“Riverdale” Episode 218 Recap: We Love a Musical Episode

Let me preface this with saying that I went to an arts high school where I studied musical theater, and musical theater has long been very dear to me (Grease is the first movie I can ever remember watching). For as long as I can remember, musicals make me incredibly emotional. So… when the cast of Riverdale starts breaking out into song approximately one minute into its highly anticipated musical episode, I got choked up? I literally almost started crying. The same thing happened to me when I saw the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend pilot for the first time. And the first time I saw Buffy’s “Once More With Feeling,” which I’ve since watched at least a dozen times. And yes, even during the Grey’s Anatomy musical episode which is extremely bad! I just love musicals so much! And television so much! And when they collide, I become overwhelmed with feelings.

Riverdale is the perfect show to tackle the musical episode convention. It’s over-the-top; brimming with complex, bold characters; explicit in its motifs and stylization. A lot of the most extra dialogue in this episode is pretty much business as usual for the show. “I’ve just had a wicked idea,” resident villain Hiram Lodge muses, plotting to further destroy the relationship between Archie and his dad. “I will not succumb to thespian terrorism!” Cheryl Blossom exclaims when multiple notes supposedly from the Black Hood show up threatening violence if Kevin Keller doesn’t replace her in the lead role of Carrie. Penelope Blossom tells Cheryl her “matricidal revenge fantasy” is never going to happen as she forbids her from performing. Any of these glorious quotes could be from any episode of Riverdale, so no, the show doesn’t exactly have to play up its drama to situate itself in the realm of musicals. It’s already a perfect fit.

And Riverdale also doesn’t exactly have to reach to create parallels between the show and Carrie: The Musical — not at all. Riverdale’s showrunner Ricardo Aguirre-Sacasa penned the 2013 Carrie remake, so it’s no wonder he’s perfectly positioned to parse out connections. The parallels are right there, and sometimes the writing does a little too much to spell it all out for us, but it doesn’t get too distracting. And, hey, what are musicals if not painstakingly on-the-nose? As Betty reiterates multiple times, Veronica playing mean girl Chris Hargensen is apt considering how much she has been lying to and manipulating her friends at the behest of her maniacal parents. Yeah, Veronica singing the lyrics “my daddy taught me / you get no where being nice” is certainly… relevant.

Alice Cooper plays Carrie’s mom in the musical, because of course all the parents have to get involved (The Lodges are producing, Hermione Lodge has a full-page campaign ad in the playbill and is spotted handing out buttons in a high ponytail on opening night, and Fred Andrews is building the sets). And when Alice starts singing about how everyone always leaves her, the musical and reality start to blend so much that she goes off book, begging Betty not to leave her. It’s a raw, borderline uncomfortable moment, but it rings as emotionally honest for the character. She shows up all giddy and flirty at the diner to talk to FP, and it’s implied that they’ve rekindled their sexual relationship, but then he immediately pulls away. She was worried about Betty and Jughead making the same mistakes they did, but instead she’s just making them all over again with FP. Unfortunately, this all leads to Hal waltzing back into Alice’s life. Hal somehow always finds a way back into the Cooper home. Can he please be Riverdale’s next murder victim?

When in doubt, sing it out

Perhaps the most fitting parallel between Carrie: The Musical and Riverdale is the perfect casting of Cheryl as Carrie White. The queer subtext in the original Carrie film overfloweth, and Riverdale does an excellent job of teasing that subtext out by creating an emotional connection between Carrie and Cheryl. That connection is both obvious yet layered. Cheryl can certainly relate to a girl suppressed and abused by her mother. Cheryl can certainly relate to a girl who kills her mother. Cheryl also uses the musical to apologize to Josie. She admits that she acted like a stalker, explaining that she was dealing with some serious Carrie-like demons. THEN THEY SING IT OUT! Have I mentioned I love musicals? I really love musicals. Cheryl work through their friendship issues by singing about friendship. GET IT?

And they’re not the only ones. Veronica and Betty also sing it out after Archie convinces Betty that Veronica’s bad deeds are the result of pressure from her parents and reminds her how quickly Veronica forgave her after the Black Hood manipulated Betty into being mean to her. Archie and Betty start singing Tommy and Sue’s love ballad to each other rehearsal, and then the show just seamlessly shifts to BETTY AND VERONICA SINGING THE LOVE SONG TO EACH OTHER in what is definitely fuel for the Beronica ship. Somehow, this is the gayest scene to happen in the episode.

