Archie (KJ Apa) finds out about Jughead’s (Cole Sprouse) living situation and helps his friend out. Jughead’s dad FP (Skeet Ulrich) tries to get his life back together for his son. Veronica (Camila Mendes) takes revenge on her mom for forging her signature. Betty (Lili Reinhart) searches for her sister Polly (Tiera Skovbye) before either her parents or the Blossoms can find her.
So far, just about every character on Riverdale has been shaped by their relationship with their parents to some degree. Archie’s general decency is informed by his father Fred’s (Luke Perry) salt-of-the-earth goodness. Veronica’s haughty but ultimately kind and caring manner is reflected in her mother Hermione’s (Marisol Nichols) shady manipulations paired with her genuine love for her daughter. And of course, Betty’s repressed anger is a direct result of her controlling, overbearing mother Alice (Mädchen Amick). Now we finally get to see how the same is true of Jughead in our first real look at his father, FP.
It turns out his sarcasm and world-weary cynicism have been hard-earned. FP is the very definition of a deadbeat dad, his spiral into alcoholism driving first his wife and daughter away, and then Jughead. It clearly pains Jughead to see his dad like this, perhaps even more than it pains him to live under a staircase at school. Fortunately for him, Archie finds him one morning and, displaying the moral uprightness that is meant to define the character yet was oddly lacking in earlier episodes, both offers to help his friend and pressures his dad to give FP his old job back. We haven’t seen much interaction between the two best friends in a while, so it’s nice to see Archie go to so much trouble to help out his pal, and really shows how far Riverdale has come in turning Archie into a more complete and interesting character.
Less fortunately for Jughead, another chance isn’t enough to make FP turn his life around, and he almost instantly falls off the wagon when reminded about his past with Fred. The show attempts to set up a momentary conflict by making us think that Fred unfairly cut FP out of his construction business, but it falls a little flat considering what a fundamentally decent person we already know Fred to be. But the conflict takes a more realistic turn, thankfully, when Archie points out that Jughead is suffering because of his dad’s failings. It’s a much grayer situation than the initial story, and not-so-subtly reinforces how everyone in Riverdale is being affected by the sins of the past.
If FP demonstrates that trying is not enough if you don’t follow through, this episode Hermione shows that it’s important to try anyway. Her relationship with Veronica was severely damaged by forging her signature last week, and Veronica’s anger is entirely justified considering what a massive breach of trust this is. Of course, she chooses to express that anger in a patently Veronica way, going on shopping sprees and clubbing on a school night (side note: sleepy little Riverdale has a night club? One that will let in high school students? Add that to “presence of a gang” on the list of Riverdale’s weird quirks). But whereas Betty’s parents are unapologetic about their terrible parenting, and FP is apologetic but unable to change, Hermione actually puts in the effort to repair their relationship. She may not quite measure up to Fred’s A+ parenting, but she definitely falls on the “good parent” side of the divide.
Speaking of Riverdale’s good parent/bad parent divide, this episode not only puts that contrast front and center, it also emphasizes how good parents help out the children of bad parents. Besides the fact of Fred giving FP another chance for Jughead’s sake, he also bails Jughead out when the police suspect him of killing Jason, and lets him stay at their house when FP lets him down again. Then there’s Hermione letting Polly stay with her and Veronica when the Blossoms’ offer to help turns out to be less than genuine (more on that plotline in a minute).
Much of the story has been about how parents affect their children and how those children can try to rebel against or break the cycle of bad parent behavior, so it will be interesting to see if the show continues developing the idea that good parents can help accomplish those goals too.
Meanwhile, the Jason murder plotline continues apace. With new evidence torched and Polly on the run, suspicion falls on Polly and Betty rushes to find her before anyone else does. Now that it’s all come out, her parents decide to reveal her pregnancy to the world. It’s always good when a show decides to play its cards sooner rather than later, so the shift in dynamic is welcome. It also sets up a new contrast between the Coopers and the Blossoms: Betty’s parents want to get Polly back so they can put her child up for adoption, while it’s implied the Blossoms want to get their hands on Polly so they can take their new grandchild and get rid of her.
Fortunately, Cheryl’s (Madelaine Petsch) love for her brother and her new niece or nephew is far more genuine than her parents, and she completes her redemption arc by warning Betty before her parents can take Polly away. It’s all a great series of developments that change things around while leaving the fundamental mystery in place, and it’s exciting to see where it goes.
If there’s any black mark to be found on this episode, it’s the development of the Betty and Jughead romance. Last episode it felt rushed and out of place, and neither of those things change too much now. The show makes some halfhearted efforts to explain itself, with Betty telling Veronica that he was there for her in a difficult moment, but there’s little chemistry between the two. What’s worse, the scenes of the two together give the sense that the show has no idea what to do with them.
The one moment they get alone is given to Jughead’s awkward dancing around the nature of their relationship and Betty almost immediately getting distracted by solving the mystery of where Polly is. If this is meant to reflect the two not working together it would be fine, but it feels far more like the show simply has no idea how to follow through on its decision.
Still, otherwise Riverdale is continuing its sharp plotting and fun dialogue. We’re over halfway through now, and already things have changed so much from the first episode, so it will be fascinating to see where we end up by the end of the season. And with a Season 2 officially on the way, we have plenty more time in this new version of Riverdale to look forward to. Personally, I can’t wait.
Rating: 8 out of 10