“Chapter Forty-One: Manhunter” is one of those Riverdale episodes where, if you were to explain a large portion of it to anyone who knows absolutely nothing about Riverdale, you would sound very out of touch with reality. That’s technically true of every episode, especially after the first season, but imagine having someone who knows nothing about this show watch any of the scenes where Jughead goes on and on about the Gargoyle Gang. Then imagine them trying to understand why you watch this show.
Just to be clear, I’d argue these scenes are exactly why anyone would watch this show. During the scene where Jughead debriefs Fangs and Sweetpea on the red paladin and Gargoyle Gang stuff, I took a moment to really appreciate how insane this show and the real G&G (Gangs & Gargoyles) are. (Also to be clear, yes, the Gargoyle Gang is still cooler than the Serpents.) It’s a scene that has to be seen to be believed, beginning in a tent city that not even anyone who watches weekly understands the reason behind. Honestly, the manhunt for Archie in this episode? Not even close to the most ridiculous part of the episode, and honestly, it’s kind of disrespectful to Michael Mann to reference his movie and then have Archie pretty much make his way through town fairly easily (rocking the same “stealth” look as Penn Badgley in You).
Really, while the “manhunt” plot is mostly about getting into Archie’s mindset leading up to his decision to run away, the actual “Goodbye, Veronica” moment is the most important part of it all. (Because Archie doesn’t fix things when he drags Kevin on this adventure. Veronica does it all with the magic footage.) So I’ll get it out of the way now.
I’ve noted before that while Archie/Veronica are always portrayed as the shallower couple, they’re arguably a healthier couple than Jughead/Betty. Because even at their worst, they’re almost always honest with each other and don’t let the bullshit get in the way of that. Which is why their break-up is surprisingly disappointing. Not the content even, but the actual execution. This is a scene that should work, despite how absurd all the circumstances behind it are, and Camila Mendes does all she can to sell the heartache. (That’s a hard job, as she has to say “endgame.” Which actually implies break-ups and make-ups, effectively making the break-up meaningless with how temporary it inevitably will be.) But KJ Apa’s half of things deflates it all. It’s not like Apa hasn’t done emotional scenes before—things are often weaker because his stories are weaker, but he does what he can with what he’s given—but it would have been better to just not see his reactions at all during this phone call. Apa plays it like Archie is trying to stay strong and hold his tears in, but it instead comes off looking like Apa is struggling to emote through this scene. Struggling hard. So whenever there’s emotional momentum on Veronica’s end, Archie puts a screeching halt to it.
Now, as for the rest of it. While the episode provides a number of interesting new additions to the current stories (from the Gargoyle Gang to the end of Prison Archie to Betty’s imprisonment), there are holes. Really, a lot happens in this episode, and while that’s able to temporarily distract from those holes, they’re still there. (There are no holes in the Gargoyle Gang plot. The Gargoyle Gang is perfect. Unless you want to address how Joaquin might as well have just been Serpent #3 by this point...)
As great as it is to see an end to Prison Archie, the combination of Veronica finding the missing piece to exonerate him (that arguably should’ve been found ages ago) and her continuing to show all her cards when it comes to Hiram really hurts the very concept of finally giving the character something to do. (Also, Veronica deciding to take a mountain of evidence back home instead of her speakeasy or the bunker? It’s amazing things actually turn out well.) After six episodes—and evidence that has supposedly existed since the first—Veronica realizes that 10 minutes of damning interrogation footage was missing, something Mary Andrews, Sierra McCoy, and teen detective Betty Cooper all somehow missed. As did the D.A. and the jury.
It’s one thing if the video were missing and no one had access to it, but that’s not the case at all with this plot. And then the rest of Archie’s exoneration is settled offscreen, making everything all hunky dory on that front—except for maybe Sheriff Minetta’s part of things. The conclusion to this plot is something nearly every character should be upset they missed, as it insults these characters’ intelligence as well as the audience’s. This is where the Riverdale problem comes in: When the writers clearly don’t know where they’re going with a plot, it’s really obvious they don’t know where they’re going with a plot.
And in the process, Riverdale kind of makes the Innocence Project look like a bunch of dopes.