They are…literally serenading each other

We do get a blessed Choni scene, but it’s painfully short. Aguirre-Sacasa mentioned in an interview that several scenes had to be cut for time, teasing that one of them was a Choni scene… which is frustrating to say the least. Sure, they aren’t in the core four, but Cheryl’s emotional parallels to the musical should be more centerstage than they end up being, and cutting queer content for time is just a bad look, especially when so much of Cheryl and Toni’s story together has been dominated by the devastating conversion therapy plotline. But part of why Aguirre-Sacasa brought it up seems to be that he thinks he’ll be able to release those cut scenes if there’s a big enough reaction to the episode, so it sounds like he wants them to come out.

There are some little nice moments sprinkled throughout, like Toni being the only one to immediately give Cheryl a standing ovation after her first big solo and Toni immediately rushing to Cheryl’s side after hearing that Penelope banned her from performing. Together on the bleachers, Cheryl laments that she’s no longer the girl who stood up to her mother, who burned down Thornhill and cut off Penelope’s oxygen. Toni pushes her to find that strength again, to not let her mother win. Their scene together is genuinely sweet, but it also admittedly feels truncated.

Including this screencap because of Toni’s rainbow shirt, thank you for your time

Then Cheryl gets her big, show-stopping pig’s blood moment. And no, she isn’t the victim. She pours the blood on herself. Drenched in blood, she threatens Penelope once again, seizes the upperhand. She demands emancipation and for Penelope and “Uncle Claudius” to leave Thistlehouse. Somehow, she tops the time she burned her own house to the ground with a chilling, theatrical scene that serves as the dramatic climax of the episode. The scene also makes use of Cheryl Blossom’s favorite accessory: a candelabra.

Some additional, bullet-pointed feelings, because I have a lot of them and you probably don’t want to read a novel-length recap:

  • Director Kevin Keller is an inspiration.
  • IS MIDGE DEAD OR JUST VERY STABBED? Also, welcome back to the Black Hood.
  • I feel very robbed by the fact that Alice and Cheryl never sing together.
  • I haven’t really been able to dig into this in these recaps yet, but I think the show’s exploration of class is really interesting. Fred’s reaction to Archie getting closer to Hiram and the whole car situation is somewhat based on just some father-son expectations, but there are also class implications at play.
  • Ethel Muggs, I too know how it feels to be judged for making mood boards. (But P.S. Do we believe her story or think she was perhaps being manipulated by the Black Hood into leaving those threatening letters?)
  • As much as I love the very gay reconciliation between B + V, I’m not so convinced by Archie’s argument that Veronica has been operating under terrible circumstances? I just don’t really buy that her parents are puppeting her and think she’s been shown in the past to be smarter and more perceptive than she has been acting lately.
  • FP, get your goddamn shit together. If Alice can’t be with Hermione Lodge, then I will settle with her being with you, because honestly anything is better than her being with Hal!
  • The musical and Jughead’s documentary allow for some fun meta moments. Kevin makes a joke about age-inappropriate casting, which Riverdale is overtly guilty of.
  • Okay, I didn’t really address the singing at all. Obviously, no one on this show has ever tried to make it remotely believable that they are singing live. It’s all heavily affected, studio’d-up vocals, but I’m really fine with that. I think they can all sing capably, and let’s be real, musical episodes of TV rarely feature Tony Award-level singing.
  • Release the cut Choni scene.
  • I love musicals goodbye!!!

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is a Brooklyn-based writer, television critic, and comedian who spends most of her time over-analyzing queer subtext on television, singing "Take Me Or Leave Me" in public places, and assembling cheese platters. She has a cat named after Piper Halliwell from Charmed, and her go-to karaoke song is "Everywhere" by Michelle Branch. Her writing can also be found at The A.V. Club and The Hollywood Reporter, and she wrote the webseries Sidetrack. You can catch her screaming in all-caps about Kalinda Sharma, Jennifer Lopez, and oysters on Twitter and Instagram.

Kayla has written 154 articles for us.

22 Comments

  1. Hmmm, what can I say about the episode?

    -I am maybe a freaking Choni shipper

    -Cheryl is always so awesome, I love it how she tries to (in a very very scary way) get away from her bitchy mother

    -it’s good that Josie forgave Cheryl Bombshell’s Depraved Bisexual (tvtropes ahoi) phase. It was so good!

    -release the cut out Choni scene, NOW!

    -really Cheryl burned down Thornhill and cut off Penelope’s oxygen and Toni’s like: Don’t care, face her. (Fun fact: Cheryl lives in Toni’s house after the crazy camp incident and wears clothes :D)

    -I love it how Toni’s always Cheryl’s emotional support. I hope the next episodes and/or especially season 3 are showing more between this two like more kissing and other stuff 😉 I am tired of the other ships, even if I like them (except ArchiexVeronica).

    -looks like Toni is absent next episode (Buuuuh!)

