There’s a moment during “Chapter Thirty: The Noose Tightens” that forced me to mentally say, “I’ll allow it, but watch yourself, counselor.” Because on the outside, I was laughing hard.
It’s after Archie has somehow Archie’d his way into a stereotypical Italian mobster meeting—alongside Andre and “Agent” Adams—and decides to step to the mob bosses who are threatening Hiram. He’s full of so much unearned bravado and the apparent assumption that his jacked child body can withstand getting shot in the face by mob bosses, that it’s impressive to witness a non-Blossom character so detached from reality. During this monologue, Archie seriously takes credit for Papa Poutine’s death and brags about beating up a defenseless teenage dirtbag, baby.
Of course, the mob bosses laugh too, because it’s 100% laughable. (Actually, it will be even funnier if Archie ends up serving jail time—even if Hiram somehow doesn’t—because of his whole “being a willing accomplice to the mob” thing.) This is who “the Godfather of Riverdale” considers one of his most trusted men, the kid who’s probably going to get him killed because he can’t shut up. Even as Hiram tells Archie (on more than one occasion in this episode) that his methods are either dangerous or temporary fixes, he doesn’t realize he’s made a huge mistake in grooming this kid.
Compare that to Veronica’s face when Archie’s big mouth goes on about being pro-prison at the student election town hall (where that topic needn’t come up) earlier in the episode. This is a good episode for Veronica for other reasons, but she deserves some praise for the “please stop talking” face she makes when Archie goes on about that. And that’s right after he says, “Veronica and I are on the same page about everything,” the type of thing you’d hear from someone in a mess of a relationship. The way Archie talks about himself and Veronica is a red flag; they’re past that typical level of annoying high school couple, due to the whole mob thing. After all, Archie becomes Veronica’s personal driver at the end of this episode.
And Archie can’t even drive.
Still, “Chapter Thirty” is legitimately the best episode since “Chapter Twenty: Tales From The Darkside.” 10 episodes ago. Back in November. A very small part of that is how it finally follows up on that episode, because even in that particular case, there’s another glaring issue that comes with the end of the episode. Just on a structural level, the episode delivers and also brings up interesting discussion points for its worst plots (both aspects that the show has lacked). But it also works the self-referential and meta moments better than it has recently. Whether that’s Toni Topaz finally asking the eternal Riverdale/Riverdale question—“What the hell decade is this?!”—or Veronica’s appropriate “Team VARCHIE” shirt—as it applies to their student election campaign, not just a need to pop the fandom—“Chapter Thirty” is a solid reminder of the type of show Riverdale is. Or at least was. The type of show where Nana Rose can Misery crawl her way to the phone in order to call Toni (short for “Antoinette”!) and tell her that Cheryl is “with the sisters” before facing the doom of Claudius.
The episode also creates a compelling argument for what this season’s purpose is, even if that purpose has still been poorly-executed throughout. That argument is one of the inherent monkey’s paw of wanting things to go back to “the good old days,” especially within the context of the Lodge/Archie and Blossom storylines. While Fred Andrews and even Jughead hold onto the history of Riverdale and talk about the heart and soul of the town, characters like Hiram and Archie and Penelope are reminders that the actual history of Riverdale isn’t all soda pop. Remember: The actual history of Riverdale had riots between the two sides of town. Archie is so consumed with Riverdale going back to the way it was—meaning, back to when he was ignorant to the idea of crime and shades of grey in his town at all—that he’s become a fascist mobster-in-training. (Most shows would either choose “fascist” or “mobster-in-training.” Not Riverdale!) In theory, that’s a really compelling story, especially as the first season was all about revealing that small town darkness, that grime that people assumed and pretended couldn’t possibly be in “their town”... but clearly always was.
In execution, Riverdale making its main character—making the face of Archie Comics the face of its fascist regime—is the problem. That’s where to question the intentional nature of such a story. Eric Thurm actually wrote about the very concept of fascist Archie far better than I can in just an episode dissection, but I’ll try my best.
Right now, Archie is like Paul Walker’s Skip character from Pleasantville… if that character were the lead of the film. But there’s a reason that character’s not the lead. There’s also a reason why Archie worked much better in the first season when he wasn’t actually the lead: The character’s simply not suited for it. “But it’s Archie Comics.” Yes, but remember how people look at those comics and how they looked at them pre-Riverdale. Archie was considered a dud, and people could never see what either Veronica or Betty saw in him. He wasn’t seen as a bad guy—besides that whole bizarre love triangle—but he wasn’t seen as anyone spectacular. Making Archie “hot” (and “the one who fucks”) didn’t change that particular characterization. Making him a vengeful, PTSD-fueled, “Make Riverdale Great Again” mobster-in-training does, and it’s also proof that not all change is good. Because at least the unspectacular Archie had genuine moments of heroism and good-heartedness that this current version acks. Sure, the current version wants to be a “hero”… but none of that want is fueled by good-heartedness. Or anything good.
Speaking of Pleasantville, it’s also an applicable comparison to the gay conversion propaganda film the Sisters of Quiet Mercy force Cheryl and the other zombified children to watch on Movie Night. A movie night that features a nice bit of Riverdale surrealism, with Cheryl imagining her friends (well, Kevin and Moose) during the movie. That and the prison break as a whole—and the choice of inappropriate but flattering stealth attire—are some great scenes.
