As the weeks go by and Riverdale goes deeper into the maple syrup-covered mysteries of the town, only one thing remains constant: Archie Andrews is the weakest link. It’s hard to ignore, for obvious reasons. But what if Riverdale could harness that weakness and turn it into something more entertaining? That sounds impossible, especially as long as Riverdale continues to focus on Archie’s ridiculous dream of being a successful a musician. But in getting past the Ms. Grundy nonsense, the series has slowly made strides to help a ginger out, and “Chapter Six: Faster, Pussycats! Kill! Kill!” is easily the show’s best Archie effort. Why? Because it finally acknowledges something that’s been obvious since the pilot: Archie Andrews is kind of dumb.

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In fact, “Chapter Six” doubles down on the concept Archie being dumb (and useless to the show’s mysteries), in a way that actually becomes pretty entertaining. While it could just be a smokescreen to hide the fact that he’s a secret psychopath who murdered Jason Blossom, that’s probably not the case. On the surface, Archie’s plot in this episode is typical Archie fluff; he wants to perform his music at the school’s fall variety show, but he just has too much stage fright, needs a Pussycat to prop his self-esteem up again, and has trouble picking up on social cues. But the moment Jughead and Betty shut Archie out of joining them in the part of the show where interesting things are guaranteed to happen, that causes a ripple effect Riverdale making clear just how inconsequential and even downright oblivious Archie is. In this episode alone, we get:

  • “What are you talking about? Anything I can help with?” Honestly, could he even help them with the murder mystery if he tried? Thankfully Jughead’s “stealth operation” excuse is enough to get him to move on to something else.
  • After Veronica volunteers to duet with Archie, he doesn’t even think to tell her that he’s dropping her for Valerie. To which Veronica replies: “You literally have zero loyalty, you… ginger Judas.” The best part is how Camila Mendes pauses, because Veronica doesn’t even have a quip at the ready for once. The second best part is that even though Veronica has other things on the brain, she’s still absolutely right. See: Archie ditching Jughead for Grundy on July 4, Archie kissing Veronica in the closet at Cheryl’s party.
  • “Great news: Valerie quit the Pussycats.” He actually says that. He actually thinks it’s great news. The only other person who thinks it’s great news is Mayor McCoy, and that’s for very selfish reasons.
  • “He’s incarcerated, right?” With Archie, incarceration is the same thing as a parental separation. Even if it’s kind of true, the fact is he says this out loud, to Veronica’s face, is really bad.
  • He’s surprised “Josie” is short for “Josephine.”
  • “After Josephine Baker. You have no idea who that is, do you?” This is the only moment Josie’s father isn’t insufferable.
  • Later that night, Fred gives Archie encouragement, saying he’d still be proud of him even if he were to “bomb like electric Dylan at a folk concert.” Archie’s response: “I’m not sure who that is.” In my initial viewing of this episode, I had to pause the show for 10 minutes to regain my composure.
  • Josie says the Pussycats “were Yoko Ono’d,” and the next day (the day of the variety show, by the way), Archie says, “I don’t wanna be the guy that broke up The Beatles.” This tells me one thing: Archie definitely Google’d (well, Sleuthster’d) “Yoko Ono” after the dinner.
  • What, exactly, does Archie know about music? Based on his own songs, I assume he reps Teddy Geiger pretty hard, but Jason Mraz seems like he might be too hardcore for him.
  • “I was born alone. I’ll die alone. I’ll sing alone.” Who can even explain where this one came from inside of Archie? This should actually be on the list of moments explaining why Archie is obviously Jason’s killer.

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I’ve pussyfooted around it for weeks now, but it’s plain to see here: Archie Andrews really is an idiot. A well-meaning and well-built idiot but an idiot nonetheless. And if Riverdale really knows what it’s doing, hopefully it keeps it up. Because Archie having stage fright—to the point of seeing his football teammates as werewolves, which should be looked into—isn’t interesting. Archie being excited about The Pussycats sort of breaking up is a dick move. Archie’s music is boring and uninspired, just like Castillo told him. But Archie being so oblivious to how lame he is as all the evidence piles up around him is so good. It’s basically taking Archie’s behavior in the Grundy storyline and harnessing it for good.

