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This episode marks a milestone for Riverdale: We’re finally at the point where a morally suspect character offering a vulnerable character her “daily milkshake” doesn’t even break a four on the weirdness scale. Not even when the former eventually drugs the latter with one of said milkshakes. Adults and teens alike are working together on a murder mystery—as well as sharing a high school dance together—so what most shows would consider “pretty weird” mostly ends up being a throwaway aspect of “Chapter Eleven: To Riverdale And Back Again.” In fact, all of this week’s Thorn Hill shenanigans come across as just part of Riverdale’s wacky spin-off that we all love and just expect the weirdness from, no longer caught off guard by the revelations. In a good way, of course. If Penelope Blossom were to approach Polly with her “daily maple syrup” as well, I certainly wouldn’t question it.

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When it comes to the CW event of the week, “Chapter Eleven” kills two birds with one stone by being both the Homecoming episode and the High School Reunion. It’s a concept that technically makes sense when you consider the number of alumni typically around during any school Homecomings, but at the same time, it also gets that Riverdale stamp of approval by awkwardly mixing 20-year to even 40-year alumni with present day students, without even a hint of protest from the youths of today. Instead, the adults act even more like youths than usual, right down to Fred channeling his inner Archie and awkwardly getting roped into bringing two dates to the dance. Still, it actually is a good framing device for this particular episode, especially as a little glimpse of who our Riverdale teens might one day become. Just like in this episode’s namesake, the 1990 television movie To Riverdale And Back Again, only slightly less depressing.

Unfortunately, while the episode does a tease with the old couple who briefly flash to their younger forms through the power of nostalgia, it denies us fulfillment of the one true Riverdale dream: a legitimate flashback to the high school years of our Riverdale parents, played by the same actors for maximum artistic effect.

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Despite the Homecoming setting, there’s no football to suffer through in this episode, and there’s also surprisingly no Blossom coronation (despite Cheryl’s rather specific plans for one). There’s honestly too much going on in the episode to allow the former and an emotional reason (in the form of a storm-off) for the latter. That’s not to say this episode sucks out any of the fun, because it doesn’t: Archie and Veronica’s “Kids In America” duet gives us the one “upbeat” Archie performance perhaps ever, the Blossoms get creepier and creepier, and Betty goes head to head with her mother and even wins a round. Plus, the wardrobes for the dance (especially Betty’s dress) are absolutely to die for. But it should be noted that this particular episode is completely washed in shades of blue, even more than usual, and for good reason. As Jughead first questions the duality of Riverdale in terms of light and darkness, this episode sets forth to prove how it’s less a matter of that duality and more one of various shades of darkness. In fact, it’s immediately in that Jughead scene, when he’s talking to F.P. about his manuscript: They’re both in the same room, right across from each other, but F.P. is basically in the shadows (despite being right in front of the window), while Jughead’s blue is all lightness.

So it’s even more appropriate that this is the episode of Riverdale where parents—the absentee parents, specifically—really start question just how safe of a place Riverdale is. Alice Cooper is recruiting youths to join in on her murder mystery-solving agenda, and the parents who are never around are desperate to get their kids out of here.

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Yes, people are spooked now because of the mysterious circumstances behind the death of Riverdale’s favorite creature of the night, Jason Blossom. But as this series progresses, neither the audience nor the teenage characters is blind to what kind of hazards were already around town long before that. The South Side Serpents, the maple syrup-fueled murders, the missing bodies of all the people Clifford Blossom needed for his wigs. Then you have Mary Andrews telling Archie that she wants him to come live with her, so she can rest assure that he’ll finally be safe… In Chicago. According to the definitive source on all things Chicago (Dick Wolf’s Chicago franchise), that is just a laughable suggestion; and that’s not even taking into account how we have at least three or four more seasons before it’s time for the hilarity of Archie and his music failing in the big city. At the same time, a cleaned up F.P.’s plan to get the Jones family back together—in Toledo—and get Jughead a fresh start away from a murder case that could consume his young life is a far more rational and understandable argument… But it’s also one that’s ruined by the lingering concept of F.P. essentially wanting to skip town (for whatever his actual role in the Blossom case is) and get Jughead as far away from figuring out the full puzzle as possible. Even with that, it’s still a much better safety plan than “move to Chicago.” Are we really to believe things would get better for Archie if he moved to Chicago, for Jughead if he moved to Toledo, or even for Veronica if she and her family moved to New York? The parents on Riverdale, hands on or otherwise, have regularly showed a lack of or at least lapsed ability to protect their children. The concept of these parents running from their own pasts sadly isn’t going to change that.

