This Riverdale review contains spoilers.
Riverdale Season 5 Episode 8
“Am I crazy or have you been feeling the same way too?”
Since Jughead’s narration opens most episodes with the most obvious observations possible, I’m going to return the favor by stating the following: Riverdale is not a series known for its profundity.
Over its five seasons to date it has proven to be a dumb show that is more often or not done smartly. Or maybe its ability to constantly induce narrative whiplash has be semi-concussed and believing that the program is way better than it has any right to be.
Which is where the above quote comes in.
With this season’s time jump and the characters dealing with actual real-life problems like post-collegiate ennui and the long farewell of long-held dreams (alongside of the usual nonsense that is the program’s calling card), Riverdale is the best it has ever been of late. And I’d never thought I’d write such words, but the most shocking thing about this episode was not Jughead’s alien tormentor or the Reggie and Fangs kiss but the way all of the trauma endured by these characters was brought to the surface tonight. Handled with grace no less.
That this minor miracle was set in motion thanks to a Key Party thrown by Cheryl in a creepy effort to break up Fangs and Kevin and live some sort of demented domestic bliss with Toni in her Gothic prison is kind of besides the point. The sheer volume of storylines happening in each Riverdale are so often disjointed that it feels like several shows are happening at once. Again, this is part of the appeal of watching this hottest of messes. So it’s a bit of a wallop across the head then when you have these characters having relatable moments, letting their guards down and getting to the heart of what haunts them.
Throughout this episode we see these characters shedding pretense and recognizing what drives them, be it fear, lust or anxiety. Kevin implodes his and Fangs’ relationship because the former has no idea what he wants out of life, but is certain it isn’t the small town drama teacher existence he currently has. Jughead is quite literally haunted by visions of an otherworldly creature who is either a literal alien or a manifestation of being twentysomething and rudderless, a literary one-hit wonder. Betty is still having nightmares about the Trash Bag Killer, suspecting that he may be responsible for Polly’s disappearance and worried her failure to bring him to justice will result in personal tragedy.
“What’s coming next with my mom and Polly is the darkest thing I’ve ever faced,” Betty states to Archie in the episode’s most powerful scene. The pair then acknowledge their true feelings, that they will be better off as friends. Veronica’s latest fight with Chad makes her acknowledge that whatever bonded them together is no longer there. It is Archie she truly loves, and vice versa. Cheryl bares her twisted soul to Toni, who is in return horrified by her actions and tells her as much. Yet Cheryl quickly finds a form of redemption in the embrace of the mysterious Minerva Marble (Adeline Rudolph, late of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina).
Yes, it is a contrivance that all of these huge epiphanies happen more or less at the same time. I’ll forgive this sin however since Riverdale so often has its character development move at a glacial pace. Perhaps when Veronica states that “the past is in the past” the show’s writers are telling us to forget what we know about how stories will unfold from here on out. Certainly, the post-time jump episodes have proven this. Maybe we really are in a brave new world for the series? Stranger things have happened before, especially on Riverdale.
• Jughead Jones has become unstuck in time! What do we make of Jughead teaching Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Slaughterhouse Five to his students? More importantly, is Riverdale going to do a Jughead’s Time Police-inspired storyline?
• This stuff with Jughead and the alien is the absolute best. Please please please let the E.T. be real.
• In what must be a Riverdale first, Archie is shirtless within the first 30 seconds of this episode. As a sexy fireman no less.
• Art dealer Minerva is almost certainly not what she appears to be. So what is she really playing at? Are her feelings for Cheryl legitimate? Or is she playing some sort of long game?
• Speaking of Cheryl, I feel the writers need to really figure out how to handle this character’s mental illness as the argument can (and probably should) be made that they have entered exploitation territory.
• I was getting huge Psycho Goreman vibes off of the alien stalking Jughead.
• We see Jughead making like his comic counterpart and snacking on Lay’s chips in this episode.
• Varchie shippers, are you happy with the Veronica/Archie reconciliation?
• Drew Ray Tanner shined as Fangs here, delivering a heartbreaking performance as Kevin throws away their future together.
• Betty again illustrates how awful of an FBI agent she is by allowing her mom to keep a key to her home in a garden gnome while living in a dangerous city that has multiple serial killers on the loose.
• I desperately want to hear about Jughead’s Jingle Jangle-fueled New York City exploits. This is what happens when you read too much Bret Easton Ellis, folks.
• Lucy Hale makes an audio cameo as Katy Keene in this episode, simultaneously making me wonder why the CW cancelled her show in the first place and laughing at how the Riverdale producers keep thumbing their noses at the network by constantly referencing the doomed spinoff.
• Dr. Whitley’s name is an obvious homage to UFO novelist/experiencer Whitley Strieber (whose most famous work was Fire in the Sky, which just so happened to be the name of last week’s episode).
• Jackson incredulously remarking on Archie as player by saying “Sarge juggling two ladies?” indicates that he doesn’t know him at all.
• Casey Cott gets the episode’s funniest moment as he reacts to Reggie and Fangs’ kiss with impressed shock.
• Despite how this episode ended, I still think that Alice’s remark about how it sounded like Polly was calling from a spaceship is not a red herring. Look, there better be a full blown alien invasion by the time of the midseason finale, okay? I ask for so little.
• “I’m not bringing my baby into this house of horrors” might be the most sensible sentence ever uttered in the Blossom household.
• Betty refers to Cheryl’s Spin the Bottle party (when Archie spends Seven Minutes in Heaven with Veronica) from the series’ pilot.
• Next week, Betty goes in to the heart of darkness.