Based on all that’s happened in the series so far, “Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Hills Have Eyes” is an absolute mess of a Riverdale episode. It’s a mix of fan fiction (or fan service posing as narrative), product placement, and “who even knows anymore.” In some ways, it deserves an even lower grade just to fully capture how bizarre an episode of Riverdale it is. Despite plenty of enjoyable moments—independent of each other—“Chapter Twenty-Seven” is far from the best episode of this season or series. But to grade it lower than a lot of other episodes this season would be a disservice to how much more entertaining it is than those same episodes, even if they’re technically better (simply by not being absolute nonsense).
This episode opens on a high note, with Betty unable to get away from Chic—who has achieved his final form as a cartoon villain Dave Franco that utters every line like he’s a ghost only the Coopers and Jughead can see. That’s technically a good thing, considering how messy everything about the character and story has been so far. And the direction in this opening is some of the best of the episode, whether it reveals that Chic eats cereal like an alien or that he creepily (at a dutch angle) waves goodbye to Betty as she leaves for the day. For the brief period he’s part of the episode, Chic’s presence is a nightmare from which Betty needs reprieve. The problem is the reprieve itself, even though Betty is one character who doesn’t come off worse after the weekend getaway at Lodge Lodge. Even the presence of the physical manifestation of “Dark Betty” sort of works here; though the same can’t be said about Betty/Veronica laughing over torturing Chuck Clayton that one time.
An episode like “Chapter Twenty-Seven” should be a slam dunk for Riverdale. There are even glimpses of that success, from Veronica (her black and white cookie robe; her awful-looking jalapeño margaritas; coming up with the dumbest even-steven idea ever) to Archie (carrying everyone’s bags; chopping wood; playing catch with Jughead) to Jughead (his surprisingly logical explanation for accepting the dumbest even-steven idea ever; playing catch with Archie; mocking Archie’s terrible throwing) to Betty (simply by being Betty). Despite hiccups, the couples are relatively healthy here too. So things should end up better by the end. But this particular plot ends with them joining hands like they’re musketeers, with the show seemingly not acknowledging how disingenuous it really is. In the woods, Jughead explains to Archie how the four of them are the best of best friends; yet the only thing that keeps them from tearing each other apart is the laziest, most anti-climactic home invasion depicted on the small screen (outside of reenactments).
* Even the episode knows how lame it is, as Veronica instantly recalls the leader of the crew as the store clerk from town. And the least subtle moment in the episode sets this up, as the townies involved just stare at Betty and Veronica when they leave the store.
One of the episode’s funniest—but most telling—moments is when Betty asks Veronica to name one good thing Hiram has ever done, and she struggles to come up with anything. Archie then brings up that Hiram paid for Fred’s medical bills, but the thing is, that was Veronica. And she only convinced her parents to go along with her act of rebellion because she knew Fred would be an integral pawn in their plans. So again, I ask how the audience is supposed to root for Archie/Veronica—as Betty and Jughead are at least currently away from their “darkness” and gang—when they willingly support a criminal who wants to destroy Riverdale for the poor and disenfranchised. Yes, they make an attractive couple, but even teen dramas with the most relationship drama (see: Beverly Hills, 90210) do as much as they can to make sure people still care for their characters outside of that. It would be one thing if Riverdale allowed Archie/Veronica to go the full tilt villain direction of Hiram/Hermione; but they’re still framed as a sweet couple who stick together, despite what they’re sticking together for. Archie/Veronica are a second away from shouting “fake news” at Jughead/Betty, who are literally crying out over the actual fake news slant the Riverdale Register will have under Lodge ownership.
Before the season went on break, it really overloaded both the audience and Archie/Veronica with the fact that the Lodges are legit mobsters. They threw out shades of grey pretty quickly with this particular story. And this is a truth both Veronica and Archie actively participate in, despite the earlier portrayal of Veronica as somehow ignorant to this and Archie as someone who cares about what’s right. For them to call Jughead and Betty narcissistic and paranoid for suggesting the obvious Lodge power play in action and to pretend the Lodges are above blackmail (and worse) isn’t just childhood naivete or even willful ignorance: It’s intentional cruelty, against their “best friends.” Unless they’re friends with Dawson Leery, it’s not normal to wonder why characters are even still friends with each other only two seasons into a series.
One thing that really explains this episode’s major problem—other than the Love, Simon thing, which at least allows Jennifer Garner to grace this series with her presence—is Jughead uttering the terms “Bughead” and “Vughead.” In one sentence. In correct context. In an episode where Veronica has already said “Bughead.” In fact, there’s nothing wrong with a character like Veronica busting out ship names, as she, Kevin, and Cheryl are the only characters who can pull it off. But for Jughead to do so is for Riverdale to say it officially doesn’t care if characters behave like themselves or not, as long as it gets a reaction from a specific subset of fans. Fans who don’t care about plot or characterization as long as their ships have cute moments.
