There’s bound to be a lot of axe-grinding when a TV show sets a strand of its season in a writer’s workshop, but the scenes at Stonewall Prep have gone above and beyond in the presumed-personal-vindication department. Jughead provides a palimpsest on which the writers bringing him to life can scrawl their most idealized self: brilliant, unsullied by privilege, surrounded by lessers either resentful of or incapable of appreciating their better’s talent. This week’s episode goes one measure further by bringing every frustrated writer’s suspected nightmare to life. Jughead discovers that the Baxter Brothers novel he submitted, which the Council rejected, has in actuality been sufficiently tinkered-with to avoid litigation and will soon go to publication. Scandal of scandals!
For cub writers having a difficult go of placing a script or short story, it can be tremendously comforting to imagine that the literary journal or studio running something that kind of resembles what you submitted a while back is totally ripping you off. This constitutes one of the nakedest expressions of wish-fulfillment in a show conceived almost expressly for that purpose, and yet I’m not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, it feels as petty and adolescent as anything we’ve seen at Stonewall thus far, raised to the nth degree. On the other hand, those have historically been qualities I’ve valued in this show, so who’s to say, really?
Point is that there’s some unsavory business afoot in the halls of this elite prep school, and Jughead’s right at the center of it. “Chapter Seventy” finally knots the flash-forwards to the main progression of the plot, showing us how the fateful night of Jughead’s cannot-possibly-be-a-murder played out — with one crucial elision. We see everyone convene at the “A Midsummer Night’s Dreamhad a baby with Euphoria” party, we see Archie and Veronica scamper off to go bang one out in the woods and then reutrn, we see Betty confront evidently skilled hypnotist Donna in the woods, and we see Jughead go into the woods to search for the two of them. Then, we see a dazed Betty standing over a bloodied Jughead, rock in hand. If it really was as simple as Donna hypnotizing Betty into bashing Jughead’s brains in, as the conclusion suggests, then they’d have shown us that much. As the matter stands, something else must have happened, which leaves the mystery advanced without a solution.
It’s a fine place to leave off, in part because it first drags Jughead through plagiarism accusations and a Gossip Girl-esque “Charlie Trout” style stand-in story about “Jarhead” and “Bison.” It also drags both him and Betty through the realization that uh-oh, Bret does have a tape of them getting down to business after all, and he’s not afraid to use it. That development puts the two of them in a sticky wicket, unable to defend themselves for fear of highly public humiliation. (One can only assume that revenge-porn law reform has yet to come to Riverdale.) It’s the beginning of a seasonal endgame that will inevitably end with the evil prepsters guilty of assaulting a still-alive Jughead. After all, as Veronica notes to Archie, change is coming in all of their lives. There can only be so many shake-ups.
She’s referring to her impending departure for college far, far away from Archie’s muscular embrace. It’s been weighing on her mind, and with the additional stress of her father’s illness, she’s taken to partying a little harder than usual to distract from the gloom. While Archie resigns himself to daily wake-up alarms at 4:45 A.M. and Principal Honey’s refusal to allow him to walk at graduation, Veronica’s shirking the very same responsibility with which he’s coming to grips. They’re moving in opposite directions in more than the literal sense, necessitating the reality check Archie gives her in the episode’s second act. He snaps her to her senses, and she realizes that the most effective way to restore normalcy in her father’s world is to get him in a position in which he feels comfortable. Specifically, corporate conflict with her. Even if the show didn’t earlier draw the link between concern about her father’s shaky, teacup-dropping hand and her horniness for Archie, Veronica and Hiram’s relationship would never seem as quasi-incestuous as it does then.
Cheryl Blossom and Toni Topaz take the C-plot this week, as Hermosa makes a play to disrupt their rum concern. It’s largely a pretense for a charmingly shameless montage of gyrating girl-torsos and intimations that a threesome may be a-brewing, but alas. Cheryl Blossom may be all manners when she answers the phone with a chirping “Don’t hate, alleviate!” but she gets serious fast once she realizes someone’s tampering with her business or girlfriend. “How dare you try and seduce my dear T.T. like she’s some backwater fool?” alone makes it all worthwhile, leaving her read of “thou bleeding piece of earth” as a cherry on top.
This brings us back to the end of the episode, and the highly uncertain future awaiting the main characters. And I’m not just referring to the charge of murder facing Betty, would will undoubtedly be wriggled out of through the exposure of Bret and Donna’s guilt. Consider the timeline; the show is about a month ahead of us, with the Ides of March falling this week. We’ve still got nine or ten new episodes to go before this season ends, but graduation day will have to hit before then. The characters will be tossed to the winds, and surely someone’s itching to get out of their TV contract and make a serious go at movie stardom. Jughead’s maybe-death reeks of impermanence, but a greater crisis lies on the horizon. Riverdale’s survival past the four-season mark seems all but assured on the pure basis of ratings and public impression, but narratively, season five feel hazy. Gossip Girl had the luxury of sticking everyone in New York colleges, which made a modicum of sense, but Archie and Co. won’t have that same plurality of local options.
We’re facing a massive shake-up, but it has little to do with the morbid mischief at Stonewall. The stakes are all out of whack — everyone’s at risk, just not because of hypnosis or secret societies or murder. It’s the usual, far more lethal threats of scheduling, logistics, and contracts, the real bugaboos of the TV world.
- Absolutely buckwild music selections this episode, between the Toni Topaz/Cheryl Blossom/Hermosa dance scene set to “Don’t Start Now” by living sex-android Dua Lipa and the party entry scored to “Kill For Love” by Chromatics.
- It is easy to tell that Bret is the worst character on the entire show, because he said “friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your beers.”
- Veronica has gotten a bit rusty when it comes to the ol’ dirty-talk. Referring to her pre-nooner with Archie as “thanks for the early-morning delight, lover,” and exhorting him with “less talking, more touching, Andrews”? This is amateur-hour stuff!
- A truly stirring, dramaturgically significant moment, hearing Lili Reinhart work her way through the phrase “roman à clef.” Same goes for Madelaine Petsch wrestling with “scrutinize this enigmatic patron.” Though that one errs a little on the side of the thesaurus-y, not quite attaining her usual Gothic sense of grandiloquence.
- Quoth Veronica: “Since when did Riverdale High become a fascist police state, Principal Mussolini?” Welcome to the resistance, Ronnie.