Reuniting with high school friends is awkward. I, personally, hate it. There’s a weird pressure to mimic the person you used to be simply because it is easier that way, relying on familiarity to ease the awkwardness instead of attempting to introduce your new self. The mere premise of Riverdale’s seven-year time-jump is absurd, but it’s also a welcome refresh for the series. And the show isn’t glossing over this narrative device as mere surface-level detail. We’re being re-introduced to these characters, who choices and motives are both inspired by the people they were seven years ago but also by the people they’ve become. They’re a little familiar, but they’re also changed.
Ever-the-wannabe-town-hero, Archie Andrews has given his former friends their marching orders: Save Riverdale. They all agree to the job during that initial talk at the diner, despite not really knowing what that entails. And at episode’s end, they wildly agree to place their lives on pause to become teachers at their former high school. But as wild as that is, they all have their own reasons. Betty’s not making much progress on the FBI agent track after being sidelined for her mess up with the Trash Bag Killer, who is still haunting her nightmares btw. Veronica’s locked in a game of chess with her insecure and punchable-faced husband Chadwick, who instead of divorcing she is playing games with, because well that’s the exact model of marriage/love she grew up witnessing thanks to her parents. Jughead’s suffering Second Book Writer’s Block, spending much of this episode staring at a word document that reads Chapter One and…nothing else. Archie’s probably respressing war trauma. So yes, they all have their reasons to stay in their hometown a little longer.
The Riverdale they’ve returned to is similarly fundamentally changed while still showing signs of the town it has always been. Corruption runs deep, Hiram Lodge’s claws sunk deep beneath the flesh of this once quaint town turned horrorscape. The high school’s the latest victim of Hiram’s gutting of Riverdale’s resources, and the episode hinges on a board meeting that will decide whether the school can reopen at all. Please know that this board meeting involves a woman named MISS CROUTON, who we never meet but whose name I have been whispering to myself in a chant ever since I heard it escape Kevin Keller’s lips during a gathering of the Save Riverdale High league (spearheaded by Alice and Toni) that Kevin also says makes him feel like he’s in an episode of Succession which, sure, I’ll give it to you Kevin. Even though the board meeting drama is the least interesting, most meticulously plotted part of the episode.
Some of the things that the board meeting conflict touches, though, I’m very interested in! First of all, it’s great to see Toni Topaz with storylines of her own but also a bummer that it took Vanessa Morgan advocating for herself for the writers to do anything on that front. It’s long overdue. But now Toni’s running things behind the bar and behind the desk, keeping La Bonne Nuit alive and also serving as Riverdale High’s guidance counselor and clearly caring about the youth of Riverdale deeply. She goes up against Hiram about the high school after he attempts to run a hit piece about her in the local paper. She has expanded her role as Serpent Queen to include making sure this town still takes care of its own, even as Hiram threatens to destroy all that.
But my personal favorite Toni scene is when she sits down with Cheryl after Pop’s retirement party and asks her to consider investing money to save the school. For the first time in a long time, this scene between them does not place Toni at the periphery of Cheryl’s arc. She isn’t just side-support for a Cheryl Blossom storyline. If anything, the roles have switched. Toni has the agency and depth here. Cheryl initially declines, worrying that everything she does—even good things—will eventually turn to poison.
The conviction Cheryl feels about her bloodline’s curse is heartbreaking. But Toni also knows she has to do whatever it takes to save the school and that Cheryl represents an opportunity because of her family fortune. She appeals to her past with Cheryl, asks her to do it for her, not for the town. It’s slightly manipulative—not altogether nefarious by any means—but it also brings Toni’s priorities into sharp focus while also unearthing emotional stakes when it comes to her complicated history with Cheryl. Archie thinks he’s Riverdale’s knight in shining armor, but Toni’s the one who has been here on the ground, doing the work to keep this town from being completely decimated by Hiram’s SoDale plans. Toni is crucial to winning the board meeting vote, which is an important if short-lived victory. It’s followed with a successful vote to disincorporate the town, Hiram one-upping himself from the time he placed the whole town under quarantine.
