Once again, Riverdale finds its core four in distinctly different stories, a choice that sometimes yields something quite lovely, like a series of loosely interconnected short stories working toward a common theme or message. Other times, it just seems like incoherent chaos. “Men Of Honor” leans toward the latter. It’s not a complete mess necessarily, but it does cause tonal whiplash and also reiterates just how fractured the narrative sprawl of season four is right now.
In one corner, we have Jughead, locked in a real ass duel with Brett Weston Wallace because he “invoked arcane Stonewall tradition” and I for one find it endlessly hilarious how adults on this show indulge teens’ ludicrous actions in the name of tradition!!!!! I mean, there’s actually something to be said of the way this show reveals how tradition and structures within communities are upheld despite causing immense harm to the community, but maybe that’s an essay for another day because today? TODAY WE ARE DUELING.
And the duel doesn’t even end up being that interesting. Brett wins the first round (fencing), Jughead wins the second (actual fist fight in school! sanctioned by the principal!), and then the tiebreaker (chess match) is interrupted briefly by Betty and Alice setting off a silent alarm in the secret society’s dungeon (they’re looking for Brett’s supposed collection of sex tapes but end up finding the induction confession tapes instead) before Jughead just lets Brett win. The stakes are never that high in the first place, and then everything is clipped by Jug’s newfound sense of being above this ludicrous performance of masculinity. The duel was his idea in the first place!!!! Would love if these characters’ choices could remain even a little bit consistent.
Over in Veronica Land, V heads to New York City for a crossover event/promotion of the new Riverdaleverse series Katy Keene, which premieres tonight on the CW tonight and stars Lucy Hale as the titular aspiring designer in NYC (it’s set a few years after the events of Riverdale but also features Josie McCoy so it’s more tethered to Riverdale than Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina is). Veronica and Katy go on a shopping spree at “Lacy’s” and it’s all fashion fun montage time. Aesthetically, it’s very fun! On a story level, it’s mostly filler.
The only real plot development we get for Veronica is Hermione telling her that Hiram has a RARE DISEASE. This is enough information for Veronica to snatch back the Lodge family name, and I do have to concede that this is indeed Very Veronica. She’s almost always willing to let her parents back into her life even after she swears she’s done with them. This does get at the crux of who Veronica is. The Lodge name affords her immense privilege, and it’s difficult for her to give up that privilege. But you can’t have your cake and eat it too bb! And yet that’s Veronica’s whole thing. Also, isn’t it pretty plausible that this is yet again a manipulation of Hiram and Hermione’s? Like, where are the receipts??????
This is gonna sound fake but also maybe it won’t since a previous Archie storyline literally involves him fist-fighting a bear…but Archie Andrews’ storyline this week involves him accidentally getting tangled up with a SECRET PARAMILITARY TROOP OF MERCENARIES!!!! It’s not COMPLETELY random, because Uncle Frank used to be one of the said mercenaries, and the group is tying up lose ends so sends an old friend to kill him. But then again, Uncle Frank is kinda random to begin with so yes indeed this storyline is way too bonkers even for Riverdale standards and also doesn’t even say much?? Uncle Frank says he was just following orders and “did some things” and Archie has p much zero follow up questions for the fact that his uncle maybe killed innocent people because, you know, who has the time to get into that moral quandary really!
Betty and Alice have some cute mother-daughter bonding time AKA try to solve a murder together. Just cute little Cooper things! In the aftermath of Alice stealing the quiz team answers, Betty gets kicked off the Blue and Gold and also has a restraining order taken out against her by Brett, which confuses them both at first until Betty is like oh right yes I did club him over the head that one time. Alice seems unfazed by this. She also seems unfazed when, upon entering the Blue and Gold offices and seeing Betty’s murder board, Betty says “that’s my latest murder board.” The fact that Betty has had so many murder boards that she has to specify that this is indeed just the latest should be of concern, especially for Alice, who is usually concerned when Betty so much as looks at her funny, but alas! The journalistic instinct must have taken over her parental ones.
So Alice and Betty set out to solve Mr. Chipping’s case, which brings us back to the unfortunate part of this narrative where we’re expected to disbelieve a teen accusing her teacher of sexual assault. In fact, the end of the episode insists that Donna is Not To Be Trusted, because she’s seen in her induction tape confessing the exact details of an illicit student-teacher affair that she initially gives to Betty about Chipping in an earlier episode but this time saying a different man’s name. Betty assumes this means Donna is definitely lying and hiding something, but honestly, this could be a genuine trauma response, a way for Donna to tell the truth of what happened to her without naming Mr. Chipping and suffering potential consequences of that. But Betty—and the writers, it seems—really just want us to not believe Donna, and that’s a bad story choice. I don’t really see how to salvage any of this at this point.
I have similar qualms with the Toni/Cheryl storyline in “Men Of Honor.” Well, I do get what I wanted: an actual storyline for these two that doesn’t just seem like filler or doesn’t just make them supporting devices in other characters’ arcs. But hmmm I guess be careful what you wish for! Nick St. Claire returns to town looking for a place to party with his “chums” after they all get into Harvard, and Toni doesn’t yet know that he’s a rapist, so Cheryl shares with her what happened sophomore year. On the one hand, Cheryl and Toni both confiding in each other about their assaults feels real, and there’s sometimes healing power in the trust and vulnerability that comes with disclosing trauma with a loved one. But! Toni and Cheryl’s storylines are almost always exactly this! Rooted in trauma! And again, I would potentially find this more interesting if the show were actually engaging with it in a meaningful way, actually naming it for what it is. But that never happens? I don’t think queer couples need to have happy romanticized storylines all the time, but if they’re going to be so steeped in darkness and trauma and abuse, then that needs to be something that the writing is really digging into. Otherwise, it just starts to feel like weird trauma porn.
And then there’s the major issue of how Toni decides to deal with Nick. She and Fangs and Kevin—who are both now DEEP in the world of lite fetish porn?—drug Nick and non-consensually film him getting tickled. Do I love to see Toni look a rapist in his face and say “I will ruin you” ? Absolutely. Do I hate that her revenge plan is executed in this specific way? ABSOLUTELY. Violating Nick’s consent to teach him a lesson about consent is, uh, not the way. And yet it’s sold as this empowering moment and also one that brings Toni and Cheryl closer: “I am, as always, one lucky lady,” Cheryl says, which is just such an unearned sentiment, because the relationship between these two still does not feel completely lived-in. They’re bound by all sorts of horrible things, but the emotional chemistry just isn’t there, and it doesn’t help that Toni remains underdeveloped and often is just the set dressing of Cheryl’s storylines.
There are, essentially, five episodes crammed into “Men Of Honor,” which of course means that none really find their legs. The most interesting thematic throughline concerns the title, because none of the men here have honor, even as they claim to do the things they do in the name of it. It’s a tongue-in-cheek title that does provide some semblance of clarity for what the whole episode is trying to do. But it still lacks real weight, each storyline sinking a bit from too many weak spots.