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In a land of fools and monsters, Riverdale manages to outdo itself

Illustration for article titled In a land of fools and monsters, Riverdale manages to outdo itself
Graphic: Katie Yu (The CW)
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These days, Riverdale is like a game of chess where most of the actual pieces are missing, so it has to be played with pieces from Monopoly or Sorry or the Buffy The Vampire Player board game. The problem is, those games are also missing pieces—so it never has all the pieces to any game it wants to play, even when it finally tires of chess.

“Chapter Twenty-Nine: Primary Colors” features a lot of the same problems this second half of Riverdale’s sophomore season (and the season as a whole) has been playing with, but it finally feels like it’s telling a compelling story with these bootleg chess pieces.


Everyone turning on Veronica—led by Ethel, someone who gave Veronica a chance in the first place—leads to a bit of schadenfreude on the audience’s part. Especially when you realize the only thing Archie even does to help her deal is take fliers away from people (as though that erases their memories); because he’s far more concerned with what Hiram Lodge requires of him than his actual girlfriend. As I’ve been saying for awhile, Riverdale has shot itself in the foot when it comes to making the audience truly feel sympathy for and eventually forgive Veronica for her role in her parents’ schemes and crimes.

So when Veronica punches Reggie, it’s a moment that would’ve been awesome in season one. It’s hard now to cheer her punching out a kid for telling the truth about her corrupt family and their for-profit prison. But this episode tries very hard to do just that on multiple level, and it falls as flat as Reggie. Whether it’s her punching Reggie—because he’s a misogynist, you see—or getting milkshaked, this episode wants the audience to feel bad for Veronica. All of a sudden, she’s just a kid struggling, one who’s only been behaving the way she has because she didn’t feel like she could say no to her parents.

Then we get her emotional scene with Hermione, where Camila Mendes is tasked with putting on a good performance of some of the worst lines she’s had to utter (outside of struggle pop culture references) on this show. When Veronica tearily says, “We’re out here fighting a holy war, mom. I need something I can use as a shield,” it’s impressive how much Riverdale expects the audience to listen to the tone of Veronica’s voice and not what she says. Because the scene is begging the audience to feel bad for Veronica—the way Hermione does—except it’s literally her saying she was hoping power would make people think better of her. Think she’s not a villain. And she talks about people being out for her family’s blood, but why shouldn’t they be? It was one thing last season when she thought her father was innocent, but she learned that he wasn’t, and she realized her family had hurt other people. She felt for other people’s pain caused by her family. Now she’s all in on causing that pain, but it’s hurting her feelings for people to call her out on that. Boo fricken hoo.

Before she was all in though, Hermione tried to teach Veronica a lesson on “loyalty” versus “blind loyalty” regarding Archie. As it turns out, Archie is the one who should have learned that lesson, but he was too busy hiding a gun at school to learn anything. (Keep in mind, gun Archie is way before he even became mobster Archie. Just think about this for a second, and think about how I have to try to make sense of all this.) With that same episode, I also wrote about Archie being “a walking, talking red flag;” the way things have turned out this season, at least you can say one thing has been consistent.


“Blind loyalty” is the name of the game with Archie. Except he can clearly see things are wrong when the Lodges keep going after his dad in one way or another—he just does whatever he can to get his dad out of the crossfire in order to continue on doing the Lodge family bidding. I’ve written before that, as boring as Archie is, his saving grace is that he just wants to be a good person. But Archie doesn’t even have that anymore. Sure, in theory you can say wanting crime out of your town makes you a good person, but consider how he’s approached that. First, he started a teen boy vigilante, the he bought a gun and started harassing Southsiders, and now he’s aligned with an actual criminal to support a for-profit prison no one but the most corrupt or bigoted people in this town want. Yet he thinks protesting is “nuts.”

But unlike Veronica’s bogus cries for sympathy in this episode, Archie at least keeps his unrepentant nature up. And it actually works this week—with Jughead as a foil—watching Archie continue to be a garbage person who can’t even convince his own family he’s making good choices. While Veronica tries so hard to be liked, Archie stopped that as soon as he became the Lodge’s errand boy.


Speaking of Archie’s foil, while Jughead has his brief moment where he returns to his most “white savior” impulses (the Serpent meeting at school, where Toni tries as usual to calm him down), this is actually a really good episode for him. And for Cole Sprouse as an actor, as he’s never been better—and natural—than in playing Jughead’s very visible disdain for every single thing Veronica says and does near him. The way he slams down his water and sighs when Veronica asks Betty to be her running mate is a work of art. The implication is that he spends the majority of the episode “hangry” (hungry and angry), but honestly, Jughead being so over everything in Riverdale would make a lot of sense. And the peaceful protest is a much better use of his time as a Serpent than… basically everything else he became obsessed with on behalf of the Serpents. Actions speak louder than words, and while Jughead is a writer, it’s never quite felt right when he goes on his rants. This protest finally feels right.

The protest (and whole episode) is also helped by the pretty stunning direction of Sherwin Shilati, who also directed an episode of Lucifer that I praised for featuring the most beautiful directed scene of the series’ three seasons. Riverdale’s second season has had a handful of standout episodes in terms of direction (surprisingly, mostly episodes with Serpent focus), and this one certainly belongs on the list. For example, the transition from Archie outside of school to the time-lapse as night falls over Riverdale is something so atypical for Riverdale, but it’s a different choice that adds to the show’s visual style. A lot of the direction here highlights the melodrama of the episode too, in a good way, like with Archie cutting the chains off of Jughead or even in something as simple as the scene where Hal interviews Hermione (without any lights at all).


