“Riverdale” Episode 406 Recap: What’s in a Scream?

“Hereditary” finally delivers a full-fledged storyline for Cheryl Blossom, so yes, I am going to spend the majority of this recap writing about Cheryl Blossom. If, for some strange reason, you are here for the other characters, that’ll come at the end.

The walls of Thistlehouse contain all the best parts of Riverdale. Cheryl Blossom, at the surface, is the most removed from reality of all the characters. She is flung out of time and space, speaking of town constables and wearing a floor-length red housecoat straight out of a Victorian period piece and dramatically entering rooms by saying things like “whyfore have I been summoned?” She is, after all, the inspiration behind my Who Said It: A Character on Riverdale or a Shakespeare character? quiz. Cheryl Blossom isn’t real, and yet she very much is. The tragedy that propels the series in the first place—the death of Jason Blossom—is the town’s tragedy, sure. It dominos a whole series of crimes and chaos for the whole town. But it’s also Cheryl’s deeply personal tragedy, one that still splits her. Cheryl Blossom contains all of Riverdale’s horror and trauma but also its camp. Her increasingly stylized and fantastical gothic horror story is easily the most immersive part of the show right now.

Madelaine Petsch is often called upon to scream. She’s very good at it, stretching her mouth impossibly wide, eyes so big they’re like mirrors. Cheryl Blossom’s screams have become one of the show’s most indelible repeated images. In “Hereditary,” she screams in a dream, but she wakes to find her nightmare has come to life: Cheryl still can’t escape the Blossoms. Her family has always been the source of her worst fears, and even with Clifford and Penelope effectively out of the picture, this creepy family of redheaded syrup royalty is vast. Her uncle, aunt, and cousin show up and immediately threaten to have Cheryl locked up, a threat she’s all too familiar with after her mother sent her to conversion therapy run by murder nuns.

The Blossoms’ “concern” for Cheryl’s mental state is nefarious, but Toni’s is very real. She sees that Cheryl isn’t just being dramatic. She’s convinced the ghost of her unborn triplet is haunting her via a wooden demon doll. She’s still talking to the corpse of her dead brother as if he’s alive. And while the details are theatrical, the stakes are real. Cheryl’s missing school. She’s anxious about the twins. She fears the outside world and it’s paradoxically forcing her to stay in the house that holds all her horrors. If there’s one character who bridges the gap between Riverdale and its cousin Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, it’s Cheryl. She exists somewhere in between these worlds, a grieving girl in a small town wrecked by power struggles and an angry with reckoning with all the hurt that has been inflicted on her.

I still have a lot of issues with the way Toni has functioned this season. Riverdale doesn’t seem entirely aware of the fact that she’s trapped in Thistlehouse, that her relationship with Cheryl has all the markers of a trauma bond. Cheryl straight up gaslights her in the Halloween special, and there are zero repercussions or even much of a reaction on Toni’s part. She’s forced to play the straight-man in this spooky tale, and as a result, she’s flattened. She’s almost too grounded to the point where she’s a stump. Toni and Cheryl have chemistry during the steamier scenes, but beyond that, Toni functions like more of a caretaker than a girlfriend, and it’s hard to parse out exactly why they’re still together. Those details would be interesting if Riverdale were digging into them, but that’s not what’s happening at all.

Betty, Archie, Jughead, and Veronica have always harnessed their own distinct genres, but that has been especially true in season four, where all of these characters have become heightened versions of themselves. With Betty, we get a Nancy Drew-style mystery tale, which is always best the more it leans into its old-school roots (the scene of her watching the polygraph test intently while grilling Charles has real tension). With Jughead, we get the pulpy noir, the small-town-set horror short story Jughead himself is intent on writing. In “Hereditary,” he uncovers a conspiracy regarding the Baxter Brothers books (Riverdale’s own version of the Hardy Boys books) that might as well be a plotline in the books themselves. With Veronica, we get the family crime drama, which crashes into new territory with the arrival of Hermosa, introducing a battle between sisters on top of Veronica’s existing battle with her own parents. And with Archie, well, he has been all over the place over the course of the seasons, but now he’s at the center of a superhero origin story of sorts, still fighting Dodger in an effort to save the youth of Riverdale. Throw Cheryl’s gothic horror into the mix, and that makes for five distinct genres all at play in one episode.

I do wish the characters were spending more time together more often than they do in “Hereditary,” but I also love how the show weaves between these genres and thematically connects them. But despite a lot of the big swings in the other stories (Mr. Chipping’s plunge out a window, Hermosa’s intentional needling of Veronica, Archie’s house getting shot up in a drive-by), Cheryl’s storyline here really is the most captivating, the most exemplary of how this show balances camp and drama to both comedic and emotional effect. Even just a classic Cheryl Blossom scream contains all those things at once.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

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