Riverdale, Episode 6, “Faster Pussycats! Kill! Kill!” Plot Summary:

Archie (KJ Apa) tries out for the school variety show, but is scared to perform alone. After Archie spurns Veronica (Camila Mendes) in favor of Val (Vayley Law) as a music partner, Veronica joins Josie (Ashleigh Murray) and the Pussycats. Veronica struggles with the revelation that her mom Hermione (Marisol Nichols) has become involved with Archie’s dad Fred (Luke Perry). Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Jughead (Cole Sprouse) track down Betty’s sister Polly and get some answers.

One of the benefits of having a big ensemble with lots of different plot threads is the ability mix together different characters and plots to create interesting new combinations. Riverdale has spent the past five episodes becoming more and more expansive, teasing out new subplots and developing different characters, giving it plenty of material to work with. Now, nearly halfway through the season, the show is starting to bring it all together and watching the sparks fly. The result is an episode that seamlessly blends several stories together to create an extremely compelling hour of TV.

Archie’s story continues its miraculous recovery into interesting drama through a newfound fear of performing live. Archie has thus far not actually performed any of his songs in front of a large audience, so it’s a plausible hurdle he has yet to jump. But this plot is good not so much for what it is as what it causes. Veronica initially volunteers as his singing partner, but after a big fight leads his burgeoning romantic interest Val to quit Josie and the Pussycats, he thoughtlessly replaces her without notice. Veronica, who is already upset after seeing her mom kiss Archie’s dad, joins the band as Val’s replacement in a rage. In other words, Archie’s fear kicks off a convergence of three different plot lines that all support and reinforce each other.

Best of all, the show avoids demonizing any of the involved parties, instead choosing to empathize with all of them. Veronica reacts badly to the news that she’s been replaced, but the show is clear that she’s feeling hurt by her mother’s actions and is scared that her life will never go back to the way it was. We’ve still never seen her mysterious father, but from the beginning she has defended him from the accusations of others, so it’s obvious that she loves and believes in him.

Similarly, Josie may be controlling and a little mean, but she’s under enormous pressure to live up to her famous jazz musician father, who disapproves of the Beyonce-style pop music she aims for. The two even bond over their shared parental frustrations, setting up another great character connection for future developments.

As you might have guessed, the themes of parental pressure and mistrust are as strong as ever in this episode. This is actually another way Archie is becoming a more interesting and well-integrated character in the show, as his relationship with his father is the only one that provides a healthy counterpoint to the other dysfunctional families.

Even the well-meaning Hermione Lodge still lies to her daughter and, in a major violations, forges her signature this episode, but Fred is always as understanding and supportive as he can be. Riverdale is placing more and more emphasis on this lately, even highlighting Fred as a person “who makes [Archie] feel safe” during his performance, which leads one to believe that this father-son dynamic may just end up being the show’s key thematic point.

Meanwhile, off in their corner of Riverdale, Betty and Jughead continue their investigation of Jason’s murder. With the exposure of her parents’ many lies, the two decide to track down her sister Polly and figure out what happened between Polly and Jason once and for all.

The result is a classic soap opera twist, and yet one that still manages to surprise thanks to a well-executed visual reveal: Polly is pregnant with Jason’s child, and the two planned to run off together. Her slightly erratic behavior sows just enough doubt about what she says that the late reveal of the car she talked about comes as a relief to the viewer. The final shots of the same car on fire and Polly’s empty room with a broken window, on the other hand, are just another great Riverdale cliffhanger.

Of course, there was one other development during Betty and Jughead’s screentime this week, and it’s one that’s decidedly less interesting. After spending the past few episodes mostly in each others company, the two share a romantic kiss before immediately returning to the mystery, with only a sarcastic comment to mark the occasion. Truth be told, it’s not a pairing that makes much sense.

It’s true that Betty’s love triangle duties with Archie and Veronica have been handed off to Val lately, but her and Jughead’s interactions never seemed like anything beyond a good friendship and a shared desire to get to the bottom of Jason’s death. We’ll have to wait and see where it goes, but if this is meant to be the next great Riverdale romance, the show has a lot of work cut out for it.

With everything starting to come together, Riverdale is becoming even sleeker and more compelling by the episode. Its pulpy, noirish mystery provides plenty of bombshells while the teen drama of the other plots brings the pathos (and Veronica’s wonderfully cheesy dialogue, of course). Hopefully the show will eventually find a way to combine the two again, but for now separate developments are perfectly fine when they’re handled this well. After just two episodes, the Grundy debacle has been all but forgotten, both by the characters and by those of us watching. Those who decided to stick around after that early rough patch are being amply rewarded with a great show.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Chris Diggins is a staff writer and incorrigible layabout for The Pop Break. He usually reviews TV and movies, although he sometimes writes ludicrously long pieces of critical analysis and badgers the editors to publish it. He cannot be stopped.