Riverdale’s return to television after its winter break starts the way more episodes of Riverdale should start: with lesbian sex. Well, technically, Jughead gives an extensive recap of Where Everyone’s At These Days. Archie’s living alone in the woods of Canada with his dog, working as a park ranger of some sort and wearing a lot of flannel. In other words, this is the most lesbian and therefore relatable Archie Andrews has ever been. Veronica’s underground speakeasy for teenagers is lit. And crime rates in Riverdale have skyrocketed in the wake of the quarantine, which brings us to our lil catburglaring lovebirds Toni and Cheryl, who have been dressing up in leather and literal cat masks and robbing the rich folks of Riverdale.
After their latest heist, they exchange “I love yous” and then engage in the most foreplay we’ve yet to see from them. The scene is still considerably tamer than Veronica and Archie sex scenes are allowed to be, so am I fully satisfied? No! But the chemistry between Toni and Cheryl has been kind of off lately, evoking much more of a friendly vibe than a romantic one. But connecting over stealing from the rich feels very true to these characters, tapping into the foundation that brought them together in the first place. And then they fall on top of each other onto a bed covered in cash that they took from rich people. Icons!
This was another episode where it makes sense to break it up into chapters, so here’s a breakdown of what the core four are up to in “No Exit” instead of attending therapy sessions LIKE THEY SHOULD BE:
Archie Andrews and the Grizzly Bear Attack Resulting In A Hallucinatory Manifestation of His Inner Guilt and Trauma
This is the kind of high-concept premise that Riverdale has a lot of fun with. While I like that the show tries to stay in reality (or, at least, Riverdale’s admittedly heightened and sometimes ridiculous version of reality), these kinds of dream/hallucination sequences provide a chance for the show to delve into cool and thrilling direction choices that play on the show’s already really strong sense of visual storytelling and stylization.
While going about his day as a newly minted Canadian Backwoods Lesbian, Archie runs into a grizzly bear, is mauled, and then rushes back to his cabin where he promptly starts dying and therefore hallucinating ghosts from his past. Cassidy and the other dead boys show up and tell him he has to play a round of G&G. In the first, he has to save his father and kill the Black Hood. Then the warden shows up for a second round of the game, where Archie has to kill Hiram. In the final round, extremely creepy hallucination versions of Veronica, Betty, and Jughead challenge him to kill…himself…with a baseball bat.
It’s incredibly dark, and while watching Archie struggle with his inner turmoil is often my least favorite thing about Riverdale, within this elaborate and, sure, heavy-handed G&G hallucination, it’s actually pretty entertaining to watch. And I feel like this is actually an interesting departure from the usual mythology built up around Archie, which usually frames him as this hero who can’t quite catch a break. Archie seems to be reconciling with his own failures and shortcomings, with his tendency to fight fire with fire, making shit worse and putting people he loves in harm’s way. This feels like a necessary comeuppance for the character, bringing him close enough to death’s door that he’s forced to face his demons, including himself.
Betty Cooper and the Lost Children Who Have Imprinted On Her Because She Pretended to Be a Fantastical Being Who Slayed the Hallucinatory Manifestation of Their Trauma
Betty is a full-on mother of orphans now, having rescued the troubled teens of the Sisters Of Quiet Mercy. They’re all living in the Cooper household now and looking to her as their savior, their Griffin Queen. Alice Cooper, understandably, isn’t crazy about a dozen traumatized children sleeping in her living room and wants them to live on the farm instead. We still don’t know very much about the farm. Polly, Alice, and Evelyn all insist it’s a fine place, and it might actually be an interesting twist if the farm turns out to just be…a normal and safe community. Betty’s so suspicious of it, which is what stokes our suspicions as viewers, too. But how much does she really know about it? Given the new martial law vibes in Riverdale, maybe a farm commune is the perfect place to stage a revolution? Just a thought!
Betty is also a full-on paralegal now? Honestly, my favorite Riverdale absurdity (of which there are many) is “teenagers doing extremely adult stuff and no one thinking it’s weird at all.” She’s working with Sierra McCoy to try to get the nuns to testify against Hiram, which could bring his entire empire tumbling down. Of course, it isn’t that simple. The nuns have taken a convenient vow of silence, and even when Betty exposes that they are no longer in good standing with the church, it isn’t quite enough to flip them. An “Anonymous Donor”—Hiram’s childhood nickname, probably—bails them out.
