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Cheryl Blossom claims her rightful spot on the Riverdale throne

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Barclay Hope (left), Nathalie Boltt, Madelaine Petsch
Barclay Hope (left), Nathalie Boltt, Madelaine Petsch
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Riverdale

"Chapter Five: Heart Of Darkness"

Season 1 , Episode 5

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In the second episode of Riverdale, Alice Cooper makes a joke about the Blossom family hosting Satanic rituals and sacrifices at their home. It’s easy to take it as just that—a joke—or even a Sabrina The Teenage Witch reference, given the source material. But here in “Chapter Five: Heart Of Darkness,” that joke takes on a whole new meaning when we finally see the Blossoms up close and personal. You see, the Blossom parents (Mrs. Blossom, especially), are absolutely frightening. Past moments like Mrs. Blossom slapping the life out of Alice Cooper or even both parents yanking the “guilty” Cheryl out of school have felt like normal, grieving parental behavior. But at the same time, the obvious weirdness of both Jason and Cheryl had to come from somewhere, and this episode finally makes that source perfectly clear. While Sheriff Keller said Jason faking his death to run away was possibly evidence that the boy was “cruel,” it’s now clear there were mitigating circumstances, especially when you see the type of people and parents Penelope and Cliff Blossom actually are.

For example: They host a memorial for their murdered son with a guest list solely full of people they consider suspects in the case. That’s insane.

This behavior from the Blossom parents is an especially nice touch, because Riverdale has gone out of its way to cast most of the teen characters’ parents as recognizable television faces... except for in the case of the Blossoms. Despite Jason’s role as the series’ central mystery character and Cheryl’s as the Queen Bee of Riverdale High, their parents don’t have the instant connection that comes with casting a Luke Perry as Archie’s dad or a Mädchen Amick as Betty’s mom. Barclay Hope and Nathalie Boltt are working actors, but they’re not “names,” especially not in this genre. Their casting makes Mr. and Mrs. Blossom instantly an enigma, which is the perfect choice for this type of scenario. The Blossom parents are completely unassuming—until they’re not. That “until they’re not” time is right here in “Chapter Five,” long before Mrs. Blossom starts stroking the face and hair of the boy she’s equating with her son. And it’s a smart move to write Alice Cooper out for this episode, because Riverdale clearly realizes that if it wants to make a statement, it needs to make the biggest one possible.

For those hoping Riverdale would continue to lean more into its campier sensibilities, “Chapter Five” is the episode that scratches that itch. That even extends to the dramatic “football or music” montage in Archie’s more grounded plot. The opening scene is perfect even without Jughead’s voice-over about Cheryl being Riverdale’s “Gothic heroine,” as Cheryl’s nightmare is a captivating (and frightening) way to begin the episode. Just like those bloody scratch marks in Jason’s grave make quite the impression, even before nightmare Jason appears to get his Afterlife With Archie on. It’s in this episode that the audience gets the closest thing to an honest look at Cheryl Blossom; she still obviously feels guilty about Jason’s death, and she finally gets to pay her respects to her brother in this public forum. At a price, of course. Cheryl may not have drastically changed into a “good” person after her heart-to-heart with Veronica or trash can fire with Betty, but now, with a little catharsis under her belt, Riverdale can finally move on with the character past the more enemy-leaning frenemy version. (She does accept Veronica’s friendly peace offering here, after all.) The nightmare, Cheryl’s decision to sleep in Jason’s bed, Veronica’s extremely awkward dinner with the Blossoms, the memorial itself—it all builds up to Cheryl’s eventual punishment by her mother (for exhibiting a rare honest moment of humanity at the memorial), and it’s all worth it.

As cathartic as it is to have Cheryl break her parents’ rules and give the eulogy at Jason’s memorial, the best part of it all is that she does a costume change into her July 4 threads to really sell it. Veronica is fully on board with Cheryl’s decision to give the speech, but even she doesn’t expect that little twist during Cheryl’s version of a coming out party. A haunting cover of Tears For Fears’ “Shout” playing as Cheryl Blossom slow-motion-enters the memorial is Riverdale at its stylistic, appointment television best. It’s her coronation, even if her crown is knocked off by her mother after the fact. It’s iconic.

Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW

As I’ve mentioned before, Jughead’s voice-overs often grasp for poignancy and sometimes hit the nail on the head (like him calling Betty our “friendly neighborhood Hitchcock blond”), but his “Gothic heroine” description of Cheryl truly comes to fruition by the end of this episode. This is now a character to root for, because Penelope Blossom makes Alice Cooper look downright cozy by comparison.

