One minute Riverdale is overly “course-correcting” from an anticlimactic murderer story. The next, it’s a CW series about the mob, with more of a body count in one episode than the aforementioned murderer had in many episodes.

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“Chapter Twenty-Five: The Wicked And The Divine” feels closer in tone and quality to what consistently worked for Riverdale in its first season than Riverdale has felt in awhile. That should come as no surprise, as the episode was written by Riverdale creator and showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. But that means, for all the things that are so right about this episode, Aguirre-Sacasa also deserves credit for the things it gets so wrong—especially when they’re symptomatic of something much worse about the series.

Personally, I’ve found that I gravitate toward the adult characters on Riverdale much more than the teens, especially as the series goes on. In the first season, there was more of a balancing act between the two; as fascinating and entertaining as Alice Cooper, Hermione Lodge, and FP Jones were, the same could be said about their respective children. However, at that time, their children weren’t complete… I want to say shitshows? In fact, in the first season, the kids of Riverdale were all far more put together than their parents. Even Cheryl Blossom, and the audience spent the entire season believing she and her twin brother had been in an incestuous relationship.

If there is one thing “Chapter Twenty-Five” confirms—assuming it wasn’t already clear—it’s that one of the most difficult things about Riverdale right now is finding something to even latch onto or root for in these teen characters’ current roles and actions. (Not counting the ships themselves.) Is anyone saying, “I really hope Veronica helps her parents get away with their many crimes?” Conversely, who exactly is rooting for Archie to take down Veronica’s crime family and then get back to music/basketball? And to what end are we supposed to support Jughead’s quest for Serpent supremacy or Betty’s exhibitionism? At least with the adults, even the more purely villainous Lodge parents are operating on a soap operatic level where “rooting” for them isn’t exactly the purpose of their characters. Josie and Kevin are perhaps the closest to characters still worth rooting for on this show, but calling them “characters” is still somewhat disingenuous, especially for plot facilitator Kevin. Josie on the other hand, is just a sad character at this point, with still no explanation given as to why that had to happen to her. And said eventual explanation depends on the personality Cheryl has on any given episode.

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But “Chapter Twenty-Five” does still have those hallmarks that make Riverdale the surreal, over-the-top—but in a good way—show it once consistently was, which again is to be expected when the man in charge writes an episode. For example, if the Chic arc gives us nothing else, it will at least have given us the final scene in this episode. As Betty takes (yet another) scared walk through her house, only to find a creepy man dead in a pool of his own blood, with Alice Cooper simply asking her if she locked the door. It’s the kind of scene Riverdale needed to end an episode with, the kind of scene that says the rest of the episode wasn’t a fluke—because it too, despite the larger issues, feels like the show at its best again—and that Riverdale is back. A moment like that is the kind of “back to basics” one wants to see from Riverdale.

There’s also something so very, truly Riverdale about this being an episode where Archie Andrews could possibly become a “made man.” Archie’s a Fredo if ever there was one, yet Hiram Lodge is easily convinced that this kid could turn out to be like him. That’s actually Riverdale in a nutshell: Archie is very much a Fredo, but the show is insistent he’s a Michael. This was the case in the first season too, when the Blossom parents thought Archie would be more capable of taking over their company than cutthroat Cheryl. Though that was also because they thought they could easily manipulate him into smuggling drugs. As the show moves along, it continues to prove that season one was right to make him a supporting character, but at least there are some laughs to be had along the way with him in a leading role. While it would probably work better for Archie to just trip and fall into this world of crime—as opposed to his “FBI” situation—the part that does track is just how much Archie lucks his way into Hiram putting him in his inner circle. Archie didn’t pummel Nick St. Clair because he was hoping Hiram would be “impressed”; he did it because he’s an emotional kid who happens to have muscles. Archie didn’t tell Hiram about Boucher’s (MC Gainey) plan to take him out because he wanted to climb up the ladder; he did it because he’d just heard about an assassination plan, and even though it would probably help him get out of his problem, Archie’s not going to let Veronica’s dad get murdered.

Despite all the talk of Hiram Lodge being a criminal—they did even call him “the Godfather of Riverdale”—it wasn’t until these latest two episodes that his particular characterization as a crime boss came to the forefront. It’s an interesting story they’re telling, unlike the investigation that surrounds it. There’s also something that became clear in “Chapter Twenty-Four: The Wrestler” and was even touched upon in their initial man-to-man scene at the penthouse, and that’s the fact that KJ Apa and Mark Consuelos have a surprisingly good chemistry together. Apa plays “scared but too Archie to just back down” well, and Consuelous is clearly having the time of his life as this character. Going all-in on the crime boss thing also brings some variety in the direction and aesthetic choices of the show, whether it’s errand-running Archie getting his Goodfellas on or Hiram Lodge and his boys playing poker (delightfully set to “Little Green Bag”) at Pop’s. The image of mob goons working security outside of Pop’s is certainly a lasting one.