And for the first real time this season, the Blossom family Gothic horror show is on full display. It leads to the most fully compelling Blossom story in a long time—especially with Cheryl now continuing characterization for longer than an episode—and actually stretches the show’s suspense muscle in a way you’re just not going to get with the Lodge crime family. Every Cheryl scene (besides the River Vixen tryout) is fraught with tension in a way that’s been sorely lacking, even the “New Rules”-esque hair-brushing train.

Plus, finally the Blossoms poison someone’s beverage.

But in praising the way this episode handles nearly all things Blossom, I’ve also got to mention the ending, which is almost perfect, in a terrifying way. Almost. That is such a key word here. The fact that the show goes with Cheryl being committed into an insane asylum is twistedly appropriate for the Blossom family we know. Honestly, it would’ve worked even better if Riverdale had given us a real Blossom storyline this season, instead of just using the Penelope Blossom prostitution storyline to fill time. There is a rush on the entire scheme to get rid of Nana Rose and Cheryl in this episode, and the fact that the Sisters of Quiet Mercy are so quick to take her in also ignores the fact (Riverdale loves doing that) that Betty scared Sister Woodhouse earlier this season by threatening to shine a light on her not-so-legal practices.


What’s not appropriate in any way is Cheryl being committed for conversion therapy. Riverdale is not a show equipped to write about conversion therapy, especially as it’s shown long before this it’s unable to write about mental health at all. Even its social media isn’t equipped to handle this storyline. And no, I’m not saying being anywhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum is a matter of mental health: I’m saying that if you’re going to have any character treat it as such, your show should at least be able to prove it has an understanding of or delicate hand for the very concept of mental health. This show absolutely does not, and I’m pretty sure the fact that they’re doing this storyline means they have even less of a grasp on how horrific conversion therapy is. Especially when they can’t be bothered to fully write for their LGBTQ+ characters in the first place.

Riverdale has proven on more than one occasion that when it comes to the finished product, “missing the point” is the reason for a lot of its missteps. I can’t see any version of Riverdale doing this that doesn’t fall into that trap yet again. Especially when they easily could have just had Penelope commit her daughter for burning their palatial estate to the ground. Instead, the writer’s room said, “What if we have Cheryl sort of come out? And then immediately put her into conversion therapy?” Yet again, no one had the foresight to call this out. And if they did, there’s a bigger problem about no one listening. This is how Riverdale manages to outdo itself.


Stray observations

  • Riverdale Roulette: Last week, I suggested Election, not thinking Jughead would affectionately call Betty “Tracy Flick” this week. This week, I’ll change it up and—in honor of Cheryl—suggest reading The Turn Of The Screw.
  • Josie and the Keller-cat: Despite originally looking like she has no backbone, Josie reaches goddess-tier status when it turns out she was playing Veronica and helping Ethel. Meanwhile, Kevin is: 1. A terrible friend to Betty, which isn’t news but worth noting. 2. Apparently too busy playing Gossip Girl to be part of the fascist wrestling team anti-protest crew. #2 is almost like having a strongcharacter trait.
  • Do teens care about Andy Cohen? I’m willing to accept Josie’s excitement was just her playing Veronica, and Kevin’s excitement was because they’re both gay (this is how Kevin is written, y’all), but would any other teens care? Would anyone but the housewives of Riverdale care?
  • At least Riverdale doesn’t try to stretch the Andy Cohen cameo out, because he can’t even act as himself convincingly. Fingers crossed The Joel McHale Show gets its hands on this scene.
  • I can’t believe Jughead’s Dracula line made it into the previouslies.
  • Hermione tells Hal that the Lodges will be building a new wing at Riverdale High School. Surely, Veronica will be loved by her classmates once a piece of the school is named after her.
  • “Co-President” isn’t a thing these days, right? Jughead wants Betty to be his “Vice President,” right?
  • I’ve compared Riverdale a lot to Glee lately—negatively—so of course now we have Ethel milkshaking (like a Glee slushie facial) Veronica in this episode… as well as one of the worst musical numbers to date, butchering School House Rock. At least there’s Betty: “The chilling thing is, Ethel went through the trouble of bringing that milkshake from Pop’s.” Nothing gets by you, Nancy Drew.
  • The only thing I’m not down with Ethel for in this episode is her implying no lesbian or bisexual girls exist in this school, as she says Veronica’s kissing booth will only work for the boy vote.
  • Jughead can’t publish a factual exposé for the school paper because it could be seen as an attack on a student’s parent, but Ethel can just pass out fliers that—while true—are an actual attack on a student. Principal Weatherbee sucks.
  • Cheryl: “Inner circle. Cousin Betty.” Don’t go changin’, Cheryl.
  • I found out before seeing this episode that Betty would be moving in with Jughead, and I was ready to oppose it… and then I saw the episode and completely understood. What I don’t understand is why Betty doesn’t just record Chic when she’s alone with him.
  • Chic has moved on from fake crying to smiling during everything, perhaps because he too knows his storyline is running on fumes. Alice acknowledging she knows Chic’s “odd” doesn’t excuse her just letting him steamroll her family’s life. Maybe just get him a decent apartment? Or actual therapy, if anyone in this town has heard of that.
  • Thank Beebo for Mary Andrews, right? Molly Ringwald’s presence in the first season was very much just a point of the show having Molly Ringwald. Here, the way she actually calls Archie out for his blatant disrespect toward his father? If she had been around when Archie told Fred he wasn’t going to leave the Lodge penthouse, she would’ve made sure Archie left. It’s so nice to see an actual good parent (though FP has his moments, like in this episode) do actual good parenting on this show.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Despite her mother's wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB's image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya's your girl.

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