The recent discovery that money is pretty much fake has set the Internet ablaze with talk of stonks, non-fungible tokens, and big Gamestop shorts. I’ve lost track of the timeline distancing real-life happenings from the shockwaves they send out in the universe of Riverdale, so it’s possible that the explosive proliferation of cryptocurrencies has only coincidentally synced up with this week’s plot involving VeronicaBucks. Even if not, the writers must have picked up on something in the air, the harebrained economic gamesmanship anointing some as new multi-millionaires while leaving other ambitious capitalists in destitution. This week, Veronica bets big on forward-thinking economic jiggery-pokery and loses, albeit through no fault of her own. In keeping with the neo-con streak espoused in last week’s paean to privatization, money-disruption provides a seeming route forward for Riverdale that nonetheless concludes at a dead end.
That’s the most substantial thread in an otherwise airy episode, busying itself with half-baked subplots clearly on their way somewhere that fail to take pleasure in the path there. The activities at the school have been for the most part abandoned, and everyone’s off in their respective corners doing their own thing. With the marked exception of Cheryl Blossom, making herself useful in a juicy beef with ex-squeeze Toni Topaz, everyone’s business feels like just that — work, to be completed so we can move on to the next thing. At least Veronica destroys the fiscal foundation of a fragile township along the way, like a sexy reckless Greek moneylender.
She’s still locked in conflict with Hiram, continuing his effort to choke out Riverdale and make room for the community-scaled laundering operation that is SoDale. Her big plan to jolt the area economy back into action hinges on the creation of a region-specific cryptocurrency called RiverDollars emblazoned with Veronica’s smiling face. What could go wrong? A dozen different things, though what actually happens is more direct, when her perfidious students go behind her back to mint $10,000 more than they agreed on and amp up inflation in the process. (“You triggered an economy collapse — Fs for everyone!”) Her logic, as ever, has canyon-sized flaws, but she still earns more for points in her execution, which is more than can be said for most people this hour.
Archie, for one, should be having a much better time with the founding of the volunteer fire department (one of the most ripely homoerotic milieus thus explored by this show!) than he is. He’s brought in one of his old Army buddies and Veronica’s called in a friend of a friend of a friend to provide Riverdale’s finest young men with firefighting instruction, and yet there’s no antic Village People energy to be found in their new enterprise. The preview for next week’s installment promises some shirtlessness/red suspender combos, which isn’t nothing, and more to the point, is more than than the nothing of this episode’s arc. Like so many past arcs, it does little more than place Archie in front of a row of strapping recruits to give them a stern, masculine pep talk.
Jughead also seems to have a fraction of a plotline to himself this week, having a close encounter of the third kind that only presages events for coming weeks. He’s still investigating the flying saucer activity that a retired Pop Tate recounts from back in his muttonchop days, and while the promise of future anal probings may now be on the table, this episode gives us little more to work with than a bathing golden light and a spotlight cast directly downward. Jughead makes mention of an “alien autopsy,” a subtle reference to an infamous and faked found-footage film of an E.T. dissection, which also inspires hope for episodes to come. But after an anticipatory episode last week, another one this week has started to feel like a mid-season lull.
With Betty barely a presence in this episode, the bulk of the best material goes to your pal and mine Cheryl Blossom, come back to Riverdale High to forcibly reclaim her crown as queen of a school she no longer attends. Despite the air of desperation that accompanies a show restaging its first viral moment, despite the largely recycled choreography, it works due to the bizarre new context. Think of this moment from the dance team’s perspective: their pregnant guidance counselor coach faces a sudden challenge from some random woman who doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the present school faculty, plus there’s a difficult-to-place sapphic charge between them. This has nothing to do the River Vixens and everything to do with the coolly simmering resentment between them. The subtext couldn’t be clearer, to the point that there’s hardly any text to cover it.
This episode bears the title “Fire In The Sky,” a clear allusion to what Alan Moore called “celestial lanterns” in The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, glimpsed tonight by Jughead. But there’s no fire in the sky this week, no element of wonder achieved by the sparse lighting cues and musical accompaniments that fill out Jughead’s subplot. Not much flash there, nor in Veronica’s boneheaded monetary maneuvering, nor in Betty’s limp investigations of an undistinguished killer. Cheryl Blossom’s still got some of the old heat, selling the hell out of “your cruelty is beyond words.” But it’s a forgettable chapter of a show that subsists on chatter-worthy scandal and indelible set pieces. This isn’t even at the calamitous pitch that makes the worst episodes of this series easy to confuse for its best. It’s a nothing-much way to spend an hour, the one unforgivable offense for a show that can get away with anything most of the time.
- If the Riverdale marketing team has any sense, $1000 wads of VeronicaBucks will soon be available for purchase through the official CW store. Imagine the applications: shoot them out of a paper-gun in a rap video, drunkenly try to use them to pay for chicken at an all-night fast food place, zazz up your Monopoly set — get creative.
- The haunting piano-tinkling that accompanies Jughead’s run-in with the extraterrestrial craft comes from Johnny Mathis’ “Chances Are,” a gorgeous and sparse doo-wop ballad that fits perfectly into this show’s persisting fetish for midcentury ephemera.
- I really enjoy how today’s elderly Penelope pronounces “Mothman” like it’s a Jewish last name, as if her guide to name-sounds comes from Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law.
- Cheryl Blossom is out of the house and back on her quote game: “As Elton John likes to say, ‘The bitch is back in town’!”
- Kevin has watched Backdraft “over and over.” And who could blame him?