Barb from Stranger Things saves the day in her debut alongside Betty and Veronica. Also, sticky maples.
On the third week, Riverdale created Barb from Stranger Things, and it was good. Well, actually, she was good, but the rest of this week’s episode? Let’s just say one of the Blossom twins is lucky he didn’t have to watch it.
Although week three of The CW’s magical moody murder hour managed to do approximately one amazing thing — introduce Shannon Purser as another instantly iconic high school frump, Ethel Muggs — the episode also threw in about a dozen off-the-rails pieces of dialogue and development that were relatively outrageous, even by Riverdale standards. Don’t get me wrong: Riverdale is doing things for my soul that I thought impossible in 2017. But this week settled into genuine preposterousness somewhere between Jughead’s serio-silly treatises about guilt and innocence, Betty and Veronica’s ridiculous revenge scheme (and Betty’s Catherine Zeta-Jones-in-Chicago cosplay), Dilton Doiley‘s not-a-bombshell bombshell, and basically everything Cheryl Blossom said this week. And no, her temporary arrest is not to blame.
Lo and behold, one of my theories from last week proved true: Jason Blossom tried to fake his own death and ending up dying a real one. (Really, we shouldn’t be surprised about this, since most things that are deemed fake lately are actually the opposite.) Cheryl is still guilty — “to clarify, I am guilty of lying,” she LOLs — and her parents whisk her off to lawyer up before she can damn herself in front of the sheriff. She does manage to say she heard a gunshot that morning, which Sheriff Keller can corroborate once Archie confesses the same thing shortly thereafter.
Although Archie leaves Grundy’s name out of the confession — respectfully, he has cravenly replaced her with his dog, perhaps setting the bar for an episode about boys mistreating women — Grundy is still upset with him and, as punishment, cancels their sexy morning music lessons. Moreover, Archie’s July 4th confession makes its way from Sheriff Keller back to Mr. Andrews, who thought Archie had gone on that road trip with Jughead. (So, Fred knew things weren’t chill with Jughead but also thought things were chill with Jughead? Not the big takeaway here, I know, but still.) So Fred grounds Archie, too, and in one bad day, he loses social freedom and one-on-ones with his titillating tutor.
The silver lining is that Cheryl, to repay the kindness of Archie’s verification of her alibi, offers sexual favors. Let me take a quick second and say that, even prior to this but definitely partly because of it, Cheryl’s behavior has turned into some of the most bats— baffling I’ve ever seen on TV, teen drama genre be damned. “Nothing is off the table, except for my body,” she coos as if she’s some adult federal agent trying to convince people she can pass for a high schooler. Also, her heavy Archie come-on occurs at some point between her continued tortured mourning and her new hobby: inviting herself to late-night school break-ins with four people with whom she is not friends. Anyway, Archie wisely exchanges Cheryl’s awful favor one he actually needs — getting Cheryl’s friend, Josie, to give him a chance to prove his music chops.
Josie reluctantly invites Archie to observe an upcoming rehearsal, where Archie reveals his dream of having the group perform his lyrics. The other two Pussycats are more receptive to it, but Josie entirely rebukes the idea of performing the lyrics of an entitled straight white male, delivering this fire monologue: “This isn’t L.A. or New York. This is Riverdale. And people’s minds are opening up, but do you have any idea how much hate mail my mom got when she was elected mayor? Do you know why we’re called the Pussycats? Because we have to claw our way into the same rooms that you can just waltz into. So if you think that you can just write my experience…” But apparently, we’re meant to believe that Archie’s lyrics are, like, sublimely incredible and that anyone who hears them is suddenly blown away by his incandescent poetry and mad rhymes — because how else to explain why Josie accepts one of his lyrics and proceeds to include him in the songwriting process?
Sneaking back home after rehearsal, Fred catches Archie breaking his punishment, wherein Archie proceeds to accuse his father of not taking his music seriously, dad! I suppose it’s enough to guilt Fred into feeling like he truly doesn’t support his son, because the confrontation leads us to the Taste of Riverdale, this week’s social excuse to get the whole town together for maximum fourth-act drama.
A suspicious Sheriff Keller is there, as are the bereaved Blossoms. Working one of the catering tables is Hermione Lodge, who must feel perfectly okay about the demeaning position since we’ve never gotten to see any legitimate scene wherein Marisol Nichols gets to actually explore the meaty pathos of a fallen Manhattanite who lost everything and took up a menial waitress job in front of her former classmates. Not that that would be compelling or anything, nooo. Most exciting of all, there’s Mrs. Cooper, whose confrontation with the other adult women in town is a scene I have been eagerly awaiting. It was, ultimately, not as bonkers as I’d hoped. I mean, Penelope Blossom did SLAP HER for publishing the results of Jason’s autopsy, and Mrs. Cooper did tease Hermione by drunkenly slut-shaming Veronica — but I craved more. (I think Mrs. Cooper is making a fairly strong case for her body to end up on the autopsy table by the end of the season, with every single person in town as a possible suspect since she seems to be universally awful.)
