This review contains spoilers.
2.12 The Wicked And The Divine
Featuring music cues ripped from Boogie Nights and Reservoir Dogs, as well as a general Goodfellas-light air to the proceedings, tonight’s episode is a valentine to ’90s cinema, and perhaps the greatest example yet of how Riverdale loves to infuse disparate pop culture elements into its increasingly ridiculous world. (This is, after all, a show that namedrops ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ as the “song from Cruel Intentions” as opposed to referring to it as the Verve’s best-known tune). Not that there’s anything wrong with any of this. In fact, as I’ve mentioned before, if there’s one thing that the series needs to do more it is to fully ramp up its inherent silliness while keeping a straight face. I will die on this hill quicker than a Southside High student would of a Jingle Jangle overdose.
As far as tonight’s installment goes then? Mission accomplished.
Written by showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, ‘The Wicked And The Divine’ is a plot-packed hour of television that has Archie fully embracing the darkness of Veronica’s family even as she tries to protect him from it. (She calls him her “beacon of the night,” and is seemingly the only thing that keeps her from joining Team Satan at her confirmation). When not blowing off the increasingly inept Agent Adams – whose legitimacy I would question way more were this not a show where a clueless authority figure like Sheriff Keller existed – Archie continues his indoctrination into the Lodge’s world of poorly defined crime. A few weeks back, Hermione was claiming that the Lodges weren’t involved in anything illegal, yet now we have Hiram, who is a few pastel suits away from Scarface after that orders to hit Papa Poutine (Lost’s Mr. Friendly, M.C. Gainey). Hiram is being built up to be Riverdale’s crime kingpin, complete with a darkly lit study that includes the requisite eternal fireplace and endless dramatic arias.
Again, this is all completely ridiculous. But really, just go with it because what it lacks in consistent characterisation, Riverdale more than makes up for in terms of sheer what the fuckery…and the occasional problematic element of the show. Which brings us to Jughead Jones.
The self-described weirdo has taken a sharp right into Sociopathville this season, letting the Serpents dominate his every waking minute for no real reason other than some lip-service being paid to the fact that he feels at home with them… and odd thing considering how they’ve caused him nothing but problems since day one. When he, Betty, and F.P. strolled into the Serpents meeting with General Pickens’ head in tow, it was meant to be a triumphant moment. He had once again sent Penny Peabody packing, this time with Hiram Lodge collaborator Tall Boy with her. Earlier in the episode, F.P. remarked that Jughead “will be the death” of the Serpents instead of the Northside or Penny’s scheming, and he is not wrong. Penny may have been blackmailing Jughead and she forced him to deliver ‘drugs’ to Greendale (I still don’t buy that narcotics were in that crate given the Lovecraftian homages written on it), but he attacked her in a cowardly, vicious and evil act. “Mutilating her? That’s not the sort of thing you come back from,” F.P. shouts at Jug, once again hitting the nail on his son’s whoopee capped-head.
Jughead tells Betty that he cut Penny and doesn’t even get one of Ms. Cooper’s famously elaborate side-eyes in response. Instead Betty just goes with it, accepting this as one of his quirks. Or does she just recognise the darkness in him as another reflection of the eclipse her own soul is currently undertaking, given her recent introduction to the world of being a cam girl and, you know, lying to him about that and kissing Archie? Either way, Jughead is going to have to atone for his crime against Penny. Will such a thing even matter to the fans of #bughead, who are doubtlessly still enjoying the afterglow of seeing their baes reunited? Probably not, and that’s a real problem. In a show that strives to celebrate women, such cruel victimisation perpetrated by a main character is distressing to say the least. This problem is something the writers are most likely aware of and I suspect that sooner or later Jughead will recognise his actions and begin a path down the road to redemption.
The biggest ‘OH SHIT!’ moment of the night came when Betty returned home from her evening of bliss with Jughead to find her mom frantically cleaning up the blood of Chic’s creepy visitor (portrayed by Christian Sloan and billed as “Shady Man” in the credits). It appears that Chic is having a full-on meltdown in the corner, leading me to guess that he hit the dude over the head with the lamp and brained him, with Alice jumping full into mother mode to clean things up. After all, there’s nothing that you wouldn’t do for your kids, right?