This review contains spoilers.
2.22 Brave New World
Is my hatred of Hiram Lodge impinging on my thoughts on Riverdale as a whole? It’s a question that I’ve been grappling with for weeks and for good reason. As the season’s primary antagonist, his ill-defined plans for the Southside and low-rent gangster schtick have been a thorn in viewers’ sides since Mark Consuelos debuted the character back in October. (With the actor’s sometimes stilted line delivery not doing anyone any favours either).
Hiram’s concussed attempts at Machiavellian scheming have halted this season — nearly twice as many episodes as the first — more times than I care to reflect upon. Going into this episode, my general assumption would be that Hiram would wind up either in a body bag or sharing a prison cell with Hal Cooper. Obviously, I was wrong. Instead, something utterly unexpected happened: I started to appreciate the character.
Maybe I’m just resigned to the fact that Hiram is sticking around, so I needed to swerve my POV. But I genuinely don’t think it’s that. In fact, I suspect that the truth is that the writers have been aware of many viewers negative opinions on the character and done something that is far more interesting than just killing off the character. They are redefining Hiram by estranging him from his family and having him take up with the Southside Society of Supervillains — a group that also includes Penny Peabody, Malachi the Ghoulie, and Claudius and Penelope Blossom. This is something that I am 1000% on board with, especially with Hermione’s deliciously vague (and conveniently trailed off) statement that Hiram’s “plans for the Southside go far beyond the prison, he wants to consolidate the entire area into…something.”
Succinctly put, the Hiram we’ll see next year will not be the new man. Upon further reflection, Hiram’s victory isn’t surprising given we live in an era where everyone from Trump to Thanos wins. But what will be is his reaction to having a full monopoly on the Southside. He also seems to firmly believe that Hermione is still on his side, something that her actions in this episode repeatedly contradict. With Hermione Lodge forced to face off against her husband next year, the narrative stakes are raised.
But, as always, there’s an Archie problem. The second season did some tremendous course-correcting in having the character go from a shirtless cipher to a heroic, if still a bit dim, force that unites Riverdale High. (Thus Hiram’s line about dissolving the glue that holds the town together, and him subsequently setting up Archie to be arrested). Archie was at his finest tonight, saving Serpents at home and in school, and generally becoming the leading figure he was always meant to be. With the character making so much progress, it feels like a huge leap backwards to saddle him with a plot that will leave him on trial, in jail, etc, likely separating him from the main action and other characters at a time where he finally has gelled with the rest of the series. This storyline hasn’t even begun yet and I’m already weary of it, and that’s a huge issue.
Something that is as promising as Archie’s new storyline is frustrating however is the setting up for more information on Polly’s cult, The Farm, next season. Is it too early to speculate that Hiram is actually the leader of The Farm, and that his secret plan is to use the entire Southside as the cult’s headquarters? Probably, but nevertheless, we have a new potential big bad for season three, and that is a welcome thing in these post Wild Wild Country times. Who is the leader that Polly wants Alice to meet? What exactly is The Farm all about? I for one cannot wait to find out, and I hope they are as bonkers as I want them to be.
Less successful was Jughead’s too-obvious ascension to Serpent King. It is still a bit unclear as to why he feels such kinship with an organisation whose members besides himself, FP, and Toni, are pretty dopey. The cliched adage of ‘show, don’t tell’ comes into play here, and thus far there haven’t really been any examples of why the Serpents are worthy of such undying devotion. That said, the addition of Cheryl and Betty to the gang and the promise of a return from The Warriors castoffs that are the Ghoulies does give the Serpents some exciting storytelling possibilities for next season.
Finally, another character who now finds themselves in the “Brave New World” that this episode takes its title from is Veronica Lodge. Cut off from her family’s money, she will now establish herself as a businesswoman not to be meddled with when she opens the basement speakeasy at Pop Tate’s Chok’lit Shoppe next year. And while I’m already shuddering at the prospect of what real-life musical acts may stop by, I’m hoping that the venue is more Road House than Peach Pit 2.0.
Read Chris’ review of the previous episode, Judgment Night, here.