The funny thing is, Archie’s storyline here—and Josie, Valerie, and Veronica’s, as an extension—proves that Riverdale focusing on the small-town teen drama of it all isn’t necessarily boring. The focus on Josie and her home life adds even more color to her character, as anyone who still didn’t get where she was coming from now has a front row seat to what drives her. It’s been foreshadowed a bit from the way she introduces Josie And The Pussycats at town events, but “Chapter Six” makes it abundantly clear that Mayor McCoy is only interested in the success of her daughter (not the band), by any means necessary. The scene where Josie tells her mom that Valerie quit the band is unexpected, because instead of worrying that her daughter just lost her best friend, all Sierra can think about is how much brighter the spotlight can be on Josie. And while the show is smart to have that be the first Josie scene after Valerie leaves the band (as it shows she does regret it but is too proud to apologize), it’s even smarter to show how Josie’s larger-than-life persona has come into existence in the first place. Sierra’s enthusiastic support for her daughter is now another one of those Riverdale shadows being exposed, especially when she tells Josie to find a Valerie replacement that’s “skinny and beautiful”—but not more so than her— and to “remember our brand.” While last week’s episode went gothic horror and full-blown soap to highlight just how bad Cheryl Blossom has it, Riverdale’s more grounded approach to Josie’s family life is just as effective. Even without the candelabra.

Especially when you have Josie’s father Miles, who’s basically proof that Seb from La La Land would have been just as insufferable if he were black, giving Josie grief for focusing on pop music instead of jazz. Sierra tries to work as a buffer, making excuses for her ex-husband—like the fact that he’s skipping Jazz Fest to see Josie perform—but Miles makes it near impossible to defend him with the way he acts around everyone. Even “father of the year” Fred Andrews is unable to avoid Miles’ judgment, as he’s damned if he tries to diffuse a situation by calling music “fun” and he’s damned if he tries to put food on his and his employees’ tables with his pitch for the drive-in theater construction job. Miles calls Fred’s “salt of the earth” personality an act and calls him a “dollar-chasing gentrifier,” and everyone there (even the teens who are stuck watching a construction company presentation) ends up being too mature to make a fart sound whenever he talks about jazz. The big finish of him bailing before Josie And The Pussycats even finish their performance of “I Feel Love” is proof there’s no use crying over poor parenting, though it’s understandable that Josie breaks down in front of her mom in the girls’ bathroom after the show.

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Less deserving of a fart sound is the way Riverdale has almost instantly perfected the art of the awkward family meal. While the presentation dinner is unpleasant for all involved because everyone at the table either hates Miles or Archie, the breakfast scene between Betty, Jughead, and Alice deserves some type of maple syrup-inspired award. Just in the way Mädchen Amick says “Jughead,” like Alice Cooper knows an audience is watching and wants us to all truly think about how ridiculous the boy’s name it is. It is something special. And while Jughead isn’t on Alice’s list of people she wants Betty to avoid yet (the list is just the Lodges and Riverdale redheads), she has no problem immediately blaming Jughead for Betty’s obsession with a murder investigation. But, as Betty points out, she’s leading the charge on this one. Poor, homeless Jughead (he notably eats his breakfast like he doesn’t know when he’s getting his next meal, though it’s easy to mistake that for eating like a teenage boy) is just along for the ride.

The fact that the ride leads us right on to the less grounded road of all things Polly Cooper is the type of thing that really makes Riverdale work. Because first of all, Polly Cooper was sent to live at a place called “The Sisters Of Quiet Mercy: Home For Troubled Youth.” And jumping ahead for a moment, this is an episode of television where a girl is taken away by the men in white (in slow motion and to a van), not once, but twice.

Simply put, Riverdale is appointment television. And Betty’s meeting with her sister finally puts a lot of things in perspective that had gotten muddled in all the lies and secondhand accounts. Polly and Jason were in love; Jason broke up with Polly but only because his parents forced him to (Duncan Kane style?); Polly turned out to be pregnant, and Jason was ecstatic; on July 4, Jason and Polly were supposed to meet on the other side of Sweetwater River, but Mr. and Mrs. Cooper found out and sent Polly away that day. Even worse, Alice had told Polly that Betty didn’t want to visit her—but she didn’t tell her that Jason had died. The drugs and the alcohol and the suicide attempt never happened… however, as Betty later brings up to Jughead, Polly clearly isn’t all there, even before she finds out about Jason. Crazy’s not off the table yet—for any of them—but at least Betty and Jughead find out that Polly was telling the truth about the plan to run away. It’s a big deal for them to find Jason’s car (full of drugs!), but this episode makes sure the audience knows shit’s getting real too, both because they’re being followed and watched and because someone manages to set the car on fire before Sheriff Keller can investigate.

