It’s been a little under eight weeks since Riverdale halted production after a crew member tested positive for COVID-19, superimposing an ominous invisible countdown clock over every frame of every episode up to this one. “Killing Mr. Honey” arrives to us as a finale in spite of itself, by no means a conclusion but all the same a definitive end to this chapter of the show. At a time when people are dying, how the coronavirus pandemic affects the flow of production on your favorite teen soap should be the last thing on anyone’s mind. In watching this episode, however, it’s impossible to ignore how much we’re not getting: graduation, goodbyes, hookups, breakups, a satisfying answer to the question of how the series will keep the core cast together even as they announce their plans to scatter themselves to the winds. Despite the show’s renewal for a sixth season (you read that right, number 6, even as the fifth season has yet to begin), we have no idea when we’ll see a single solitary frame of Archie and the gang. There’s no end in sight to this—to make use of a critical term—complete fucking shit and it feels solipsistic to dwell on, but my beloved creature comfort of TV is gone now.
For its final note, the show gets caught mid-step as it arranges plot elements, building to a climax we’ll never reach. A goodly portion of the episode takes place in the fictitious universe of Jughead’s story composed for submission to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, stomping ground of “Dina Lunham,” which, praise be. So much of the brutally finite span of time we have left to share doesn’t even count, a long-form psychological projection with little relevance to the ramifications in the show’s ‘real’ world. The writers are treading water, unaware that the ship’s going down. That’s a mixed metaphor, but I recently crossed the 60-day quarantine mark and need to be given some slack right now.
In that same spirit, I try not to hold the unfortunate placement of this episode at the end of the line against it. But when apprised on its own merit, it doesn’t hold up all that much better. We pick back up with the ongoing videotape mystery, in which the voyeur is now trying to make himself into an auteur, a turn of phrase that may sound good but doesn’t really mean much in this context. While Jughead does seize the opportunity to get in a delicious Gus Vant Sant Psycho remake slam, this VHS BS feels like a rehash of the innumerable serial killer plotlines, just without the actual serial killer.
Meanwhile, Mr. Honey’s up to his old tricks, barring the kids from prom as punishment for gluing him to his phone and chair. This, right after Jughead and Archie share a fan-baiting joke about not putting out when going to prom together, so identifiable for Kevin’s aside of “Let the fan-fiction begin!” In this vein of vicarious catharsis, Jughead spins a short story about students taking bloody revenge on their sadistic principal, which takes the show to unprecedentedly dark places without really taking it there. Though it does little to advance the show in any meaningful way, Jughead’s articulation of the kids fantasy-murder of Mr. Honey at least results in some spicier footage. Cheryl Blossom cracks up, Reggie eats it, Betty emerges as the merciless ringleader of their dark circus.
In the world beyond Jughead’s page, the parents form a coalition to get their progeny’s prom back (?), mostly a pretense for Amick to shoot a slow-mo power-walk twice over with two generations of Riverdale resident. Like so much of the episode, it’s fun but weightless, insubstantial in the face of the narrative weight it ought to be carrying. The parents get their way, naturally, cuing up a celebration enabling F.P. to triumphantly yell that Jughead will be the first Jones man to matriculate from college. It all amounts to very little, and doesn’t even approach the usual bar of craziness. Then, the episode doubles back by confronting us with a good side of Principal Honey whipped up out of nowhere, up to that point never hinted at. It lands with a thud, connected to nothing.
The kids share some dialogue this week about how they’re all headed in different directions come late August, whether that’s college in New York or the midwest, or the Navy. (If God is real, then we will get an Archie-in-the-Navy storyline with sailor suits aplenty.) When we join them next, they’ll be far apart—not just from each other, but from themselves. A lot of time could separate now from then, radically altering the status quo of this show. The writers could embrace it, jumping ahead in time to find the kids as young adults revisiting their hometown, a possibility floated in these very comments earlier this year. Or they could lean all the way into the bit, maintaining the illusion that a group of actors hurtling toward 30 are still technically teenagers. Either one has the potential for success, but more than anything, we just want the show to exist again. Anything is preferable to nothing. More television; more life.
- Madchen Amick gets her feet wet directing in this hour, though she’s not demonstrating much in the way of distinction, even if the freak-out Hitchcock zoom when Jughead opens the letter is fun. But I like this spirit, open it up! Get Skeet Ulrich and Molly Ringwald directing!
- I mentioned last week that Marisol Nichols would leave the show after this season, and I worry that her brief showing-of-the-face tonight might constitute her last-ever appearance. It would be an unceremonious dismissal for someone who once occupied such a major station in the mechanics of this show.
- One more great Cheryl Blossom line-read for the road: “Brace yourselves, bitches!”
- And one more left-field musical selection before we go, as Wolfmother’s “Chase The Feeling” accompanies an incongruous montage of the main ensemble.
- And with that, I bid you all a fond adieu to here knows when. It could be a while until Archie, Veronica, Jughead, Betty, Cheryl Blossom and the rest of TV’s randiest teens get together again. With freelance budgets shrinking, there’s no guarantee that when they do, I’ll be back to gather us all here for it. But until the day that anyone knows anything—please, for the love of god—let’s be compassionate to one another and stay true to the spirit of Hot Archie Who Fucks. Approach all things with curiosity, open-mindedness, and good humor. As observed on Instagram, Cole Sprouse has begun growing his seclusion beard; embrace your own equivalent. Take care, and I mean that in the strictest sense.