Well that was an intense episode of television.

It was to be expected, of course. From the beginning, Riverdale has been the type of show to go full speed ahead, no matter what. “Ms. Grundy” is perhaps the one notable exception, but that character and storyline were also the necessary exception. Riverdale has gone full tilt since “Chapter One,” so there was never any reason to expect the penultimate episode of the season—with the promise of the reveal of Jason Blossom’s murderer—would be any different. Still, the very fact that Riverdale actually delivered on that promise to reveal the killer (without any strings attached) is a big deal. Because while it might sound like delivering on said promise is actually expected, shows like Pretty Little Liars and The Killing giving television mystery fans plenty of reason to be skeptical about such things.

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Also, how amazing is it that Riverdale use The CW’s event of the week structure to unveil a murderer?

But even before we get to the answer of who really murdered Jason Blossom, “Chapter Twelve: Anatomy Of A Murder” spends a good portion of its time asking why F.P. Jones would take the fall for Jason’s death. What should be a relatively easy case to fight—due to a planted gun and F.P.’s contingency plan—turns very quickly as F.P. takes the fall for Jason’s murder. And while his story adds up, it also does so with declarations that the audience knows to be absolutely false, like the mention of the Sheriff’s missing files (which we’d already known Hal Cooper stole). Plus, we already know the gun was planted in his trailer. So F.P.’s motivation obviously has to be that of a man protecting another person, and while I simply assumed he was being paid off to take the fall, it turns out that the actual killer threatened Jughead’s life. F.P. and Jughead have obviously had a rocky relationship, but Riverdale has done a pretty good job of showing just how much they both love each other, even through all the bad times… and this episode is the absolute worst time, as evidenced by the scene where F.P. coldly tells Jughead that he’s a murderer and to never come see him again.

The thing is, despite the reveal that F.P. isn’t a murderer, it still turns out he was responsible for the freezing and dumping of the body, as well as the torching of Jason’s car, as assumed—so he’s still got quite a few reasons to be locked up for a long time. As for the actual murderer, that would be Clifford Blossom, with the help of his many guns. However, the reason why he killed Jason is still very much up in the air (and possibly now in the grave with him). But it needs to be said: Long before we even get to the truth about Clifford Blossom, the episode is already aces.

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For starters, “Chapter Twelve” is easily Archie’s best episode and a long time coming. Hell, Archie is the one who puts two and two together to get to the bus station to look for Jughead, which is unbelievable thinking coming from him. A large part of why this episode works for Archie is that, like last week, Archie’s motivation and involvement in this investigation are 100% fueled by his desire to help Jughead out. Only this time, he doesn’t have to betray the guy in the process. After the way this series began, I’d say Archie has made good on his promise to make things up to Jughead, even if there weren’t a lot of hamburgers along the way. (Though, at this point, Archie is actually making up for the combination of blowing up Jughead’s spot about his dad being a Serpent and Jughead’s “birthday party.”) I’d argue that the best way to look at how Archie is right now is to look at how Betty’s been the entire season. Besides her friendship with Veronica, part of what made the Betty character so magnetic from the very beginning was how fiercely committed to the truth and goodness she was, while also fighting to show people she wasn’t as perfect as everyone assumed or expected. Archie Andrews is far from perfect, whether it’s the comics or this show—but he’s at his best when he’s committed to that same standard of truth and goodness. While it’s easy to laugh at Archie when he says that Jughead’s new school situation isn’t “fair” (welcome to the world, kid), it’s at least a good sign that this kid truly does care about what’s right and wrong. It’s a big part of why the “Ms. Grundy” plot was such a misstep: It heavily relied on Archie not caring about what was wrong and what was right. And had test audiences not hated it so much, that version of Archie would’ve existed even longer. While Riverdale got it right from the beginning with Archie in the sense that he’s just an average teenager who struggles to do the right thing, that “relationship” was just wrong on so many levels. It made it impossible to root for him in his struggles. Then it ended, and we were still stuck with the music of Archie… But at least we can always have fun at those stories’ expense.

That doesn’t mean Archie is no longer the slowest member of the Riverdale Scooby Gang though. He may be at the top of his game in this episode, but he still suggests early on that he, Veronica, and Betty all tell their parents what’s going on. At this (awful, as it turns out) suggestion, Betty Cooper legitimately makes the greatest “WTF? Why are you the way that you are?” face in the history of moving pictures:

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Speaking of Betty, this episode is a showcase for the character and her aforementioned commitment to truth and goodness, as she is the one person—through all the roadblocks and supposed “evidence”—who never lets up on finding out who the real killer is and proving that F.P. is innocent. She also has a superb moment against Penelope Blossom, a character who’s also at the top of her abusive game this episode:

Penelope: “You made a grave error, little girl.”
Betty: “No, I don’t think so. And I’m not going to stop until I prove it.”

