Riverdale recap: 'Chapter Five: Heart of Darkness'
Betty and Jughead break into a dead boy's bedroom, Archie gets schooled, and the parents of Riverdale need to CALM DOWN.
What I love most about Riverdale is that it simultaneously surprises and completely makes sense at the same time. Like, of course the Blossoms live in a campy gothic mansion that Cheryl wanders around like Christina Ricci’s Casper understudy. Of course the town was built on dirty money from the Blossoms’ maple syrup crime syndicate. Of course Cheryl’s insane mother would share her daughter’s incestuous hand gestures and possibly also resent her for sharing the intimate relationship she never had with her chiseled alabaster son. (The latter is still conjecture but I’m leaning more towards incest than not here.)
Episode 5 of Riverdale wants youto think it’s mainly about Archie, whom we find in a depressed post-Grundy state. Rather than sulk privately, he overachieves publicly, throwing himself into everything in order to try and not focus on anything—but this burrito has too many ingredients and threatens to burst unless Archie can remove one (football, dating, friendship, hair dye, etc.) and salvage the integrity of the metaphorical tortilla. BUT! Archie’s is shockingly not the most pressing story line this week; rather, it’s all about the ridiculous Blossom family and their implosive internal tearing at the thousand-thread-count seams.
The Blossoms’ mansion, named Thornhill (because of course), plays host to a memorial for Jason, who still has not been buried after However Many Days Have Passed Since July 4th (is it not, like, late September by now in Riverdale?). For parents Clifford and Penelope Blossom, the memorial doubles as a ruse to gather the town’s top suspects under one roof to observe closely. They’ve invited everyone who holds a grudge against the family — so, basically, everyone in Riverdale. What I’ve learned so far about the adults of Riverdale is that everyone went to high school with each other, nobody left town (or, if they did, they came back), and literally everyone still holds the same grudges they held 20 years prior. It’s nice to see Archie and friends deal with their teen angst, but I’m largely convinced the real drama in Riverdale doesn’t start until you hit your mid-to-late 40s. Anyway.
For Cheryl, the memorial is one final sweet goodbye to Jason, but crazy Mrs. Blossom has banned Cheryl from speaking as she’s already humiliated the family with her overly public antics. When Cheryl does ultimately hijack the memorial, her remarks aren’t particularly incendiary, but they result in a violent promise from Mrs. Blossom to send Cheryl to European boarding school (which sounds like truly the worst possible Riverdale spin-off imaginable).
How does the gang fit into this campy gothic soap opera memorial service? Veronica bonds with frenemy Cheryl, Archie wears a bright blue letterman jacket (presumably to specifically trigger Mrs. Blossom), and Betty+Jughead use the open house to snoop around Jason’s bedroom. Betty’s suspicion about Jason is prompted by intel from her new beau, Trev, who reveals that Jason began dealing drugs and selling his possessions in the wake of dating Polly. Betty and Jughead pry into Jason’s room to find some sort of clue that might corroborate this, but they find something better: Nana Rose! She’s the comically old Blossom family matriarch who wheels out of the shadows with selective TV dementia to tell us that Betty looks like Polly and that Jason and Polly were ENGAGED!!!
Rewinding prior to this bombshell, Betty finally got her father, Hal Cooper, to reveal one detail about Polly’s breakdown: She was suicidal after a fight with Jason. (Was this surprising news to Betty? How has she possibly waited this many months to ask questions to her father?) Now, when Betty presents him with her newfound knowledge of her sister’s engagement, Mr. Cooper flies off the handle. Supposedly, Polly and Jason’s engagement was the last unbearable straw in a long-standing feud between the Coopers and the Blossoms. The story goes that great-grandfather Blossom murdered great-grandfather Cooper to cut him out of their lucrative maple syrup industry, and the seriousness with which this monologue is delivered is basically everything to love about Riverdale.
Ultimately, and most troublingly, Mr. Cooper accidentally slips a threat about how he’d do anything to keep Polly safe. It’s the kind of Possible Murder Motivation Monologue that prompts Betty and Jughead to add Mr. Cooper — and, hell, let’s throw in Mrs. Cooper, too, because why not — to their list of suspects in Jason’s death. In the wake of Sheriff Keller’s office being vandalized, they (and Kevin Keller) have re-created the mega-sized murder tracking board that was destroyed. Oh, and BTW Mr. Cooper destroyed it. Fun family!
