Chapter Eleven: To Riverdale and Back Again
Betty’s (Lili Reinhart) mom Alice (Madchen Amick) is certain Jughead’s (Cole Sprouse) dad FP (Skeet Ulrich) is involved with Jason’s murder. Veronica (Camila Mendes), anxious that her father may have hired FP to commit the murder, agrees to help behind Betty’s back. Jughead grows closer to his father as it appears he’s finally gotten his act together.
Riverdale has a wonderful ability to be spectacularly unsubtle about what it’s going for. Much like one of its most obvious influences, Twin Peaks, the show is very interested in exploring the darker side of small town life, how idyllic innocence can hide cruelty and depravity. But not even the often bonkers weirdness of Twin Peaks approached the same level of being upfront about its point as the opening scene of this week’s Riverdale. FP and Jughead discuss the manuscript he’s been writing about Jason Blossom’s death and the subsequent investigation, and the two openly discuss the darkness in Riverdale and whether it’s a war between light and dark or merely different shades of darkness. There’s something refreshing about being so direct, even if only the show’s total commitment to corny campiness makes the scene fit in.
It genuinely was important for the show to remind us all of this fundamental aspect of itself, though, because this episode is when that question finally starts to come to a head. The various parents of Riverdale are starting to realize how dangerous the town really is, and two of them have decided it would be best if they got their kids out of there. This is how we end up with both Jughead and Archie contemplating leaving their hometown for Toledo and Chicago respectively. If Riverdale is really as bad as Jughead’s dreary monologues make it out to be, wouldn’t it genuinely be for the best for them to get out of dodge? It’s a thorny question, and while the show is highly unlikely to be cutting two of its main characters lose any time soon, it should be interesting to see Archie and Jughead find their own personal light in the shadows of Riverdale.
Of course, it’s an open question how idyllic and genuine FP’s offer to reunite the family away from the vortex of Riverdale really is. He finally seems to get his act together this episode, enough that Jughead starts to believe things are really turning around for him and his family. Yet FP’s behavior could just as easily be seen as an attempt to find out what his son knows about his own crimes, dissuade him from digging further, and skip town before the heat comes down on him any further as it could a real desire to reconnect with his son. It’s honestly a little heartbreaking to see Jughead, so recently convinced that he could not possibly find happiness, be so oblivious to the manipulations of both his father and Betty’s mother. Everyone abuses his trust this episode, and it will be difficult for him to bounce back from such a heavy blow.
If Jughead is far too convinced of his father’s innocence, however, Veronica is just the opposite. She knows far too much about her own father’s misdeeds to greet the news that he may be back in her life soon with any enthusiasm. Given that, it’s understandable that she’d want to be sure he’s not a murderer on top of everything else. Yet her drive to prove it becomes an obvious cry for help even to thick-headed Archie, who she enlists in her scheme to work with Alice Cooper to dig up evidence that FP may have killed Jason on her father’s orders.
While Archie’s decision to help break into FP’s trailer is a questionable one, it at least comes from an understandable desire to protect Jughead from the same disappointment in his father that we can so clearly see coming. That means he has the wisdom to know when Veronica’s insistence there must be something crosses the line into an obsessive need to prove her father is as bad as she thinks she is. For his efforts, he’s rewarded with yet another kiss. Of course, the budding romance between the two is almost certainly ill-fated, but given good moments like this and their “Kids in America” duet at the school’s Homecoming and their obvious chemistry, it should at least be fun to watch before it goes up in flames.
As usual, Riverdale is such a dense, tightly written show that there’s far too much to talk about. The incredible weirdness of the Blossoms, especially Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch), provides some welcome campiness even as their noose begins to tighten around Polly’s neck. Watching the adults of Riverdale reunite at the same school dance as the kids allows us to draw parallels between them and their offspring that were only hinted at before.
And, of course, the inevitable blow-up between the core four, as Archie and Veronica’s betrayal and the careful lies of a worried Betty are all revealed and push Jughead over the edge he’s been teetering on all along. As we head into the climax, it’s difficult to see how the four can patch things up, let alone solve the mystery in time to save a framed FP, which is exactly where we should be so close to the end. But there will be plenty of time to talk about everything in what will surely be an explosive last two episodes, so if your favorite aspect hasn’t gotten its due, there’s time yet (apologies to any Kevin superfans out there; he’s always just too tertiary to get any time in these reviews). So instead, let’s leave things here this week saying that Riverdale has put all the pieces in place for an excellent climax to its season-long arc.
Rating: 9 out of 10