The one thing I still can’t accept is that anyone would have gone to Thornhill (the Blossoms’ estate) that night after the back to school dance in the pilot. That place is clearly haunted. But at least erratic Cheryl’s personality finally makes sense with this episode. There aren’t many options when it comes to living in the town’s creepiest, most notorious house: You can either be perfect, like Jason supposedly was, or you can demand respect in the form of fear, which is what Cheryl’s had to do. There’s no halfway when it comes to their behavior, otherwise you’re still the weird kid from the weird creepy family in the weird creepy home. Kids are mean, and as Riverdale reminds us, those judgments and biases can last well into adulthood, even when they’re so obviously wrong.

Speaking of childhood trauma, let’s talk about this week’s Archie plot, which is now in the aftermath of all things Grundy. On the one hand, no more fake Grundy means Riverdale can tell a story of Archie finally interacting with the rest of the show’s characters and its world at large. On the other hand, no more fake Grundy somehow doesn’t mean Riverdale addressing how there’s no more fake Grundy. “Chapter Five’s” Archie story is no “Life After Grundy”—to an almost troubling degree. Instead, Archie and the gang have no problems making quips about the statutory rape situation, whether it’s around characters who weren’t exactly clued in on the pairing (with Kevin, it’s understandable Betty and Veronica would’ve told him what happened afterward) or joking about it around people who definitely don’t know the situation (Valerie, who also could have overheard them talking about Grundy/Archie).

As a viewer and someone who wanted the Archie/Grundy story to end as quickly as possible, it should be absolutely refreshing that Riverdale pulls an O.C. (or even an early Vampire Diaries) and blasts through that story as quickly as possible. (Although I still believe “Chapter Four” is far from the actual end of Grundy’s story.) Instead, the supposed normalization that’s been made of this from all parties (Archie, his friends, and even his father, who’s just happy his son is possibly moving on to an age-appropriate girl) makes the storyline feel even more like a waste. Archie constantly argued that Grundy wasn’t messing with his mind (she was) and that they were on equal footing (they weren’t), but you would think that there would be lasting effects with that, especially so soon after. Because in a cast of characters who definitely need therapy, Archie Andrews really needs therapy.

The thing is, Riverdale can do subtlety—it just opts not to. Grundy’s entire existence as a predator is evidence of that, outside of the obvious fact of her sleeping with a student. So while things like the aggressive hitting of the heavy bag and Veronica telling Archie not to keep punishing himself might feel like Archie subconsciously turning his feelings about the Grundy situation into unhealthy fuel, the episode ends up making it clear that everything really is all about Archie balancing football and music. Sure, Archie’s story of attempting to juggle it all as a 16-year-old kid is a lot better of a story than the obligatory teacher/student relationship, but going right from the latter to the former without dwelling on it is… a missed opportunity, at best.

The Archie plot is again the weakest part of the show—separate from the big ol’ murder mystery at the center—but not in a bad way this time. It’s just hard to surpass Cheryl Blossom’s Gothic epic or even Jughead and Betty’s investigative journalist shtick (a very good schtick), especially when you’re doing a straight coming-of-age drama. Despite how tone deaf Archie has come across in his scenes with the Pussycats, there’s no denying that KJ Apa is at his wide-eyed best when he’s with those girls, and this episode understands that by pairing him with Hayley Law’s Valerie. Valerie’s been the one to chime in when it comes to Archie’s defense, and it makes sense that she would want to help him out with his music—especially since his supposed music teacher, Ms. Grundy, just bailed and skipped town. Because of Riverdale’s teen drama nature, it’s easy to believe that the series might want the audience to side with Archie when it comes to Oscar (Raúl Castillo), Valerie’s music mentor, and his intense criticism of Archie and his music.

But the episode eventually points out the truth, somewhere in between: Archie is allowing people’s (Grundy’s, Oscar’s) opinions of his music dictate his own opinion, when really he should just keep at it. Riverdale is taking these established teen drama tropes and looking just a little deeper into them, even when it follows through. For example, on the second season of Dawson’s Creek, Mädchen Amick played Dawson’s film teacher who gave him the biggest criticism of his young life… and then the show immediately backtracked by saying she was just a bitter failed filmmaker who liked to tear down young brilliance like Dawson’s.

Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW

Oscar is right to tell Archie he should know how to write sheet music or even that he doesn’t have the same connection to Archie’s music as Grundy obviously did, just like he’s right to say Archie’s music is juvenile. He’s 16 and he just started making music—he even acknowledges that he’s not a prodigy. That’s the key to Archie storylines in Riverdale: Just be honest and real. It’s worked in terms of his father (instead of just going with an “I don’t want your life” story), and it works here in terms of addressing the hard work that’s going to go into having a career in music. No Grundy necessary.

By the way, I think it’s fair to say Archie’s music and songwriting ability would already be so much better if he and Grundy had ever actually done real music lessons.