This tension between those who stayed in Riverdale and those who left is palpable throughout the episode, especially when it comes to the Cooper household. Betty returns to a home perpetually covered in laundry in various stages. Alice is harried and frantic and a little cold toward Betty, obviously pretending like things are fine but also making no attempt to hide any of the mess that has overtaken the house. She and Polly are raising the twins together, but Polly’s rarely home, sneaking in at late hours, which leads Betty to almost SHOOT HER after she wakes up from a TBK night terror and hears rustling downstairs.
Put down the gun, Elizabeth!!!!! Archie spots Polly at his old house that the Ghoulies have taken over during his walk-through with Reggie (Hiram’s right hand these days) that Archie requested under the guise of finding drugs in order to kick the Ghoulies out. But Reggie clearly tipped the Ghoulies off, all of Riverdale’s most corrupt forces (Hiram and his SoDale security force, the Ghoulies, Stonewall Prep) in each other’s pockets. It doesn’t matter, because Archie had another reason for the walk-through, which I’ll get into soon.
Wow, recapping this show truly necessitates getting lost down various tangents even when I take very thorough notes! Where was I? Oh yes, Polly. Polly who’s running with the Ghoulies and apparently hasn’t shown up to her server shift in a year. Betty confronts her, but Alice comes swiftly to Polly’s defense, even as it’s clear that Alice knows something’s up. But Polly’s right: Betty doesn’t get to come swooping in and decide all of a sudden to be a sister, to be a part of this family. Betty’s changed and so have Polly and Alice.
Polly and Alice have been forced to change to adapt to their new surroundings, an economically ravaged town with no social services that’s being puppeted by a capitalist monster. Betty is not forged from that same fire, having spent the last seven years in Quantico. She has her own baggage to be sure (being held captive by a serial killer for two weeks takes its toll), but there’s a massive chasm between her and her family, and Riverdale explores this deftly. It actually makes for more compelling drama than the board meeting.
Jughead, Betty, Veronica, and Archie spend much of the episode apart, no longer the core four they once were. They might be working toward a common goal, but they’re doing it for their own reasons. And as a result, the relationship dynamics have shifted. Archie and Veronica share a pleasant but slightly awkward conversation about their new lives, Archie admiring her massive wedding ring and also admitting that he hasn’t been in a relationship since her. Jughead and Betty allude to some voicemail he left her on the night of his book launch that made Betty think he never wanted to hear from her again but that Jughead apparently hadn’t intended as such. Even more so than Archie and Veronica, Jughead and Betty seem almost like strangers to each other now.
And the shifts in the group dynamic opens a new door or should I say opens a new shower curtain? Yes, Betty and Archie have shower sex together in this episode in a way that’s both exciting for anyone who has long shipped these two (couldn’t be me, but I’m happy for y’all) but also sort of hilariously nonchalant. Sure, the sex is stylized with all the indulgent idealization that all Riverdale sex scenes glow with (they have rather seamless, slippery but non fumbly, active and perfectly choreographed shower sex which, even as a fan of the medium, I have to admit is perhaps the facet of this episode that requires the most suspension of disbelief, and I’m including the existence of a woman named Miss Crouton as well as Tom Keller handing police gear over to a group of 20-somethings no questions asked).
But afterward, Betty places it all in the most casual of contexts, saying that they are merely friends, that they’ve acted upon sexual tension that probably existed since they were in high school, that everyone is an adult now and hasn’t been involved with each other in a long time so there’s certainly no point in telling Jughead and Veronica and making it a Thing. I’m not sure where Betty has suddenly found the emotional intelligence to articulate such clear boundaries, but here we are!