The confidence in that response—it’s another one of those moments where you see just how much Betty is her mother’s daughter, and despite its brevity, it’s also standout moment for Lili Reinhart. It’s a moment that reminds the aware and informs the unaware that Betty Cooper is the hero of this story, and what a capable hero she is. On the one hand, I suppose Reinhart will technically always be a highlight on this show simply because of her stance on Archie being “the original fuckboy;” but Betty remains a consistent highlight because of just how dedicated she is to the truth, her friends, her family, and to Jughead. As Kevin says, “Nancy Drew strikes again,” and you know what? If there’s anyone on Riverdale I’d want on my team when the world comes crashing down, it’s Betty Cooper. Betty Cooper is a role model.

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Betty’s confrontation with Penelope is also a moment from the single greatest scene of this episode and possibly Riverdale’s entirety: The Coopers bulldozing their way into Thornhill in the middle of the night, with Alice Cooper having absolutely no qualms about shouting “incest” to anyone who will listen and the Blossom parents having even fewer qualms about incest at all. I suppose it all should’ve been less of a shock in a way, considering how both families say “grandpappy” as if that’s the standard nomenclature. But once Hal reveals to Alice and Betty that this Hatfields and McCoys feud they’ve supposedly been living is actually an extended family version of Family Feud, Riverdale goes on to achieve heights once only imagined in the context of those darn Blossom twins. Thanks to almost everything Cheryl says and does, incest has been a popular Riverdale topic of conversation, but the fact that the show not only makes it a reality but also makes it between its own version of Romeo and (pregnant, with twins) Juliet is truly inspired in how twisted it is. After all this time comparing Riverdale to Veronica Mars—including the concept of Polly and Jason as this series’ Veronica and Duncan in terms of their break-up—Riverdale actually goes that extra step further and makes the threat of incest a reality. This also means that Cheryl, a character who can barely be discussed by the audience without at least a passing mention to her feelings for her brother, was screwed out of incest. But Jason wasn’t. The fact that Clifford Blossom only draws the line at brother/sister incest is basically a personal attack on Cheryl, but it’s also the type of faux boundary that shows you just how surreal and over-the-top the scene is. It’s everything you want in a non-dining Blossom scene and more, and it’s here in the penultimate episode of the season.

Archie purists probably hate the reveal, but when it comes to Riverdale, it’s pretty much what the series promised in a way. It’s sick, it’s twisted, and it’s farther than anyone could have possibly imagined or expected they’d actually go. Long live The CW. Also, as I mentioned Pretty Little Liars before, that show’s own “final” ‘A’ reveal somehow managed to gloss over what it pretty much treated as “minor” incest between brother (also a Jason) and sister (knowingly engaging in this relationship). So with that context, there’s clearly a right and wrong way to approach this type of story.

All of this sends Cheryl into an infantile fugue state for the rest of the episode, as she tries to get the truth from her “mommy” and “daddy,” only to either be jerked around to a barn full of “sticky, dark, dirty truth” in syrup form or receive news that her father murdered her beloved J.J. Cheryl is absolutely out of it for this entire episode, no longer even gaining strength from all the attention she gets from people congratulating her on her brother’s alleged killer being caught. Yet she’s still a highlight of this episode as she attempts to navigate her family’s secrets through the syrupy haze that is her state of mind. It’s as though she’s in a dreamlike state as the rest of the world goes on and on, and she doesn’t even snap out of it as she points Sheriff Keller to her father’s location in the barn. This is the episode that made me realize just how fascinating of a choice it is that Cheryl really has no part in solving the mystery of her brother’s murder. At all. Sure, she begrudgingly helped when it came to the playbook, but that was very small potatoes compared to this. So maybe deep down she realized someone in her family killed Jason, because her lack of involvement doesn’t exactly line-up with someone who, at the beginning of the series, promised to lead the charge in finding Jason’s killer and bringing them to justice. All talk, Cheryl Bombshell. All talk.

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And Cheryl isn’t just detached from the investigation; she’s the complete opposite of Betty in this episode, to the point where they might just be different sides of the same coin. One might think that better describes Cheryl and the also proactive Veronica, but Riverdale has made it clear that those two are pretty much the same side of the same coin. Only, where Cheryl confronts her father in person—with the dead inside line, “You did a bad thing, daddy. And now everyone knows.”—Veronica chooses instead to slander her father’s name around town, hoping it sticks. Betty and Cheryl both want the truth to be revealed, but while Betty knocks down doors to find it, Cheryl does all of it behind closed doors. And while Betty does it with all the energy in the world, Cheryl’s regular zest for life and mayhem just up and disappears within the walls of Thornhill.

With Veronica literally entering scenes demanding her father be responsible for murder and Kevin’s inability to realize his gang member boyfriend is a criminal even pre-“clean-up” reveal, this is certainly an episode that requires the mantra, “They’re just teens. They’re just teens.” Luckily, this is such a strong episode that teenage nature really can’t bring it down. But trust me, the Kevin stuff here really tries. However, I won’t mark this episode down because of the Kevin/Joaquin of it all, because it’s really the result of an overall problem with their story and not a problem that is unique to “Chapter Twelve.” In fact, this episode does the best it possibly can to salvage this “relationship,” even though it doesn’t address the fact that Joaquin was put with Kevin as an assignment (though Kevin appears to get it when he says he really doesn’t know Joaquin). At the same time, Kevin’s continued refusal to believe that Joaquin would have ulterior motives and be following the orders of his gang member boss, plus Kevin’s newfound realization that Joaquin’s a criminal (despite said gang affiliation being known from the start), is as frustrating as a typical Archie plot.