So while the adults try to avoid that realization, this episode and its ultimate conclusion hinge on an aspect of Riverdale that the teens themselves are so desperate to avoid addressing: They may be in the same friend group, but Veronica and Jughead really aren’t friends. Naturally, Alice Cooper is the only one who truly acknowledges that fact, as her recruitment tactic for Veronica involves pointing out that she doesn’t have the same type of loyalty that Betty has for the kid and can get the job done because of that. We may have witnessed a mild sliver of charm when Jughead first introduced himself to Veronica, but since then, their interactions have been limited. And in these past two episodes, the fact that they wouldn’t even interact if not for their connections to Archie and Betty is a major part of the narrative, even if no one wants to talk about it. One of the coldest moments in “Chapter Ten” is when an already frustrated Veronica walks into Jughead’s surprise party, gets hit with a weak “surprise,” and snipes out, “Do I look like Jughead to you?” Veronica is driven in this episode to figure out just how evil her father is—though she has quite an idea based on everything she knows he’s done up to this point—and despite what she says, she has no reason to care if F.P. or Jughead is collateral damage. Even Archie points out during their breaking and entering that she looks like she’s actively hoping to find out her father hired F.P. as a hitman, even though that would severely wreck Jughead’s life.

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Yes, Archie Andrews, who is thankfully around to prevent Veronica from absolutely tearing Jughead’s world to threads (though it might not seem like that at the end) and to keep her from getting them killed by overstaying their welcome at F.P.’s trailer. Veronica is obviously at a fragile place right now, to the point where she commits what would usually be the ultimate mistake of asking Archie to be her partner in (literal) crime this week, but in a strange turn of events, he ends up succeeding at it. The boy’s got to do something in an episode. He’s Archie. He’s sidekick, horny Archie, but he’s still Archie.

That’s to say, Archie isn’t exactly “perfect” this week. After all, in addition to betraying Jughead’s (and Betty’s) trust in this episode, Archie has also determined that Veronica is his current one true love, the one he’ll write his next wannabe Howie Day song about. The latter is of course the aftermath of their drunken makeout session from the same night Archie drunkenly attempted—and failed—to get Valerie back and part of the life-sized game known in some circles as “Anyone But You, Betty.” However, to give the boy some credit for the former, this episode does well in making his motivation 90% that of wanting to protect Jughead, which is something he’s often forgotten to do in previous episodes. (10% of his motivation is obviously wanting to hook up with Veronica, and he succeeds.) This episode and “Chapter Ten” both lean extra hard into Archie’s dimwitted side, but this episode specifically does so in a way where there’s essentially no malice or completely callous (the way he let Cheryl and Chuck crash Jughead’s birthday is still spectacularly terrible) behavior on his part. Things still blow up in his face as a result of his (and Veronica’s) actions, but that’s mostly because hell freezes over and Alice Cooper enlists the help of Veronica Lodge and Archie Andrews in the first place. Remember, these kids are the two people she’s spent the entire season praying for the untimely demises of; so when Alice tells Veronica that she is absolutely not a suspect in the Jason Blossom murder, that’s honestly the nicest thing she’s said about the girl in 11 episodes.

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While Veronica and Archie actually make a pretty good crime-solving team—most likely because Alice Cooper is the one in charge, though they could stand to work on their discretion in the future—the typically in sync team of Betty and Jughead find themselves imploding this week. Unfortunately for Betty, she has to spend this episode battling her mother and unknowingly battling her best friends, while also planning the dual dance, so she’s not exactly able to see everything coming at her. However, she does drop the l-word to describe her feelings for Jughead, so Riverdale at least warns the audience that everything is doomed. Plus, there are things like Jughead readily helping Betty with Homecoming decorations, his excitement over Alice inviting him and his dad for dinner, his plans to talk to Betty about staying in Riverdale for her instead of going to Toledo with his family. The writing’s on the wall, and not just because of Alice, Veronica, and Archie’s snooping triumvirate. If there’s anyone who can’t be happy for too long, it’s the “weird” one himself, Jughead.