    -poor Midge, she’s dead

  2. I just wish that a lot of Choni conversations weren’t happening off-screen. Like, for example, I am dying to see Toni’s face the first time Cheryl told her about burning down her own gd mansion and then nearly killing Mommy Dearest in the hospital. Cheryl probably expected Toni to run for the hills like everyone else, but instead I bet Toni just laughed in awe at her girl’s complete extra-ness.

    I expect we also won’t see Toni’s reaction when she hears about this pig’s blood moment, but I at least hope the show lets these two take advantage of Cheryl having an entire house to herself (and her sleeping Nana). Lord knows we’ve seen enough Varchie hookups this season.

  3. Thanks for this recap, which has just the perfect amount of exclamation points for my taste. I just really love musicals too!!!

    I also was tearing up like 3 seconds in/whispering “oh my god” out loud a lot/suggesting that every single episode should be musical.

    I agree with all of your opinions. Cheryl was at her absolute best here — she got to be badass and show off singing chops but also be vulnerable and then also be absolutely terrifying/the most Cheryl she’s ever been. My only complaint about the pig’s blood scene was that she wasn’t (iirc) wearing a giant terrifying spider brooch.

    Totally agree about FP being better than dumb Hal, although I also felt bad for Betty this ep about how much emotional labor she does for her mom (was just listening to a podcast w Esther Perel about parents’ being unable to let their kids go/leaning on them too much emotionally fucks kids up for adult relationships realll bad and I just want Betty to go live her best be-overalled car mechanic by day, PI by night life with a hot girlfriend, ya know?). And like, if things are already that emotionally unhealthy, it might not help to have your mom dating your boyfriend’s dad also?? Just a thought.

    Everyone looked amazing at all times. I think I’m going to need a lot more themed/retro outfits on this show. For a CW show, there is really a shocking lack of over-the-top theme dances going on on Riverdale.

    Also, [SPOILERS SORTA]: based on the preview for next week, it seems like Midge is super dead (or at least they want us to think she is, because everyone’s at a funeral next ep). This is a little shitty for them to fridge a female character who has had like 2 lines ever so that her bf and Kevin can get together?? But also I really want Kevin to be happy and have cute gay love, so, idk, I guess I’m ok with it.

    • Oh also, Toni is such a good gf to Cheryl! It was extremely cute when Kevin said that Cheryl’s mom was being awful and then said directly to Toni “I think she’s on the bleachers” and she ran off immediately! I agree with @hizura that it’s nice to see Toni being so understanding and supportive of Cheryl, but I also wanna see a little bit of Cheryl supporting Toni too, and also just cute and fun hanging out/cuddling/making out scenes too. Like, has Cheryl cried in every single scene she’s been in with Toni? I love seeing a softer side of Cheryl, but I also wanna see them just chill and talk about something that’s not like, parental abuse.

      Maybe Cheryl can use her apparently amazing sketching skills and draw Toni like one of her french girls?? (sorry not sorry)

      • Madelaine said so in an interview — right here! “Petsch revealed that the official ‘girlfriend’ name-dropping scene was ultimately cut from tonight’s musical episode, but that she and Vanessa Morgan were very excited to see that Choni had reached that level in their relationship.”

      • Not only the girlfriend thing, but in this interview Madelaine confirms that Cheryl has been living at Toni’s and has been dressed in her clothes in the past couple of episodes (which viewers had noticed — Toni’s pants were a little short on Cheryl in their last scene in episode 17!).

          • Thanks! That’s my papillon in the light streaming through a stained-glass window. The dog in your pic is adorable, too!

          • I know! RAS has indicated that he could get them out there if the episode got a big enough reception, which I think it did, but there’s no sign of them yet. Also, Madelaine is the best. We owe the bisexual storyline to her, really — as she says in this interview, when she and RAS sat down to discuss season two, she said she’d never seen Cheryl as straight and that she wanted her to explore her sexuality.

  4. I wonder if Alice playing Cheryl’s mom is foreshadowing for Cheryl moving into the Coopers’ home. They’re already cousins and Alice is desperate for someone to mother over.

    Is Ethel Ginny Weasley?? Is the Black Hood Tom Riddle?? WHO IS THE BASILISK

  5. Has it been canonically confirmed that Cheryl is bisexual? I’m usually all about more bi characters, but also we’ve never seen her have a genuine romantic interest in a guy. There was a lot of other stuff going on in the episode when she went after Archie, like needing a red-head for the Blossom thing as well as her usual emotionally unhealthy overattachment to anyone who is remotely nice to her.

    And when she told Toni about Heather, it seemed liked this was the ONLY time she had loved someone romantically in any significant way.

    • It hasn’t but Madeleine Petsch (sp?) said Cheryl is bi, which is why people are working under the assumption she is. I don’t know if she’s been told that by the show creators or if that’s just how she views her. For me, I’ll probably wait until it’s confirmed on the show, because yeah, based on what we’ve seen she could be gay or bi.

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