On Riverdale, everyone has a family. There are plenty of selfish actors in this game, but even the likes of Hiram Lodge uses family as a cover, manipulates his family, and has the occasional family to back him (on that note though, Hermosa would be a bit more compelling if she had more of a function than just “loves daddy,” but I guess it took Veronica a while to get there, too). So when Archie beat up Dodger last episode, he should have foreseen the consequences coming: Dodger has a family, too, and they want revenge.
“The Ice Storm” uses the simple but effective plot device of a winter storm to put its characters in a powder keg. It’s certainly not a bottle episode, but most characters are confined to just one setting for most of the episode. It’s also Thanksgiving in Riverdale, so this is technically a holiday episode. And Riverdale strikes the right balance between infusing the episode with some emotional holiday sentiment but also ultimately staying true to its own tone and scope. In other words, some characters are grateful for family, community, etc., but some are solving prep school murders or blackmailing their family with faux cannibalism. “The Ice Storm” has just as much horror as holiday cheer.
We get more of the traditional Thanksgiving sentiment in Archie’s storyline, which sees him opening up the community center for Riverdale’s wayward youth despite orders from FP to shut it down (those orders, of course, aren’t from FP himself but trickled down from Hiram, who effortlessly becomes mayor in the first 30 seconds of this episode). I hate to admit it, but there’s actually some really juicy stuff happening in the Archie storyline, and I am not at all talking about the exploding turkey fryer, Dodger’s family pulling a gun on Archie, the “I am Spartacus” moment that the youth bravely do to protect Archie, Veronica stabbing a bad guy with a meat fork, or Archie’s mom grabbing the gun and loudly declaring her right to shoot the intruders (the show likes to remind us constantly that she is a lawyer, but a personality? Nah).
That action stuff is fine and good…even if it’s followed by way too chill of reactions from the other characters — sometimes this show is way too inconsistent in the way its characters process traumatic events, WHICH THIS DEFINITELY IS. But Archie’s mom literally says “that was the weirdest Thanksgiving ever mere hours after. Yes, violence is pretty weird, Mary! But the real meat of Archie’s storyline is seen in how Fred’s death continues to reverberate for characters on this show. The most meaningful TV deaths are always the ones that don’t just get forgotten after the Big Episode that deals with them. Archie processing his dad’s death has been a consistent throughline this season, and it makes sense that Thanksgiving would unearth specific feelings of grief for him. We watch Archie in this episode step into the roles his father used to fulfill, a real and complicated part of parental loss. Who does the all the things they used to do? That has effectively become Archie’s emotional arc this season, even if his plot arc has more to do with becoming a masked vigilante. Fred was always an advocate for Riverdale and for young people, and now Archie is trying to become that in his honor. While Archie is still hot-headed, we’re seeing him through genuine character growth. Maybe even more so than any of the other characters at the moment.
Veronica, meanwhile, has to contend with what Thanksgiving means in the context of absolutely hating her family. She has always had complicated relationships with her parents, but we get the sense that this is the first Thanksgiving where she truly wants nothing to do with them. Hermosa’s presence has added a little more pressure to that. All season, Veronica has upped the ante in terms of her acts of rebellion against Hiram and Hermione. She goes pretty all-the-way-out here when she rips their Thanksgiving dinner off the table. It tracks as an angry reaction from Veronica, and it also works in terms of plot, forcing Hiram and Hermione to dine at Pops, where Alice and FP happen to be, leading to an awkward, tense, very well acted Thanksgiving meal between two couples who absolutely hate each other. FP also has the realization that if Hiram can be both kingpin and mayor, he can be both sheriff and gangleader, which is hopefully leading to FP just bucking the system entirely.
The most thrilling plotline this episode belongs to Jughead and Betty and their haunted, deserted prep school evening. When Betty first arrives at Stonewall, she mostly just wants to have a lot of sex and Chinese food (Sometimes Riverdale is weird in the parallels it draws between its parent and teen characters…like here, where Betty and Alice are shown very horny back-to-back?!). Lili Reinhardt is always great in these comedic Betty bits. Jughead starts babbling about how Mr. Chipping’s suicide seems suspicious (he is correct!), but the real danger doesn’t surface until the couple realizes they are not alone.
Donna and Brett (whose full name is Brett Weston Wallace, lest we ever forget) are at the school, too…for suspiciously vague reasons. The foursome play a game of Never Have I Ever, which doesn’t just stay in teens-plus-alcohol fuckery for very long, eventually leading Betty to find Chipping’s tie pin in Donna’s room. That plus the suicide note that fell out of Bret’s pocket earlier in the episode means Betty is officially on the case alongside Jughead, and she has the conspiracy board at episode’s end to prove it (how many conspiracy boards has Betty had at this point? At least three?). Donna’s explanation is that she and Chipping were having an affair, he harassed her, she planned on exposing him, and he became violent. Betty’s reaction to all of this is intended to make us question Donna, which is a bit of a weird move…Riverdale already bungled an inappropriate teacher-student relationship storyline in its first season, and if it turns out Donna is making this up, I’m not confident that the show will land all of that gracefully. In any case, Betty whacking Brett with a golf club and then giving him stitches further reiterates how much I love Betty Cooper.
Whereas I started last week’s recap with Cheryl and Toni, I’m ending it with them this time. This storyline hits a lot of the same beats as last episode for them, picking up with the ramifications of Toni killing Uncle Bedford. Toni continues to play the straight-man surrounded by heightened gothic family horror, serving a bit as audience surrogate in the way she’s continually like “what the fuck is happening here.” We get a little more of Toni as a fully fleshed-out character here though in the way she processes Uncle Bedford’s death. She’s unnerved and paranoid, and that’s in stark contrast to Cheryl who points out that she acted in self-defense and seems pretty chill about it all things considered. But that also tracks for Cheryl; violence within families is the norm for her.
In some ways, Cheryl and Toni have one of the most believable high school/first-love relationships on the show: They’re codependent, and everything has life-or-death stakes to it. In their case, literally: They have yet another body to bury, and when Aunt Cricket comes looking for Uncle Bedford, they need to hatch a plan. Cheryl once again leans into old family lore to do the trick and tricks her aunt and cousin into thinking they’ve eaten human flesh and then blackmails them about it. It’s absurd, but I love how the Blossom family has some fucked up family legend for every holiday, every situation, every day of the week. There’s probably a little bit of truth in each story, and they’ve compressed the actual trauma into little scary stories to tell in the dark.
Extreme highs and lows come with the first-love territory, and the softer moment that Toni and Cheryl spend on the couch is quite sweet. I’m often questioning why these two are together, and I think the real answer is less romantic and more troubling. Toni is a caretaker to Cheryl, and Cheryl is desperate to be loved by just about anyone. They’re sutured together, and that bond is strong, but it isn’t the basis for a healthy relationship. Will Riverdale ever engage with this? Am I projecting because of my own feelings about young/first love? Maybe so. But there’s something not quite right about Toni and Cheryl shacking up in Thistlehouse, removed from the outside world and constantly dealing with corpses and murders and a cursed puppet.