This Riverdale review contains spoilers.
Riverdale Episode 4
Ms. Grundy, we hardly knew ye.
By the time the episode wraps to the gorgeously melancholy refrains of Dean Lewis’ “Waves,” Riverdale‘s inversed Lolita has been ran out of town — not before indulging herself in one last moment of seductive cruising of passing high schoolers whilst clutching a Big Gulp and donning her heart-shaped sunglasses. Although Grundy (Sarah Habel) in reality turned out to be a Minnesota resident named Jennifer Gibson, her leaving (for now, anyway) the series raises some serious questions. Among them:
– Did she have an affair with Jason Blossom as well, and Archie was just her next ginger conquest?
– What, if any, role did she actually play in Jason’s death?
– Was her backstory of escaping an abusive relationship legit, or was she just really into Sleeping with the Enemy?
I fully expect that some, if not all, of these questions will be answered by series’ end. But one thing is certain: Had Betty not intervened, Alice Cooper (HAW HAW FOREVER) most definitely would have gone to the police and revealed the relationship between Archie and Ms. Grundy/Jennifer Gibson. In the month since it has debuted, Riverdale has repeatedly proven that a scorched earth policy is these characters default setting. Narratively this was a smart move. The Archie/Grundy storyline was making our lead character look increasingly foolish as he continued to ignore one red flag after another. Until Betty and Veronica straightened him out by revealing the truth about Grundy thanks to their second-consecutive week of committing minor criminal offenses, Archie was really seeming like more of a lovesick sucker, nice abs or not.
Which brings to mind a larger issue, how Riverdale has an Archie problem. He is the main focus of the show yet he is saddled with the dullest plotlines to date, with the notable exception of the elder Lodges scheming with Mayor McCoy to grab the drive-in’s land. Josie and the Pussycats have electrified the screen with each of their musical performances, yet all we’ve seen of Archie’s music so far is some forgettable singer/songwriter stuff that could have been ripped from the background of any circa-2001 Dawson’s Creek episode. (That’s not a compliment). I fully expect that with the Grundy situation now resolved, he will be more intertwined with the Pussycats, which will not only up the potential conflict between his creative vision and Josie’s, but also delve into the Archie/Valerie romance the show is hinting at. So those of you who are still hoping to see the traditional Archie/Betty/Veronica love triangle are most likely out of luck.
With Archie’s imploding romance taking up the majority of this week’s drama, lost in the shuffle a bit is how fantastic Cole Sprouse’s Jughead is. This week we get some crucial backstory about Jug. We learn that his father once worked for Fred Andrews but was fired for stealing building supplies, and that the elder Jones (played by ’90s refugee Skeet Ulrich, because Riverdale) has been hired to help devalue the much-desired land that the drive-in rusts upon by an imprisoned Mr. Lodge. Proving himself to be an absolutely astonishingly shitty father, his acceptance of this job leaves his only son homeless.
Let’s talk about Jughead living at the drive-in for a second. It dovetails nicely with the character’s already well-established love of cinema in this universe, but now we know that movies aren’t only an escape for Jughead, but they provide him with a stability and home that his family apparently never could. The current Mark Waid run on the Archie comic establishes that Jughead came from wealth but his parents hit upon hard times. I’m not sure if Riverdale is going to take that route, but it’s going to be a complicated road for Jug from here. And what happened to his sister Jellybean, and what role, if any does his mother play in any of this? Patience Jugfans, all will be revealed. Hopefully. What continues to be unacceptable however is that we have yet to see Jughead eat a hamburger. If the show ever gets around to dealing with his insatiable hunger, his unstable home life could explain that he devours food because he never knows where his next meal will come from.
Over in Kevin Keller land, it’s great to see him getting a love interest on the show — even if it is a stock bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks type. As the character, Casey Cott gets the comedic high points of tonight’s episode, musing about Veronica “what was it like before she got here?” and being so sexually frustrated at the snack bar that he decides to keep ordering food for himself.
Also, his dad is a TERRIBLE sheriff. What type of lawman doesn’t have a home security system?