Meanwhile, Hiram very existence as a character—especially one at full power—continues to actively hurt the teen characters (as characters). We all know he’s a Scooby-Doo villain who seemingly has the ability to work as a foil to the adults but would much rather spar (even literally) with teens. And when the teens step to him? They treat him like he’s another teen and not an adult who literally only has to make one phone call to have his will be done. It’s especially glaring when Betty, a teen character who actually has a pattern of successfully stand up to adults, tries to pull the interrogation card on Hiram… and his “None of your business.” (about his “personal dealings” with Warden Norton) just shuts her down. It doesn’t help that the other adults in the scene—very much crippled by their fear of the Gargoyle King and all things G&G—don’t follow-up on it, especially Fred, whose fists should be flying when it comes to Hiram working with the corrupt warden of Leopold & Lobe. (Fred is infuriatingly passive when it comes to Archie’s imprisonment, prison break, and who knows if we’ll even get a reaction to his son running away.)
Not every adult villain on this show is stuck in a state of arrested development either, as Penelope Blossom is a legitimate threat who never has to sink to a child’s level to be intimidating. Whenever season one turned into a gothic horror picture show with the Blossoms front and center, it was an absolute treasure; and even last season, while Penelope did truly despicable things to Cheryl, doing those despicable things to Cheryl never consumed her (the opposite of Hiram and his obsessions). In just a couple of scenes here, Riverdale makes a great case (perhaps unintentionally) for her to be the big bad of the series, not Hiram. Nathalie Boltt has always been an interesting part of Riverdale, as the unknown quantity of the Riverdale adult actors, but the way she commands every scene she’s in suggests otherwise. She’s absolutely terrific, and this episode proves that even more during her sob story about Daryl Doiley. It’s when she’s telling the story—before we see her “I just got away with it.” smirk—about them being star-crossed lovers that you almost want to curse Riverdale for having her commit the unforgivable act of putting Cheryl into conversion therapy at the Sisters of Quiet Mercy. Because like it or not, this is a genuinely sympathetic performance from Penelope, which would almost make you see her as a human. I wrote in “Chapter Thirty-Nine: The Midnight Club” that it was hard to reconcile current Penelope Blossom with the younger version that Madelaine Petsch played, but in this moment, despite how fake it is, something finally clicks on that front.
And everyone buys it—most likely to just have an easy answer when it comes to Ascension Night and the idea of a murderer among them—except for Betty, which leads to Lili Reinhart giving one of her best exasperated head tilts when she says, “Dilton Doiley’s dead dad did it?” (While you’ve got to love a good quip, sometimes there’s nothing like an absolute refusal to care about people’s bullshit emotions.) Really, the entire Betty/Midnight Club meet-up could sustain an entire episode, just as the younger cast playing these characters did. In fact, it’s surprising that’s not the tactic the show takes, but then again, then it would have to address Fred not questioning the fact Hiram was working with the warden or that none of these adults care that Marty Mantle (Matthew Yang King) punched his son over G&G. It’s kind of a tease, honestly.
Speaking of unforgivable parental acts, this episode ends with Alice sending Betty to the Sisters. In a way, this betrayal transforms Alice back to her season one status, but at the same time, unlike the Penelope/Cheryl situation—because besides the homophobia of that all, it was also an attempted inheritance grab—Alice is doing this out of absolute fear. Since season two, pretty much all of Alice’s decisions when it comes to Betty have been based on fear. And when this GK thing happens in their home, since no one in Riverdale (except Mary Andrews) has ever considered leaving this town for good, this is her terrible course of action. She is terrified for herself and especially her daughter, and as she talks about how the Sisters will “protect” Betty like they did Polly before her and Alice herself before that, it’s frustrating to realize that when it comes to the Sisters and anyone who identifies as heterosexual, that’s actually kind of the truth. Of course, no one could expect that every budget Handsmaid’s Tale-looking extra at the Sisters would have the GK on the brain. Still, fear doesn’t change the unforgivable part, and it’s really disappointing there’s no Polly this week to get her perspective. (Again, the holes.)
A lot about this episode feels like a midseason finale, with the end of Prison Archie transforming into Hobo Archie, the Veronica/Archie break-up, Betty finally being institutionalized (which I thought would be the season finale), an unexpected character (Josie) getting hit by the seizure epidemic, Joaquin dying, and Kevin Keller playing a big part in that first, major (sort of) plot. Except for the Gargoyle King invasion in the Cooper household, this episode isn’t as visually impressive as the previous episode—while not necessarily the most stylized moment of the series, the prison break/G&G is one of the most ambitious. It’s a Riverdale episode that truly relies on the script (from Cristine Chambers) and the story, which is a lot of interesting concepts. But again, the holes.
