Graphic: Katie Yu (The CW)

Relatively speaking, “Chapter Twenty-Eight: There Will Be Blood” is a fun episode of Riverdale. That “relatively speaking” is very much key at this point in season two, since Riverdale currently isn’t just compared to its inspirations in the teen genre and beyond: It’s instead compared to its superior first season and how cohesive that was. More importantly, it was cohesive while also being off-the-wall. The Blossom family antics were a Gothic nightmare, while the Cooper family—especially before we knew the two were technically one family—were a Pleasantville nightmare. Then you had the wrong-side-of-the-track Joneses, while both the Andrews (salt of the Earth, boring heartthrobs) and the Lodges (ripped-from-the-headlines “victims” of patriarchal white collar crime) were more grounded in realism. Josie and the Pussycats were there too, and there was the small chance a zombie apocalypse would break out. Those were literally the good old days.

Now a “fun” episode of Riverdale is really grasping at straws, considering the circumstances. The Blossom family still technically has the same over-the-top quality, but it’s marred by the world’s oldest profession and Cheryl’s “characterization” based on .GIF purposes. The Cooper family isn’t as much a family anymore as it is Betty’s multiple personalities—none of which the show will actually deal with—and Alice Cooper catering to evil Dave Franco. Jughead’s all-in as a gang member now, except even the Serpents were like, “That’s too much.” Fred Andrews is still a salt of the Earth, boring heartthrob… but Archie is an angry teen who starts vigilante squads and joins the mob. The Lodges, by the way, are the mob. And Josie and the Pussycats no longer exists, because Cheryl had an obsession with Josie that was never actually addressed after she broke the band up.

But this episode features as public will reading as its CW event-of-the-week, and for that, there is still something to enjoy about this show. There is plenty, as long as you get past the mess.

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The Cooper family stuff in this episode works because it has someone like Polly also addressing how weird it is—much like the Blossom stuff, with Toni Topaz. Which is of course great because Polly is addressing something being weird. While Polly’s original introduction in season one brought up some questions about whether or not she was “all there,” that version of Polly has nothing on Chic, who is actively playing the unstable villain role. The guy gets jealous of babies—as though he himself is a toddler, Rugrats style—and by the end of the episode, he cuts Polly out of that family photo he’d already cut Hal out of.

And yes, this is the best Cooper family episode in quite some time. Burying drug dealer bodies has nothing on this.

Riverdale appears to love taking away what people once liked about certain characters, so I suppose Alice Cooper’s latching onto Chic—and not using her journalistic instincts to question literally anything—so easily makes sense. “Chic said it would only be a matter of time before you left us for the farm again,” she says to Polly. It’s a line that implies Alice is the victim in a strange abusive relationship with her supposed son… but unfortunately, given Riverdale’s track record (literally all of Grundy’s very practiced sexual predator dialogue, only for that to never actually be the narrative they addressed), it’s difficult to guess where Alice/Chic will go. One assumes she’ll somehow choose Chic over Betty though, because why not have another character on this show make an upsetting choice?

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Speaking of, the way things are going now, next season of Riverdale will most likely feature the redemption of Veronica Lodge. However, knowing what we know—and she knows—about her parents, you can’t make the defense the writers don’t get it. You can’t argue that they don’t see how what Veronica is doing is wrong, especially for a character the audience is supposed to care for. They apparently just don’t care about the character assassination, and when you have things like “Dark Betty”/camgirl Betty and Serpent zealot Jughead in this season, it’s not like the rest of the characters are immune to that. However, the rehabilitation of those characters comes from that mostly being stupid teenager things—within the parameters of what “teenager things” are in this bizarre world of the show.

I’ve read a couple of interviews with Robert Aguirre-Sacasa where he explains Archie’s current status as the boy feeling powerless and working with the Lodges so he never feels that way again. The problem with that is… literally all of the real life stories of white boys like Archie and their defenses for becoming monsters. Remember, Archie bought a gun earlier this season (because of the school shooter-in-training who hasn’t been seen since, Dilton Doiley) and brought it to school. There are baffling race dynamics in this whole story anyway, especially with the Latino Lodges (with the last name “Lodge”) functioning as Italian mobsters, while also working as “Make Riverdale Great Again” characters. This isn’t Riverdale functioning as a bizarre, “good old days” town either, which at least makes some of its more antiquated aspects “work.” Kind of like Love, Simon last week—but from a greater place of hate and selfishness—bringing for-profit prisons into Riverdale feels anachronistic in a way that doesn’t work here, despite the show taking place in 2018.

The biggest problem with “Chapter Twenty-Eight” is how it reinforces just how awful Archie and Veronica were in “Chapter Twenty-Seven”... yet refuses to acknowledge that, as a result, Jughead and Betty shouldn’t have forgiven them with some “Four Musketeers” act a Pop’s. Remember when Betty coldly dumped Veronica (because of Black Hood pressure) and Kevin—Betty’s oldest friend other than Archie—seriously turned on her to defend the shiny new girl from New York? Riverdale has no concept of loyalty (the main buzzword in this mob storyline), while also having no concept of how to simply break these characters apart. This has technically been a part of the series’ DNA since season one though, since we still have absolutely no idea how Josie McCoy—an overall good and delightful person—and Cheryl Blossom—not—are supposed to be best friends.