At episode’s end, Betty, our resident Nancy Drew, returns to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy to discover the dead bodies of the a bunch of child abusers who have committed mass suicide. Only on Riverdale, folks!!!! The reveal, like much of this episode, is crafted in a way that maximizes drama and intensity, held together by the show’s signature gothic-glam aesthetic. Lili Reinhart plays the tension perfectly.
Sidenote: I desperately want Lili Reinhart to become a horror movie star. I think she has always been one of the strongest actors on Riverdale, and I think she’s especially good at tapping into the kinds of emotions that make a brilliant horror movie lead. The way those big eyes of hers hold fear is arresting.
Veronica Lodge and the Father Who Loves Fur Coats and Extortion
As previously mentioned, La Bonne Nuit be popping. Now that it’s serving actual alcohol and Riverdale is inching its way toward anarchy, Reggie and Veronica have turned their little project into a rip-roaring speakeasy full of horny teens dancing to the dulcet tunes of Josie McCoy. But running the hottest club in Riverdale comes at a cost given that the town is pretty much run by the mob these days. And, of course, Veronica’s own father is at the top of that mob, so it’s a family affair.
When Reggie’s doing one of his beer smuggling runs, he’s jumped by the Gargoyles a.k.a. Hiram’s lackeys. Veronica apparently promised her father a cut of her profits in exchange for continuing to run the club post-quarantine. She tries to go over his head by cooking the books, and it unsurprisingly backfires. Pissing off her father results in Josie getting threatened, and without Josie, there’s no Bonne Nuit!!!!!!
Luckily, there’s another option, one that also helps Jughead with his problem (more on that later). Veronica hires the Serpents to protect her against the Gargoyles, cutting her father out of the deal. It’s, finally, a smart move from Veronica. And the involvement of the Serpents connects those storylines in a cogent way.
But the most important part of Veronica’s storyline this week is the opportunity it presents for random musical numbers, including her rendition of “Maybe This Time” (shoehorning a Liza Minnelli number into an episode of television is the good kind of queerbaiting imo!!!!!). The song also acts as a lead-in to Veronica and Reggie finally acting on the very obvious physical attraction that has been brewing between them ever since they became business partners.
Now, I try not to have too many strong opinions on the goings-on of heterosexuals, but I must say that I’m pretty here for Veronica/Reggie? Veronica/Archie has certainly runs its course (though I don’t doubt that it’ll be back eventually), and Veronica and Reggie do make sense together! Camila Mendes and Charles Melton have a lot of natural chemistry. And Veronica and Reggie both have a lot of issues as a result of having Bad Dads. Reggie’s character arc over the course of the series hasn’t been the smoothest, but I like this direction for the character. For now, Veronica and Reggie don’t seem so much like a mirror of Hermione and Hiram but rather legitimate partners. It’s…sweet?
Jughead Jones and the Head That Wears the Crown
After being gone for a while, Jughead returns to Riverdale and is reminded that it is indeed very hard to run a large gang. When he finds out that a Serpent has been dealing Fizzle Rocks, he decides to implement a No Doing Crimes rule. The punishment? Immediate, permanent banishment. It seems a bit harsh, and I’m not sure what Jughead seems to have a strange concept of what a gang is, but sure!
That hardlined resolve as a leader dissipates though when he learns that it was Fangs who sold the drugs in order to pay his sick mother’s medical bills. Since Fangs is his friend and since he was going through something rough, he lets him off the hook. But Fangs tells Sweet Pea, who tells Toni, who tells Cheryl, a fun little reveal that reminds us oh yes these are indeed teenagers.
Jughead has the audacity to exile Cheryl and Toni for stealing from Hiram, which seems like an especially egregious application of his No Doing Crimes policy. Everyone should be able to agree that stealing from Hiram Lodge is an act that should be celebrated, something Cheryl certainly understands given that she’s brazen enough to boast about the theft by leaving a very obvious signature behind in the form of cherry-red lipstick. Also, Toni was a Serpent long before Jughead even entered the picture, so how dare he?!
There’s a look in FP’s eyes and an uncertainty in Jughead’s that suggests his time as Serpent King may soon end, even though he does broker the deal with Veronica in order to get some non-drug-related work for the Serpents. He also asks Fangs to join the Gargoyles as a mole, which I’m not so sure Hiram will fall for. In any case, running a gang is hard work and Jughead is not great at it, so when is Toni taking over? Haven’t the Serpents gotten the memo that it’s 20biteen and therefore time for a bi queen?