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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

In Riverdale, you can’t go home again

Illustration for article titled In Riverdale, you can’t go home again
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Riverdale is back, so let’s get right into it. “Chapter Eight: The Outsiders” fills in more of Riverdale’s blanks when it specifically comes to the Jason Blossom escape, but it’s a rather tame episode in comparison to the chaos and excitement in the past few episodes. Although, it’s not really that surprising when you can instantly describe this episode as “the one where the girls do a baby shower and the boys do construction.” As far as over-the-top displays of any possible genre it can get its hand on go, this week’s episode stays quite low to the ground and pretty much in one teen drama gear. Even Alice Cooper is essentially a full-blown human instead of Disney villain in this particular episode, and while that allows the Blossom women to get a little more time for their own drama queen antics, they’re not at “Chapter Five” levels. That would be far too much for this episode to handle, even though it could really use it at times. Instead, in terms of the big picture and the big scenery chewing, “Chapter Eight” is more of a set-up episode and a dense one at that.

Before this episode, you’d think and even hope that after an awkward dinner party where teenagers had to sit through a construction bid, Riverdale would cut back on the construction business aspect of the show. Instead, “Chapter Eight” doubles down on that, leading to Archie’s discovery that his family’s in dire straits and that real estate might just be the most important thing about this weird little show. Hiram Lodge’s eagerness to conduct back alley deals even get construction off the ground made it clear that this construction job is a big deal, and things like the fact that Cliff Blossom wants the land and F.P. Jones is eager to be back on the job (with his Serpents) make it even clear. But boy is construction boring, especially on a show where it has to be compared to a murder mystery and Josie and The Pussycats. It’s definitely no worse than Archie’s music or “Ms. Grundy”—especially since it definitely all has bearing in a mystery—but “Chapter Six” made it abundantly clear that real estate deals and construction contracts really aren’t all that interesting. This isn’t Dallas. And I’m talking about the TNT version, where about 80% of the show was conversations about real estate law and how to break it. At least it’s best to expect fireworks sooner rather than later here, especially when Cliff Blossom is going on about how the Blossom family founded their maple syrup empire on the drive-in land.

The highlight, however, of these scenes is how they eventually lead to Fred/F.P. interactions, and that’s not even for Luke Perry/Skeet Ulrich dream journal reasons. In this episode especially, the Fred/F.P. scenes—intentional or not—come with this underlying sense that this is possibly how Archie and Jughead are going to end up. Sure, Jughead probably won’t end up a South Side Serpent, but it’s almost too easy to see how these versions of Jughead and Archie could break apart; that’s where they’re at when the series starts, temporary as it was. While there’s obviously a lot of frustration between Fred and F.P. in their scenes, it also comes with the remnants of a lost friendship underneath a bunch of bad choices and judgment. In “Chapter Seven,” F.P. told Hermione not to let Fred know he’s a Serpent, but here we learn he specifically meant not to let Fred know he’s a Serpent again. Fred had already known F.P. in that life, but he’d also known he’d gotten out of that. Imagine the disappointment, especially after F.P. tells Jughead he’s going to get his life back together, knowing the guy’s back in that life. Of the many Fred Andrews scenes in this episode, it’s the scenes with F.P. outside the bar that are truly the most fascinating, because while we’ve seen the resentment both men have for each other, their dynamic isn’t simply black-and-white. Even as Fred is disappointed in his former friend, F.P.’s is appreciative of the guy for taking his son in and giving him a good home. There’s a sadness in their scenes, something absent in the other Riverdale Parent scenes, and it’s much needed in such a business and Archie-heavy plot.

Speaking of Archie, this episode is good evidence for why no one lets him join in on their murder mystery games. Really, most of Archie’s downfall in this episode stems from a road to Hell being paved with good intentions aspect and the fact that everything is black-and-white for him. It starts with his fix to Cliff Blossom stealing away his dad’s crew. (By the way, Fred’s initial reaction to that is very Archie-like, driving right up to Thornhill to confront Cliff face-to-face… and having absolutely nothing to show for it but metaphorical maple syrup on his face.) Archie just wants to help, but an episode like this shows how Archie really can’t help much outside of the youthful, optimistic plan of getting a crew of three of his friends (and one random jock) together for his dad. It’s not even a bad plan; it just has more of a youthful optimism to it than an adult usefulness. Even if things had ended up smoothly, those boys weren’t going to finish this job all on their own.

Now when it comes to big picture stuff, Archie’s decision to go to the South Side to find the thugs who messed up their equipment and attacked Moose—which stems from his newfound realization that things aren’t fair for people who aren’t wealthy—is just so poorly thought out that you’d think he just learned his name was short for “Josephine.” Obviously, the easy assumption is that Cliff Blossom hired the thugs to speed up his process, but that theory falls apart when you think of how he made it pretty clear he’s just going to wait things out until the “mysterious boss” runs out of money and he can buy the land for cheap. He’s in no rush, and Fred probably should’ve made that clear to Archie before he did something stupid. Then again, it’s less clear if the show actually wants the audience to take Archie’s side in believing Sheriff Keller is truly blowing off the “poor” Andrews (they’re in a bad way right now, but when you have Jughead’s upbringing, it feels wrong to call them that) in a way he wouldn’t the wealthy Blossoms. Archie’s argument might hold a little more weight if it were a deputy instead, but he’s got such a head of steam, it wouldn’t matter to him either way.

