundy is an elderly teacher – the archetype of a strict but caring teacher, who pushes her students but loves them really. In Riverdale, Miss Grundy is a much younger woman, and is a music teacher rather than a maths teacher.
She’s also a rapist.
One of the central plotlines of Riverdale’s early episodes was a burgeoning romance between Archie and his teacher Miss Grundy. It was an ongoing source of tension in the show, as the two characters had been together when Jason Blossom was murdered – meaning that, if they were to reveal a piece of information that could prove crucial to the ongoing investigation at the heart of the show, they’d have to reveal their relationship.
Miss Grundy, for obvious reasons, didn’t want Archie to come forward about what they heard, instead pressuring him to keep silent. For a time, it was kept a secret; eventually, though, the other characters found out, and Miss Grundy was forced to leave Riverdale, ending the relationship.
On paper, it’s evident what this is – a predatory relationship between a teacher and a student, nothing more complicated than that. Within the show, however, this fairly straightforward detail is lost somewhat, leaving Riverdale in a far more problematic position: Archie and Miss Grundy are presented as having an illicit romance, one which is sexualised and glamorised by the narrative.
In part, it’s perhaps just a matter of visuals; it’s easy to forget that the teenagers in Riverdale really are just that, given that many of the actors look so much older. Without that in mind, the dynamic does change considerably – but it has to be remembered that Archie and his peers are 16 years old, all minors. Miss Grundy is a statutory rapist. There’s no other way of looking at it.
It’s a failing of the show, then, that they fail to acknowledge this, or to really drive home Archie’s age. That they take it so far in the opposite direction, with the relationship between Archie and Miss Grundy depicted as a “forbidden romance”, just another facet of Riverdale’s dark and edgy aesthetic, is an outright ethical lapse.
The strange thing, though, is that every so often there is an implicit awareness of this fact. A character will call out Miss Grundy’s abuse, for example, or it’ll be made clear that her apologies ring false; Miss Grundy’s final departure emphasises a cyclical nature to her abuse, implying that she’s simply going to target another boy now that she’s ended her relationship with Archie. It’s possible that Riverdale hasn’t yet finished with its Miss Grundy storyline; perhaps, across the remaining episodes of the series, the programme will provide a more emphatic conclusion to this arc, making it much more obvious what exactly Miss Grundy was.
And yet it seems unlikely – for all that Riverdale did display an occasional awareness of Miss Grundy’s predatory nature, it was very much an attempt for the show to have their cake and eat it too. They wanted to be able to conceptualise the abuse, while still maintaining a ‘dark’ and ‘sexy’ vibe; in the end, the show came down on the side of the latter. No serious critique of Miss Grundy was ever allowed to stick. There’s never been any meaningful consequence depicted for Archie. It never amounted to anything.
In the end, Riverdale’s Miss Grundy storyline can only be considered something ugly – a failure at the heart of the show, and an ethical lapse that should have been avoided.
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