Welcome back all you Riverdale fans! The finale of Season four is here right on time, though the episode count did take a bit of a hit, and I’m feeling pretty good about where the episode, and thus the season, ended. I’m surprised I’m feeling this positive, honestly. Maybe it’s because the other show I review has let me down so harshly.
Plus, we get that good, good murder-pulp. As always, spoilers ahead.
1. Sickly Sweet
Mr. Honey is a fascinating character that I hope sticks around for the start of season 5. In previous reviews, I questioned his purpose here and last week, I talked about Mr. Honey being a red herring. I’m glad I was right about the latter and wrong about the former. He served as a check to Riverdale’s nonsense and a foil to all these characters used to living in situations where others, specifically adults in positions of power, abuse those positions because of personal vendettas or because they’re just plain criminals. The character Ms. Bell says Mr. Honey was actually lined up with what we’ve seen from him, even if it did feel like the moralistic ending Jughead lampshaded in his far pulpier version.
Mr. Honey cared about the academic well being of the students. He wants them to succeed. But he’s also clearly a hardass and a traditionalist. He has a vindictive streak, is inflexible, and some weird hatred of Prom that wasn’t fully explored, most likely because he views it as a frivolous distraction, and sees high school as the prepping grounds for the larger world rather than the entirety of the world, which is what high school is to high schoolers. They eat, sleep, and breathe high school, spending 80% of their waking hours there and are looking for flexibility from the king of that world.
I’m not trying to excuse Mr. Honey’s decisions, but they are consistent with his character and I completely get why the show takes a chiding tone with the Riverdale students by episode’s end. Remember, this show is often shot from the narrative position of the students, so their impression of Mr. Honey influences how we see him. For much of the season, he was the boogeyman of Riverdale High. Sure, he was hopelessly inflexible when it came to punishments, especially considering the whole *gestures at Riverdale* situation, but that wasn’t wholly true.
He made sure Archie would be able to complete his time at Riverdale High without burning himself out. He brought in an actual coach that could provide continuity across the 4-year generations of high school for the cheer squad. He wanted a Yearbook for the class and reminded Betty, the person who foolishly took up the mantle to get it done and forgot, then didn’t get help so that it would be done on time. It’s easy to see Mr. Honey’s line of thinking and why, to him, these students, who all treat him with contempt, are demanding to be let off the hook without a single hint of remorse or getting the promised work done.
That said, he fails to work with the students to understand why they are asking for leniency, why Archie wants to walk with his friends and how he fell behind. He fails to understand that students need these institutional, non-school work related moments for a sense of continuity and release. He does not want to trust his students or work with/guide them. He is unable to grasp that Riverdale’s problems can’t always be solved with a stern look and a removal of what he views are frivolous privileges.
2. Battle Lines are Drawn
One other aspect of the Mr. Honey V. students match this week is how all the kids view this as a battle. They need to win, to get one up and over Mr. Honey without really understanding what kind of person he is. They know escalation will happen and while his response is way out of proportion, cancelling prom, then faking a tape to get it to stick, did they expect they’d just get away with humiliating him like that? Shot, return shot, escalation. That’s the name of the game.
And we all know that, in war, it is easy to find yourselves becoming the very thing you’re fighting. Mr. Honey was an ass, and then went a bridge too far, but I really appreciated how the scene of him being walked out of the building ended with the Riverdale crew’s smug, self-righteous attitudes being brought into sharp relief. For them, they vanquished a false king and brought balance to the kingdom. In reality, they chased away an inflexible but genuine principal. They won a battle they constructed themselves in a war that only existed in their heads.Continued below
3. Cathartic Fiction
The above is borne out in the way “Killing Mr. Honey,” the story, not the episode, portrays Mr. Honey. He starts off a pure villain, maniacal laughter and all. But by the next scene, he’s more reasonable. Tied up in the chair, he acknowledges his philosophy of punishment for crimes and won’t compromise that, rather than being a vindictive, angry person. Then the story turns its eyes to the group of friends and how they get lost in the fight, in keeping the secret, that they lose touch with reality and fall into self-delusion, convincing themselves that this was the only way.