Honestly, the fact that Joaquin’s bus out of town is heading toward to San Junipero singlehandedly saves their plot. That’s even after Joaquin sends off with the line, “I’m gonna miss you, preppy,” which reads of something that would have been perfect for an actual storyline where the audience got to see the beginning, middle, and end of their pairing. It’s a line that feels like part of a story that doesn’t exist, either because of deleted scenes or just because it was never written. As I wrote last week, hopefully Casey Cott is upgraded to series regular next season and then allowed to have full stories. Though, in the case of a series regular who has been M.I.A. lately (barring the bit of Pussycats from last week’s opening), Josie’s story for this season apparently ended with her terrible father… Which, while unfortunate, is at least a rather complete conclusion to a plot that has absolutely nothing to do with the major mystery.

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But when it comes to real full stories, this episode tells us something we should’ve known all along, as Archie’s true purpose on Riverdale is revealed: to wear Jason Blossom’s hand-me-downs and spark either eureka moments or strange face-stroking moments. What that means for the season finale, we’ll have to wait and see.

Stray observations

  • Riverdale Roulette: “San Junipero” is required homework, even though it doesn’t fit the teen genre of the majority of these recommendations. As for something more genre appropriate, I have another suggestion, based on a different solitary moment in the episode. Archie suggests they go to the school board to overturn the decision to have Jughead finish out the rest of the semester from home, and he’s half a second away from asking Betty for help in making a “JUGHEAD JONES MATRICULATES” picket sign. But it’s unsurprising Fred doesn’t support this, considering Dylan McKay didn’t much care if Donna Martin graduated or not either. So this week’s pick is the Beverly Hills, 90210 double feature of “A Night To Remember” and “Something In The Air.” Back in Fred Andrews’ day, kids weren’t investigating murders—because they were too busy trying to help their dumb, rich friend get out of suffering the consequences of her actions.
  • Betty: “Mom, you’re the one who asked Veronica to break in.”
    Hermione: “Excuse me?!”
    Mary: “What?!”
    Fred: “Alice!” That’s what you get for throwing those “three amateur sleuths” under the bus, Alice.
  • Veronica: “Wait. You and Betty went on a manhunt without me? I’ll come meet you.”
  • Polly: “He killed Jason? Not—” I’ve given Polly the benefit of the doubt since she first appeared, but in that moment… Saying that out loud in front of the Blossoms was actually dumber than drinking their daily milkshakes.
  • Jughead: “Don’t know who’s more of a dick: Keller or Weatherbee.” Weatherbee may be more of a dick for punishing Jughead for getting slapped, but Sheriff Keller—early season good parenting aside—is more incompetent at his job. Apparently Clifford Blossom spoke to F.P. in the interrogation room (to threaten him) before Keller even questioned him… and Keller allowed that and also saw no possible way for anything to be off about that. Alice Cooper is absolutely right when she calls him “Sheriff Clueless.”
  • Clifford: “What the hell is going on here, Alice? It’s the middle of the night!”
    Alice: “Oh, sorry to disrupt the witching hour at Thornhill.”
  • Penelope: “She chose to live here, remember? With a mentally stable family.”
    Alice: “Oh I know all about your family, Penelope. And the incest.”
    Polly: “What? What incest?”
  • Penelope: “Nothing could be more purely Blossom than those babies.” Almost up there with Betty’s earlier face at Archie is the Coopers’ gagging faces at that line.
  • Alice: “Enough of this Dr. Moreau experimentation of breeding and eugenics. It’s over!”
  • Jughead: “Well if nothing else, at least he’s an honest murderer, right?” This version of Jughead, this jokey version is really only here this moment, but it sure paints a picture of how dejected he is by that point. In a different way from the moment he hangs up the payphone after being rejected by his mother; that’s a private moment where he allows his heart to break, whereas the snark is for show.
  • Veronica: “Not much money in local crime and villainy, huh?” She’s right—the Serpents really need to figure out their stuff if they’re all living in squalor.
  • Betty: “Hermione. Veronica says she’s guilty of plenty, but not murder.” Yes, but Veronica also thinks her father is the biggest crime kingpin in the entire world. Even after Hermione confesses to being guilty of a bunch of crimes too and makes Veronica pack to flee the country.
  • Obviously this would lack dramatic flair, but Hal really should’ve just dropped the incest bomb much sooner. Like, when Polly and Jason first showed any interest in each other. It really would’ve helped the Cooper family out. A lot.
  • R.I.P. Clifford Blossom. You died making sure everyone knew you were totally cool with incest, as long as it wasn’t between brother/sister. So your last living act was basically to make sure Cheryl knew you still wouldn’t have been cool with her and Jason. Also, congratulations to your success at committing suicide in a barn, I guess. As I learned from television earlier this year, it’s not always that easy.

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