This week on Riverdale: Fraught handholding, a tickle empire, a rum rivalry, childhood diaries, and VERY DISTURBING VIDEO TAPES. The episode rather explicitly attempts to evoke David Lynch-level weirdness woven into the everyday (the episode is called “Lynchian”). The episode certainly leans into some of the stranger, more surreal aspects of the show right now. Everyone is trying to shake things up in the episode, and they mostly fail, suggesting that some lines are not meant to be crossed.
Veronica and Cheryl want to break into the college market with their TEEN-RUN RUM BUSINESS, developing a White Claw knockoff called Maple Claw. This upsets the local maple moonshine gang known as the Malloy family. There is no limit on the number of gangs and nefarious groups in this town. Veronica thinks Hiram put the Malloys up to this, but he insists he’s innocent and even goes out of his way to threaten the moonshine family at gunpoint after the Maple Club is ransacked…I guess as a show of good faith toward his daughter/a rare moment of expressing care toward her?
He gets beat up as a result (yay!), and then Veronica has to tend to his wounds (what?), and it’s all very strange indeed! But not in a fun way! More like a Why Are We Trying To Force Veronica To Bond With Her Evil Father way? Fighting factions is something this show does very well, but Hiram and Hermione are an increasingly muddled part of the show. The rum drama is the least compelling part of the episode, even though it gets a lot of screen time. At least Hiram still turns out to be the same old Hiram in the end. Veronica thinks he has turned over a new leaf, but in actuality, he shot one of the Malloys as an act of revenge. Hiram’s gonna Hiram! Don’t fall for this shit Veronica! (Veronica absolutely does fall for this shit.)
Also wondering if they should reconfigure their relationship dynamic: Betty and Archie. You may recall that they kissed during the Hedwig episode or you may have wiped that from your memory like I did. I suppose it’s actually “good writing” that the kiss did not happen in a vacuum and that there are significant emotional consequences. And there’s no denying that this arc is a very big deal for the show’s overall narrative. Some of the only things that remain consistent in the chaos of this show are Betty/Jughead and Veronica/Archie, and you know what? I welcome a dramatic shakeup on that front, even if it doesn’t last for long. Betty decides to process her feelings by…returning to her childhood diaries, which is extremely dumb but also extremely teenaged writer of her. Archie deals with things in his own way, too: Angstily playing guitar about it.
Flashbacks to little Betty and little Archie are sweet, but also a little creepy? There’s a lot about this episode that’s slightly unnerving without being explicitly so, and I suppose that is actually pretty Lynchian of it. The most genuinely Lynchian aspects of the episode are visual details, like the masked Penelope Blossom lurking on the periphery of a scene and the entire look of the Blue Velvet video store.
Reggie wants in on the tickle game, so he persuades Kevin and Fangs to introduce him to Terry. But after their checks get cut, Reggie—ever the businessman these days—convinces them to strike out on their own. Between the rum plotline and the tickle one, competition and business rivalries are the name of the game in this episode. But just like the rum stuff gets out of hand, the illicit teen tickle ring (???) does, too. Reggie’s Bulldogs team up with the Vixens to make new tickle content, and Toni has one rule and one rule only: The Vixens have to do the tickling. I have…a lot of questions. First of all, did anyone consult Cheryl? Because my guess is she wouldn’t be cool with this. And she remains the mama hen of the Vixens. Toni and Cheryl are completely separate in the episode, and listen, I get it: People should have lives outside of their romantic relationships. But I feel like we’re not even pretending like Cheryl and Toni make sense as a couple anymore.
Anyway, Terry and his crew—like the Malloys with the Maple Club—threaten to crush their new competition and literally do crush the crap out of Kevin’s fingers (“40 percent or you’ll never tickle anyone ever again,” Terry hilariously threatens). Mr. Honey also catches wind of the operation and shuts it down…due to COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT since the students are wearing Bulldogs and Vixens uniforms in the videos. And that’s the end of the that, I guess!
Cheryl does snap Betty out of her diary-induced daydreaming, correctly pointing out that she is romanticizing the present by revisiting the past. It works, and she eventually burns her diaries (DRAMA!). Archie writes a song for her (of course he did), but she remains firm. She is merely in love with the idea of Archie. What she has with Jughead is more real. The two pull away from each other again after spending most of the episode considering cheating on their respective long-time partners. There’s an almost-moment early in the episode where they hold hands on the bunker bed (how many hookups have happened in that goddamn bunker?), but they never fully cross the line. And they eventually both decide to look toward their separate futures instead of reveling in the past. All joking aside, this story is told pretty well. I know Riverdale can pull off strong relationship writing, SO WHY ISN’T IT HAPPENING FOR THE QUEER CHARACTERS ON THE SHOW? I digress.
The storyline with the most stakes and suspense to it centers Jughead. He teams up with Charles to try and solve the issue of the town voyeur, who last episode sent Jughead a genuinely disturbing video featuring someone in an Archie Comics-style Jughead mask getting bludgeoned to death. Jughead decides that because the person sent a threat via video they CLEARLY must be a cinephile (sounds like a jump but OK), leading them to a previously unseen creepy ass old-school video store in town and then also leading them to Ethel Muggs.
But the only thing Ethel is guilty of is liking horror movies and also seeking out porn in the restricted secret part of the shop. But that porn turns out to be an actual sex tape…Betty and Jughead’s specifically. Called Ponytail Playmate (oh god), the tape, which as a reminder was filmed by Bret without their consent, the tape ended up in this illegal section of the store alongside a lot of other fucked up stuff, like a recording of Clifford Blossom shooting Jason. Here’s where we also learn that Mr. Honey has a secret life: He shows up hoping to check out some of the tapes from the illegal section. Hmmm the principal who is over-involved in his students’ lives is a bit of a creep? SHOCKER.
Cheryl has a business breakup with Veronica, and it is unclear how this will affect her murderous mother, who has been helping with the social club while wearing a mask because she has to remain underground because of that time she tried to Hunger Games-style kill a bunch of teenagers. But in any case, they hug and part ways, and I guess that’s the end of that, too!
Then we end on the very disturbing reveal that Cheryl has received another tape featuring people in masks. In this one, the anonymous villains reenact Clifford shooting Jason. So essentially, someone is making a series of films reenacting the most traumatic experiences from people’s lives. Honestly, this villain might be scarier than the Black Hood! At this point, it is truly impressive how many different bizarre storylines Riverdale can cram into a single season—even a single episode—of television. Can you believe we are still in the same season as when Betty disarmed a bomb with her bobby pin and took down cult leader Chad Michael Murray before he could take off in his homemade rocket? THAT WAS LITERALLY THIS SEASON. Did I just blow your mind? Is there any show as chaotic and short attention-spanned as this one? Absolutely not. And I mean that as a compliment.
Maybe now that Cheryl’s in the crosshairs of the town voyeur, there will finally be an actual plot line for her again, but also that means her storyline will hinge entirely on her trauma, which has been increasingly frustrating. Let Cheryl be multidimensional again! She is more than her trauma! She is more than her one-liners!