Welcome back all you Riverdale fans! It’s been three seasons but Riverdale is back to riding high on that good, good murder pulp. It’s been a while since the show’s fired on all cylinders like this week. It only took a half season’s worth of build up and a bit of faffing about to really lay the groundwork. Much as I loathe to admit it, this story wouldn’t have worked as well in a shorter season. Dammit Riverdale!
And as always, spoilers ahead.
1. Grey’s Matter
There was a line, about halfway through the episode, about Jughead’s brain matter and how it should’ve been scooped up and held in place instead of gaped at. I did not love this line. It was a good one, it characterized Betty as slightly unhinged, and was a horrifying image to go flashing through my own squishy grey matter but. . .it remains a line that felt odd. Much as I love this episode, and I do love this episode without a hint of irony, the cavalier nature of that statement felt like a bridge too far for an episode doing a good job of skirting the line between lurid pulp and genuine suspense.
Did I buy into the “Betty Killed Jug” bullshit? Not for a second and while the episode did a good job of giving us plenty of reasons to believe it happened the way the show presented it, between her giving Archie the serial killer call to shut him up and the constant drumbeat of her blacking out, I was just too suspicious of Donna & Brett to really sink into the show’s preferred narrative. Clearly Betty didn’t do shit, and I called that two weeks ago; that’s not where the suspense comes from, coming instead from the tension between the preppies and Betty’s crew and the question hanging over this episode: how are we getting to each of the flash forward scenes and, more importantly, can Betty get one over on Donna and co.?
Because I tell you, I was biting my nails and on the edge of my seat throughout the whole episode, worried sick that every impulsive move Betty made would come back to bite her, that she was falling farther and farther into the hole, losing precious piece after precious piece to moves that seem advantageous until they’re revealed to be folly. The one positive of her reckless abandon and confrontation I’ve complained about before: it made scenes like these far more believable.
2. Station Bi-Teen…Look, They Can’t All Be Clever
Molly Ringwald sticking around post Luke Perry’s death has been nice. Archie needed some parental figure to work off of and Ringwald provides in spades. She’s also perfect at delivering that subtle parental guilt that is both totally intentional and completely accidental. Adding to that is a plot point that comes out of fucking left field for us and Arch. I totally called in during the coffee scene, nice acting on their part, but I’m kinda annoyed they just sprung this on us.
I complain a lot about set-up in TV. You have all this time and space to lay the groundwork for revelations and changes so when they fail to do any of that, I’m frustrated — see 90% of my Supergirl reviews. That happens here. Brooke is a character that appeared, I believe, in last season’s Prom Night and hasn’t been mentioned or seen since. I’d have loved if we had gotten a bit more to set this up!
It really highlights the under-utilization of Mary Andrews as her own character as opposed to being Archie’s Mom. It sucks that there were no hints that Mary had been seeing anyone, let alone Brooke. No phone calls off screen, no subtle mentions of going to meet someone, not even a mention of Brooke in any capacity. How long have they been dating? Was it after the death of Fred? Before? I want to know because it adds depth and texture to Mary’s story.
I’m not angry that Mary Andrews has a surprise girlfriend because surprises are important for keeping an audience on their toes but I am angry they didn’t do the work to make this reveal feel satisfying beyond the addition of another bisexual character to the show, which isn’t to downplay the importance of more (positive) queer representation, but instead to posit that maybe the show did a shit job of getting here because it was too concerned with getting us to the A plot.Continued below
Another question: did Mary always know she was bi or was it a later in life development? Both offer narrative potential and I want the show to take the time to explore that!
Riverdale has a bad habit of sidelining its queer characters (Toni, Kevin, Cheryl, Moose) and I don’t want that to happen here. Give us more Mary & Brooke and let us see more of their internality. You’ve got plenty of time considering the murder plot has reached a head and we’re at least 8 episodes from season’s end.
3. The Prison Diaries 2: The Royal Farmy
Evelyn can sit on a bag of broken fingernails still attached to morgue hands. Her and the farmies really get under my skin and I’m not quite sure why. Maybe it’s the smug superiority and that sinking feeling that no matter what you do, it’s not worth a damn against an opponent like them, who feed on chaos and hatred and can out maneuver anything. Though, I did not see the trigger word being bullshit coming.
Seriously, while I could see most of the faints well ahead of time (planting the phone, finding the bug, replacing the rock) Donna drugging Betty to psyche her out was not on the list. It makes the most sense, as they see this as a game and the writers need a way out of Betty remembering what happened with the hypnosis as well as an out for the “Death” of Jug. Yeah! I’m still on that. Come at me!
4. FBI Practice
Question for the class: who wants to know what the fuck Charles is up to? Because I’m stumped. Like Chic (ugh) before him, I dunno what his endgame is. Why’s he helping Betty through all this? Does he want more leverage? He seemed kind of shocked when Betty revealed she didn’t have a trigger word and was instead drugged. Maybe that has something to do with it? I don’t have much to go on with him at this point but I’m curious as to his thought processes. We’ll find out by season’s end though, so I’m not worried.
I was wondering throughout the entire episode where we were going to end. Was it going to be with the arrest of Betty? Was it going to be with the discovery of the body? Was it going to be somewhere earlier, really dragging out the flash forwards we’ve been getting? I hoped it would be the middle option and I got my wish. One thing I really appreciate with the way this episode plays out is how it contextualizes what we’ve seen thus far and reframes many of those moments in ways that don’t make them wrong but instead changes them.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t trust Riverdale cliffhangers and this is why. Every time, they’re never as they seem. The search through the woods? It was instigated by Betty as a means of finding the body not by Jughead’s dad as was my assumption. The same is true of the body in the morgue. Donna and Brett being there was never shown and this wasn’t the moment Betty tried to figure out how she was going to stay innocent. In fact, Sheriff Jones is already suspicious of Betty for the death!
These changes, however, feel far more satisfying than previous cliffhanger reversals. It’s a season modeled around the murder mystery and what murder mystery wouldn’t be complete without some misdirection. That’s also why I’m still on the Jughead is alive train. There are too many questions and uncertainties about his death that have yet to reveal themselves, not to mention the structural clues that point to him surviving.
I’m talking about the continuation of the narration now that he’s “dead.” If they want to keep having Cole Sprouse narrate, they best keep him alive. Otherwise it breaks the conceit they have set up, shattering the internal logic. Do I have an explanation for the body? No. Do I need one yet? No. Something is afoot and I won’t give up until we find out.
That about does it for now! What did you all think of the return? Are you as intrigued as I am or is it too pulpy for your tastes? Is Jughead alive? Let me know in the comments and join me again next week for the second half of the march to Betty’s arrest. Until then, stay murderous Riverdale.
Best Scene of the Night:
Betty and Donna in the field as the background becomes uncoupled from the frame and slowly pulls away from the characters. A great effect used to great effect.