As for the football part of Archie’s life, if there were any question why Reggie doesn’t get along with Archie, it’s all answered here, as Coach Clayton is ready to offer Archie the football captain spot after an especially awful week as practice. Coach’s reasoning in this episode is that Archie giving away Jason’s jersey to Mrs. Blossom is the sign of a true leader, despite the fact that: 1. Jason Blossom’s jersey number should have already been retired, due to his disappearance and then brutal murder. 2. Archie was given the jersey in the first place, so it’s not like Reggie could have done the same thing to prove his worth to Coach. 3. Knowing in advance that whoever was awarded captain would get the jersey, Archie’s “sweet” gesture of giving it to Mrs. Blossom was actually pretty passive aggressive. Archie’s final speech that Reggie only cares about football ignores that Reggie reveals himself to be true captain’s material in the episode; Reggie realizing that Archie’s hurt doesn’t lead to some nefarious scheme, he simply tries to help Archie out by having him sit out. It’s Archie who takes it as Reggie trying to make him look bad, even though Archie is already doing that all by himself. Reggie—who has been a pretty one-dimensional jock rival thus far—actually shows his ability for compassion in this episode, and it’s honestly too bad that Coach Clayton can’t see that. Then again, he couldn’t see what a misogynist his son was, so he’s not the most observant person in town. The point is, Riverdale’s keeping the layers coming, even for a character as minor (so far) as Reggie. It had to get through all the Grundy stuff in the meantime, but it’s doing it.

The best (albeit somewhat frustrating) part of it all? Despite Riverdale’s decision to have Archie be this athlete/musician that’s constantly at odds with his two hobbies, the show almost goes out of its way to make sure everyone watching realizes Archie’s not necessarily above average at either. The only thing that would suggest otherwise in terms of football is that sophomore Archie was put on the varsity squad, but as we all know, over-the-summer abs lead to varsity spots. Like I’ve said before, try as you might to make Archie hot, he’s still Archie fricken Andrews, one of the most average characters in the history of pop culture. Riverdale has yet to forget that, because at the show’s core, its characters really do continue to do their comic book origins justice. (Even with her family issues, Betty Cooper might actually be the perfect personification of a “perfect” character on television.) Now all we have to hope for is Archie finally gaining the ability to learn time management. That’s the true key to this athlete/musician thing.

Stray observations

  • Riverdale Roulette: “So we have to ask Jason.” “Are you proposing a séance, or…?” Riverdale did its homework with that exchange—according to TV, teens just love a good séance—so I’ll propose the rare occasion where a teen séance actually caused some real shit. That would be The Vampire Diaries’ first season episode “History Repeating.” Also, I took the liberty of comparing our Riverdale households to the Mystic Falls (founding) families: The Andrews are obviously the Gilberts, the Coopers are the Forbes, the Lodges are the Lockwoods, the Joneses are the Donovans, and the Blossoms are those damn Fells. There were really no warring families in The Vampire Diaries, so don’t try to apply that here.
  • For those keeping track, there still remains no Betty/Archie/Veronica love triangle, as Archie is now into Valerie. Veronica even gives Archie her blessing on the Valerie front, while Betty and Juggy are sharing looks in her bedroom. This all can’t possibly last, so let’s cherish it before the dating tree becomes as incestuous (sorry, Cheryl) as Beverly Hills, 90210’s.
  • And for those keeping parental score, Hermione goes back to undeniable best parent status by eventually filling Veronica in on the snake in the box she got at Pop’s. However, as a person, Fred wins for the simple fact that he absolutely would have paid Hermione’s/Hiram’s South Side Serpent debts to fix everything. Luke Perry, y’all.
  • Congratulations to Kevin being able to recreate the murder wall for Jughead and Betty at The Blue & Gold. And congratulations to Betty for realizing they can pump the kids at school for information. Sorry, Trev.
  • Just how weird is it that the first song Archie wrote was about Jason Blossom and his disappearance? Especially since, according to Oscar, all of Archie’s songs are break-up songs.
  • Veronica: “Why is everything weird here?”Kevin: “Did she just… touch your hair?” No one ever really follows up on how weird things are in Riverdale, but Veronica and Kevin thankfully have individual moments of questioning things like fake dates and Mrs. Blossom stroking the face and hair of a boy she sees as a proxy of her son. Never change, you two.
  • Who wears a letterman jacket to a memorial? I gave Archie a break in the second episode for how he just had to put his jacket on as he chased an upset Betty during lunch, but this is especially tacky. Letterman jackets are not formal wear. Even Jughead dressed up.
  • Not only did Betty’s dad Hal steal Sheriff Keller’s murder wall, he had an absolutely chilling lie at the ready for Betty about what happened to Polly. He legitimately told Betty that her older sister attempted suicide over Jason breaking her heart, even though it turns out Polly and Jason were going to get married. And now Jason’s dead and Polly’s gone. So what is at first a heartbreaking scene in Hal watching old family movies of Polly then becomes much more sinister. By the way, the Blossoms and Coopers are living some Hatfields and McCoys family blood feud over maple syrup (it really is “a Riverdale thing”), and Jason and Polly were Romeo and Juliet. Mixed references aside, that’s messed up.