Before they get horny for each other, Betty and Archie get horny for violence. The silliest part of the episode involves Archie assembling a vigilante task force—Sweet Pea, Fangs, Kevin, Tom, Betty, and himself—to waltz into the Ghoulies hangout and beat everyone up. Betty and Archie are, like, way too excited to do violence? I am very concerned by this behavior? In any case, it gets the Ghoulies out and also confirms that Betty and Archie indeed still have the bad impulse control of their teens. The Ghoulies are perfectly ghoulish villains, so it’s not that I’m sympathizing with them so much as just wondering what exactly this sneak attack is meant to convey. Betty and Archie meeting Riverdale’s violence with more violence is certainly a statement on where the two characters are at, but I’m not sure the show is actually willing to engage with that, preferring to just make an action montage out of it.
Published Asshole Jughead Jones is still one of my favorite things to come from this time-jump. It is just such a delicious depiction of the brooding, pretentious writer guy who thinks it’s the rest of the world’s fault that he can’t drum up the next great American novel following a debut that did well but was, ultimately, hack. Because as this episode reveals, not only is Jughead struggling to come up with his follow-up, but his debut drew greatly from the lives around him in Riverdale in a way that, well, those people are not too happy with. Toni turns Jug away when he seeks a job at the bar, the rest of the Serpents backing her up and calling him out for depicting their experiences and rituals in a watered-down, polished-up for contemporary literary fiction type of way. He’s dismissive of their complaints, claiming we wrote a work of fiction.
And sure, write what you know, Jones, but do it with a level of respect and don’t be surprised when the people whose lives you’ve mined for contact maybe don’t want to hang out with your moody ass! Jughead’s so caught up pretending to be some great successful novelist that he lies to his former friends and tells them he’s staying at the Five Seasons when he’s really crashing at the old faithful bunker, which is in remarkable condition for an underground, usually vacant single-occupancy hole in the ground that presumably is not temperature controlled???? Does the bunker have a monthly cleaning service? I know the whole point of bunkers is to be structurally sound for long periods of time, but I gotta hand it to Dilton Doiley (RIP), this bunker is practically a time capsule.
I think I have finally come around on Veronica Lodge’s frustratingly inconsistent character choices, because I think I have finally accepted that these inconsistencies as the result of growing up with parents like Hiram and Hermione Lodge, who are terrible role models, terrible advice givers, and terrible communicators. Last episode, Hermione basically told Veronica she needs to stop being better than Chad at business in order to cool him off. This episode, Veronica doesn’t do exactly that but does internalize the message, going about pursuing a sports agent job but behind Chadwick’s back.
That proves difficult to do, because he literally has her followed and freezes their shared credit cards. Veronica has the sense to know that his behavior is possessive, but her version of taking matters into her own hands is not to tell him to stop being this way (though she does eventually get there) but to go to Hiram for help. It is, yes, very frustrating to watch Veronica seek his help once again. She never can quit her daddykins, and I hate that for her. It’s especially hard to watch because Hiram flips the table on her, refuses to assist, and says this is him teaching her a lesson after the lesson she taught him seven years ago. And I think that’s just what Veronica and Hiram are destined to do for the rest of eternity.
In some ways, all these characters are locked into fates that they themselves have nurtured even as they attempt to break free of them. Veronica is always trying to escape the Lodge family name, only to always come back when she needs something, taught by her parents to lust after power. To Veronica, it’s easier—and more satisfying—to engage in this power game with Chadwick than to just leave. Cheryl’s curse exists merely because she believes it to be fact. Betty’s always chasing serial killers and getting herself hurt in the process, losing sight of what’s right in front of her like her family’s struggles. Archie’s always overstepping being a hero, making a violent vigilante of himself. And Jughead’s always looking for the story, reducing people into characters and his town into a setting, performing the role of the observant loner and thus making it impossible for people to be close to him. They’re their own worst enemies.
In conclusion: Riverdale’s capitalist hellscape has reached its final form. The high school, while tuition-free, is now privatized and run by fledgling adults who have not a whiff of teaching experience. Hiram’s still very much winning, SoDale casting a vast shadow on this sucked-dry town. These characters are all going to be very busy undoing such widespread harm as they continue to also unpack their own traumas and emotional baggage. What fun! But also, I need to know more about where Miss Crouton stands in all of this ASAP.
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