– Tonight’s episode saw the debut of the Southside Serpents, the dangerous “gang of bikers, drug dealers, petty thieves” who apparently are a thorn in the side of Riverdale law enforcement. So wonderfully ridiculous that they wouldn’t be out of place in The Warriors, the Serpents originated in the pages of Bob Bolling’s Little Archie comic in the 1950s. There they regularly caused mayhem for the pre-pubescent versions of Archie and his pals. (That comic regularly featured aliens and kidnappings, so they were still comparatively tame to the other batshit things that went down in its pages). I found their appearance on Riverdale to be more Scorpio Rising than The Wild One, but if I’m being completely honest with you, more than anything they reminded me of the greasers from David Lynch’s hilarious 1991 anti-littering campaign. Check it out.
With Jughead’s pop and Kevin’s new flame Joaquin (Rob Raco) now firmly in the picture, you can count on seeing much more of the Southside Serpents in the week’s to come.
– While on the subject of Joaquin, his character gives us the most hardcore Archie Easter egg on Riverdale to date by featuring a T-shirt emblazoned with the image of Cosmo the Merry Martian. Cosmo was a lovable alien who was created by Archie’s Bob White back in 1958. Always an underrated character, Cosmo stories would regularly turn up in the digests, and he was featured in the excellent Night at the Comic Shop graphic novel which brought together the entirety of the Archieverse.
– When Jughead declares that a certain Pulp Fiction filmmaker is “the godfather of indie cinema,” Kevin replies “please God, no more Quentin Tarantino references” — echoing the mindset of website editors across the globe in the process.
– Alice Cooper discovers the Archie/Ms. Grundy affair when she reads about it in Betty’s diary. Indeed, Betty Cooper’s love for journal keeping is well-established in Archie comics. Betty’s Diary ran for 40 issues, most often written by the great Kathleen Webb. These somewhat non-traditional stories were told entirely from the perspective of Betty, sharing the character’s innermost secrets and hopes. And yes, sometimes she came across as absolutely insane, but as Riverdale shows us, that’s just a part of the Cooper family charm.
– The comic book nicknames return, this time around with Jughead saying “Betts” and Veronica reprising her always crowd-pleasing “Archiekins.”
– At this point, I’m straight-up convinced that Mr. and Mrs. Blossom are directly related with their son’s death. Everytime we see the characters there seems to be a literal darkness surrounding them. Showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has explored the sinister side of the Blossom family in Afterlife with Archie (spoiler alert: Twincest is involved) and one can’t help but notice an in-your-face Flowers in the Attic vibe to their brief appearance in this episode. Look at the way Cheryl is framed in this shot, removed and distant from her mother and father. Consider this a major clue to Riverdale’s underlying mystery.
– Did Fred Andrews firing Jughead’s dad have anything to do with the rift between Archie and Jug?
– Why didn’t Mayor McCoy want the Blossoms to know that the Lodges were responsible for the drive-in real estate deal? Because Jason’s killer hasn’t been caught or another reason?
– When Alice Cooper ransacks Betty’s room, vintage car magazines can be glimpsed on the dresser. Betty is a fantastic mechanic and regulary fixes Archie’s car (sometimes so he can date Veronica instead, womp womp) in the comics.
– Fred, Hermione and Alice all graduated high school in 1992. This can be gleaned from Fred mentioning that he took Hermione to see Candyman their senior year.
– Alice Cooper’s line of “I’m sorry to interrupt your adultery” to Fred. Wonderful.
– We get a brief glimpse of Jughead’s sister, Jellybean tonight. A much-maligned character from the comics, she is essentially the Archie equivalent of Elmo, brought in during the long dark ’90s to cuten things up by having her and her big bro get in a bunch of forgettable adventures together. The masochists among you can buy the Jughead’s Baby Tales digital comic from Archie for more on Jellybean.
-Veronica calling Cheryl a “stock character from a ’90s teen movie” is more self-aware then it has any right to be.
– Note to Archie: Watching silent movies in Ms. Grundy’s house is a super fucking goofy seduction technique.
– Betty Cooper uses Sleuthster to discover the truth about Ms. Grundy. Non-Google search engines on TV are always hilarious. At least she didn’t use Finder-Spyder.
– The commercials spoiled the big reveals of this episode, but let’s hear it for the Grundy reveal. Fans in the (seriously, crazy intense) Archie fan groups have been losing their collective shit ever since word spread that Archie was having an affair with his teacher in the series. Little did they know that Riverdale would be all about subverting expectations and that Archie was in fact just sleeping with someone who stole Grundy’s name. And the real Grundy? Why she looks exactly like her comic counterpart:
The costume department even got the dots on the dress right. Well done.