I haven’t ranted about Riverdale since last year when I was more concerned with mourning Lodge 49. (The latter is also what I did last week.) I guess the time is ripe now that it’s fourth “season finale” aired. Below are SPOILERS, but are they really spoilers if they still don’t add up in context? Lots of audacious stuff happened, but I don’t want to give the impression that this makes it inherently good. If you want the guano mad CW show that’s surprisingly masterful, you’re looking for Legends of Tomorrow! Why can’t Riverdale be more like Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated? (Do not suggest Nancy Drew, as The CW’s iteration would be a mediocre detective without the novel addition of legitimutant ghosts.) Imagine if it was a cuckoo bananas as the Archie Comics instead of a dour murderfest!
Instead of being a poor replacement for the dearly departed Fred Andrews, retconned in Uncle Frank is on the run from his former army assassin colleagues. So Mr. Chipping was secretly recruiting Stonewall students for that black ops paramilitary group, right? So far it seems like he was just guilt-ridden over selecting poor kids to be killed by Skull & Quill, but they can add this in too once Moose resurfaces.
Freeing Penelope Blossom from the grody sex bunker to be The Maple Club’s masked hostess was a terrible idea, especially since she hasn’t done her job since they put her there. In one interview, Vanessa Morgan & Madelaine Petsch said they were excited Toni Topaz was finally getting a backstory. Toni tells Cheryl she was also sexually assaulted. Did the writers just do a single sentence & call it a day?
It went from “Jughead is just paranoid about his prep school” to “Jughead’s prep school really is out to get him.” The only four Stonewall Prep (unclear if direct reference to General “Stonewall” Jackson, The Stonewall Inn, or the obscure mutant) students we’ve met see are ridiculously well coordinated with their headmaster on this. Jughead is so obnoxious in his defense, however, that I’m not rooting for him?
After dropping out of Stonewall, Jughead & Betty concocot some secret revenge plan. At an Ides of March party they were invited to as a trap, Donna Sweet hypnotizes Betty with a new code word from Evelyn Evernever. (The Stonewall plot is inspired by The Secret History by Donna Tartt.) This is where we’re meant to believe Betty killed her beau in a fugue. (Remember when she faced no repercussions for nearly murdering Chuck Clayton as Dark Betty? It just got fetishized into sexytimes roleplay.) That we didn’t see the murder & Bughead’s preexisting plan makes it clear is a ruse. What convoluted explanation will they use for them having countermeasures for the surprise mind control? It turns out there was no trigger word. Donna just blew zombifying Devil’s Breath into Betty’s face & planted the murder weapon in her hand. So Betty, Archie, Veronica, & Charles only made it worse by moving the body. Jughead is Schrodinger’s cat.
Lilli Reinhart does excellent expressions as a high strung con artists pretending not to be crazy by looking obviously crazy. Possibly she wasn’t even told whether Betty was guilty or innocent when those scenes were filmed. (Sam Witwer didn’t understand why Mr. Chipping defenestrated himself. The writers’ attempted snark at him backfired.) The studded gorget on Betty’s sweater gives me Magneto & Deathstroke vibes. Of course MCU Shuri has one too, but she’s the heroic exception.
The reason Jughead survived being brained to death by a rock is … his hat cushioned the killing blow? I cannot stress enough how lazy & unsatisfying this is. It wasn’t even chainmail-lined like John Steed’s. Why do none of his potential murderes ever check for a pulse? His chums reference Sherlock Holmes & Tom Sawyer faking their deaths in his funeral episode so his being alive is even less shocking. (Cheryl is really sorry for calling him a hobo.) I was hoping but not expecting his resurrection would finally merit a Sabrina Spellman guest appearance. (Snubbing Salem of a speaking role in the spotlight is sinful! Will Motherland: Fort Salem ever pick up its talking cat slack?) Betty & Jughead had no idea the preppies were going to do, yet perfectly executed a the hoax anyway with no planning? Getting them charged with attempted murder & drugging seems like it’d be as effective with less effort. The entire charade is just an excuse to tease the Betty-Archie-Veronica love triangle central to the comics which this CW adaptation mostly eschewed.
The Stonewallies also killed Jonathan, the black preppie with no dialogue or personality, for vague reasons. (Apparently Mr. DuPont periodically required someone get murdered by Skull & Quill so new Baxter Brothers books would have verisimilitude.) Prior to this, Jughead accused him of plagiarizing his Baxter Bros story. During the denouement & punishment, none of his surviving co-conspirators are brought to justice for the actual murder completed. This is more evidence for Riverdale being racist. Since Jonathan was a preppy, it also makes enrolling a sacrificial townie appear unnecessary.
