This review contains spoilers.
2.10 The Blackboard Jungle
As this week opens, Pops puts away the holiday decorations in preparation for the downright Westerosian long winter that lies ahead as Jughead gravely informs us that Riverdale has become “one of those towns” where only bad things seem to happen. But with the Black Hood seemingly vanquished, things have returned back to normal. After all, Archie is done playing junior crimefighter and is writing songs again, even thinking about starting a band. What could possibly go wrong?
I mean besides our ginger hero being more-or-less blackmailed by an FBI agent into reporting on the activities of his girlfriend’s family; a budding civil war at Riverdale High; Cheryl’s mother working as a prostitute; and the revelation that Polly Cooper is inexplicably/obviously now in a cult with her long-lost brother being a ne’er-do-well, whose “fantasy fulfilment” job is based out of a hilariously on-the-nose named flophouse.
Yes, friends, Riverdale is back just when we need it the most. And if this expositionary episode is any indication, the remaining instalments of this season are going to ramp up the show’s angsty craziness.
The problem, if such a thing can possibly be called that, with a show filled with such dramatic pitfalls as this one is that some episodes exist solely to introduce challenges that the characters will face in the weeks ahead. There are a lot of new developments thrown into these 45 minutes, and most of them are just handled with a kind of perfunctory manner. This is a side effect of our binge-reliant culture – infodump episodes like this need to exist, but they don’t stand too well on their own on a week-to-week basis.
At this point I have more than enough faith in Riverdale‘s writing staff that everything presented here will pay off down the line. On its own merits, though? There’s too much happening in The Blackboard Jungle for you to get fully invested, simply because of the narrative whiplash you are left with once the end credits roll.
Let’s breakdown the various plots and see what’s doing:
The most interesting thing that went down tonight is that we learn that it was none other than the Feds taking pics of Archie and Veronica in the last episode. Agent Adams wants Archie to report to him about the criminal activities of the Lodges, something that he is hesitant to do until he realises that, oh shit, his dad is mixed up with them – what with Fred giving them twenty per cent of Andrews Construction in order to repay their covering of his medical bills. Upon his sensing that Mr Lodge is lying about Nick St. Clair’s accident, he reluctantly agrees to help – with the caveat that neither Fred or Veronica will be negatively impacted by the investigation.
Before you can say, “Didn’t this kid ever see The Sopranos,” Veronica senses that something is off with Archie, and he tells her about his brief kiss with Betty. He’s off the hook for that little indiscretion, but is still keeping the larger secret of, you know, collaborating with the FBI to help get her dad thrown in jail. Not that she is exactly innocent here either. Now fully indoctrinated into the family business, she manipulates Archie into joining her makeshift welcoming commitee for the Southside students into Riverdale High, well aware of how her parents are the ones responsible for getting their school shut down.
This plot point leads into the brewing Northside/Southside civil war between the Serpents and everyone else. It’s fitting that Chuck Berry’s 1964 hit No Particular Place To Go soundtracks the Serpents’ entrance into Riverdale High (a rare example of non-contemporary music being used on the show) as the show’s approach to gang culture is nothing if not anarchronistic. At this point, even the other Serpents seem fine with Weatherbee’s rules about no gang activity on campus, so Jughead’s motivation here seems muddled at best. And it’s also nowhere near as interesting as anything that is happening with his girlfriend.
Yes. The Coopers. How about a shout out to TV’s most dysfunctional family? The introduction of Charles Smith AKA Chic (Hart Denton) is clearly a big deal, but can we just talk about how the show is burying the lede of POLLY BEING IN A CULT? It’s absolutely revisionist trickery on the writing staff’s part to have Polly and Jason’s idyllic place to raise their child end up being some sort of cult compound named The Farm as opposed to a Waltons-esque literal farm, but I for one am living for it. So much so that I found myself distracted by thoughts of what this cult was throughout the rest of the episode. Betty seems to indicate that The Farm is anti-electricity, but what else does she know about them? When do we get a deprogramming of Polly episode (hopefully one with a Leah Remini cameo)? Will Groovy Train be used on the soundtrack at any point?
I have so many questions about this Farm cult. My mind is spinning about how amazing it is going to be once Riverdale gets around to putting this plot in the foreground to the point that I feel like I have to go back and rewatch this episode ASAP.
As for Chic himself, this kid is gonna be trouble. I understand Alice’s loneliness, especially given the fact that one of her daughters is in an amazing mystery cult, but to invite Chic into her home without knowing a thing about him other than that he works in “fantasy fulfilment” and was getting the shit beaten out of him in a hostel hallway is a stretch, even for this show.
I have no idea what Chic is up to and what role he will play going on from here. Given how much Hal seems to hate him, my money is on the fact that he will wind up spurring the Black Hood out of retirement. (We don’t see Agent Adams respond to Archie’s suspicions about the Hood still being out there, but come on). As someone who completely believes that Hal Cooper is the real Black Hood, I’m thinking that Chic could be the final straw that convinces him to attempt to clean Riverdale of its sin once and for all. Stay tuned.
And if anyone from the show’s production staff is reading this, please know that The Farm is a fantastic idea, and please tell us more about this cult ASAP.