The Mysterious Meaning Behind Those Serpent Tattoos On Riverdale

The season 3 trailer for Riverdale just dropped this week and, aside from the Donnie Darko references and that whole thing with the cult, there was one major detail we couldn’t ignore: the tattoos.

Watch the video again (you know you want to), and you’ll see that several make an appearance, including one that looks to be on Archie Andrews (KJ Apa). Here’s where it gets weird: If it is really Andrews, then he’s sporting the snake that represents the Southside Serpents. But Andrews isn’t a member of the Riverdale gang — in fact, from what we’ve witnessed, he’s literally their enemy. So… why? And how?

We can’t answer that question — yet — but we can definitely dig deeper into the mystery of the tat itself. Yes, the double-headed snake is the mark of the most hated gang in all of Riverdale (sort of like the Dark Mark for Lord Voldemort, just a little less sinister). And tons of the characters we see onscreen have one, including Sweet Pea (Jordan Connor), Toni Topaz (Vanessa Morgan), FP Jones (Skeet Ulrich), and Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse). We even witnessed Jughead working to earn his Serpent tattoo in season 2, when he endured the initiation process of the gang. But what does this tattoo mean? And who exactly has one on the show?

To uncover all the Serpent dirt, we talked to the show’s former makeup artist, Erin Mackenzie. Mackenzie, the makeup department head for season 1 and 2, tells us that, like most things in the CW’s reimagined series of the classic comic, the tattoos were specifically created for the show. Yep, that image — the double-headed, hissing serpent — was designed by the first season’s art department, along with the show’s creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. (Oh, and those two heads? That’s not just a meaningless design choice. However, Mackenzie says that the only people to know its true meaning in Riverdale are the show’s creators.)


Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW

We can presume everyone in the gang we see on screen has a Serpent tattoo of their own; in fact, Mackenzie tells us that she’s created hundreds. “Not only were the Serpent [main] cast members tattooed, but the background performers as well, and there have been many,” she says. As for Alice Cooper (Mädchen Amick) and her Serpent past (she grew up on the Southside): It’s been… discussed. “Mädchen and I talked about some ideas where [her tattoo] would be on a few occasions in the makeup trailer, but what’s said in the makeup trailer stays in the makeup trailer.”

From what we can tell from the teaser, Alice will revisit her Serpent roots with FP, which could mean we’ll finally get a glimpse at her ink. It’s also been implied that Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) and Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) will join the Serpents, too. It sounds like the makeup department has been very busy, especially considering the fact that Mackenzie says the actors had the tattoos applied every time there was even a small chance it could show on camera. “It would depend on their costume and action within the scene,” she explains. “We wouldn’t take the chance of not applying it with the action possibly revealing the tattoo.”


Photo Via Instagram/ Vanessa Morgan.

We know how most tattoos are created for TV and film — and the Riverdale Serpent ink is no different. “The tattoos were printed from FX shops in Vancouver with various levels of age,” Mackenzie recalls. And if you ever notice, for example, that FP’s tattoo appears more faded than Jughead’s, it’s for obvious reasons: He’s had it longer. Mackenzie explains that the FX shop could create different levels of aged tattoos — darker for newer tattoos and duller for older ones — before they would be applied via a tattoo transfer.

Still, the work never ended there. “The finishing is what made all the difference. For example, Jughead’s tattoo was a stick-and-poke style, so it required a steady hand and a [temporary] tattoo pen on top to give that hand-stitched effect,” she explains. Even then, there was still one more final step: foundation. Mackenzie would apply a sheer layer of foundation over the transfer (“oh-so carefully,” she says) to give the impression that the ink was healed and settled under the skin.

The only question that remains: Are Alice and FP endgame? (We hope so.)

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