“Riverdale” 409 Recap: Cast Lili Reinhart in a Horror Movie, You Cowards

It appears that after one single day of therapy with licensed psychotherapist Gina Torres, the teens of Riverdale have thrown absolutely everything they learned about themselves out the goddamn window in order to keep indulging in their bad habits and self-destructive behaviors! Let’s check in on these lil cuties to see what brand of mommy issues and daddy issues are plaguing them this week.

Ah, yes, Veronica is moving forward with her plans to start a “rumpire” (rum empire) to compete with her father’s booming rumpire. This brings up a few legal questions, namely, can an underage teen start a liquor business? But alas, this is the town of Riverdale, where issues of legality are rampant and yet never really addressed, and I for one appreciate that this show exists outside of our realm of reality. After all, Veronica is also an underage owner of an underground speakeasy where she also is the showgirl? Does anyone go to school anymore?

Speaking of schooling, after turning down Harvard to stick it to daddy, Veronica is having trouble in the college admissions department, and Hiram tries to sabotage her chances at Columbia by inviting the admissions interviewer into the speakeasy to see Veronica in all her bar-owning glory. But apparently Columbia is impressed by her business acumen, so yes, everyone is just accepting that a teenager runs a thriving cocktail bar in this town. Although it might not thrive for much longer: Hiram also worked his schemes to get Pop’s liquor license revoked. Honestly, the endless Veronica vs. Daddy war would be a lot more interesting if Hiram were better developed and if the stakes felt more specific and personal. This show does tension and cruelty between parents and their children very well for the most part, but often the Lodge side of things feels hazy.

Meanwhile at Thistlehouse, Cheryl stages a suicide by roach bombs as a ruse to smoke out whoever has been lurking around the mansion gaslighting her. It is, of course, Penelope, who has just been chilling in the walls of Thistlehouse I guess? Does she eat? Use the bathroom? Is she some sort of supernatural being who can live forever? The roach poison makes her pass out for a bit, but then she comes to, strapped to a chair by her own daughter who puts her “on trial.” I’m making fun of it a little bit, but these Blossom scenes are actually very good. Every time Cheryl confronts Penelope on this show, it’s about so much more than Cheryl just getting some digs in. These scenes encompass years of abuse and trauma.

Penelope is cruel, vile, wildly selfish, and even though she’s as over-the-top of a character as Hiram is, the Blossom familial fuckery is a lot more grounded than the Lodge’s is. The single tear that escapes Cheryl as she declares her mother guilty conveys so much with so little. Madelaine Petsch is arresting, and she also harnesses the humor of this character so well, as with her very nonchalant delivery of “TT, prepare the chloroform.” You know, a very normal thing to say to one’s girlfriend.

Toni is, unfortunately, just a prop in these scenes still with little narrative or even perspective of her own. There’s real depth and sadness to the moment of Cheryl telling Toni that she wishes she could have met Jason when he was alive (almost enough depth and sadness to make you forget that this is unfolding at JASON’S VIKING FUNERAL ON THE RIVER?) but that has everything to do with Cheryl and not much to do with Toni! All of Toni’s emotional beats are just her reacting to Cheryl instead of the character having any of her own thoughts and feelings! I’m starting to lose patience!

I am also losing patience with Jughead’s storyline this season. He spends this episode searching for and finding his grandfather, who lives in the middle of the woods. Turns out that Jughead’s conspiracy theory about the Baxter Brothers being stolen from his grandpa isn’t totally true: His grandfather sold the story away. Now Jughead has won the contract to continue writing the series (apparently, Jughead’s signature includes a three-point crown btw), and his Stonewall frenemies induct him into a secret society or something — I don’t know! I don’t CARE! Jughead has become the most insufferable character this year? There’s little endearing about him anymore, and he’s like the pretentious jerk in an MFA program only worse because he’s a TEEN BOY. Also, he pretty much forces FP to see his father, which is decidedly not chill. It’s super clear that FP has a lot of trauma associated with his father, and springing something like that on him mere moments after he has been shot (oh yeah, btw, FP gets shot in this episode, but don’t worry, it’s just a “flesh wound”).

Somehow, I actually care more about Archie’s arc, even though that boy is being a real dumdum lately. He could have just let Dodger and Dodger’s mom leave town, but no, he had to get one last punch in. This season has done an exceptional job of contextualizing and digging into why Archie makes the dumb decisions he makes, which makes watching those dumb decisions unfold a lot more interesting. It takes the kids seeing him all bloodied and violent for him to snap into reality and realize that his vigilante behavior is in fact bad and his quest for “justice” has gone too far, poisoning him in the process. He’s not getting rid of Riverdale’s evils; he’s playing right into the system of violence that has this town so fricked up. I mean, he could have just listened to the therapist say all that last week, but it’s indeed more convincing to watch him come to that conclusion on his own here.

The fractured way that this season of Riverdale has been telling its stories, with pretty much every character having their own plotline with very little overlap, has made for some really fun episodes, like the Halloween one and the therapy one. But it also means that the show is spread a little too thin, so when one of the characters has a particularly engaging storyline and the others are less so, it makes me wish we could just focus more on one instead of jumping around. That’s absolutely the case for “Tangerine,” whose title refers to Betty Cooper’s disturbing story where the only real flaw is that we don’t spend enough time with it. Sure, there are also some logical flaws here, but like I always tell my girlfriend, we don’t question the logic of Riverdale unless we absolutely have to!

Of the many genre hats Riverdale wears, its horror one is always my favorite. A plotline about Evelyn programming Alice and Polly so that when they hear the word “tangerine” repeated three times they “become Betty” but also immediately want to “kill Betty” has all the elements of a psychological horror story, touching on identity, early childhood trauma, and the suffocating fear that not only is the call coming from inside the house: it’s coming from inside of you. Betty’s internal darkness has been underexplored on the show, but every time it snaps back to the surface, it’s fascinating. It’s clear that Betty has a lot of horrors from her past that she has never fully faced or processed.

There’s a lot of repression that goes on in the Cooper household, and repression can be a dangerous thing. We’ve seen Betty dig her nails into her own palms (here’s a thought: cut your nails shorter, girl!) ever since the show’s pilot, and Riverdale has gradually peeled back the layers of Betty, making her one of the most complex characters on the show (other than Cheryl!). The aesthetics, tone, and suspense of Betty’s terrifying “Tangerine” tale craft genuine fear and could easily be the basis of an entire episode of its own. Instead, it’s just one small (but powerful!) part of an episode pulled in too many directions. I do love the chaos of Riverdale, but when the best stories get undercooked for the sake of stuffing a bunch of things into one episode, that chaos is way less fun.

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is a writer and critic currently living in Las Vegas. Her pop culture writing can also be found at The A.V. Club and The Hollywood Reporter, and she wrote the webseries Sidetrack. You can catch her on Twitter and Instagram.

Kayla has written 227 articles for us.

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