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However, where the decision to go all-in on Godfather Hiram slightly falters is in the Veronica of it all, which is a major part of this episode (where her confirmation is the event-of-the-week). Due to the arrival of all the Lodge family (especially the brilliant Abuelita Lodge) and friends, we’re now given a fuller picture of Veronica that makes much of her previous characterization questionable. Because there’s absolutely no way Veronica had no idea her father was a real criminal at beginning of the series—especially at his level—with how very much a crime family gathering this all is. When Veronica requested “a seat at the table,” the show was still working under the assumption that the Lodge family crimes were more white collar in nature and simply between Hiram and Hermione. But now Veronica is spending time with her mob wife aunts as they very openly worry about their husbands being murdered on a daily basis.

But despite how Riverdale got from point A to point B in this particular instance, mob princess Veronica is an interesting choice for the character and one that might have more legs than just “rich girl.” Especially since she has slowly but surely accepted that her family’s way is always the right way. See: the way she interacts with Josie in “Chapter Twenty-Four” and here. And the beautifully shot confirmation scene kind of balances out how absurd everything about the “Bittersweet Symphony” cover is, doesn’t it? In fact, this show could stand to find more reasons to shoot scenes with the Lodge women in churches, because they’re always striking. There’s hypocrisy in Veronica excusing her family’s world while still trying to cling to her “beacon” in Archie and keep him out of this business, but that’s the whole point of this crime family thing. Loyalty and hypocrisy. And crime, of course.

Now to talk about the worst of this episode, because though it’s literally just one scene, it’s still indicative of a much larger problem for the series. That would of course be cam girl “Dark Betty.” Simply put, I can’t understand how the writers think this Betty plot is good, let alone a smart choice for the show. Do you want to know the biggest difference between Riverdale and Twin Peaks? Teenagers actually watch this show. Yet for some reason, Riverdale thinks it can and should pander to both the Disney/Glee demographic—that teen demographic that actually thinks Archie should sing more, in addition to every other character—while also portraying the same young characters as sexual objects for adult characters. (None of this is even getting into the show’s disservice to mental illness with regards to Betty and Archie, as that’s a topic for another time.)

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I’ve seen some confusion when it comes to discussing this particular issue of the show, so let me explain: This is not a criticism of sex or sexual discovery between the teen characters themselves. But the Riverdale writers don’t appear to see the difference between that (Veronica and Archie having sex in front of a roaring fire, as cheesy as that is) and a minor engaging in a “relationship” with a serial sexual predator or a minor becoming a cam girl on a whim. This is the same show where the writers were shocked the test audience hated the Archie/Grundy plot, which is what led to that being shortened. Then it provided the Betty/Serpent Dance scene, where even the actor who performed scene didn’t comprehend why it was lambasted. Hint: It had nothing to do with the “dark side.”

The argument in defense of these things is of course the sexualizing (see: shirtless teen boy vigilantes, shirtless teen boy basketball, the River Vixens when they exist etc.) that comes with the show, as it’s regularly called “Hot Archie Who Fucks.” But that objectification comes in the form of appreciating the fact that this is a cast of attractive adults, who we’re suspending our disbelief to accept as teenagers. That suspension of disbelief means that when these teenage characters are the victims of statutory rape or are performing stripteases in front of middle-aged gang members, the appropriate outrage is to not accept this as “sexy” or some “dark” exhibitionist streak. Surprisingly, the only time this has truly worked on Riverdale was with Kevin, as the show understood both the unfortunate reality and danger of him cruising in the woods.

The kicker is, as I mentioned the cam girl Betty thing is just one scene, it’s so divorced from every single thing in this episode that it could be removed without the episode losing anything. There’s obviously the idea that it will come back in a future episode or episodes, but considering the things this show doesn’t ever find time to address—how is Cheryl so powerless against her mother after her threat toward her in the season premiere?—why should this be? It’s the most atonal scene in an episode of crime families and multiple murders. And this episode makes clear the crime families and multiple murders are the reason to stick with Riverdale.

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Stray observations

  • Riverdale Roulette: This is outside the teen genre, but considering the crime family situation, I wanted to suggest what I assume is one of the mob movies Archie watched. Mickey Blue Eyes. No, it’s not a good movie. No, it’s not one of the inspirations for this episode. But it is the Archie Andrews of mob movies.
  • Honestly, this episode would probably be a B+ if not for the majority of the Jughead stuff. The Serpents story doesn’t quite come to an end here, but with the exiles of both Tall Boy and Penny Peabody (officially), it’s hopefully put the more Sons Of Anarchy aspects behind it. The highlight—besides the Jughead/Betty reunion, which is loaded with Betty’s lies of omission—is FP telling Jughead just how much of a negative force he is on the Serpents, because it’s been a long time coming.
  • “Our sources are telling us Hiram Lodge’s family is coming to it. By that, I mean his crime family.” The Agent Adams scenes really read less Agent Dale Cooper and more Agent Riley Finn. Initiative, floppy-haired Agent Riley Finn.
  • Veronica: “Do you know ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ from the Cruel Intentions soundtrack?”
    Josie: “...I can learn it.” I can’t decide what’s better: the very question or Josie’s strained reply.
  • Penny: “Jughead Jones. Did you really think you’d seen the last of me?” Brit Morgan deserves her own series.
  • Jughead says Betty is “one of us,” re: Southsiders, so as it turns out, that’s all that needed to happen for Betty to be part of his world. Conflict resolved.
  • One thing about the Betty/Jughead trailer reunion scene: It’s a nice touch to put Betty in the light and Jughead in the dark, even though those lighting choices should probably be reversed.

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