Unfortunately for Betty and Jughead, the story Riverdale is telling relies on the other shoe dropping as Jughead’s life hits an upswing in this episode. If things kept coming up Jughead, that would basically negate everything we know about Riverdale, everything we know from his “deep and meaningful” voiceovers. Bad things happen. Sometimes less bad things happen, but they’re still bad things. Archie finds himself stressed by the concept of having both his parents under the same roof, but Jughead is hit with the revelation that his friends (and girlfriend, to an extent) have been lying and scheming behind his back and the news that his father has just been arrested for a crime he swears he didn’t commit. While Veronica is spiraling over coming to grips with just how much of a criminal her criminal father is, Jughead was just getting comfortable with his own criminal father seemingly (and this episode makes sure to have him on his best behavior) getting his act together. It’s no wonder he has the breakdown that he does over the news of his father’s arrest. And while there are probably plenty of reasons for F.P. to be legitimately arrested, but him getting framed for Jason Blossom’s murder is something for the audience to be angry about on Jughead’s behalf.

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Even with the intensity in this episode, Riverdale still manages to squeeze in one of its patented awkward meals over at the Cooper house. In fact, Betty has never felt more like Alice Cooper’s daughter than the moment it’s revealed that she invited her father to dinner to combat Alice’s interrogation of F.P. Jones. The combination of this particular Riverdale tradition and regular reminders of the house of horrors that is Thorn Hill maintains the series’ campiness while the rest of the episode works from a more serious (yet still over-the-top) perspective. This is an episode that balances it all pretty well, which is still difficult to believe with Riverdale High’s Homecoming/Reunion dance front and center. Then again, everything is pretty much blurring together these days. Case in point, the gun the Sheriff found at the trailer is (at first glance) the gun Betty took from “Miss. Grundy’s” car,* which Alice took from her… which means it was probably planted by Hal Cooper after this week’s very uncomfortable (and abortion-hinting) dinner.

*While this article mentions this gun and Grundy’s gun in the same breath, there’s the possibility they’re two different, albeit similar guns. Which is especially important to note because of Veronica’s comment in “Chapter Ten” about Clifford Blossom and his many, many guns. Hmm.

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Like “Chapter Ten,” this episode really shows just how bad the tunnel vision of these characters can get. While all the teenagers are technically working the same case together, they all have their own methods and motives for wanting to get to it, and they’re not going to let anyone else (even if they call them their “friend”) get in the way. Only now, they’re finally realizing that about each other; that’s a big reason why Betty is so distraught by the realization that Archie and Veronica are working with her mother behind her back. She goes into a fugue state as she figures that one out. As Betty even says herself, Jughead is the most important thing to her, and while she’s willing to believe in him and his father’s word, Archie, Veronica, and Alice don’t have that same perspective going into this. This is even with the knowledge that Archie is doing all this to protect Jughead in the first place. Alice, while searching for truth, really just wants to get F.P. out of her life for good, so of course she pushes. And Veronica wants to know if her father’s capable of facilitating murder on top of everything else, even though she probably already knows the answer to that.

Meanwhile, Fred Andrews just really hopes Mary doesn’t take Archie to Chicago. Funny how a potential custody battle is probably the most basic plotline on this show, isn’t it? At least he looks good in a tux.

