Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW

“Chapter Nine: La Grande Illusion” Plot Summary:

The Blossoms start doing favors for Archie (KJ Apa) in return for his presence at family events. Alice (Mädchen Amick) begins to unravel in her quest to get her daughter back. Veronica (Camila Mendes) is confronted by the sins of her father.

I haven’t spent much time talking about it for the past eight episodes, but Riverdale‘s striking visuals deserve a mention here. The show makes excellent use of color, starkly contrasting bright vivid colors with both darker hues and, often, the lily-white skin of its cast, and this episode in particular makes very effective use of that. The two Blossom gatherings show both styles: the first showcases the bright Blossom red on a field of snow, while the second takes the same color and puts it against the dark night sky for a similarly pleasing and yet opposite effect.

The shot of Archie and Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) talking, the light from the nearby pool reflecting onto Cheryl, is a particularly great visual that really enhances what could otherwise have been a fairly boring, conventional shot. Touches like this have been present throughout the show, and they’re a big part of what makes Riverdale so fun to watch.

Of course, the actual events onscreen help too. Here Archie is lured into the Blossoms’ web with promises of favors. Cheryl invites him to a few family events while her parents throw gifts like an exclusive summer program and a reconciliation with his father at him to get him to come. Despite the warnings of most of his friends, Archie can’t see what an obvious poison pill this is, brought in by their supposed kindness. Of course, they really just want him to be by Cheryl’s side, so that his stabilizing presence can reassure the skittish board of trustees that Cheryl can handle running the company some day, and Cheryl does it seemingly out of genuine but improperly expressed affection. The Blossoms have been a sinister presence since episode one, and getting to see them execute one of their machinations from start to finish drives home just how manipulative they are.

Not everything about this works though, particularly how it ultimately ends up affecting Archie’s life. His girlfriend Val (Hayley Law) takes offense at how much he is cozying up to Cheryl, and ultimately breaks up with him. The problem is that this is conveyed through two scenes that last a combined total of about two minutes. Ever since they got together, Val has barely been in Riverdale, showing up for a brief cameo or getting a passing mention. This means that their relationship has really not been developed at all, so it’s difficult to be too invested in it ending.

The fight itself feels more like a minor spat than a relationship-ending bout, and it’s based on the strange premise that Archie accepting favors from the Blossoms isn’t just stupid but morally wrong, as though accepting help to succeed is somehow evil. The break-up, rather than a natural consequence of Archie’s bad decisions, ends up coming out of nowhere, and completely squanders the narrative potential of their relationship.

Similarly, there’s something a little off about how the show handles Alice’s development. It makes perfect sense that she would channel her anguish over Polly’s (Tiera Skovbye) decision to live with the Blossoms into a searing exposé, of course. And her dramatic reaction to being denied that catharsis by her now estranged husband is entirely in character. The problem comes from Betty’s (Lili Reinhart) reaction and Polly’s retroactive justification for her decision. When Polly went to live with the Blossoms at the end of last episode, it felt like the natural consequence of her parents’ monstrous behavior towards her for the first seven episodes. But now that we know that her decision was about investigating the Blossoms, it feels a little like Alice’s misdeeds are being swept under the rug. Narratively, it’s a great way to keep things moving, and perhaps there’s still a reckoning in Alice’s future, but for now it’s a little disappointing.

If there are things that don’t work about the other two stories, the same cannot be said about Veronica’s plot this week. Her consolation of a depressed classmate quickly becomes complicated once it’s revealed that her family troubles are the result of Veronica’s dad’s embezzlement. Veronica has been a full-throated defender of her father since the first episode, and yet as time has gone on it’s become clearer and clearer that he really is the slimy businessman he’s accused of being.

Paired with her earnest desire to be a better person than her old mean girl persona, there was an inevitable conflict here that does not disappoint now that it’s happened. Putting a human face on what has until now been only abstract misdeeds is exactly the kind of shock she needs to finally break with him. Interestingly, Veronica, who actively seeks to own up to and atone for the harm her father has caused, is one of the first people on the show who manages to break with the past. Her classmate accepts her apology and recognizes that she is not responsible for her father’s actions, setting a precedent that many other characters should hope can be repeated.

Riverdale excels at a sort of episodic propulsiveness, ending every episode on at least one revelation or declaration that signals an interesting new turn for the narrative. Here we have two: first Archie’s rejection of Cheryl’s awkward but sincere flirtations has put the ever unstable Cheryl on the warpath, now bent on revenge against Archie and, curiously, Polly. I’ve spoken before of Cheryl’s “inevitable redemption arc,” which we have more or less gotten, but now things have swerved in a completely different direction that still feels true to Cheryl’s character.

Second, the gang now realizes that Hiram Lodge may be more tied up in the events surrounding Jason’s death than they thought, putting him in as their latest suspect. The plots involving Veronica’s dad have been a little separate from everything else so far, so this is a perfect excuse to start tying it in more closely to the main narrative. So despite a couple minor bumps in what is a mostly quite good episode, the future still looks bright for this show.

Rating: 7 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.

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