NEXT: Snakes and Pussycats
Beyond the thorny boundaries of the Blossom manse, two other important things are going on in Riverdale, and they’re both to do with the Andrews men-boys.
Scruffy slab of brisket Fred Andrews is amping up his slow-burn campaign to finally get glam waitress Hermione Lodge into his Archie bunker. Whatever their relationship in high school may have been, Fred’s now decided the odds are in his favor to move ahead into asking Hermione out on a proper date. Sadly, she declines, citing marriage — on both of their behalves. We don’t quite know what the story is with Archie’s mother, but we certainly know that Hermione’s husband Hiram is presently in jail (and due for a visit to Riverdale any day now). Fred’s slightly crestfallen that Hermione is still loyal to her husband, but he doesn’t know the half of it.
Hermione has, perhaps reluctantly, inherited all of Hiram’s business dealings, including his debt with the Southside Serpents and being on the receiving end of their threats. In one of the series’ more inexplicable moments so far, a cardboard box is conveniently dropped off in the diner where Hermione is conveniently working alone one night, with her back conveniently turned and the restaurant conveniently empty. Inside the box is a snake, meant to be a threat from the Serpents (who need to up their creative metaphor game, to be sure), and Hermione is shook.
The threat pushes Hermione back into Fred’s embrace, as she calls upon him to help her dispose of the snake but insists that she not get him too involved in her drama. Spoiler: He will get involved in her drama. Then, Fred offers Hermione the gig she previously asked for as a bookkeeper at his construction company, for no apparent reason other than to provide her with a steady job with high opportunities for growth and a slightly lower risk of being threatened with a snake in a box.
Finally, there’s the episode’s ostensible A-story, which I’ve purposely left for last if only to illustrate how uninspiring I find Archie’s crisis of passion. Riverdale can hang its hat on sultry sexy murder-mysteries, but it should remember that the least sexy thing a TV character can do is spend an episode coming to the conclusion that one is one’s own greatest obstacle!
In a post-Grundy world, Archie is getting back in shape (okay) to become football captain to get a scholarship to go to college to study music. In a decidedly non-Efronian move, his head is not in the game, so he’s getting creamed on the field while his rival, Reggie, competes for the same title. Meanwhile, he’s also fumbling around with his music because he doesn’t have the creative energy to devote to writing better lyrics that don’t rhyme with “Grundy.” Everyone is concerned about Archie overextending himself, but he ignores them all — except for Valerie.
As one of Josie’s side Pussycats, Val seemingly presents herself as the new object of desire to fill Grundy’s void. She’s a kindred music spirit, so she offers built-in sympathy and a charming array of pep talks to help Archie find his purpose, but more importantly, she puts Archie in touch with a tough-as-nails songwriter (Looking’s Richie!). His name is Mr. Castillo and he is wholly unimpressed with Archie’s sloppily composed break-up songs. He puts Archie’s dilemma into simple binary terms: Choose football or music.
At some point during this journey, Archie’s distractedness leads to a brief hand injury during football, which serves only to offer some much-needed further fodder for Veronica-Archie shippers (myself included). Interestingly, Veronica perceives Val as a new romantic threat in Grundy’s stead, which could spur V to taking on a more active role in reprising her closet minutes in heaven with Archie (ostensibly expanding the time-frame from seven minutes to about 19 or so). Similarly, Archie finds time to stop by Jason Blossom’s memorial and give Jason’s football jersey— bizarrely possessed by Archie — to Mrs. Blossom. It turns out this overture wins Archie the captainship he so desperately craved, but Archie, who changes his mind four times per episode, has decided he doesn’t have the time to devote to football captaincy. THE CHOICE IS MADE.
Off to music he now goes, with Val listening seductively and the playlist makers at Spotify waiting with lukewarm anticipation to include him in next week’s Soft Acoustic Chock’Lit Shoppe Vibes mix.