As for the mission to the Serpents’ bar (the Whyte Wyrm), it’s basically proof why Archie should always just stay in the car. Archie’s choices of when and where to wear his letter jacket have been called out before, but it’s impossible to reasonably excuse his character decision to wear it at bar. First of all, you should never wear your high school letter jacket to a bar. Second of all, if your entire directive for going to said bar is to blend in, then wearing a bright ass blue and gold jacket is an automatic failure. But the jacket is required in order for a Serpent named Mustang to bring up Jason Blossom (treated like a throwaway line, since we know Jason’s been around the Serpent block); though there’s no excuse for Archie to think starting a fight with that grown man is a good idea in the first place. Archie is full of piss and vinegar this episode, but the problem is that he really can’t back-up his half-cocked plans. Instead of coming to grips with that, he runs away from his dad’s car the first chance he gets—because he’s apparently done listening to anything anyone says now that he knows his family is broke—in order to publicly confront Jughead about his father being a South Side Serpent, making sure Betty and Veronica both know as well. It’s a teenager’s reaction, but that also means it’s pretty self-centered to not even think of how Jughead must feel about his own dad being a gang member in the first place. Actually, not just a gang member—F.P.’s clearly the leader of the gang, or at least a very high-ranking officer.


But as upset as Archie was that Jughead lied to him—and because Archie bailed, he didn’t even get confirmation from his dad that the Serpents had nothing to do with the attack—at least when Jughead found out about “Ms. Grundy” and the fact that Archie threw their friendship away for her, he confronted Archie one-on-one… While Archie either threatened him not to tell anyone or spent his time double-checking that Jughead really didn’t tell anyone. Jughead understandably felt embarrassed and scared to tell Archie and Betty the truth about his gang leader father. The decision to do this publicly and immediately tell Betty and Veronica is right out of the vindictive Dawson Leery playbook, and as I mentioned in my last review, this is exactly the opposite path Riverdale should take with Archie. Archie and Jughead calling each other brothers at the end of the episode doesn’t erase Archie’s instinctual reactions in this episode, especially if you think back to how Fred and F.P. must’ve called themselves brothers back in the day too.

Then there are the episode’s sisters. Like I said, the boys do construction this week, while the girls do a baby shower. Funnily enough, I’d say this baby shower goes a lot better than the last CW baby shower Mädchen Amick attended. (Yes, I know it was The WB at the time.)


Maybe that’s because, surprisingly, this baby shower doesn’t get quite as melodramatic as you might expect. There’s some flair, because the ladies of the Blossom household and Alice Cooper are all in attendance. But there’s no last minute wardrobe change, there’s no fire in a barrel, there’s no Josie McCoy (even with 2/3 of the Pussycats in attendance). Instead, the baby shower mostly goes off without a hitch, as Alice Cooper and Penelope Blossom play nice… until the Blossoms invite Polly to come live with them at Thornhill. Then it’s time for an Alice Cooper blow-up, perhaps the most deserved one of all. Only in this instance, as this episode provides a truly human version of the character, even the blow-up isn’t the most “bad bitch” moment of the episode. It’s really just a sad, desperate plea, as Alice is fed up with the Blossoms and truly wants her pregnant daughter to come back home and keep their family alive. Alice’s moment at the baby show is basically the more rational version of going to a gang bar.

That’s what makes it so sad when Polly chooses to live with the Blossoms at the end of the episode, instead of going back home with Alice and Betty. It feels strange to say, especially remembering the kind of place Alice and Hal sent Polly to stay (and eventually give up her baby), but that’s where we’re at this week. Before this episode, you could call the Coopers the lesser of two evils, simply because the Blossoms may actually be evil occultists. But here, I find it harder to call the Cooper household “evil” at all when “misguided” can really describe it. (I’m not counting Hal here, because he’s more than just misguided—he’s ruining lives over this maple syrup feud.) The night light baby shower present is enough to sell just how genuine Alice ends up being in this episode, but it’s the way she handles Hal that bumps her up quite a few spots in the Riverdale Parent rankings. Ignoring what feels like an Archie comics request to only refer to an abortion as “an appointment,” the fact that Alice had nothing to do with it—coupled with the revelation that Hal had previously forced Alice have “an appointment” herself—does a lot to prove that Alice’s claims of looking out for her family and daughter’s best interests isn’t just her go-to line. When push comes to shove, it’s really what means the most to her, which is why it’s even better when she answers Hal’s smug, last ditch effort “What would people think?” by saying that she doesn’t care. This episode really builds Alice up just to knock her down (and also tease her being Jason’s killer, of course). Seriously, her emotional beats and moments of genuine honesty and humanity in this episode shouldn’t work, but they do.


