The CW’s “Riverdale” is one of TV’s most talked about series, but one scene in the Season 2 episode “Chapter Twenty-One: House of the Devil” caught most fans off guard. The Archie Comics adaptation has always pushed the envelope with the edgy reimagining of the classic comic, but a striptease scene involving 16-year-old Betty Cooper has given fans pause.
In “House of the Devil,” Betty (Lili Reinhart) helps her boyfriend Jughead (Cole Sprouse) throw a retirement party for his father, who has decided to leave behind his biker gang, The South Side Serpents. Jughead had previously joined the gang during his father’s stint in prison. Worried about her boyfriend’s safety and wanting to be a part of his world, Betty decides to join the gang herself. Her initiation? A pole dance at the gang’s bar hangout.
Although the ritual is explained to Betty as something sexist and archaic, Betty still decides to dance and does so during the retirement party in front of Jughead, his father, her own mother, and a bar full of middle-aged male members of the South Side Serpents. Fans were surprised and uncomfortable by Betty’s striptease, which was awkwardly soundtracked to “Mad World,” no less.
In a new interview with Glamour, however, Reinhart defends the scene against fan backlash. The actress explains that while she didn’t anticipate the scene receiving as much controversy as it did, making fans uncomfortable was exactly the point.
“People were very caught up with the fact that Betty is 16 and she’s dancing around all these men,” Reinhart tells Glamour. “But that’s the point. That scene was supposed to make you uncomfortable because you’re watching this girl do something completely out of her comfort zone for the man that she loves. You’re watching her make a personal sacrifice, and that is the most important takeaway.”
Reinhart says that Betty was going “to the dark side” for Jughead out of love. But at the end of the episode, the sacrifice was in vain as Jughead breaks up with Betty. It should be noted that Jughead never slut shames Betty for the dance and only breaks up with her to keep her safe. “He’s trying to protect her from that darkness, but she wants to be part of it,” Reinhart said.
Part of the fan backlash over the scene has to do with the fact that it aired in an atmosphere where so many women are speaking out about sexual harassment. Anyone thinking Reinhart might have been coerced into filming a scene that she was not entirely comfortable with can rest easy, as Reinhart says this was not the case. She worked alongside “Riverdale” showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa to make sure the scene felt appropriate and safe.
“We totally talked about it ahead of time,” Reinhart said. “It was kind of an ongoing situation. The first draft that I got didn’t feel right to me, so I called Roberto and was like, ‘I think this should happen. This is how it should be.’ We worked it out. It was all very well-thought-out and not spontaneous. It was planned and premeditated, so I was a part of it from the beginning. I wasn’t surprised.”
Reinhart also says that she turned down pole dancing classes because she felt that Betty wouldn’t know what she was doing, although she admitted filming the scene still wasn’t easy. “It was very intimidating,” Reinhart said.
“Riverdale” is currently on hiatus for the holidays and will return with new episodes on January 17.