It turns out Jughead’s grandfather abandoned his family not because he was an abusive self-destructive alcoholic, but because he wanted to protect his family from being murdered by Mr. DuPont along with the rest of the Quill & Skull writers. He may still be an abusive self-destructive alcoholic, but this retcon paints him as nobly self-sacrificng like broken family wish fulfillment. Grandpa Jones inexplicably failed to warn his grandson about how murderous DuPont was when he first met him for advice, which would’ve been even more redemptive & save everyone agiata.
This series does not understand how contracts work. Mr. DuPont is accused of stealing both the Baxter Brothers & Tracy True despite having paid off their creators. If they didn’t sell their writing under duress, the deals are valid. DuPont making huge profits from these characters afterwards doesn’t make it less legal.
After being accused of crimes that would be difficult to convince a jury of, DuPont defenestrates himself to death just like Mr. Chipping. The great L. Marvin Metz laughs at this amateur too! Donna is revealed to be granddaughter of Tracy True’s creator, who was murdered after selling her creation. This character was never mentioned before! It’s implied Donna somehow vengefully masterminded events so DuPont would kill himself. She’s contracted to write Tracy True novels, but Betty threatens to reveal her family secret if she does. Donna notes this is circumstantial evidence to the crimes at best, & furthermore the legacy angle would be a good hook for the new books. So if Betty got her way, there’d be no new Baxter Brothers or Tracy True novels. Seems like Donna earned the win though.
The annual musical is the one episode this season the cruel writers will let Kevin Keller be key to the A-plot. (“No, Kevin, you can’t sit with us in the main story! Quit begging!”) Casey Cott gives it his all. It’s fun in the lighthearted anything goes spirit of Archie Comics, not the kill off classic characters sense of fun it shares with Zack Snyder. This was directed by Antonio Negret with more gusto than the prior musical outings as most of the singing wasn’t in staged performances. Multiple characters participated in elaborate Hedwig & The Angry Inch routines without psychotropic drugs. A school hallway littered with locker paper in the aftermath is further evidence that these musical outbursts weren’t mass hysteria. Then it continues to ignore this new Crazy Ex-Girlfriend development.
It ends with a VHS of a someone in a comic Jughead mask being brained by another in a comic Betty mask. It’s very creepy! Since the gang aren’t known as fictional characters here, where the classic Archie Comics masks come from is extra mysterious. This may be even weirder than Black Lightning’s characters reading real DC comics featuring Black Lightning characters. Is the series finally upping is crazy game by obliterating The Fourth Wall? Nah. Probably it’ll walk it back with the most boring excuse possible.
There’s an episode titled “Lynchian” despite mysterious VHS tapes being left on doorsteps is from Michael Haneke’s Cache. Riverdale really shouldn’t directly compare itself to David Lynch’s Lost Highway or the auteur in general either. It’s not going to go well for it. They couldn’t even get Jennifer Lynch to direct. It just has the proprietor of the seedy Blue Velvet Video doing a middling Gordon Cole impression.
I call poppycock on arsonist archer Cheryl Blossom being scared out of the maple rum business by some dingy hoodlums! If Toni was there they would’ve gone full Sirens on those moonshiner upstarts! This affront also seems to improbably push her back into the arms of Penelope the poisoner.
(Tangentially speaking of Gotham, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is also making a Dracula show for ABC called The Brides starring Gina Torres & Erin Richards. (My snuggly cat put me to sleep midway through the new BBC Dracula so I dreamt I was watching swinging 60’s spy vampires in submarines.) Bitey Babs begins! She & her castmates just did a virtual Gotham panel if you need a fix much sooner.)
Remember when Hiram Lodge was a drug-dealing crimester who tried to control the town property & political power who framed Archie for murder & enslaved a second town where he had Riley Keogh killed? (She’s typecast for being mysteriously disappeared.) Well after he pulled strings to get himself released early from his own prison, he got diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease that they won’t confirm is ALS or MS. The series weirdly presents this as a tragedy rather than karma for being a colossal scumbag. Idiotic Archie will still talk to him just because he paid for his dad’s funeral & bought him a gym. (Archie was going to be responsible & sell one of his businesses because he can’t maintain both until he suddenly decides he can?) Despite his failing health, Mr. Lodge is still trying to ruin his daughter’s fledgling rum business. Lex Luthor may be as a petty a meglomaniac, but at least there’s ambition in him battling superpowered aliens instead of teenagers.
