Whatever its strengths may be, Riverdale has never had much luck with timing. The narrative propulsion of each season has been fighting the broadcast scheduling more and more, starting with the awkward handling of Luke Perry’s death, which drained the tension from the third season finale and pushed the fourth’s proper premiere ahead one week to episode two. The pandemic dealt the production crew another unavoidable obstacle, which may be the reason that the fifth-season time jump that should have started this most recent run of episodes had to be nudged four weeks into the middle of things. Now, we’re back to finish out this stretch following a five-month hiatus that has utterly killed all momentum the season had worked up. Even with the “Previously on Riverdale...” bumper to jog our memories, so many plot points in “Strange Bedfellows” land with a sense of faint, indifferent recognition, an “oh, yeah” that too often fades into “who cares?”
The hour attempts to thread an action plotline with a workable hook through the fallout of last week’s prison break engineered by Hiram, a crisis entangling the concerns of both Archie and Veronica. With all these fugitives on the lam, Hiram’s offered a steep bounty to anyone who can apprehend them, compelling the cash-strapped Archie to take their arrests upon himself. A manhunt is afoot, its ante upped by a robbery at Veronica’s jewelry store (which I’m pretty sure is just the repurposed Uncut Gems pop-up store erected during awards season 2019) that sees her precious Ethiopian blue opal ripped off at the grubby hands of Dodger Dickinson and other area toughs. She enlists Archie in its retrieval and also curries the favor of Reggie, restyled here — moreso in next week’s episode, in which he and Hiram move to the fore for some deep-tissue character development — as a morally ambiguous operator motivated mostly by self-interest. “The bad guys pay better,” goes his explanation for lending his head-knocking talents to Hiram.
Their little team-up is a qualified success, less in that they complete their objective and more in that it provides an opportunity for Veronica to do cue up that A-Team thing where a bunch of guys burst out of the ceiling on ropes right in the nick of time. Though Charles Melton does his best to make the line “drop it, before I drop you” sound un-lame, he and his castmates’ all-business antics pale in comparison to the high level of battiness exemplified by everyone off twirling in their own spheres. That’s literal twirling in the case of born-again flower child Cheryl Blossom, ensorcelled by her mumsy’s cockamamie feel-good religion enabling her to see visions of the late Jason while in a state of ecstatic rapture. Same pretty much goes for Betty and Tabitha, unlikely partners in their hunt for the wayward Jughead, along with his ex Jessica from back in New York. She seems to be more interested in obtaining his manuscript — however “cringey” it may be, as Betty warns — than finding the guy himself, a suspicion confirmed when she doses the other two girls with psilocybin shrooms before excusing herself.
The confrontation between them as Jughead’s sad past and hopeful future, complete with the revelation that he called Betty boring and an airing of the pathetic voicemail he left her in a moment of desperation, has been positioned as the substance of this subplot interrupting Betty’s investigation of the evil trucker seen picking up Jughead in the final scene. That he’s completely left out of this dustup over his relationship status has a way of slowing everything down, the two sparring partners not quite on opposed sides. In actuality, the main course for their sleuthing is its hallucinatory detour, and specifically the impromptu musical number set to “Walking in Space” from Hair. I’m inclined to say that it’s one of the series’ best, though that might be because it’s my favorite song from the musical, underappreciated all these years while “Aquarius” and “Let the Sunshine In” get all the primo soundtrack placements. Personal bias aside, it’s good fun to see the show dabbling in lurid color and experimental camera techniques identified with the ‘60s period evoked by the music, a welcome departure from the usual Glee-lite semicircle spins.
Where’s Jughead during all this hullabaloo? His bad trip leads him to Sketch Alley, where he has a heart-to-hear with the most ruggedly handsome homeless guy since Tom Jane in Arrested Development. His walkabout and the resultant visions that plague him feel most detached from the rest of the episode, the ladies’ movements pertaining to him without ever intersecting. He’s aimless in the most literal sense, and so his scenes can’t avoid feeling that way as well, as if we’re just treading water until something happens to him. The tedium of his conversations with Calvin, the man he idly watched take a beating all those years ago, colors the whole of a sluggish episode. It’s an inauspicious return, though this far into the show’s run, we’ve come to expect tripping starts and sudden, random bursts of climax. We take the episodes as they come, when we can get them. If that takes months, so be it.
- They’ve had to embrace “remote learning” over at Riverdale High — not for any viral-type reasons, mind you, just because loosed convicts have rendered the school uninhabitable with their wanton destruction.
- “Hellfire preacher” is the one type that every actor thinks they can absolutely crush, and yet so few can. The natural up-and-down cadence to the rousing sermons lends itself to big, animated acting, but it’s easy to get bogged down in cliché and as Penelope, Nathalie Boltt comes off looking like an Improv 101 student defaulting to what she thinks is her strongest suit.
- The mini-mystery of what Palladium is or means will be resolved to satisfaction next week, but I’d still like to hear everyone’s best guess. The Palladium was a concert venue not far from my hometown, so I naturally assumed that Hiram had blown his teen-year band’s big chance to play a gig there due to his own diva behavior.
- It is with a heavy heart that I must relay the editorial overlords’ choice to discontinue my weekly coverage of our pal Hot Archie Who Fucks, though I’ll swing by for a check-in at the season’s end. Keeping up with the exploits of these beautiful fools, from their lascivious teen years to their professionally-focused young adulthood, has been a privilege and honor. Good news is, I’ll still be regularly watching and firing off snappy missives about Riverdale over on Twitter, where I hope you’ll all join me.