So while it’s understandable Polly would choose the Blossoms over her mother who had her committed, after this episode, it’s also very obvious it’s the wrong choice for Polly and her baby/babies. The Blossoms have more money than they even know what to do with—the joy of maple syrup—which is important to a teen mom-to-be. But just from the baby shower presents alone, Alice gives Polly something that represents a safe and loving home, and the Blossoms give Polly things that represent money and trinkets that mean nothing to her. The opening Jughead voiceover describes the Coopers as “the Stepfords of Riverdale” (also seen in his nightmare), and until now, they’ve continued to try to craft that image. That illusion has long been shattered for Polly when it comes to how she sees her family, but now she’s buying into the illusion of the Blossoms. The creepy, terrifying illusion.

Clearly, this is a downer episode of Riverdale, even with a scene like the one where Jughead and Betty kiss and have a halo of light bless their entire relationship. This episode really brings things down to Earth, for better or worse. (Yes, Riverdale’s version of down to Earth involves gang schemes.) And such an episode also explains the lack of Veronica, who has some good little moments in this episode in terms of her reactions but is also already “too much” from the moment she talks about her life back in New York at a time that really doesn’t need that. She and Kevin’s inability to read a room at times can be fun—especially as they remain the only ones who truly acknowledge the insanity of this all—but sometimes it just misses the mark. Kind of like Archie when he plays video games with Jughead.


Stray observations

  • Riverdale Roulette: I don’t usually use the episode title inspiration as the choice of the week, but you really can’t go wrong with The Outsiders. Think about it: Instead of “Be cool, Sodapop,” Riverdale’s version could one day be “Be cool, Jellybean.” Because there is a character named Jellybean that exists in this show’s universe.
  • This has been driving me crazy: Who is the bonus jock in the teen construction scenes? Since there was no screener for this episode, I didn’t have the end credits to check the co-star list, and the fact that the guy speaks to tell Kevin he should join the football team (completely genuinely too) intrigues me.
  • One thing that worries me is the sight of Jughead in the background as they do the brief flashback to Jason and Polly at Pop’s as they discuss the plan. Hopefully Jug isn’t a secret murderer! Though I’m sure plenty of you will just be pleased Jughead had a hamburger on his plate in the flashback.
  • Jughead: “You’re the one who keeps accidentally killing me.”
    Archie: “War is hell, Jug.”
    Jughead: “No, Archie. Hell is other people.” 1. Archie still has yet to surpass his “I was born alone…” line. 2. Do you think Archie knows Jughead was quoting Sartre? The smart money’s on Archie laughing to make it seem like he did.
  • There’s no mention as to how the Blossoms lost their maple syrup land in the first place though. Richest folks in town, didn’t think to buy it back sooner? Come on, Blossoms.
  • It all just feels a little ridiculous that everyone involved is talking about a “mysterious boss.” Not even because of dramatic irony but because it’s literally the phrase “mysterious boss.” Speaking of, it should be acknowledged that the attack on the site (and Moose) ends up being courtesy of said “mysterious boss,” Hiram “Great Guy” Lodge. Turns out “someone” told him about Hermione and Fred’s “affair.” Veronica…
  • Cheryl: “Nana has dementia and gypsy blood.” Veronica’s reaction is amazing, because it’s just a visual question of why Cheryl would even chime in with that. At all.
  • By the end, F.P. turns out to be more conniving than expected, but my question is mostly about his demeanor throughout the entire episode: What kind of drunk is he, really? We know he’s an alcoholic, but throughout this entire episode, he’s pretty much absolutely in control, not the mess he was in “Chapter Seven.” Sadly, does this mean Jughead is his trigger, a reminder of how badly he messed up his family?
  • Offscreen, Kevin has gotten serious enough with drive-in Serpent Joaquin to have Archie call Joaquin “Kevin’s boyfriend.” (Archie gets points for not judging Kevin’s choice in boyfriend. Or do they all get negative points for letting Kevin date a gang member?) Unfortunately, we learn in this episode that Joaquin is playing Kevin, on behalf of F.P. and the Serpents, in order to have an “inside line with the Sheriff.” But he feels pretty bad about it, at least. He feels less bad about stashing Jason’s jacket (which is somehow an “insurance policy”) though.
  • Penelope: “Polly, we’re so happy you’re here.” Meanwhile, Cliff Blossom looks as though he’s never been more miserable.
  • There are no Pussycats performances, but this episode really brings it with the music choices. This week, it’s all about the covers: “You Don’t Own Me,” “Our House” (a cover of the Madness song, which I hope one of you finds), and “Into The Black.” The last one leads to the nice touch of the lyric “and once you’re gone, you can never come back” hitting just Polly arrives at Thornhill.