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Stray observations

  • Riverdale Roulette: I’m torn this week between the wardrobe appropriate (thanks, Archie) Footloose and the plot (and anniversary) appropriate Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion. Luckily this is my own original mini-feature, so I can simply choose both to recommend for all you delightful readers. Also, please try to imagine a version of Footloose with Archie in the Kevin Bacon role and see just how far Ren would get at legalizing dancing.
  • Thanks to Andrea Reiher for filling in for me on the previous episode, which is one I was truly upset I couldn’t cover. (Honestly, it probably would’ve broken the A- streak for the coveted A.) The one thing I honestly think this week’s episode misses the boat on is the necessary weirdness between Fred, Mary, and Hermione. Fred basically washed his hands of Hermione outside of a professional context a couple of episodes ago, and Alice stirs the pot about Fred/Hermione having a romantic thing, but there are really no fireworks to go with any of this. Hermione has a moment as the outsider looking in, but since we soon get confirmation Mary doesn’t intend to stay (in Riverdale or with Fred), nothing about this situation truly achieves its true potential. Even Archie knows how to make a fool of himself in love triangles to move things along.
  • Also, thanks to the nice callback to the dance from the pilot, we now officially know Fred, Mary, and Hermione are the original Archie, Betty, and Veronica. F.P. is a less weird but far more tragic Jughead (who has almost no problem bringing up teenage abortions at dinner when he has to), and Alice Cooper was obviously Cheryl Blossom if Cheryl Blossom had grown up on the wrong side of the tracks. Basically, Alice Cooper is a young Julie Cooper-Nichol.
  • Archie: “He’s our friend, Ronnie.” You can practically hear Veronica mentally go “ehhhh” after that line.
  • Speaking of Cheryl, she’s not the center of this episode, but the scenes she does have… Well she’s somehow gotten weirder, even if that doesn’t sound possible. The fact that she wanted to have Polly as her date to the dance and run a co-Homecoming Queen campaign with her so that it would be the closest thing to Jason and Polly winning Homecoming King and Queen is… I said weird, right?
  • Archie (and Veronica) singing their cover of “Kids In America” is officially the peak of Archie’s musical presence in this series. Actually, I take that back: The true peak is everyone in the inner circle finally admitting that his songs are the kind that “make you want to slit your wrists.” As Betty says, “this dance needs to be fun.” And even with the fun cover, Archie (and Veronica) manages to screw even that up with the scheming with Alice Cooper. Honestly, consider that blowing up in his face karma for just flat-out lying to his mom about performing at the dance only to then, once again, uses his friends to get a performance slot he doesn’t deserve. (If we’ve learned anything about Archie and his music this season, it’s that he absolutely doesn’t want to even try getting by on his own merits.)
  • We know that Joaquin the “gay greaser Serpent” is in fact scheming with F.P. but we still don’t know too much about it. Plus, he fails at his sole objective this week, as he doesn’t have the intel needed to warn F.P. about the raid. Also, despite his conversation with F.P. a couple of episodes ago, we really have no indication of if he actually feels bad about what he’s doing. Not even after Kevin tells him he’s his first real boyfriend. At the same time, someone other than Alice Cooper needs to slap some sense into these children and have them stop being so naive about a gang member who is dating the Sheriff’s son possibly having ulterior motives that involve serving his gang boss. This week, Betty refuses to believe that there’s conspiring (because it makes F.P. look bad and that’s not good for Jughead), but come on: There’s no reason to trust Joaquin. If Casey Cott is promoted to series regular next season, all I ask is that Kevin makes better choice. And that Betty remember they used to be best friends, as she only uses him to look for people who are right across the room this episode.
  • Molly Ringwald only fits on Riverdale so far simply because she’s Molly Ringwald—and the combo of Mary and Fred explains how Archie is so blandly Archie—but at least she’s part of two pretty funny moments this episode. The first is the awkward silence that follows Hermione mentioning her belief that all the scandal is karmic payback for her mean girl days… which apparently guilts Mary into inviting her to the dance, I suppose. The second is Alice Cooper storming off in the middle of their restroom conversation to take a phone call.
  • Polly: “How many wigs does your father have?”
    Cheryl: “One for every mood.” Does Clifford Blossom really have enough moods to defend the number of wigs he has? Are we really supposed to believe that only one “daily milkshake” was drugged? Since Polly still doesn’t actually have any dirt on the Blossoms, and Homecoming has come and gone, what’s she going to do now? Oh, Thorn Hill. The mysteries you weave.
  • If there’s one thing we can truly believe on Riverdale, it’s that the Blossom parents do not and will not ever care for or even respect Cheryl. Jason was the cherry of their eye, and if one of them were ever to say “the wrong kid died,” literally no one would be surprised by such an outburst. Clifford praising Cheryl is clearly such a con, so Cheryl is smart to lie about flushing the engagement ring, even if now it looks like she wants to keep it so she can pretend she’s Jason’s fiancĂ©e. And yet the Homecoming plan is still the weirdest thing Cheryl does this episode.

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