“Chapter Twelve: Anatomy of a Murder” Plot Summary:
The gang puts aside their differences to solve the mystery of Jason’s (Trevor Stines) murder once and for all before Jughead’s (Cole Sprouse) dad, FP (Skeet Ulrich), takes the fall for it.
For the past 11 episodes, Riverdale has ostensibly centered itself around the mystery of Jason Blossom’s murder. It almost immediately branched out into the lives and drama of its teenage characters, and the mystery plot has faded into the background on multiple occasions, but it remains the catalyzing event for the show and a driver of much of the plot. Now, finally, the murderer has been revealed. It’s the moment that has historically been cited as the onset of Twin Peaks‘ decline, so it’s an open question whether this show will have a more graceful transition into new territory. But that’s a question for later episodes. For now, we need only consider how well the revelation was handled.
If any episode of this show can be described as a roller coaster, it’s this one. Suddenly finding themselves with a strict deadline on their often-meandering murder investigation, the gang rush from place to place frantically attempting to put the pieces together before FP is condemned. The result is a rapid string of emotional scenes, heated confrontations, and dramatic reveals that make the normally fast-paced show feel even more packed than usual. What’s more, the material contained within each scene is among the show’s best efforts yet.
Jughead’s quietly disappointing call with his mother, as he’s abandoned by yet another parent, is heartbreaking. Then the scene where the kids try to convince their parents that they need to prove FP’s innocence provides the starkest demonstration yet of the divide between the driven youths and their worrying, protective parents. The reveal that Betty’s (Lili Reinhart) family, the Coopers, are really a forgotten branch of the Blossoms explains everything that was still odd or inconsistent about her father, while the resulting confrontation as the Coopers demand Polly (Tiera Skovbye) back gives Betty a moment to really show her spine standing up to the threatening Penelope Blossom (Nathalie Boltt) (though, creepy as their enthusiasm for incest may be, I really have to agree with the Blossoms that third cousins getting together isn’t that big a deal). And when the gang watches the video that reveals everything, the show handles it beautifully. We’re kept in suspense as our first run through the scene refuses to show a second of the actual footage; instead, we see only the shocked and horrified reactions of our main characters. It serves as far more of a gut punch than simply showing the video would have been, and combined with Cheryl’s predictably melodramatic method of calling out the murderer, makes for a very memorable reveal.
But for all that the journey there successfully builds up a frantic pace that keeps us excited while filling the time with great material, the question of whether the actual answer is dramatically satisfying. And to be honest, it’s really not. For one thing, Clifford Blossom (Barclay Hope), the shady and sinister father who has demonstrated his cruelty and callousness towards his own children several times over, is a pretty obvious choice. But more to the point, he’s a character we don’t particularly care about one way or the other. His exit from the show, dramatic though the reveal of his suicide may be, doesn’t really close that many doors because he simply wasn’t someone we were invested in as an audience. A less obvious choice, one who had been more important to the show than an evil caricature on the fringes, would have done a lot more to shake things up going into the second season.
It’s not just who the murderer is that disappoints somewhat, but how he’s discovered. Betty, Jughead, Archie (KJ Apa), and Veronica (Camila Mendes) have all, at various points, been working to discover the identity of the killer. They’ve all uncovered clues and scraps of information that cleared things up a little and built their understanding of what happened. Yet in the end, none of that mattered. They discover the killer because FP happened to film evidence of the crime, a fact they only discover because Joaquin (Rob Raco) tells them exactly where it’s hidden (there’s a bit of detective work in finding the flash drive in Jason’s jacket, but that’s hardly 11 episodes worth of sleuthing). In the end, literally nothing they did had any bearing on the result besides Kevin (Casey Cott) getting together with Joaquin, which makes things feel a lot more slapdash than they did until now. The emotional journey of the episode may have been a well-executed roller coaster, but the same cannot be said for the arc of the mystery.
Still, the mystery plot, while important, has never really been what makes Riverdale great. The fun dialogue, the absurd melodrama, the angst and anguish over teenage nonsense: these are the things that make the show so fun and entertaining. If the mystery of Jason’s murder has turned out to be disappointing and ill-constructed, it doesn’t destroy the foundation on which Riverdale was built. It would have been preferable that every part turned out great, but this is a loss the show can bear. Besides, now that the mystery is over, we can move on to other pastures. The fallout from all this, from the revelation of the Blossoms’ corrupt business practices to FP’s continued imprisonment for his role in covering up the murder to the conflict and horror Veronica feels at her father’s impending return, there’s plenty left for the show to mine. It just would have been nice if it stuck the landing a little better.
Rating: 7 out of 10