Plus, Camila Mendes is still tasked with playing the Veronica character earnestly or possibly as in over her head as she was in the first season, despite the writing doing all it can to say there’s only one side of this. And the side is of Veronica being a villain. Even Marisol Nichols got the glow up of villain this season, after season one worked so hard to paint her as the victim wife of the white collar criminal. Also, just a reminder: Based on this show’s writing, Smithers is the worst judge of character. Or he at least has some antiquated ideas about men and women in relation to good and evil. And his subsequent desire to make sure Veronica’s okay is laughable, considering how much she gravitated to her family’s business.

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The problem isn’t even necessarily Veronica’s heel turn. I’ve praised both Marisol Nichols and Mark Consuelos since the beginning of this season for how good they’ve been as evil Hermione and Hiram Lodge. And Penelope and Clifford Blossom—played by the two “unknown” parent actors—were an amazing highlight of season one, even though Penelope’s villainy has worn thin this season. And I’m rarely a person who relates to “save the small town” rhetoric in stories, especially when it’s against something that could lead to actual growth and prosperity and diversity. But this is literally a “the rich-get-richer, the poor-get-poorer” story where the lead of the series (because this season is adamant on Archie being the lead, despite succeeding in the opposite direction) is on board, simply because: 1. His girlfriend is. 2. His parents won’t get him therapy. Archie is so messed up that, because there’s finally crime in Riverdale—even though we’ve been regularly informed this darkness was always there—he’s pro-private prison (as well as everything else the Lodges are about), which driving people out of their homes and school. Instead of trying to make the South Side better, he’s ready to make it a prison. It’s not even just dumb Archie ignorance; as I mentioned last week, it’s willing cruelty.

“Chapter Twenty-Eight” truly thrives when it gets back to some bizarre Riverdale-ness. The Blossoms and the Coopers are key for that, especially when they have a clear villain to battle against. For example: Cheryl overhearing Penelope and Claudius scheming is actually good for her, because she can fight back. Could she really fight back against her mother’s sexcapades? But when the character they intend to be the lead of this show (alongside his girlfriend) is one of those villains, it all brings the series’ biggest issues crashing through. Kind of like Alice Cooper at the Clifford Blossom will reading.

Stray observations

  • Riverdale Roulette: As Veronica says, “It’s business and politics, Archie. They go hand in hand.” If we want teens and corrupt politics, let’s go with Election.
  • Josie and the Keller-cat: Plot facilitator Josie arrives to help Archie snap his dad out of his mayor fantasy. (Because Fred Andrews is so boring he dreamed of being Riverdale mayor as a child.) The highlight of her back-to-back scenes are: 1. Archie, surprisingly, not blackmailing her into helping by bringing up her mom’s affair with Kevin’s dad. 2. Her mom revealing that this show has also been failing by not given us more Robin Givens. (“I haven’t even gotten to the real talk, Fred.”) As for plot facilitator Kevin, Betty makes him the gay Wallace Fennel to her pony-tailed Veronica Mars; she even head tilts her way through convincing him to help her. Kevin ends up getting the shorter end of the stick than Josie, because he utters the words—about Chic—“Your brother actually seems like a really good guy.” A thing no one who actually meets Chic him would think. As the previouslies remind us, Kevin was the one who knew Chic was a “video gigolo,” so you’d think he’d be able to realize when a gigolo sort puts on a front.
  • I wasn’t happy with how FP just accepted Hiram’s trailer park buy-off, but he redeemed himself by having the appropriate response over Hiram buying the Riverdale Register.
  • Leave it to Riverdale to just reset the fact that “the farm” is a cult that told Polly to sever ties with her family. I suppose we should be considered lucky Polly doesn’t just give all of her small fortune to the farm and instead decides to move to San Francisco with the twins. At least Betty remembers it’s a cult, as her facial expression over Polly saying they could use the money to create their own version of the farm is priceless.
  • Place bets now: Is Claudius just in league with Penelope, or is Claudius actually Clifford (and poor Claudius ended up being hanged next to the maple syrup)?
  • There needs to be an actual reason/pay-off for Penelope’s prostitution plot this season, other than her doing it because she likes it. Especially since it’s part of the reason the entire Hal/Penelope “story” was so weird: It started after she became a prostitute, and it appeared that he was using her for those purposes. But then all of a sudden she was in love with him (and we still have no idea if the feeling was mutual) and he was never a client (that’s actually still never been confirmed), and it was all just a normal affair.
  • Hal isn’t great, but there’s a nice moment of acting from Lochlyn Munro at the start of the will reading, where Hal’s so happy to see his daughters together. There’s not even a close-up on it, it’s just a nice, honest moment in this sea of crazy.
  • However, the most honest moment of this episode is Toni Topaz busting a gut over Alice Cooper’s entire outburst at the will-reading (and Lesbos). In that moment, she was all of us.
  • I called Principal Weatherbee an awful leader before, and his return in this week’s episode continues that truth. His argument about “malicious take down of one of our students’ parents” doesn’t quite hold weight when said take down is also a factual warning for the townspeople. Assuming the article mentions the buying of the Riverdale Register—which it should—that should also convince Weatherbee there’s only one place this can be. It’s a shame blogs don’t exist in Riverdale.

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