The big development at Taste of Riverdale, though, is Fred’s meeting Miss Grundy, which comes with a horrific moment when it looks like he’s about to start an affair with his son’s lover. (We’re safe on that front, for now.) Fred thoughtfully asks Grundy point blank whether he should be supporting Archie’s musical talent, and she kindly confirms that he’s actually good. Fred’s a cool dad. As a result, he apologizes to Archie and builds a studio to support his son’s music passion; and Grundy, as another result, reopens hers.
NEXT: B&V b&e
As Betty’s mom is in charge of the Riverdale newspaper, it apparently stands to reason that Betty is in charge of the non-defunct Riverdale High newspaper (which she can revive at will without teacher approval?). Her journalistic intentions are to engage in some independent investigation into Jason Blossom’s suspicious death, largely because the police’s case seems to be taking place entirely within the school principal’s office. As her first hire, Betty convinces Jughead — JUGGIE — to pay a visit to Dilton Doiley, the scoutmaster who first discovered Cheryl Blossom on July 4th.
Jughead quickly discovers that Dilton is a super-strict scoutmaster and hardcore survivalist who, on the morning of the 4th, was illegally teaching his scouts how to shoot and was responsible for that 6 a.m. gunshot everyone heard. Not wanting the story to be published, Dilton asks for secrecy in exchange for revealing a supposedly juicy detail: that he saw Miss Grundy’s car by the river’s edge. Jughead calls the revelation “Pandora’s box,” which seems maybe just a little dramatic. Furthermore, while I admire Jughead’s gumption in pressing the witness, it feels like the gunshot still seems, like, pretty important for someone in actual authority to know about?
Betty, meanwhile, goes after her journalistic endeavor in a sassy adventure this week with Veronica. V goes on a date with Chuck Clayton, the hot-shot star athlete son of the football coach (it is a sociological fact that every parent in Riverdale is just a clone version of their child). The problem is that Chuck is an asshole and lies about their hook-up, spreading rumors that he gave Veronica something called a “sticky maple.” Big points to Riverdale’s writing staff on this one, because in the realm of fictional sex acts that you can say on network television, a “sticky maple” is hilarious. (However, not hilarious is the additional Instagram component wherein Chuck posts a photo of Veronica with an amber splatter on her face like she got slimed in sepia tones by Nickelodeon.)
Furious with Chuck, Veronica enlists Betty to help her confront Chuck to remove the photo. After a very gratuitous locker room shot that fulfills this week’s Shirtless Archie quota, Chuck still refuses, and Veronica in turn looks hopeless… until Betty finds seven other girls who have had similar experiences, being lied about by Chuck and others on the football team. One of these girls? ETHEL MUGGS!!! BARB FROM STRANGER THINGS!!! GAY ICON SHANNON PURSER!!! FINALLY!!! (We must be excited because pop culture demands we be excited about this.)
Ethel reveals that the team keeps a secret scorebook of all of their supposed conquests, leading Veronica, Betty, Kevin, and Ethel to break into the school that night to steal the playbook from Chuck’s locker and turn him in. Absolutely hilariously, Cheryl invites herself because she has no friends, and because Riverdale needed her to be present when they found Betty’s sister, Polly, in the book, listed as a conquest next to Jason. Both Cheryl and Betty are disgusted, and Betty comes up with a plan for vengeance: to humiliate Chuck into a compromised confession, via a ludicrous fake-sexy swimming session.
Before Betty can do anything, though, she must first have her weekly Fight With Her Mother, who is inching ever-so-close to mom-from-Carrie territory. I suppose we’re meant to once again tell ourselves that Betty’s mom is the irrational one and Betty is comparably ordinary, so that when Betty flips — which she seems to do quite often — it’s more of a shock. (Betty’s behavior this week gives more credence to a developing theory I have that Riverdale is making a case for Betty to be legitimately bipolar, and for the show to be a much greater story about what happens when mental illness mixes with idyllic Americana.)
The plan to humiliate Chuck is bizarre, yes, but relatively harmless at first: Veronica handcuffs him in a Jacuzzi and plans to record his embarrassing confession. But then Betty emerges in an absolutely bonkers swimsuit and wig, calling herself Polly and quickly falling deeply and disturbingly into an impromptu character. She demands that Chuck, whom she keeps calling Jason, apologize “for ruining Polly,” and then Betty goes full ovaries-to-the-wall, giving Chuck a sticky maple, forcing his head underwater, and turning the temperature up to boiling. Veronica and Chuck are both absolutely freaking out, and if I’m being honest, the chances of Chuck getting Final Destination-ed reached about a solid 80 percent here.
The next day, the girls have won: Chuck is shamed in the newspaper and cut from the football team (an action that Jughead says will have “terrible consequences for the weeks to come”). However, Veronica is more concerned about Betty’s brief lapse of identity, and even more distressingly, Betty doesn’t seem to remember becoming another person.
Between her bloody, unconscious fist clench in episode 1, her threat against Cheryl’s life in episode 2, and now this disturbing incident, I imagine there is something seriously wrong with Betty that may speak more to what Riverdale is trying to say beyond a silly murder. As for next week, I imagine Betty’s behavior will tee up a very imminent visit to Polly Cooper; I’m just not sure whether it’ll be Betty who makes the trip or, newly curious and gravely worried, Veronica.