- The Bones Zone: From the last episode, I’ll have to mark down Warden Norton and note that Mad Dog’s bones were reanimated. This week, it’s Joaquin, another retro bones zoning in the form of Daryl Doiley, and the three Shadow Lake boys. While Archie says he has blood on his hands and blames himself for that last one, I can’t award the bones making to him.
- Josie and the Keller-cat: I was furious with Josie for being a terrible liar… but then it turned out she was about to have one of those contagious seizures, so then I felt awful for her. As for Kevin, besides just looking real jacked this episode, he also factors into the Archie plot. In fact, it’s a plot that gave me some old school Pretty Little Liars vibes—the good kind—with a team-up between two characters you realize barely know each other (like Spencer and Caleb). The one thing Kevin loses me on here—and he’s on a roll, especially when he says that Veronica is going to kill him… and then she threatens to kill him—is when he tries to make Archie feel better by saying “Those guys weren’t innocent. They were criminals.” This is true but also very dark for Kevin to technically justify a corrupt cop murdering people in order to continue framing the friend he’s trying to make feel better.
- Maybe it’s a small town thing, but I don’t know why Betty would think all the parents would know who their school’s RROTC instructor was. Unless they were in RROTC, why would they?
- Evelyn: “I don’t even know this Archie person. And on Mondays, I host a group for teen Farmies—we are still accepting members.” This is Evelyn’s only line, and then she also doesn’t react to Josie’s seizure. Love her.
- I was going to call out Hermione’s password always being Veronica’s birthday, but then I saw the screen. That’s a true cluttered mom desktop, the most realistic moment ever depicted on this show.
- Hiram: “I’m not a 16-year-old nerd.” Are we sure about that?
- Betty Cooper doesn’t bat an eyelash when Curdle Jr. says the Daryl Doiley autopsy report is part of his father’s “personal collection.” She seems more annoyed than anything else when he says that, not like she’s worried he’ll eventually murder her. Then she tells Kevin: “It’s okay, Kevin. He’s a doctor—we can trust him.” Child, please.
- We get quick confirmation from FP this episode that he also saw the GK on Ascension Night. While he thinks it’s just a matter of them all tripping at the time, remember, Alice was sober.
- Archie: “Sheriff Minetta shot these guys because of me.” No, he shot them because Hiram’s a psychopath.
- This episode features a brilliant Scream homage, and I’m kind of mad at myself for thinking it was just going to end at the Jiffy Pop. But the show basically transports us to 1996 when FP climbs the ladder into Betty’s room to play the hero to Alice. Sidney Prescott learned the hard way you can’t trust sensitive boyfriend Skeet Ulrich when he just so happens to be in the neighborhood like this.
- You know last season when I kept hoping Riverdale would do an episode where they drag race for pinks, and then they did an episode where they drag raced for pinks (or gang territory, whatever)? When Archie went on to Kevin about how he couldn’t stay in Riverdale, I wrote in my notes: “IS ARCHIE GONNA RIDE THE RAILS?” So you can imagine the joy I felt when the episode ended with the reveal that Archie (and Jughead) is gonna ride the rails. This is the kind of stuff I love Riverdale for.
- Remember how Fangs was apparently friends with Joaquin? Here, you wouldn’t know they’d ever even met before this episode. Then again, Joaquin’s return has just made me wonder why FP had no interaction with him at all, since, you know, he kind of ruined the kid’s life.
- Betty: “Mrs. Blossom—”
Penelope: “Please, Betty—call me ‘auntie.’” Why did it take this long for this interaction to happen?
- Both Jughead and Hermione end up in handcuffs this episode. This is Riverdale’s version of cuffing season.
- Veronica: “Does mom know what you’ve been hiding on her desktop?”
Hiram: “Your mom doesn’t have a computer anymore.” That’s healthy. Also, how could Hermione miss the weird folder with a G&G symbol?
- That final Archie/Jughead scene seemed familiar, didn’t it?
- I’ll thank Eric Thurm again for filling in for me last episode. Some notes I had, since I didn’t get to write about it: Elio is right (no, not mansplaining) when he says Veronica’s speakeasy should serve real cocktails; it’s weird Veronica calls her dad “daddykins” when she calls her boyfriend “Archiekins;” the three “witnesses” were actually mentioned in episode two, and I noted that in my review. (On the last one, the hot dad brigade promised at the time to do something about that… and basically, they did not.)