You know what… the more I think about, the more I’m in full support of the big swings Riverdale has taken this season in terms of just fully ramping up its most over-the-top storylines. I believe I summed it up pretty perfectly here:
this season of Riverdale has it ALL! teen prison fight club, psychotic dungeons n dragons, mass seizures, pop rocks drugs, bow-wieldin lesbian, demonic nuns, underground teen speakeasy, bear attack, kool aid suicides, murder daddies, poison mommis, wait what the fuck is this show
Some people thought I was EXAGGERATING! If anything, I was downplaying the sheer madness of this season of Riverdale. But given the show’s comic book origins, I think Riverdale has every right to craft its own reality. The issues I have are when it starts to contradict its own reality, when it rewrites the script like, say, conveniently disbanding the Ghoulies seemingly just for the sake of trimming down the increasingly confusing web of gangs in the town of Riverdale. Or, you know, just rewriting Veronica Lodge episode so that nothing and everything she does checks out?
In any case, this episode of Riverdale really leans into some of the biggest and most dramatic elements of this season: cults, drugs, gang warfare, and — encapsulating all of those — a sprawling organized crime presence that seems to touch just about every part of the town at this point.
Meanwhile, Archie Andrews is chilling in a… boxing movie? Again, I’m fully on board with a lot of the more absurd choices Riverdale is making this season, and that includes its commitment to just hodgepodgeing together a bunch of different film genres and doing very Riverdalean (can’t believe that’s the first time I’ve used that term) homages to them. Archie’s plotline this episode maps pretty much every boxing movie ever. He’s the underdog! He sticks to his morals! He loses! But he’s still a winner because of the aforementioned sticking to his morals! He takes a deal from Elio to purposefully lose (“Hold on, that sounds shady.” – Josie… NO SHIT) to the current Welterweight Champion; he realizes he doesn’t want to do that; he gives the fight his all and almost has the life beat out of him but ends up losing in a pretty close call. In his coach’s eyes (Tom Keller lol), he won! In his girl’s eyes, he won!
(Why is Archie suddenly so invested in boxing? Because he is, as he reminds us, an EX-CON. And it’s his latest stab at a ticket out of Riverdale after music, football, wrestling, and running away to the woods didn’t quite work out for him.)
Watching Archie’s storyline this week, I couldn’t stop thinking about Heidi Gardner’s Saturday Night Live character Angel a.k.a. Every Boxer’s Girlfriend From Every Movie About Boxing Ever. It is, quite possibly, the only good character left on SNL these days. It’s a hilarious sendup of the tropes that indeed plague boxing movies — and a lot of sports movies that center men — when it comes to wives and girlfriends. (Creed mostly transcends these conventions but not entirely.) The boxer’s wife/girlfriend is loyal, supportive, and while she might be full of fiery energy, she still represents a soft, gentle pillow for the boxer to press against, the one thing in his life he can count on, the absence of the violence that he faces in the ring. She might have one little quirk, an artistic ability maybe. But outside of that, she’s largely personality-less, arc-less, agency-less. She’s usually played by a powerhouse but underrated actress who probably gives an awards buzz-worthy performance even though the only emotions being expressed — loud as they may be — hinge entirely on the arc and success of the boxer. Gardner’s character punches this up perfectly, and sadly, it’s exactly what Josie functions as in this episode.
Riverdale often has a problem with only giving significance to its female characters who are not Betty and Veronica when they can serve a role in Archie Andrews’ narrative. Josie has been a bit of a blank slate of a character. It seems like it has been a long time since we tapped into anything meaningful for her. Now that she’s Archie’s love interest, she gets more screen time, but it’s just as a way to prop him up. Even Josie’s singing scoring Archie’s fight seems… gross! Her singing is her one thing she has at this point, and now it’s literally just being used to dress up an Archie scene.
Anyway, now that we’ve gotten the low points out of the way, let’s talk about the following Cheryl Blossom line: “Archers, draw; anchor your hand at the corner of your mouth; use your dominant eye. Now, relax my pretties. Release.”
Oh wow, I can barely begin to explain what this line does to me! There’s not even anything explicitly sexy about it… and yet. Hands! Mouths! DOMINANT! Is Cheryl just… topping her entire gang?
Some more Cheryl and Toni drama ensues this week when Jughead extends an invitation to Toni to rejoin the Serpents and makes the mistake of referring to the Pretty Poisons as Cheryl’s “vanity project.” The way Cheryl sharply inhales when Toni relays that information is palpable. Look, you don’t fuck with Cheryl, and you definitely don’t talk down to her. But when she and some of the Poisons corner Sweet Pea and Fangs, that’s exactly what they do, calling the new gang a sorority and calling the Poisons “girls.” The Poisons subsequently beat the crap out of them. That is, however, not really how Toni wants to play things. And the Poisons are supposed to be her gang, her community after being forced out of the only family she has ever had. For both characters, their actions make sense. Cheryl is impulsive and vindictive, and she hates feeling powerless.
Speaking of power, everyone wants a slice of the crime kingdom that Riverdale has become. Veronica is caught between her family and Gladys Knight, who has walked right on into this town and show and immediately become one of its top players. She might be the first formidable opponent Hiram has ever had, and that makes things interesting. She plays Veronica against her father, forcing her to be a spy. She’s tickled — TICKLED — when Veronica tries to shake her down. This is a very fun character. At Gladys’ behest, Veronica tries to encourage her father to leave the drug trade and focus on profiting off of his prison. She even offers to help him out! Look, I know she’s trying to protect her mother, but this goes back to all the problems with Veronica this season: she’s okay with helping her father carry out his ultra evil prison plot? SHE IS TOO COMPLICIT WITH HER FAMILY’S SHIT FOR US TO EVER ROOT FOR HER.
So while Veronica is caught between her crime lord father and Jughead’s crime lord mother, Betty is very busy making sure her mother doesn’t get murdered by a farm cult. Just another day in Riverdale! It speaks to the wildness of this season that we’ve barely had time to be concerned about what might be happening on the farm with everything else happening, and that’s definitely intentional on the show’s part. Betty is straight up like hold up, is no one concerned about this? She tries to go to Kevin because all her friends are busy with their own bullshit, and he casually mentions that the farm is helping him through the trauma of losing Moose! Yikes! The farm definitely seems to be preying on broken people!
And now Alice is all gung-ho about getting baptized by the farm, which involves signing a waiver absolving the farm of any culpability in the event of… death. Betty puts her Nancy Drew hat on and discovers that there have indeed been deaths associated with this ritual in the past. And then she has to bust down a door and stop her own sister from drowning their mother!!!! I know I say this a lot, but I’m worried about Betty. The close-up on her face at the end of the episode, as she cries in both sadness and fear while Alice goes on about how she finally feels like the farm has given her purpose thanks to her brush with death is just so good and yet another example of how captivating of a lead Lili Reinhart is. Cast her in all the horror movies, ASAP! It is her destiny.