The best decision Riverdale makes about this plot is to not make it the largest focus of the episode. It would’ve been even bigger had Betty been part of it—as she technically makes the most sense to lead this case and rescue mission—which is why she’s busy as a hostage this week. The smaller focus doesn’t exactly negate the fact that Riverdale is tackling gay conversion, as it still proves it really isn’t the kind of show that should be handling that. The therapy consists of gaslighting in the basement (“physical therapy”), childhood stories for the sole purpose of gender-conforming, and the aforementioned Movie Night. From its depiction, it’s a tame version of what could’ve been far more extreme—and I’ll admit Riverdale at least made a good decision in doing it that way if it had to cover it in the first place. The problem is that it didn’t have to do this in the first place, especially if it can be considered a shield for future Cheryl confrontations.
Like from Josie, for example. This episode finally follows up on that plot thread introduced those 10 episodes ago, with Penelope revealing Cheryl’s obsession with Josie (and, as a result, the way Cheryl tormented her). The good news is that Riverdale doesn’t shame Josie for tapping out on the Cheryl rescue mission, because she has every right to not want to help Cheryl after learning this. However, the major problem with this story is all packaged into the final scene of the episode, a truly bizarre “happy” ending. In fact, that’s the most troubling and offensive part about this plot. You can technically argue that Cheryl’s behavior—from the lovey-dovey to the “what a crazy weekend, right?” delivery to the musical nonsense—is her way of coping, but it’s also saying this terrible thing that happened to her isn’t that big of a deal. It’s not empowering; it’s another reason why Riverdale just should’ve thought of something else if they wanted to temporarily traumatize a character.
Again, kind of like they temporarily traumatized Josie. I mentioned it in my review of “Chapter Twenty,” but with a fuller picture, it’s even more frustrating that Riverdale needed Cheryl to go the way of the “unstable bisexual” in order to introduce this part of her sexuality. But Cheryl has moved on to Toni (they have a ship name, of course), which is supposed to make all that came before acceptable, based on this episode’s ending. Look, I get it: Toni Topaz is awesome. However, even accepting that Cheryl’s feelings for Toni won’t reach “bloody pig’s heart” levels, shouldn’t Toni at least worry a little about what being the object of Cheryl’s affection could mean? Especially since such affection is something that can so easily be dropped in the world of Riverdale.
Also, Kevin already approached Josie to be the lead of the musical. So Cheryl continues to ruin Josie’s life, even unintentionally.
This episode also introduces a very good question when it comes to Chic: Is he crazy or just stupid? We see the character at his least menacing here, but that’s because he just has bad idea after bad idea (leading to surprise Azura Skye). In fact, Betty snarking at Chic about how useless he’s been during this situation is the best moment of the whole Chic storyline. The second best moment is Alice finally taking Betty’s side and telling Chic to find a new place, but that’s a long time coming. (Alice finds a way to be better in other ways this episode. Not as good as FP though, who has repentant, former deadbeat dad down.) Chic’s stupidity also reminds Betty and Jughead that “normal” for them is solving a mystery, like they’re on their own weird teen procedural. It’s what worked so well in season one and a large part of why season two hasn’t had the same creative win streak: The first half of this season was a poorly-conceived and even worse executed mystery, and the second half is only a mystery if you really care about Chic’s deal.
Anyway, this is now the show where Archie and a cadre of fascist teen jocks blow up mobsters’ cars as part of an authorized after school activity. Thank god it’s easy to laugh about this storyline this week; everything else is brilliant in comparison.
- Riverdale Roulette: The Legend Of Billie Jean. Look, I had “Invincible” in my head during the Cheryl prison break. It works.
- Josie and the Keller-cat: VOTE REGGIE & JOSIE. They care more about the school than the kids who deal with the mob, dead drug dealers, and gangs. Meanwhile, Kevin is the town’s leading expert on Gay Stuff (that’s literally how the transition from Veronica’s idea to the diner goes) and helps asylum break Cheryl. He also gives Jughead and Betty info about the case they’re working, because he has yet to realize that when they’re asking him things like this, they’re working a case. Betty even tells Alice that Kevin didn’t suspect anything, which is because Kevin never suspects anything. His final contribution to the episode is Casey Cott’s acting choice in response to Cheryl’s declaration. It’s definitely a choice.
- Archie: “Can’t this be a fair fight?” No, you rube.
- How dare Sweet Pea insult Buddy Holly? Better question, on Jughead’s behalf: “What’s with these homies dissin’ my girl?”
- The sexiest thing to ever happen on this show is FP throwing out his gum when Alice comes over. The wordless moment also falls perfectly in line with something Buzzfeed’s Alanna Bennett tweeted earlier today about the one thing a man in any romcom needs.
- Speaking of adults doing what needs to be done, Mary wins (again) by telling Archie off (again). “Who are you?” The thing about Mary is that she’s probably the only character left who’s consistently like a real person. Even Fred has a weird backstory about being an aspiring child Mayor with futuristic Riverdale schematics.