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And then I guess Polly jumps out a window, because Riverdale goes hard, whether it’s on batshit conspiracies or bad acoustic music.

Somewhere in between Josie and Betty—who are on opposite ends of an exclusively bad parenting spectrum—is Veronica’s storyline this episode, which is really just as simple as a teen plot can get. She sees her mom kissing Archie’s dad, even though both of them are still married to their respective spouses, and that rocks her world. What follows is Veronica Lodge at her least mature, acting out— because as cool as she is, she’s still a 16-year-old. Things have already been shaky for Hermione and Veronica these past couple of episodes, but things escalate here, and that’s even without Veronica knowing just how much Hermione is lying to her from the start. You see, Hermione says she and Fred never even kissed before the moment at work, but we know that’s not true. Them dating in high school and her leaving him for rich boy Hiram is literally the driving force of all their scenes together. Sure, Hermione’s not lying when it comes to her adult self and Fred kissing, but it’s an obvious lie of omission to placate her daughter. Another lie to placate her daughter.

The thing is, this time it doesn’t work. Not because she doesn’t get away with the lie but because Veronica really isn’t the mythical perfect 16-year-old. Fred Andrews is probably the most decent adult on this show, but despite all the red flags that come with Hiram (all the way from prison), Veronica still stands by her dad. In this episode alone, Hermione tell Veronica Hiram’s plans for the construction contract would put it in the hands of a “less than legit” company, which is not the route you’d go if you were a felon with any regret or remorse. Plus, her father made her a legal officer of Lodge Industries, which is good for deal like this but also probably good for taking the fall the next time the shit hits the fan. And before all this, there was of course the deal with the South Side Serpents. So while Hermione has lied to Veronica (and now forged her signature to give Fred the contract so his company doesn’t die) a few times, there’s still always the obvious fact that she loves and wants to protect her daughter. Nothing we know about Hiram suggests he even cares about his daughter, at least not as much as she cares about him.

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At least that’s something Veronica can bond over next time they hang out at Pop’s, assuming Veronica finally realizes just how bad of a guy her dad is. Pussycats stick together, right?

Stray observations

  • Riverdale Roulette: I can’t believe it took me this long to officially recommend the Josie And The Pussycats movie, but here we are. It’s a classic and it deserves nothing but praise. I’ll actually make it a double feature with Jawbreaker, thanks to the slow motion Pussycats hallway walk in this episode. You’re welcome.
  • I haven’t been this invested in a real estate storyline in a teen drama since the first season of The O.C. Caleb Nichol, you rat bastard.
  • In a Josie-heavy episode, there is no Cheryl to be found. Last week, the absence of Josie at Jason’s memorial made sense because of the Blossom parents’ ulterior motives. But they also punished Cheryl in that episode, so that could explain her disappearing act… However, an interview with Josie herself, Ashleigh Murray, just might shine a light on all of this: She calls the friendship between Cheryl and Josie a “professional friendship.” But until the series goes deeper, this case is still open.
  • Speaking of Josie’s actual friends, it’s good that Valerie sees fit to end the fight once she learns Josie’s dad is in town. She knows Josie is difficult to work with, but she also knows there’s a reason why things went this far this time. And it’s not just because of Archie.
  • I know it’s not the tone of the series, but I was kind of hoping Veronica would turn out to be an awful singer, consider how long we had to wait to hear her sing in this episode (and she spent Pussycats practice on her phone). But it’s probably for the best they play it straight, because Hermione’s reaction to her daughter singing is heartwarming.
  • Jughead’s voiceovers (this week, they’re about fear) still reek of typical sense of teenage faux intellectualism, but at least Riverdale continues to make up for that with its use of the character in the actual episodes. Jughead and Betty are just hopping buses and solving mysteries—because what else do you do in a small town when you have absolutely zero stake in said small town’s event of the week? Oh, you want to talk about the kiss. Go right ahead.
  • What’s cooler than being cool? The cackle Alice Cooper lets out over the very idea of her husband killing Jason Blossom. Or anyone. Ice cold.
  • Kevin: “That was Josie and The Pussycats! Long tails and ears for hats.” I approve of Kevin getting his Corny Collins on here, but the best moment is when he and Veronica join the gang after she used her powers of persuasion to get Archie into the variety show. He looks so pissed, and it’s a shame we don’t actually get to see what Veronica said to him. “Artistic integrity” is barely scratching the surface.

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