Riverdale season 2 episode 11 review: The Wrestler

Archie hits the mat while a town-wide Civil War heats up in a dynamic outing of Riverdale. Spoilers ahead in our review...

This review contains spoilers.

2.11 The Wrestler

Let’s recap things going from most to least interesting. At the start of tonight’s episode, Jughead muses that in Riverdale “everything was the same and nothing was the same.” He does this because, well, he’s a terrible writer who isn’t above aping Dickens’ style to be profound. But also the ongoing battle between Riverdale’s North and South Sides has turned his hometown into a, wink wink, tale of two cities, with seemingly everyone against the Serpents.

You see, it’s time for the town’s Pickens Day ceremonies that celebrate the Founding Father of the Sweetwater Valley, General Augustus Edward Pickens. Too bad his legacy is an absolute sham. Cheryl is feverishly campaigning for the day to be renamed to honour the community’s true architect, Colonel Barnabas B. Blossom. She is oblivious to the fact that her ancestor basically hired Pickens to wipe out the Native Americans who originally called the area home, something that is discovered when Jughead meets the town’s oldest Serpent, Toni’s grandfather Thomas Topaz (Graham Greene). Believing himself to be working with the best intentions, Jug ignores the fact that Toni’s elder isn’t “some broken down victim” or a figure to be used in his “insane vendetta against the Northside.”

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Bluntly, Toni tells him that “this wasn’t your story to tell.” Considering himself to be among Riverdale’s most woke, Jughead seems truly aware of how much he screwed up, but Thomas is quick to point out that his publishing of the truth about Pickens has opened old wounds. The solution? He, with the rest of the Serpents will unexpectedly show up for a protest at the Pickens Day celebrations on the site of the proposed SoDale project that the Lodges, Fred Andrews, and Mayor McCoy are scheming so hard to make a reality. It’s worth pointing that even though the festivities are taking place on their land, the Southside Serpents aren’t exact welcome there, with Hiram Lodge offering to have them do security at the event. Guess he never heard of Altamont.

Poor Veronica. Her inspired move of getting The Pussycats to be her backing band for a deliciously on-the-nose cover of Duran Duran’s Union Of The Snake after the McCoys snubbed her is overshadowed by the arrival of the Serpents. They’ve come to show the townspeople that they haven’t forgotten how their gang was born of the blood that Pickens shed.

Toni delivers an impassioned speech about how the celebrations are based on a falsehold. As pop culture interruptions against an uncaring and deceptive patriarchy go, her words aren’t as effective as the “Carousel is a lie” speech from Logan’s Run, but pretty close nevertheless. Which makes it even more of a bummer when Hiram immediately defuses the situation with a bunch of spontaneous bullshit about the power of young people having their voices heard that I’m pretty sure he cribbed from Debbie Gibson’s Electric Youth. (No wonder he didn’t know about the Stones). The crowd eats this garbage up along with their seasonally inappropriate snowcones and Toni and the Serpents are left standing there looking confused. For his part, Jughead knows exactly what Hiram is pulling, and lunges for him before Thomas holds him back. After all, this is not his story to tell. Or end by punching the ever-irksome Mr. Lodge right in the cojones. Them Serpents fight cheap, ain’t I right Sweetpea?

The next day, Mayor McCoy informs the Lodges that the statue of Pickens has been defaced. Literally. (Womp womp). Not that they didn’t already know, as I’m convinced that they were behind the beheading of General Shithead in order to control the Southside by further manipulating and marginalising its residents. Jughead is right about one thing, a Civil War is on its way.

Over at the Coopers, things are super tense. The Black Hood Hal continues to be pissed that Polly isn’t there (although there is no mention of The Farm cult this week, to which I say the heartiest of boos), Chic is a dick, Alice is her usual bubbly, borderline self and Betty is confused because the darkness inside of her by no means is the kind that believes in a thing called love. Kevin, who now has a gossip column in the Blue & Gold, obvs, points out to Betty that he knows Chic as a “video gigolo/webcam boy/cyber trick” online. Oh Kev. Chic tells Betty that his online persona is “a way of getting away of the darkness.” She wants to know more and, as Jughead points out, “the dark education of Betty Cooper had begun.”

Oh yeah, and it looks like Hal is going to totally sleep with Penelope Blossom too. Those Coopers!

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So where’s Archie in all of this? Like the best episodes of Riverdale, he’s saddled with the least interesting storyline of the night. Agent Adams is encouraging Archie to ingratiate himself into the good graces of Hiram so that he can make sure that Fred Andrews (and Veronica) aren’t going to be in hot legal water once the shit goes down. After learning that Hiram “the Ram” Lodge was a wrestling great at Riverdale High, Arch throws on a singlet and hits the ring. Archie’s a horrible wrestler, but determined to prove himself, especially after Hiram tries to emasculate him while he rehearses Pickens Day songs with Hiram.

Before you know it, a delightful battle of wills occurs during wrestling team tryouts that inadvertently recreates one of the goofiest out-of-context Archie panels ever. Ahem:

But Archie doesn’t give up. He wants to earn Hiram’s respect because then it will be easy for him to date Veronica unencumbered, but also because it will keep Fred and Ronnie out of the big house. When Archie has to wrestle against Chuck Clayton, a more skilled athlete in a hire weight class, subtextual clues indicate that this match was orchestrated by Hiram (i.e. he’s bankrolling the team). But it goes wrong.

Archie bests Chuck, and Hiram seems impressed despite himself. That is unless he knows that Archie is talking to Agent Adams, and his subsequent offer to teach the teen about the business world is just a Machiavellian ruse to set him up. That certainly wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for this show…

Read Chris’ review of the previous episode, Blackboard Jungle, here.