This week’s episode of Riverdale revolves around a key party. Let me repeat that: This week’s episode of Riverdale revolves around a KEY! PARTY! Specifically, it is a key party organized by Cheryl Blossom—who has, unsurprisingly, a chaotic ulterior motive—and set in the hallowed haunted halls of Thornhill. Because you know what makes perfect sense as a little evening activity between former high school friends who have become near-strangers in the past seven years? A key party in a candlelit mansion built on the blood money of the maple industry. I love this show so much, and this season has been a gem.
There are a few other things going on besides the central key party. There’s the matter of Jughead Jones being interrupted by visions of an alien-like creature—this season’s fabled mothmen—when he’s simply trying to lecture his students about Slaughterhouse-Five (the lengths the writers are going with this depiction of Jughead as a stereotypical lit bro are SENDING ME). The academic who specializes in extraterrestrial phenomena that Tabitha and Jug found last episode shows up only to be informed that the barrel supposedly containing an alien body has gone missing. She suggests that Jug might actually be experiencing repressed trauma rather than an alien abduction, and she offers up a whole ass support group for people whose trauma takes the shape of extraterrestrial encounters, which Jughead initially scoffs at before eventually agreeing to attend.
There’s also the matter of Polly’s continued disappearance. Alice sits the twins down for a little fun family craft time (making posters for their missing mother) and is generally losing it over the course of the episode. She tells Betty that Polly called her and described being trapped in some sort of small metal encasement, which Alice immediately assumes means “spaceship.” Betty’s skeptical though. The chances of Polly being alive are slim, according to her FBI brain. Betty does dream that Polly comes back to them, but it’s just another iteration of her TBK nightmares, which are indeed some of the scariest sequences this show has ever done. I’m not ready to deep-dive into the horrors of Betty’s TBK trauma!
And neither is Betty. Due to her life being an actual slasher movie, she is eager to escape, which she has been managing to do by banging her childhood crush Archie. Honestly I love this arrangement for them? Betty’s just using him from sex, but she’s pretty upfront about it, so it really seems ideal for everyone involved! But Archie’s not feeling it lately, especially since he still has residual feelings for Veronica. And Archie can also see that Betty does need emotional support in addition to a sex-scape from her troubles. Betty doesn’t want Archie to be that person because she worries her darkness will infect him, so everyone’s pretty much on the same page and they agree to revert back to close friendship without the benefits. This all seems like a shockingly healthy communication of boundaries, which is NOT par for the course for any of the characters on this show, so good for them.
Now, THE KEY PARTY! Here’s how it comes about: Toni, Fangs, and Kevin gather everyone to make a very important announcement, which is that Kevin and Fangs are getting married and that the baby is all of theirs. Yes, Toni, Fangs, and Kevin are going to raise a baby as a hot and queer nontraditional family unit. I love it! Cheryl does not. Now, I do understand that it can be difficult to watch an ex move on and make major life changes and decisions that no longer have anything to do with you, but Cheryl’s reaction, even for her, is completely outsized in a way that perplexes me. Mainly because I’ve never fully understood why Cheryl hates Kevin so much???? Is there something I’m forgetting about? I’m still kinda mad at Cheryl for how mean she was about not letting Kevin and Fangs be part of the prom court, and idk, she seems particularly incensed that Toni chose THEM to have a baby with. Kevin and Fangs seem like they could be good parents, and they care about Toni, so why is Cheryl so caught up on the situation to the point of reverting back to her Chaos Queen manipulations?!
When she initially confronts Toni about it, Toni admits that she would have liked to tell Cheryl about it sooner but that given all the tension between them as Vixens co-captains, she hasn’t been sure if they’re even capable of friendship. Fair! Cheryl says that while Toni gets her insta-family, she’ll be withering away at Thornhill by herself. And it’s like, sure, babe, you can feel that way about the situation, but it sounds like something to talk to your (non-existent) therapist or old ass grandma about?! The way in which Cheryl is making this all entirely about her and attempting to guilt-trip Toni for her happiness underscores just how correct Toni was last episode in calling Cheryl out for being selfish.
Do I think it’s possible for exes to be friends? Yes of course. But Toni and Cheryl right now are a perfect example of how it can become very Bad. Cheryl is still viewing all of Toni’s choices as if they all still have something to do with her. She sees Toni starting a new family and thinks it’s yet another person abandoning her. It’s not at all fair, but it does track for this character, whose abandonment issues are deep and bountiful.
And Cheryl once again deals with her hurt feelings in the way she too often does: She decides to inject chaos into everyone’s lives. Hence: KEY PARTY. In an effort to show Toni that Fangs and Kevin are not a suitable pair to raise a child with, she invites the whole gang to her home for some sexy drama, making some callbacks to the spin the bottle party from season one. Cheryl frames the key party as a last hurrah for their youths, because you know, now that they’re all mid-20s they’re practically IN THE GROUND.