Veronica suspects her daddykins sicced the moonshiners on her, which he refutes. She then warns him not to get involved since he’s ill & she can handle her own problems. So he personally threatens the head moonshiner & gets curbstomped. Rather than being disgusted by his foolhardy machismo, him telling her it was a result of not being able to shoot a punk in the face wins over Veronica. She misinterprets it as an act of mercy & probably sees some Archiekins in his lunkehead bravado because Electra complex. Veronica is dumb! So then Hiram goes back & shoots the punk in his face.
While all the teens are randy, Kevin keeps being put in sexual situations that seem seedy. His only substantial non-musical arc is to go into tickle porn. While the characters keep insisting it’s not pornograpy, the show frames it as definitely pornographic & borderline illegal. Meanwhile the delightful Kipo & The Age Of Wonderbeasts shows you can have an openly gay character & still be family friendly.
Apparently Betty volunteered to head the yearbook & didn’t start working on it until she was reminded last minute. She has no staff. The yearbook’s gonna suck. Mr. Honey nixing it was probably a blessing in disguise.
The next episode is the stylish directorial debut of actual Lynch collaborator, Mädchen Amick. Principal Honey is forced to leave his job (for a better one at Stonewall Prep) once he’s caught faking a voyeur video as a pretext to cancelling senior prom, from which most of the cast had already been barred. Jughead writes a short story about killing the unpopular principal, but then cops out & saves his fictional life once he reads his college recommendation letter. (Is “Killing Mr. Honey” a reference to Teaching Miss Tingle, which ripped off Killing Mr. Griffin? Was his name a nod to Matilda’s Mrs. Honey too?) Mr. Honey has been as much as a draconian buzzkill as his predecessor, Waldo Weatherbee, that trying to insist he meant well does nothing to redeem his character. He’s also involved with the illicit tapes at the world’s only remaining VHS rental emporium.
Another VHS tape brings Betty & Jughead to the Lodge log cabin, which was apparently the voyeur’s lair, without their FBI agent brother or Sheriff Jones. They discover a tape of Holden Honey (whom may or may not be the genuine article under his mask) being stabbed to death by even more Archie Comics cosplayers. The Cheryl one even has a 50’s style mask despite the character debuting in the 80’s while Mr. Honey is a mask of a non-canon character. This is reminiscent of Jughead’s short story, suggesting it someone who’d read it. Did Donna access his laptop with spyware installed on it? Riverdale forgot how to write coherent mysteries this season, so don’t expect satisfaction.
Despite The CW calling last night’s Riverdale its season finale, it wasn’t intended to be. (There’s gonna be a lot of that going around!) They just ran out of filmed episodes before the quarantine shut down production. (Remind me to recycle this headline for its series finale.) There were supposed to be three more. So will those three scripts being filmed at the start of season five cut into the allotment for fifth season episodes, or will it run longer? Or will they just shred those scripts & jump straight to whatever malarkey they’d intended to kick off the next season?
Marisol Nichols & Skeet Ulrich are leaving the show. Hermione Lodge has done so much nothing lately that it’s hard to believe they didn’t already write her out. Serpent Sheriff FP Jones will be a much bigger loss. The proposed post-coronavirus production changes means next season could also be missing out on basic human interaction let alone canoodling. Who even knows when filming will resume?
With this being senior, the characters are gearing up to to separate universities. Since we won’t see the real fourth season finale until the season five starts, how are they going to approach this? Will they actually commit to sending characters out of Riverdale & just have them do Zoom hangs? Will they somehow all be disenrolled & have to attend the never before glimpsed Riverdale Community College? (Reggie is already psyched to pay for it with his tickle porn earnings.) Are they going to do a time jump that puts the characters into their actors’ real ages ala The 100 & have them return home post-college like a remake of the reviled Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again telefim? (Katy Keene takes place fives years in the future. Apparently it revived Josie & The Pussycats … without Valerie Brown & Melody Valentine? Why can’t they pretend to be nice?) Or will Hiram trap the city under a giant dome?
As there was no conclusion this season, I don’t feel the need to write an ending here either! This will also save me time on my forthcoming DC series reviews.