The crew continually says that Mr. Honey has it out for them, that he’s targeting them and only by going around him instead of talking with him can they “win.” It’s effective and you don’t really see when the flip happens. Like, all throughout the glue prank, which was hilarious by the way, the crew is justified, righteous even in our eyes. But by the time he’s doing the walk of shame, they seem just as vindictive and pompous as Mr. Honey was when revoking the Talent Show.
4. Too Much Pulp in My Riverdale Juice
Woof. I didn’t think I had so much to say about Mr. Honey, nor did I expect to be far more on his side at the end of this episode. Maybe I just have a soft spot for characters who care but absolutely suck at making that clear and often have a misguided way of showing it. But enough about him! Jughead’s story comes a-callin.’
The story was so fucking pulpy and I was having a time-and-a-half watching the actors really ham it up. I was laughing for much of it but I was also really digging the contrast between the regular hyper-dramatic Riverdale and what Jughead thinks would be even more over-the-top. There is nothing subtle about that story and I kinda wonder if this was going to be a one or a two-episode conceit. I say this because, as I think about the episode’s pacing, it really feels like this was the episode we were going to get regardless of the season’s shorter episode count. The pacing is fast but it goes throughout thanks to the mid-episode complication of the tape.
I’m also not entirely satisfied with Jug changing his story. Not because he wouldn’t, or that this new version isn’t more fruitful in terms of character drama and less lurid, though I still think there is merit in his original story. Instead, it’s because it feels like the show is trying to have its cake and eat it too. Like, it’s trying to say something about how the previously lurid, pulp story he wrote was tapping into the wrong kinds of impulses. That his enjoyment of creating this story was no different from the snuff films being sent around.
On that second idea, I kind of like that parallel but on the former. . .we were just given dramatized versions of his story, meant expressly for our (slightly) morbid pleasure. If you’re condemning that to make some kind of moral statement, in a show that is built on the back of that very approach to storytelling, well. . .
Cake. Eating it.
5. When will Then be Now? Soon.
And so, we’ve reached the end of the season. Because this wasn’t a planned finale, it didn’t quite have the same panache and sheer bonkers numbers of things to talk about as I would have liked, hence, three points on Mr. Honey. However! That cliffhanger gives us a lot to speculate about and I for one have. . .absolutely zero ideas. Or, at least, none I can back up. I still suspect Charles but the only thing I have to go by is his FBI connections and that one meeting with Chic that has yet to be brought up again.
It’s unsettling and the person clearly knows Riverdale, having been camped out at the Fox Forest Cabin. If it’s Chic out of fucking jail, I might just strike and not do a review that week, or do one and it will just be screenshots of Jack Torrence from The Shining.Continued below
Regardless, there were a lot of small fun moments throughout the episode: Skeet Ulrich yelling about Jug going to college, Reggie being Reggie, the attack of the parents scene, Cheryl being Cheryl. It was a solid episode to end the season on and while it doesn’t blow me out of the water, that cliffhanger has me excited to finally get to the end of the mystery next season and find out 1) who the fuck is sending these tapes, 2) why the fuck these tapes are being sent and 3) will the show go full Buffy and send us to their respective colleges?
That about does it for now! Thank you all for putting up with my bullshit this season. It’s been a fun one and after the dull nature of parts of seasons two and three, I’m glad that the Death of Jughead propelled us to this point. Will next season get experimental? It’s network TV, don’t hold your breath. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it when it returns! So, I will see you in the fall, however many cycles that is from now, for some more murder, mayhem and pulpy nonsense all wrapped in maple rum-smoked bacon. Until then, stay on the right side of Mr. Honey y’all.
Best Lines of the Night:
1. Reggie: “Am I the only one who’s not disposed of a dead body before?”
Jughead: “No time like the present, Reg.”
2. Cheryl: “Hobo. Bride of Hobo.”
3. Jughead: “Are we gonna be monsters in college. . .or in jail?”