Everyone has zero follow-up questions to the key party invitation and, hey, I applaud their willingness to try new things. But things inevitably end up getting pretty awkward pretty fast. Jughead gets way too drunk, so Tabitha has to take him home and not in a sexy way. He recently confessed to her after running out of the support group that when he was partying a lot as a celebrated new author in New York City, he ended up blacking out frequently. Whole swaths of time are lost to him now. That’s frightening and upsetting, and I’m interested in the ways that the show is probing all the consequences of Jughead’s rise to literary fame. He has hurt other people and himself, and he has clearly been using alcohol to dull the effects. There’s a brief moment between him and Betty at the key party where they just kind of say hi, and the lack of familiarity and comfort there is a little funny but mostly sad. They don’t know each other at all anymore, and they can’t help each other. Obviously Cheryl is being over-the-top in stressing how “old” they’re all getting, but I do think this season has been very good at capturing the more negative parts of nostalgia. These characters have all changed so much, and they find themselves butting up against their old selves.
Things also become a little awkward when Kevin encourages Fangs to bring a date to the key party. In the first scene of the episode, we see Kevin hooking up with a trucker, but we’re soon informed that Kevin and Fangs have an open relationship. But now that Fangs isn’t really working as a trucker anymore, he proposes that they close the relationship ahead of their marriage, and Kevin agrees, but he still thinks Fangs should bring one of his trucker hookups to the key party just so they can have one more fun night of nonmonogamy.
The date Fangs brings ends up being the same guy Kevin hooked up with, which isn’t as uncomfortable as the fact that Kevin is working through some major boundary issues. He tells Betty that he isn’t really sure why he wanted Fangs to bring a date, and it seems rooted in jealousy, secrecy, insecurity, and a bunch of other things that Kevin is going to need to work through if he’s going to be a good partner to Fangs. All of this comes to a head after the key party (Fangs gets matched with Reggie by the way, and even though Reggie concludes eventually that he’s straight, he’s willing to try things out with Fangs) when Kevin tells Fangs that he doesn’t think he’s ready to get married. It’s a pretty gutting moment, because Fangs is so caught off guard, and because Fangs points out that their relationship rules have always been dictated by Kevin. If Kevin wants to keep cruising, Fangs is supportive of that. He just wants to start this family with Kevin, but Kevin’s not ready.
This is exactly what Cheryl wanted. Even though it’s probably good that Kevin is articulating this now versus later, it’s a bitter truth that her chaotic masterplan worked, shattering the perfect picture of Toni, Fangs, and Kevin’s queer family bliss. When Cheryl and Toni inevitably end up together at the key party—while I was hoping for a pregnant hookup if I’m being completely honest—she reveals that she had a nursery made for Toni at Thornhill. In addition to the nursery looking like a gothic torture chamber, her presumption that Toni would want to live with her is absurd! Toni points out that this would be like Thistlehouse all over again. Cheryl effectively trapped her there, and now she’s trying to do it again. I do think Cheryl cares about Toni, but I also think that Cheryl wants Toni to be hers in a way that smacks of codependency and control. It never occurs to Cheryl that she could probably be a part of Toni and the baby’s lives if she were to ask and if she were to let it be more on Toni’s terms. Instead, she just further poisons their relationship. And unfortunately, I think Cheryl might once again chalk this up to her “curse,” which if anything, is a curse she has placed on herself by calling it a curse. Cheryl needs to realize that her own actions play a role in the consequences she experiences. But also, now she’s making out with Minerva, and I for one enthusiastically embrace this Art Dyke Power Couple.
Veronica invites CHADWICK to the key party, and everything that is wrong with Chadwick can be discerned from the fact that he uses “females” as a noun to refer to women. When Veronica draws Archie’s keys, Chad promptly flips the fuck out. Earlier in the episode, Katy Keene calls Veronica to tell her that Chad was spotted out and about with the heiress to Spiffany’s in an overt attempt to make V jealous, and V responds with, well, a taste of his own medicine and posts a pic of herself with Archie. So yes, Chad is upset when she draws Archie’s keys. And yes, Veronica is stoking the flames of his jealousy by playing games instead of, you know, advocating for herself. She meets his manipulations with more manipulations, and I guess when that’s your model for romantic love, it can be a hard pattern to break! She and Chad leave the party together, but she tells him she wants to get a divorce and eventually makes her way back to Archie, who tells her about his previous arrangement with Betty, but that’s all fine. Varchie is back together again. Mostly, I’m surprised it took this long for Veronica to leave Chad. I mean early on in this episode, she gets a text from him on her laptop and literally slams it shut and says to herself, in disgust, “not NOW, Chad!” She has clearly hated this dude for a minute. And rightfully so. Here’s to hoping that Veronica can learn that love isn’t a power struggle!
In the end, Jughead agrees to work through his past. Archie and Veronica are going to see where their residual feelings for each other lead. Kevin and Fangs are up in the air, which means that their situation with Toni is, too. And we finally hear from Polly for real. She calls Betty and Alice and asks them to come get her along the Lonely Highway, but when they arrive, all they find is a busted bloodied payphone. Given that and the fact that another body of a young woman (not Polly) has shown up at Swedlow Swamp, Riverdale clearly has another monster on its hands, begging the question: How can one town be such a hotspot for serial killers? And with that horrifying inquiry, I’m off to see if there are already any fanfics about this key party out there.