Now let me add that there is nothing wrong with shipping or even watching a show for said ships and cute moments—especially if you’re not a dick about it—but there is a problem with that being the driving force behind an actual show or even an episode. There’s a difference between tipping a hat toward the fandom (Supernatural has done this many times) and producing an episode that feels like fan fiction with a budget. A Riverdale cabin in the woods episode makes sense. But when you have Jughead throwing out ship portmanteaus, Betty sexy role-playing as “Dark Betty,” the couples having dueling loud sex, Archie chopping wood, and Jughead/Veronica kissing in front of Archie/Betty—that’s basically a fan fic checklist right there, isn’t it? Even though some of these aspects work, as I mentioned before, they work more as moments than as part of a solid narrative. Especially when so little of it ends up mattering in the end.
Betty: “Oh my god. Are they serious?”
Jughead: “Is that their response to everything? Can’t they ever just have, like, a conversation?”
This self-aware exchange is one of the best of the episode, but it also relies on fandom reaction, not the characters themselves. Because while the audience knows Archie/Veronica are always having sex, there’s been no indication that their friends think of them as “the sex couple.” And as for the “conversation” criticism, Archie/Veronica are actually much better at talking things through than Jughead/Betty. To the point where Archie’s in the mob now. Archie joking about Jughead/Betty breaking up again makes more sense, because at least that’s an awkwardness those two characters make everyone in their lives sit through.
Surprisingly, there are two events-of-the-week this episode: the cabin in the woods for the core four and the premiere of Love, Simon for the also-rans. Just by being a contemporary touch to Riverdale, Love, Simon feels anachronistic in a way the series’ intentional anachronisms don’t. It makes sense that the Lodge safe-house has a rotary telephone; it doesn’t make sense that anyone in Riverdale is attending a movie from any time after 9/11. Riverdale had blatant product placement with Cover Girl last season, but that was just quick visual focus, never the centerpiece of any one storyline. In fact, because of the series’ style, it’s avoided classic CW product integration like the ubiquitous Bing or a Ford Focus. So while it’s understandable the series wants to shout-out and support its executive producer (Greg Berlanti directed Love, Simon), having a movie that’s not even out yet and is so outside the world of the show function as the driving force in development for Cheryl, Kevin, and Josie is just as bad as the lack of development for those three characters in the first place.
By the way: Who watching actually cares that Penelope Blossom is a prostitute? Because this story has somehow only made the Blossom family less entertaining, as it pales in comparison to milkshakes and maple syrup. And gone is anything resembling subtext when it comes to Penelope’s abusive relationship with Cheryl. The verbal abuse scene is technically a powerful one, especially at a time when Cheryl’s characterization simply depends on what the episode demands. (Madelaine Petsch continues to nail it all, but she continues to deserve more.) However, that’s still the case for her in this episode—as Riverdale has forgotten any leverage Cheryl had over her mother at the beginning of the season—only with a personal revelation to come out as a result. It’s unsurprising, but Cheryl lashes out and focuses on her “Cheryl Bombshell” persona because of the awful way her mother treats her. So Cheryl tries to blow up the core four—who don’t need the help, but the episode needed Jughead/Veronica to kiss somehow—because of said verbal abuse. However, the Love, Simon framing device for everything outside the A-plot really hurts what should be a better solo story for Cheryl, as her coming out is written as a response to a scene from that movie. So, don’t forget to buy tickets!
But congratulations to Cheryl for coming out to someone. It doesn’t negate anything she did to Josie, though, especially since it now officially factors into the villainous, possibly unstable lesbian/bisexual trope. It looks like Riverdale is also trying to forget (as well as make the audience forget) that happened, and it can—as soon as it reunites Josie and the Pussycats and fixes Chuck/Josie so Josie’s not just an “asexual” (as in desexualized, not even actually asexual) black character.
Now if we can just forget Archie’s Black Hood PTSD...
- Riverdale Roulette: The Cabin In The Woods, which this episode really should have been named after and supposedly was, originally.
- I can’t be the only one who thought Josie’s parents were already divorced, right? We finally get confirmation that Sheriff Keller and his wife don’t have an arrangement, but I can’t accept that we were supposed to believe with one episode that Sierra McCoy is still married to Mr. Jazz. (I even refer to him as her ex-husband in that review.) She’s been written like a single parent since day one too, so it’s not just a matter of missing an obvious point.
- Of all the pop culture references on this show, Deliverance is the one that stumps Archie and Veronica?
- The best part of Jughead learning about the Betty/Veronica kiss is him not understanding why they did it, even after Betty explained. Just like the audience!
- Wait a minute: Jughead points out that the Register is the only newspaper in town. So why is Betty so worried news about the dead drug dealer will make it into the paper? Her mom would just not publish it. Speaking of, I need to know more about this particular headline: “DOG LOST OVER 8 YEARS SHOWS UP ON PORCH.”
- Moose tells Kevin that Midge is cool with his past with Kevin—which would honestly be pretty cool of the characters and show—which is a lie. And since the show has never actually been concerned with telling a story about Moose/Kevin or Moose’s sexuality, it’s nothing more than a time-filler.
- Poor Fangs isn’t even here, but everyone piles on him.